Mackinaw City, situated in Michigan's Cheboygan County at the top of the state's Lower Peninsula, is linked to the Upper Peninsula by one of the world's longest suspension bridges. The city has become Michigan's most popular vacation destination, offering many historical and cultural attractions and acting as a gateway to the scenic Upper Peninsula with its hiking trails, state parks and recreation areas, and sandy beaches.
The city itself has a rich history, having been first settled after French explorer Jean Nicolet negotiated with the local tribes in 1634. It became a fur-trading post and later the site of a busy fort and trading store. By 1882 the settlement had become a flourishing town; today it is a popular shopping destination, with many unique stores and restaurants lining its main street, and boasting more than 50 hotels and holiday resorts. Regular ferry services connect the city with historic Mackinac Island, just offshore.
The most popular time to travel to Mackinaw City is during summer (June to August), when cool breezes from the ocean moderate the summer heat, making conditions ideal for beach-going and outdoor activities. The population of this small town swells enormously during high season, so if you want to avoid the crowds holiday in Mackinaw City in spring or autumn, when days are mild and nights cool.
Michilimackinac, about a mile (2km) from the centre of Mackinaw City, was the first stop for new arrivals back in the outpost days, around the 1700s. Today it remains the first destination for tourists visiting the area, being the site of a reconstructed 1715 French fur-trading village and military outpost that was later occupied by the British. The working colonial village is a living history exhibit that fascinates visitors, while within the stockade, archaeological excavations continue at the site. The historic park includes a vivid audio-visual recreation of a soldiers' barracks, a unique permanent underground archaeological tunnel exhibit displaying hundreds of original artefacts, a recreated Native American summer encampment illustrating life on the shores of the Great Lakes in the 18th century, as well as musket and cannon firing demonstrations and workshops illustrating pioneer skills like blacksmithing and open-hearth cooking.
Mill Creek, located on US-23, a few miles southeast of Mackinaw City, was constructed by Scotsman Robert Campbell in 1780, making it one of the first industrial sites in the Great Lakes area. The mill, now faithfully reconstructed, provided sawn lumber for the Mackinac Island settlers. Today, the water-powered sawmill sits in a delightful wooded setting among nature trails and forest management displays, providing an interesting attraction for numerous visitors. Demonstrations are given of logs being sawn, craftsmen in period dress show how houses were built, and a nature programme to encourage visitors to discover the area's flora and fauna is offered. The site includes a picnic area, and there is a cookhouse serving lunches and snacks. The surrounding area includes four miles (6km) of nature trails that bypass an active beaver colony.
Visitors who step ashore on Mackinac Island from one of the three ferry services from Mackinaw City can be forgiven for believing they have stepped back in time into a Victorian village. The small population of about 500 permanent residents has preserved the island settlement and the surrounding natural beauty to the point that no motor vehicles are allowed on the island; the only way to get around is on foot, by bicycle, or horse and buggy. The island, 80 percent of which is a state park, boasts 140 miles (225km) of roads and trails, ideal for hiking. The longest route is right around the island, following the scenic eight-mile (13km) Lake Shore road. Other popular walks include the Turtle's Back, Tranquil Bluff Trail, and British Landing nature trail. Every year in early June the island comes alive during the Lilac Festival, featuring the world's longest horse-hitch parade, fireworks, hayrides, country line dancing, free outdoor concerts, boat cruises, and garden tours.
From its stoic position on Mackinac Island, Fort Mackinac has stood sentinel over the Straits of Mackinac for more than 115 years, having been built by British soldiers during the American Revolution. The original fort has been restored as a National Historic Landmark and is one of Michigan's favourite attractions. Visitors can stroll through the 1780 officer's stone quarters, play dress-up in the discovery room, enjoy an audio-visual presentation in the Post Commissary, view the exhibits, and watch lively demonstrations. The fort is a must for anybody exploring the region and generally receives rave reviews from visitors of all ages.
About an hour's drive north of the Mackinaw Bridge, situated in one of the most scenic spots on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, lies the intriguing Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, alongside the historic Whitefish Point Light Station on the shore of Lake Superior. The museum is the only one of its kind, dedicated to highlighting the perils of maritime transport on the Great Lakes. It brings to life the dramatic shipwreck legends of the area with artefacts and exhibits telling stories of the ships and sailors who came to grief on the treacherous lakes. The lighthouse on the site is the oldest active lighthouse on Lake Superior. Visitors can also take a guided tour of the restored 1861 Lightkeepers Quarters, a duplex building with period furnishings, descriptive panels and artefacts from the days when keepers and their families lived here.
A holiday in Mackinaw City means days full of fun and activity in one of Michigan's favourite holiday destination. The pretty town is a mix of old and new, with some historic attractions like a lighthouse and Fort Mackinac, complemented by numerous modern institutions like a thrilling waterpark, more than 100 shops, laser light shows, and quality golf courses. For nature lovers there are parks and, of course, lovely sandy beaches. Many also travel to Mackinaw City for ferry access to the delightful Victorian outpost of Mackinac Island. A holiday with Mackinaw City as a travel hub provides access to attractions of all kinds and should ensure everybody from toddlers to grandparents is entertained.
Visitors to Mackinaw City can make use of the Mackinaw Trolley Company, which offers two and a half hour tours of the city, pointing out attractions and narrating its history. There are many charter buses all over the city as well as Shepler's ferry, which carries passengers to and from Mackinac Island in a little over a quarter of an hour. Rental cars are available for hire and drivers require a valid driver's licence. Travellers are advised to note that Mackinac Island has banned motor vehicles.
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