Last winter we watched the excellent documentary Ice Bridge: Mackinac Island’s Hidden Season and while we were not ready to rent snowmobiles to visit Mackinac Island in the middle of a very harsh winter, we decided to visit the island in the summer. It had been over thirty-five years since I had visited Mackinac Island and the faded memories of childhood offered no glimpse of how I would remember the island. After watching the documentary, we decided on spending a couple of nights instead of a day visit and by the end of the trip the magic of the island had captivated both of us and a yearly ritual of going to Mackinac Island had begun. The absence of cars, the bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, endless fudge, the breathtaking views of Lake Huron and the Straits of Mackinac, and the quaint and nostalgic feel of the island left an impression of simple carefree enjoyment.
The trip began by boarding a ferry in Mackinaw City. On the short ferry ride to the island you can stay below deck to avoid the strong wind that makes it necessary to hold on to your hat, but for me the excitement of taking photographs of the Mackinac Bridge and the approach to the island overshadowed any thought of the cold and wind. As the ferry turned toward the island, you began to see the spectacular homes, the Grand Hotel and various hotels on Main Street. The first question often asked when you tell others you are going to Mackinac Island is are you staying at the Grand Hotel, but our preference was to stay on Main Street and have a room with a balcony that overlooked Haldimand Bay and the historic Main Street. As you depart the ferry and make your way to your hotel it is an amazing sight when you first encounter the crowds, bicycles, and horse-drawn carriages rambling along the street. We walked across the street to our hotel, the Main Street Inn and Suites, and passed our first fudge shop on the way and, of course, sampled some fudge.
Walking down the entrance way to the hotel lobby there is a painted rocking chair next to the hotel door and I knew right away that we had chosen the right hotel because Life is Sweet is painted across the top of the chair. Two of my favorite sayings are Life is Good and La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life) and between the fudge shop right at our door, the Life is Sweet rocking chair, our wonderful suite and a Life is Good store a few doors down the weekend was off to a great start. You will discover on Main Street that you will pass a number of fudge shops and besides satisfying your sweet tooth, the aroma of fudge serves a second purpose of overshadowing the horse aroma that can be quite strong along Main Street. Over the course of our stay, I believe we stopped in every fudge and gift shop (while I did not buy at each location, somehow a number of t-shirts and packages of fudge found their way into my bag).
The afternoons and early evenings are quite busy on the island and we chose to spend some of that time on the hotel balcony or local bar with a glass of wine and watched all the different groups of people enjoying Main Street. We watched couples strolling, day visitors shopping and eating fudge, horse-drawn carriages filled with passengers, children and adults bicycling past and the young and old attempting to ride tandem bikes (some more successful than others). Just prior to dinner you begin to see the exodus on the island of the day visitors. There is a quick transition from crowded sidewalks to smaller groups of families and couples enjoying the shopping, restaurants and bars. We dined at Goodfellow’s Italian Chop House, The Pink Pony Bar and Grill, Chuckwagon of Mackinac and the Huron Street Pub and Grill. The food was superb and the atmosphere, whether dining on the patio or in the bar, was relaxing and enjoyable. In the evenings as sunset approached we strolled Main Street where the charm was evident in the horses silently waiting by the sidewalks for their last passengers before heading home, the town slowly turning on their lights for the overnight guests and stopping for a black cherry ice cream cone to enjoy as we wandered along Lake Shore Boulevard with freighters and the Mackinac Bridge lights in the distance.
The mornings on the island are a different experience because you still have a very quiet and peaceful island other than the deliveries that are taking place by horse and trailer. While having breakfast you see all of the local restaurants receiving their supplies and kegs for the day and the stores receiving their deliveries. Similar to the evenings there is a drastic change of atmosphere at mid-morning when the quiet and slow-paced Main Street changes into a hustling and bustling motion of people. With all the beautiful scenery on the island we decided to explore on foot hoping to capture some of the beauty with my camera. After hours of walking, we made plans for next year to sightsee around the island by bicycle and rent a tandem bike (ok, that last part about the tandem bike may not have been agreed upon).
Leaving Main Street toward the Arch Rock, we explored the island and scenic attractions photographing everything along the way. The lilacs were still blooming and, due to the start of the summer season being delayed because of the harsh winter and cool spring, the lawn furniture was still awaiting summer guests, the marina was preparing for visiting boats and lone sailboats were awaiting their captains and crew. Walking everywhere with the water and freighters as a constant companion was all the company an introvert needed to explore the island. After viewing the Arch Rock, we headed back to Main Street and explored the neighborhoods on the way to the Grand Hotel, again stopping to take photos of everything and knowing there are many things left to see and experience next year when we visit. The day is spent simply enjoying ourselves and the surroundings, wandering along the water, and another sunset walk that cast a spell of bewitching beauty. Our final memory of the island is leaving on the ferry and looking back at the island and seeing the kayaks and paddleboards awaiting our return next year and enjoying the lingering Mackinac Island enchantment.