Although we’re not much for planning our itinerary, we did plan to stay at Straits State Park on the shores of the Mackinac (pronounced Mackinaw) Straits, and visit Mackinac Island on a weekday. The State Park is a destination in itself – gorgeous views of Mackinac Straights, Lake Huron and the Mackinac Bridge just a few steps from our campsite. It’s also walking distance from downtown St. Ignace, home to 3 ferries, 2 Native American museums and several nice restaurants.
We caught an early ferry to Mackinac Island – the early ferries take the long way and travel under the Mackinac Bridge, satisfying my crazy thing about bridges. I love big bridges! And, we just happened to arrive amidst the finishing of the 108th running of the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac. Sail boats with their colorful spinnakers were approaching the end of their 333 mile race, with the winners having finished in about 40 hours. (Not many pix – hard to get ’em when they’re bouncing up and down in the waves sitting in a ferry that’s also bouncing up and down.)
Mackinac Island is a destination resort and renowned for being a well preserved 1890’s community in Lake Huron. Cars were banned on the island in 1898 – they frightened the horses – and have never been allowed back, except for an ambulance and firetruck. Even the police, hotel shuttles and UPS guy use horses and wagons or carriages, as well as bicycles. There are 1500 bikes for rent on the island (we brought our own), and 500 horses. The car ban (and likely a few other zoning requirements) have left the town looking mostly like it did at the turn of the last century, albeit with a fresh coat of paint.
Michigan route 185 is the only state highway in the country where cars are prohibited. So we set off on this 8-mile road around the island on our trusty bikes. Think a road with no cars is a bikers dream? Um, we were accompanied by many, many people on bicycles (very few actual bicyclists), and many horse-drawn carriages and their… byproducts. Despite the crowds, the road was beautiful and offered vistas in all directions, including the bridge.
After a quick lunch in the downtown area, we visited Fort Mackinac. Although a strategic outpost during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, Fort Mackinac became known as a cushy assignment – a training ground for troops on a resort island. From 1875-1895, the troops were responsible for maintaining the grounds of Mackinac National Park, the second national park in the country, after Yellowstone. In 1895, the national park was transferred to the state of Michigan, becoming it’s first State Park.
The Fort was remarkably well preserved as it was is 1895. Several well placed photos from the late 1800’s compared then and now. Wow! After another bike ride across the island, we returned via ferry, glad to have visited this historical gem.
While in the area, we also explored St. Ignace, visiting the two Native American museums. We gained a whole new appreciation for the history of trade around the Great Lakes among Canadians, Europeans and Native Americans, the breadth and depth of travel in those times and it’s impact on the westward expansion of the US and disposition of Native Americans.
In the campground under the bridge late at night, we met a couple from Quebec with touring bicycles and planned to get together for breakfast. Linda and Neil, both long time Bombardier employees with 6 weeks of vacation each year, were touring the perimeter of Lake Huron. We traded stories and travel tips and head off in different directions. Safe travels!
Glad we planned this piece of the adventure!
More pix: All things Mackinac