The smell of chocolate fudge filters through the air carried by the breeze down the main street on Mackinac Island (pronounced Mack-i-naw). The smell of fresh fish frying just around the corner mixes with the scent of chocolate and sweets. There is just a hint of lake water floating in from the docks. And to top off the miasma of fried food, sweets, lake water, and people is the wonderful stench of … horse manure.
Mackinac Island is located in the Straits of Mackinac, midway between the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan. The island is frozen in time, reflecting the Victorian era from when the island became a popular summer destination, and all the things that came with it.
Vehicles, other than emergency ones, are banned on the island, which means the main modes of transportation involve horses and bicycles. Even the police ride around on horseback! The only way to and from the island is by ferry; access is available from both peninsulas. Horse-drawn carriages with a tour guide are available for rides around the island, or you can rent a horse or bicycle to explore on your own.
The lack of cars isn’t the only thing that keeps Mackinac Island frozen in time. Sitting high on the bluffs of the island is Fort Mackinac, which has period actors and original buildings from when it was built in 1780 by the British. As you explore the fort, you can watch blacksmiths hone their craft, speak with British soldiers, and see a cannon go off. The museum inside the fort has a massive collection of artifacts—and best of all, it’s free!
After spending the day reliving history, you can go and relax on the 660 feet (200 meters) of the largest front porch in the world at the Grand Hotel. Mackinac Island boasts several Victorian-style homes that keep the island looking fresh out of the nineteenth century. These homes are usually brightly colored, and while many of them are privately owned, some are open to the public or available for vacation rentals. And if you are interested in even older homes, there are some homes-turned-museums that date back to the early 1800s—like the McGulpin House.
While the island is generally temperate, it is known for being quite cool and it has been known to rain, even in the summer. After all, it isn’t a Michigan summer if you don’t get all four seasons in one day. And if it happens to rain on your trip, don’t worry too much. You can visit the Original Butterfly House and Insect World to see hundreds of different live butterflies from various continents. Or you can stroll down main street and pop into the various shops along the way. Some of the stores have been there for decades, like the Island Bookstore or Murdick’s Fudge Shop.
Waking up in the morning to the sun burning away the mist, revealing the massive Mackinac Bridge sitting over the straits, is a-once-in-a-lifetime experience. Between the views, the history, and the food, Mackinac Island has something to offer everyone, no matter their age. If you want to step back in time, Mackinac is the perfect place to be.