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A First Timers Guide to Mackinac Island

Main Street Lined with Bikes

Mackinac Island in the Evening

Mackinac Island (pronounced mak-en-aw) is a popular tourist destination in Northern Michigan, voted Best Island in the Continental United States by Travel and Leisure Magazine. Located in Lake Huron, Mackinac Island is only accessible by ferry or plane, and no cars are allowed. Main Street is dotted with dozens of fudge shops and horse-drawn carriages carrying guests to their hotels. A visit can feel like a step back in time.

The grounds of the Grand Hotel

The grounds of the Grand Hotel

Where to Stay

Staying on the island can be expensive so many people stay on the mainland (either Mackinaw City or St. Ignace) and visit for the day. If your budget allows, I recommend staying overnight on the island because the atmosphere changes when the final ferry of the day leaves the dock. If price is no object, stay at the iconic Grand Hotel. The Grand Hotel has won many awards over the years and is home to the world’s longest porch. If you would like to experience the Grand without paying the high price of lodging, you can get a reservation at one of the resort’s restaurants or pay the $10 entrance fee for a self-guided tour of the hotel. Be aware that the Grand Hotel does have a dress code. If you’re looking for a more relaxed stay, Mission Point Resort is located on the “Sunrise Side” of the Island and is home to five restaurants and a sprawling waterfront green where you can relax in an Adirondack chair and look out over the water. My go-to hotel on the island is the Chippewa Hotel, located on Main Street steps from the ferry dock. The rooms at the Chippewa face either the action of Main Street or the tranquility of Lake Huron. Probably my favorite thing about the Chippewa is the Pink Pony Restaurant and its waterfront deck where can watch the ferries come and go while enjoying dinner or a drink. Whether you decided to splurge on a hotel on the island or a stay on the mainland, I recommend Star Line Mackinac Ferry Company to get you to and from the island with ease.

Arch Rock

Arch Rock

What to Do

I always recommend doing a guided tour on the first day of a trip to a new place. On Mackinac, I recommend Mackinac Island Carriage Tours. While riding in a horse-drawn carriage, your guide will explain the history of the island and give you a lay of the land. The tour stops at the iconic Arch Rock (above), the Butterfly Garden, and Fort Mackinac. After the tour, I recommend renting bikes from Ryba’s Bike Rentals and riding the 8.2 miles around the island. When you are done with your bike ride, spend some time shopping for souvenirs and fudge on Main Street. Once you have seen the most popular tourist attractions, don’t miss some of the hidden gems on Mackinac Island.

Fort Mackinac

Be sure to save some time to explore Fort Mackinac (above). Built in 1781, Fort Mackinac was occupied by the British throughout the American Revolution. The first battle of the War of 1812 took place on Mackinac Island when the British stormed the north end of the island on what is now known as British Landing (this is a good place to stop if you choose to bike around the island). Americans did not regain control of the fort until the end of the war in 1815. With tensions between the Americans and British declining after the War of 1812, Fort Mackinac’s military significance declined and the fort and most of the island was made the second National Park in 1875. In 1895 the park was transferred to the state and became Michigan’s first State Park.

Drink on the Patio overlooking the water

Enjoying a drink at the Pink Pony

Where to Eat

As mentioned above, my favorite restaurant on the island is the Pink Pony with its waterfront patio. I also enjoy getting a bite to eat at the Yankee Rebel Tavern and The Chuckwagon. For a unique experience, head inland to the west side of the island for a meal at The Woods. If you are looking for a fine dining experience, look no further than Chianti at Mission Point Resort or the Grand Hotel Main Dining Room. While Starbucks is now the first and only chain business to operate on the island, I would recommend the Good Day Cafe or Watercolor Cafe for a more Mackinac coffee pick-me-up.

Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Soo Locks Boat Tour

G3 Marquis Freighter

Back in 2016, we did a Soo Locks Boat Tour as part of our Epic Michigan Road Trip. While staying in St. Ignace at Straits State Park over Labor Day, we decided to take my brother and sister-in-law to the Soo since neither of them had been. It is a 45-minute drive from St. Ignace to  Sault Ste. Marie and is an easy day trip.

We started at the Locks viewing area where we called the hotline and found out that a freighter, G3 Marquis (above), would be coming through soon. After watching the ship lower to meet the water level of Lake Huron, we decided that our family needed to experience the Locks firsthand, so we booked a Soo Locks Boat tour.

