Mackinac Island has been on my bucket list for a very long time. Even before the movie “Somewhere In Time” made the Grand Hotel famous, the idea of taking a ferry to an island where no cars were allowed sounded simply idyllic. So, we packed up our bicycles and headed out to the ferry!
There are two main ferry lines servicing the island from both Mackinaw City and St. Ignace (across the Mackinac bridge). I chose the Star Line because the parking logistics were easier – for a fee, we could park right at the dock. The other ferry required shuttling from parking to the dock. At this time of year, departures are frequent, almost one every half hour or so. We saved a couple of dollars booking online, and our bicycles were an extra fee which covered the ferry transport and an island bicycle permit.
Several departure times allow time to swing under the Mackinac Bridge and around (schedule and weather permitting), so we chose one of those! The long bridge looks low to the water until you get under it, and realize that there is over 130 feet of clearance! It was fantastic to see the underside up close and personal.
About 20 minutes later, we were unloading at the Mackinac Island dock. We first stopped at a tourist information center to get a map and the scoop, then saddled up for a ride around the island. The circumnavigation distance is 8.2 miles of never ending blue water views. As a child, I didn’t fully appreciate just how pretty the Great Lakes are with blue water that is Caribbean-esqe in its clarity. On this beautiful July day, it was shown off to its best advantage.
I did not realize that most of the Island is actually park land – Mackinac State Park. It was originally the second National Park, established in 1875. That is only 3 years after the first National Park (Yellowstone) was established! Alas, its status as a National Park lasted only 20 years, when it was turned over to the State of Michigan with the proviso that it forever remain a Park. So, much of what we pedaled around was unspoiled and undeveloped land. Beautiful!
Geologically, the island is composed primarily of limestone, which can be carved into interesting features by the forces of wind, wave and ice. One of the most well-known features is Arch Rock. From the road, you only need to climb 207 steps to the top of the bluff to view it! You can also see it from the road, but the perspective isn’t nearly as pretty. I believe there is also a road up to the observation area, but what is the fun in that?
Riding around the 8.2 mile loop is a popular thing to do as evidenced by the number of bicycles on the road. You can rent bikes on the island but it is quite expensive for the nicer (multi-gear) bicycles – something similar to mine would have run over $60 for the day! It’s much cheaper to bring your own, and more comfortable too. It was quite an experience to ride along and only have to keep an eye out for other bicyclists and horse drawn carriages. Along the way, we spied a group of Amish young people enjoying the island on their bicycles. They must have felt right at home!
About halfway around the loop is a Nature center, and restrooms, making for a convenient stop. Frequent informative signs around the entire loop explained island history, flora and fauna. The loop itself is fairly flat, a hill or too (not bad), so it’s a do-able ride for most people.
Before we knew it we were back at the main town ….
To be continued on Part 2!