Biking around a charming (but stinky) little island – Mackinac Island, MI
Our active and fun-filled days with Don and Lisa continued, as we moved Betsy up into northern Michigan. Destination: Mackinaw City, just across from Mackinac Island. This small island lies in the Strait of Mackinac, between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. As we learned first-hand, it’s a favorite summer destination for thousands of folks, with a charming downtown area. It had been recommended to us by fellow bloggers, followers and friends, so we were excited to check it out on a gorgeous summer day.
But just a quick digression, please. I want to mention a fun stop we made at Frankenmuth, Michigan, that Don had suggested. This quaint little German-themed town was definitely worth taking a little side trip for. Although we only had time for lunch and a look around town due to the long drive ahead, it’s a place we would love to come back to for a weekend.
We had a great lunch at the Frankenmuth Brewery, and after driving around town a bit we stopped into the absolutely huge (world’s largest) Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. There is no way to describe the sights and sounds of literally millions of Christmas decorations and other goodies this place carries – you have to be there to believe it. It was busy – even in August – we can’t image what it would be like during the holidays. But we did have to wonder how the employees can stand to listen to Christmas music all day, every day 😦
But now back to Mackinac Island. Ever since we heard about this island months ago, we had been mispronouncing its name. Originally the area had the Indian name “Michinnimakinong”, but when the French came in 1715 they changed it to “Michilimackinac”, pronouncing the end of the word as “aw.” The Brits arrived in 1761 and decided to change the spelling to “Michilimackinaw.” Eventually the name was shortened to Mackinaw, for obvious reasons. But the French kept their “ac” spelling and retained its French pronunciation. Only Mackinaw City retained its “aw” spelling – hence, Mackinac Island, Mackinac Bridge and Straits of Mackinac. Just remember if you come to this area that they are all pronounced with “aw” at the end, or you will be called a “fudgie” by the locals (whatever the heck that is). Got it? Good!
We thought biking here would be similar to biking on other islands that we’ve enjoyed, like Block Island in Rhode Island and San Juan Island in Washington. Wrong! Biking here is unique and charming for several reasons:
The entire island is listed as a National Historic Landmark.
It is accessible only by ferry, aircraft or snowmobile (across the ice during winter) – no bridges.
Except for fire trucks, motor vehicles have been banned since 1898!
80% of this small island is preserved as a state park, Mackinac Island State Park, and it’s Michigan’s first state park (established in 1895).
The only mode of transportation is by bicycle, or…
…horse-pulled carriage – as a taxi, freight wagon or garbage collector.
Finally, since this is a horse town with about 500 of them leaving behind their poops and urine, experiencing it takes you back in time to when horses ruled the road. We began smelling it as the ferry approached the dock, and found it a bit overwhelming in the downtown area.
Considering the natural beauty and touristy fun of biking, the four of us brought our own bikes along and first rode around the 8-mile perimeter of the island, following Lake Shore Boulevard (M-185). It’s the only interstate in the U.S. that doesn’t allow personal motor vehicles. Bikes can be rented by the hour, but it’s a bit pricey so we took our own and went at a leisurely pace.
We took the slower (and cheaper) Arnold ferry across, at the round-trip cost of $18 per person plus $8 per bike.
Down the road a ways along Lake Huron, we saw an example of Mackinac Island’s breccia rock formations. About 4,000 years ago, the lake waters slowly dissolved the softer material that extended into the center of the formation. As the lake eroded the middle of the stack, it slowly crumbled into the water leaving the firm breccia limestone arch that is now called Arch Rock.
The island’s landscape is characterized by high limestone bluffs, beautiful vistas of sparkling water and vibrant forests with unique geological formations.
We were captivated by the island’s Victorian charm and relaxed atmosphere. While most areas were quiet and beautiful, the downtown was bustling and packed with tourists filling the many restaurants and stores.
Some of the quaint (and not so quaint) structures we saw:
As we biked into Surry Hills, we noticed this red building and rode up to discover it was the newly-built Grand Hotel Stables. It’s a working stable and home to 12 of the hotel’s horses.
Inside the stable building were 20 antique carriages from the Grand Hotel and Mackinac Island Carriage Tours. One wall displayed a copy of the 1896 resolution to ban motor vehicles on the island.
If you’re old enough to have seen the movie “Somewhere in Time“, then you might want to stop by the Majestic Grand Hotel. The 1980 film starred Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour and Christopher Plummer, and was filmed on location right here. However, be prepared to pay a $10 fee just to walk on the grounds and into the lobby. We stopped here and were happy to view it from the outside.
After riding several more miles on the island’s interior roads and trails, we parked our bikes downtown and window shopped, cooling ourselves down as the smell of fudge wafted through the air. And did we buy some? Of course!
We recommend biking the island – it’s small with just a few hills to tackle. Although the odor from the horse “leavings” was pretty bad downtown, we enjoyed getting a good workout and had a great time eating and shopping after our ride.