We drove through downtown Sault Ste. Marie and headed to Famous Soo Locks Boat Tours near the historic St. Mary Falls Power Plant and the Museum Ship Valley Camp. Back in 2016, we did the tour with Original Soo Locks Boat Tours, which is located a little farther out of town, and we were under the impression this was one company with two docks, but after some internet sleuthing we learned that they have always been separate companies but they used to share docks and operated as a single company outwardly. But, in 2022 The Original Soo Locks Boat Tours was bought by the company that also runs the S.S. Badger Carferry and now the two tour companies run completely separate businesses.

Taking the Soo Locks down to Lake Huron level

Taking the Soo Locks down to Lake Huron level

The Soo Locks are an engineering marvel! The locks allow ships to bypass the dangerous St. Mary’s rapids by adjusting the water level for the 21-foot difference between Lake Huron and Lake Superior. The locks are maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and are free for use by commercial or personal watercraft. There are two functioning locks on the U.S. side with a third lock under construction and slated for completion in 2030. It is estimated that 10,000 ships go through the locks each year, but many newer ships no longer fit in the smaller MacArthur Lock, so Great Lakes marine traffic should speed up when the new lock opens. There is one lock on the Canadian side that is not large enough for commercial freighters and is only used for pleasure craft. Our tour did not go through it last summer because of Canada’s strict COVID regulations. Hopefully, the tours will be able to use it again next summer because it was fun to go back through a different lock.

If you are spending any time in the Eastern UP, definitely make the drive to Sault Ste. Marie. Call the Soo Locks Hotline ((906) 632-3366) to make sure you time your visit with an incoming freighter. If you have the time, a boat tour is definitely worth it to get to experience the changing water levels for yourself. There are currently two options, Famous Soo Locks Tours and Original Soo Locks Tours, they do the same route. I would pick based on the time that works best for you.

Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

Wordless Wednesday: Lovers Leap Arch

Lovers Leap Arch

Wordless Wednesday: Paddling Pictured Rocks

Paddling toward Indian Head

Kayaking Pictured Rocks

Kayaking towards Lover's Leap Arch

This past summer I got to do something that has been a dream of mine for over ten years, kayak Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. I have hiked the Lakeshore Trail and seen the rocks from the water on the boat cruise, but I have wanted to get up close and personal with the rocks since my first visit. So, when we were able to score a campsite at the lakeshore, I started doing my research for kayak tours.

Before I get into the tour, I want to talk a bit about Lake Superior and boating safety. Lake Superior is notoriously rough and can be dangerous if you are not in the proper boat. It is not recommended that you take a recreational kayak to see the rock formations. A sea kayak with a spray skirt is the recommended boat for this trip. If you are not a seasoned sea kayaker, it is best to see the rocks on a guided tour.

Pictured Rocks Kayaking Boat

There are many companies that offer tours of Pictured Rocks, but we decided to go with Pictured Rocks Kayaking (paddlepicturedrocks.com) for one main reason: they launch from a boat (left). Most of the tour operators launch from a beach in the park and you paddle from the beach out to the rocks and back. With the boat, Pictured Rocks Kayaking is able to take their guests out farther and allow them to paddle the most impressive rock features. The boat follows the tour and if someone needs to go to the bathroom or gets too tired, they are able to go back to the boat.  Also, if a storm blows in fast, they are able to get everyone back on the boat to safety.

As of 2022, Pictured Rocks Kayaking offers two tours, the shorter (2-3 hour) Miners Castle Tour which gets paddlers up close to the famous Miners Castle rock formation, and the 4-5 hour Ultimate Kayak tour. Being a bucket list experience, of course we chose the Ultimate Kayak Tour.

Paddling through a cave

Our tour started in Munising where we had a quick kayak basics and safety demonstration before getting on the boat for a 40-ish minute ride to the spot where you get in the water right from the boat. The water was unbelievably calm on the day we did the tour. You can see in the pictures, the water was like glass and it was a very easy paddle.

It was amazing how close we were able to get to the rocks. We paddle into caves and felt the water dripping from the rock above (above). We got to paddle under the iconic Lovers Leap arch (top). The tour ends at Chapel Rock where we headed back to the boat to eat our picnic lunch while the boat took us back to town.

Kayaking Pictured Rocks

My only complaint about the tour was the speed it went. As pretty avid kayakers (and experienced tandem kayakers at that) we had a hard time going as slow as the tour dictated. I understand that it is a long time on the water and we didn’t want to tire anyone out, but my back go sore sitting in the seat before my arms were tired.

