Why Mackinac Island is the strangest place in Michigan

Jul 29, 2018 at 4:00 am
Forget the Motor City.
Forget the Motor City. Courtesy photo

When was the last time you visited Mackinac Island?

If you're like me, it may take you a moment to recall obligatory summer vacations with family, counting years since your petulant teenage years on your fingers, using failed relationships as primary markers of time. Revered as Michigan's most beloved tourist trap and quaint resort town, Mackinac Island calls to mind nostalgic memories no matter when you last visited or with whom because, on the surface, the place commonly referred to as "the jewel of the Great Lakes" is downright old-fashioned.

It might have something to do with the fact that the use of cars or other motorized vehicles are prohibited — island visitors are asked to travel by foot, bike, or horse-drawn carriage, as they are the only permitted modes of transportation.

Secondly, there's fudge. If Mackinac Island is known for anything, it's fudge. In fact, there are 14 fudge shops (Ryba's is arguably the best of the bunch), and more than 10,000 pounds of fudge leave the island every single day. We challenge you to visit fudge shops (or shoppes) across the country, and we bet that even homemade fudge follows what has been called the "Mackinac recipe" because, yeah — it's that good. Oh, and tourists (of which there are up to 15,000 per day during peak season) are referred to as "fudgies" by the residents of the island because, yeah, it's that good. (Ryba's Fudge Shop; 7245 Main St., Mackinac Island; 906-847-4065; ryba.com)

Third, well, the whole damn island smells like a mixture of horse poop and fudge, and nothing makes me think of life before WiFi more than horse doo-doo and a Civil War-era confectionery treat. OK — the fragrance of the lush evergreen forests (spruce, cedar, paper birch, and balsam fir) is downright delightful. The 3.8-square-mile island, which once served as home to a Native American tribe, then a fur-trading hub, and also as a military post during the War of 1812, has a rare quality for a "resort town" — it is a luxury, a lesson, and a laid-back adventure all in one perfectly gift-wrapped commemorative shot glass and graphic tee that will be your spouse's bedroom attire for years to come.

So, where do you begin? Fudge? Horses? Nay. Grab a drink at one of the island's most iconic taverns, because despite its family-friendliness, Mackinac is full of trouble if you choose to seek it out. The Pink Pony, situated inside the Chippewa Hotel (7221 Main St., Mackinac Island; 906- 847-3341; pinkponymackinac.com), offers a slew of memorable cocktails suited for anyone looking to enter maximum relaxation mode. After you sip upon their famous Island Rum Runner or a Lilac Lemonade (Grey Goose Vodka, Chambord, lemonade, and "a splash" of Champagne, because you deserve it), you can take in the splendor that is the grounds of the nearby Grand Hotel — home of the world's longest porch (286 Grand Ave., Mackinac Island; 800-334-7263; grandhotel.com). Snagging a room in the 393-room historic property will run you about $209 (or more) a night during peak season, but the real magic is in the hidden gardens nestled in the forestry surrounding the hotel. Vape here.

Once you are properly lubricated (or fumigated, whatever your poison may be), it may be time to rent a damn bike. Better yet, consider a tandem bike, so you can truly experience the struggle of 1887. Keep in mind there are many bike rental services (nearly 1,500 bikes available) and not all bikes are created equal, especially if you're looking to lay waste to the nearly 70 miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails. After all, you're going to need a sturdy set of wheels, because you'll be competing with arm-in-arm gaggles of Vineyard Vines-wearing, out-of-town families who are definitely going to miss their ferry ride if Timmy doesn't hurry the eff up. Pokémon Go is a scam, Timmy!

Next up, the Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House and Insect World (6750 McGulpin St., Mackinac Island; 906-847-3972; originalbutterflyhouse.com) is a must-see attraction. As one of the oldest museums of its kind (and the first in Michigan) you would be remiss to not pay a visit to the 500 chrysalis cases where you can watch the emergence of butterflies from their chrysalis stage. This may be your best opportunity to ponder the meaning of life while on the island. Don't vape here.

To keep the trip extra trippy, brace yourself for a 200-step climb to see the legendary Arch Rock. Located on the east side of the island, the natural rock formation stands with a 50-foot span, with stunning views of Lake Huron. This is a breathtaking sight and a prime selfie spot or pop-the-question locale. Make out here. Though it is sure to be flush with tourists just like you, the views through this geological wonder are a breathtaking reminder as to why Mackinac is, above all else, a choose-your-own-adventure portal to a vacation you may never forget (or remember, for that matter).

From our 2018 Made in Michigan issue.