Thursday, October 6, 2016

Touring Magical Mackinac Island

Every state has its "crown jewels" and Mackinac Island and the Grand Hotel - the island's centerpiece - are Michigan's brightest jewels. For first-time Michigan visitors, Mackinac Island is usually at the top of the list, so that's why I chose to culminate our MI Tea Tour on the island, saving the best for last!  To my knowledge, we were the first MI Tea Tour group to come to the island.

Mackinaw or Mackinac?  Both are pronounced the same [awe sound - not nack]. The founders of Mackinaw City opted for the British phonetic 'aw' spelling as a way to distinguish their city from Mackinac Island [for postal reasons], while the bridge, straits, and island clung to the French 'ac' spelling.  It derived from Michilimackinac, a name given the island by the French, which came from the Native American name, Mishinimakinang, meaning 'place of the Great Turtle' due to the island's shape. Eventually it was shortened to Mackinac - aren't we glad for that!  ;-)

This was my 7th visit to the island.  My first was in 1976 when my two oldest children were 7 and 9 years old.  We were biking the 8.2 mile perimeter of the island in the photo below. [I wish I was that thin now!]

One could easily spend 3-4 days on the island, but we only had from 11:30 a.m. Sept. 17th until the 12:30 p.m. ferry departure the next day.

The scenic island is like stepping back in time to a gentler and slower paced era. With the exception of emergency and maintenance vehicles [due to a 1898 ban on 'horseless carriages' - automobiles], the only source of transportation are horse-drawn carriages, bicycles, and by foot. During the off-season, the year-round residents [between 400-800 people at various times], use snowmobiles.  The automobiles seen in Somewhere in Time, the 1980 movie filmed at The Grand, are a Hollywood deception.

When we exited Union Terminal Pier, hotel carts picked up the tagged luggage and took it to the proper hotel.

[Photo courtesy of Linda J.]

Notice all the bicycles.  There are 3,000 bicycles in use on the island plus those brought over on the ferry with visitors.

Seven of us opted to take a carriage ride of the island, while the other three opted to shop on Main Street [also called Huron St.] and Market Streets, in the downtown business district.

Mackinac Island Carriage Tours conducts a 1 hour 45 minute tour for $28.50.  They are the world's largest and oldest carriage-livery company with 350 horses and 100 carriages.  Every year they serve about 200,000 customers.  We purchased our tickets and had time to cross Main Street for a quick stop at Ryba Fudge store before departing on our carriage ride.

Mackinac Island is known for its fudge.  Well-known Murdick's Fudge opened in 1880 and Ryba's came later in 1951.  There are 16 fudge shops on the island.  It's fascinating to watch it being made, and even better to eat it!

I bought three slices - Peanut Butter [Jerry's favorite], Pistachio, and Chocolate Walnut. It was yummy! It costs about $8 a slice, but Ryba's has a package deal of three slices for $20.  I sure wish I had a piece of that fudge right now, but considering the calories I'm glad I don't!

Here we are on the carriage waiting for our tour to begin.  The temperature had warmed up, so we shed our sweaters and jackets worn in the morning.

The two horses that pulled our carriage were Dale and Rufus, and our guide was Laura. 

Our route began on Main Street, with a turn on Fort Hill to see the sights in that area.  Then we clip-clopped along on quaint and picturesque Market Street where there were lots of historic buildings, Bed & Breakfasts, and shops.

From Market Street we turned up Cadotte Avenue that turns into Grand Hill - the entrance to the Grand Hotel. 

On the steep downhill descent, a 20 m.p.h. bike speed is enforced. Violators not adhering to that speed limit are ticketed for reckless driving.

We rode past the Grand Hotel and Laura stopped on the side of it to give Dale and Rufus a rest. Notice the balcony/porch ceilings are painted light blue.  Laura said that's to trick the birds into thinking it's sky so they don't build nests there.  No kidding!

Every year in mid-June there's a well attended Lilac Festival on the island.  Lilacs were past the blooming season on our visit, but Laura said there are 68 varieties brought over by the French. Some of the bushes are 125 years old. 

We traveled on to Surrey Hill, passing the horse stables on the way.  Laura said island horses are Amish raised Hackney and Percherons acquired when they are 5-6 years old.  Dale and Rufus were 29 years old, and they have a life span between 30-40 years.  Only a few horses are kept on the island when the tourist season ends, and the others are transported to stables in Michigan's upper and lower peninsulas.

There's a carriage museum and gift shop at Surrey Hill, and it's also where we transferred from a two-horse drawn carriage, to a three-horse drawn carriage - the world's largest, accommodating 35 passengers.

An island photographer took a photo [for a fee] before we exited our first carriage ride.

We went inside the museum to view the carriages. 

~ Then we boarded the next carriage for the conclusion of our tour.  ~

~  Off again with a different guide and three rested horses.  ~

Below we were entering the island's State Park.  In 1875 Mackinac Island became the second national park in the nation three years after Yellowstone.   Ownership was transferred to the state 20 years later and the island became Michigan's first state park.  

The state park property encompasses 80% of the island [the other 20% is the City of Mackinac Island which was incorporated in 1900].  Bike, walking/hiking and carriage paths meander through the park.  The island was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960.

There are three cemeteries in the park - a military post cemetery, St. Anne's Catholic cemetery, and a protestant cemetery.  I was surprised to learn Michigan's 41st Governor, G. Mennen Williams, was buried on the island in the protestant cemetery.

At the time St. Anne's cemetery was built, hearses were horse-drawn. When the stone arch entrance was built they forgot to make it tall enough for the carriage driver to pass under.  A minor detail!

We stopped at Arch Rock for a photo shoot, and to rest the horses.  Arch Rock is a natural limestone formation that rises 146 feet above water.  It is 55 ft. at its widest point.

We passed the Governor's Summer residence that was constructed in 1902 as a private summer cottage for Lawrence Young, a Chicago lawyer, and his family.  It was purchased in 1944 from the second owner, Hugo Scherer, for its original cost of $15,000. 

Years ago on a visit to the island we passed Governor Engler as he was out jogging accompanied by security guards.

[Internet Photo]

From there the carriage driver dropped us off a short distance from the Grand Hotel where our group gathered for check-in... next post.

If you have an interest in seeing more photos of the island, you can view my post from last year's visit here


  1. Love that picture of you and your young children! And the carriage tour looks wonderful.

  2. Your vintage photograph is simply adorable!

  3. What gorgeous photos! A friend of mine and her husband spent their honeymoon at the Grand Hotel, and she has said that Alex and I should go because she knows we would love it. And I had never heard that they have all those fudge shops -- I LOVE fudge! A sweet visit, indeed.


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