My family and I decided we wanted a beach to visit for our family vacation this summer, and we chose to take the road trip to St. Ignace, Mich., and the beaches of Lakes Huron and Michigan. We also took the ferry across the lake from St. Ignace to Mackinac Island.
Mackinac Island (pronounced Mack-i-naw) offers a unique opportunity to visit a place that is steeped in history and fun. A vacation destination for more than a century, the Island provides the experience of a place with no motorized vehicles. All transportation on the island, except for emergency services, takes place via horse or bicycle.
Two ferry companies take passengers out to the Island from St. Ignace on one side of the Mackinac Bridge and from Mackinaw City on the other side of the Bridge, Shepler’s and Star Line. Our hotel in St. Ignace, Cedar Hill Lodge, offered discounted tickets and shuttle service to Shepler’s, so that’s the ferry we went with. Both companies offer the same services at reasonable prices.
When we arrived, we made our way from the Shepler’s dock down the main street to the Mackinac Island Carriage Tour company, across from the Star Line dock. We wanted to see everything, and the tours are a great place to start, especially if you have some kind of mobility issue. Our driver, Kiki, introduced us all to our horses, Mona and Judy, to start the tour, and provided commentary as she took us on the first leg of the tour from down town, down the historic second street where the original fur traders’ homes can still be seen and visited, and out past the Grand Hotel to the stables and butterfly conservatory. From there, we took the second leg of the tour, behind a team of three hours and a new driver, through the State Park, to Arch Rock and Fort Mackinac.
My six-year-olds loved riding behind the horses, went into raptures over the butterfly conservatory, and ran all over grounds of the fort, which offers daily demonstrations of military life in the 19th century as well as a tea room, children’s play space, and living museum. Its history is connected with Fort Michilimackinac, which originally existed on the mainland in Mackinaw City and now has been largely reconstructed in its original location there. We were all fascinated by the living history the forts represented.
On the island, we walked down the bluff from the Fort to the main street again after lunch in the tea room, and browsed the shops, buying ice cream and fudge to take home. We watched fudgemakers in the windows along main street, dodged bicycles, and took a ferry back to St. Ignace late in the afternoon.
The next day, we drove over the five-mile Mackinac Bridge to visit Mackinaw City and Fort Michilimackinac, and there, we enjoyed leaning about the fort through the costumed presenters, and about its archaeology from the working archaeologists on site. They’re currently digging the site of a fur trader’s home, and they have been for about nine years. The on-site archaeologist said they’ll keep digging until they find nothing else to pull out of the soil, and that the cellars appeared to be used as storage facilities, so there’s lots to find.
As a side note, it’s possible to buy tickets to both forts at one time; I wasn’t sure we were going to make it to the mainland fort so I only purchased Fort Mackinac tickets the day we were there. However, when we did get the opportunity to go to the mainland fort the next day, we were able to pay only the difference between the two kinds of tickets at Michilimackinac, which saved us some money.
Fort Michililmackinac also has a large playground and access to a beach on the Lake Michigan side of the strait, and our girls were able to run off some energy before rain threatened. We headed back across the bridge to find pasties for lunch. We ended up at a St. Ignace staple: Lehto’s Pasties. This storefront has been around for more than fifty years, and it offers outdoor seating. The pasties are twelve ounces, pastry stuffed with steak, potatoes, onion, and rutabaga in a hand pie that’s perfect for lunch. We got three for the four of us, plus beverages, and headed down to the American Legion beach in St. Ignace to eat and collect rocks .
We thoroughly enjoyed our stay, and our only regret is we couldn’t stay longer.
If you go: Make sure to check out everything you’d like to see in advance and budget accordingly. While nothing was unreasonably priced, everything did cost something. The ferry and the carriage tour were the most expensive parts of the trip, but they were utterly worth it. Also, pay attention to COVID restrictions; we masked up at indoor spaces for safety’s sake.