If you are visiting Pictured Rocks and want to get out on the water, I highly recommend Pictured Rocks Kayaking.  You get to see more than other tours with the comfort and security of knowing the boat is there if you need it. Our guide was friendly and knowledgeable and gave great restaurant recommendations! I would absolutely take the tour again if I was in the area.

Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip check out my Planes, Buses, and Boats Trip Report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Wordless Wednesday: Clouds over Mackinac

Mackinac Island from the Fort

Mackinac Bridge Walk

Walking the Mackinac Bridge

Every Labor Day, people flock to the Straits area to walk across the Western Hemisphere’s longest suspension bridge. The rest of the year, the only way to get across the bridge is in a car, so the Labor Day Bridge Walk is a big deal. The walk is a Michigan tradition dating back to 1958. Of course, it was canceled in 2020 so I was excited when they announced the walk would happen again in 2021!

The bridge is over 26,000 feet (almost 5 miles) long so it is recommended that people be in fairly good shape to make the trek. In the middle of the bridge, it is about 200 feet above the water, so the walk is not for those afraid of heights either. As this was my first bridge walk, I was surprised to see people of varying abilities making their way across. We also saw a lot of people who have clearly been doing this for years with Bridge Walk patches covering whole backs of some denim jackets.

Traffic is closed on the bridge for safety so walkers have the option to turn around at the halfway point or walk the whole way and find their own way back. In the past, busses have carried people back across the bridge, but due to COVID (and honestly, logistics), that was not an option this year. We chose to use the Mackinac Island ferries to get back to St. Ignace, by way of the island.

Fort Mackinac This was the first time my sister-in-law had been to Mackinac Island so we hit all the highlights. We took a carriage tour and explored the fort. Since we had just walked five-plus miles, we skipped the bike ride. But, we ended our little mini-adventure at our Mackinac favorite, The Pink Pony!

When it comes to Mackinac Island ferries, we have always been loyal to Star Line, but starting the bridge walk in St. Ignace, it would save a lot of steps to use Shepler’s ferry instead. Their Mackinaw City dock is right at the base of the bridge. Walking to Star Line added probably another mile to our walk that day. Did I forget that and already buy our ferry tickets through Star Line for next year during their Black Friday sale? Yes, I did. Maybe I will remember this tip for 2023.

Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Mackinac Bridge Pinterest Graphic

Wordless Wednesday: Duncan Bay

Blue sky over the bay

Camping at Cheboygan State Park

The bay from our campsite

Before our tour of Michigan State Parks last summer, I was watching a lot of Trekker’s Michigan State Parks videos on Youtube. When they did their drive through Cheboygan State Park, I knew I needed to check it out for myself! The park is located in Northern Michigan on the shores of Lake Huron. Its location, only half an hour from Mackinaw City, making it a good home base for exploring the straits area. The campground is small, only 75 sites, and with only 20 amp service, some might call it outdated, but it is perfect for the kind of camping we do.

Camper under canopyI decided to head to Cheboygan for Memorial Day weekend and I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to get a waterfront site without much fuss about six months out. For some reason, this campground isn’t as popular as others in the area. Our site (site 27) was wooded on three sides with a path to the lake. Most of the other sites in the park are just as private. This is very unusual for a Michigan State Park campground. Most of them are big open fields. The bathhouse at the campground was small, but with most people relying on the bathrooms in their rigs, there was never a wait for the showers.

Path through the woods

The path to the bay from site 27

It was really nice to be able to put our kayak right in the water at our site and be able to paddle around the bay when the water was calm. We went a little way out and floated over two shipwrecks, the Leviathan and the Genesee Chief (unfortunately, forgot my action camera when we went out the first day and when we went back it was too cloudy to see them so I don’t have any photos). When we got back to camp, I looked these wrecks up and was interested to learn that they were both intentionally sunk in the bay. I did feel better when we returned to the site knowing there were no casualties, but it’s always sad to realize that in the 19th century, the Great Lakes were thought of as garbage dumps.

Besides the Mackinac area, Cheboygan is not a far drive away from the only named waterfall in the lower peninsula, Ocqueoc Falls, The waterfall will be the topic for next week on the blog, so be sure to come back! Thanks for stopping by! To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! You can purchase prints on Etsy and Fine Art America. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.

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Wordless Wednesday: Crisp Point Beach

Crisp Point Beach

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