Mackinac Island, MI

posted in: GOOD EATS, MAGNUS, MICHIGAN, TRAVEL | 0

A few weeks back, a good friend of mine rang me up out of the blue. She was on her way to visit her parents, and wanted to chat while she ticked the miles down on the odometer. You see, a few months prior, she and her husband had been relocated to Michigan, where she was born, from Arizona; a few years prior to that, she had been relocated to Arizona from Georgia, which is how we met and became life-long friends. We call every week or two to catch up and keep connected.

But I digress. On this particular instance, she was lamenting about the summer slipping away from her, and how fall would be here before we knew it, and then WHAM, nursing school would start – and just like that (never one to turn down a chance for travel) I was penciling in my next trip north with Magnus.

As we chatted, she mentioned Mackinac Island – she visited many times when she was younger, and had recently visited with her husband, and as she described her adventure, I just knew this was going to be the purpose of my trip – to visit this magical place. As I began planning, people close to me would throw in little added tips from their own visits to the Island. I had a whole Google Map laid out with all my “must-see’ locations pinned on the map.

I drove into Michigan early in the week, so I could finish up my 9 to 5 workweek remotely, one of my favorite perks of the job. After the work week was through for both of us, we loaded up our adventure gear into the back of the Jeep and hit the road for the trip from Detroit to Mackinac Island.

The drive in was uneventful, but my first experience of the Mackinac Bridge was at night, and it leaves a lot to be desired. You can’t really appreciate how beautiful it is when you can’t really grasp its size, height or construction. None-the-less, we paid our toll and practically fell into our beds at the local Northernaire Motel where the wonderful manager, Andy, literally left the lights on for us (and our keys on our bedside tables).

The next morning, we woke early, squared away our bill with our gracious host, and hopped on over to Shepler’s Ferry.

And what a Ferry it was! I’m used to the Ferry’s like we have down south – about a slow as a misquito floating on the breeze. Not Shepler’s! This Ferry took off like a SHOT, spraying the sides of the boat and the rooftop inhabitants as we cruised along – first a nice scurry around the Mackinac Bridge, and then to our destination, Mackinac Island. They must’ve known that they had a whole shipload of hungry land-lovers, because the entire trip probably only took twenty minutes.

Upon our arrival, despite my hunger, I was immediately taken with the throng of carriage horses loitering around the small historic town. Since there are no motorized vehicles on the island, if you want to go somewhere while resting your own two feet, horse and carriage it is. Even the local UPS driver has a horse and carriage. It was quite a site to behold! I’m sure my first five enamored exclamations were tolerated, but my traveling companion probably lost interest after.

We made a bee-line for Mackinac Island Pancake House. We picked it off of google maps randomly, because unlike the rest of the trip, eating was the one thing I had not planned, which was SO unlike me. But, I love a good pancake, and this place did not disappoint! I ordered Cinnamon Roll pancakes, and Charlene had corned-beef hash with eggs and bacon. Neither of us could finish the generous portions.Breakfast over, we departed the bustling shopping center of ‘town square’. Neither of us came for shopping, and we certainly didn’t come for the throngs of people. I pulled up my handy Google Maps list of ‘Mackinac Musts’ and pointed us in the direction of our first point of interest.

As we walked, the narrow roadway wound along the coast of the tiny island, and little by little, the mobs of people faded away. Every so often, a horse drawn carriage would pass, or a small family on bicycles, but for the most part, it was just us, the ocean, and lots of happy conversation. The water was a color of blue that I have never experienced before; and certainly didn’t know you could find in a lake on the mainland.

We knew we had arrived at Devil’s Kitchen before we saw any marker – there were some loitering tourist like ourselves, called fudgies by the islanders, waiting to take photos with the small limestone cave. Like many of the limestone formations on the island, it was carved away by the waves of Lake Huron during a prehistoric post-glacial period. Story has it that the cave was believed to be inhabited by cannibalistic spirits, and that the black sooty marks on the inside of the cave are from their feasting fires.

Requisite tourist photos obtained of our first stop in Mackinac, we continued hiking along the coastal roadway. As we walked, enormous houses began to appear within view on the inside rim of the roadway. Many of these houses had beautiful construction, enormous decks, immaculate landscaping. Each with an even more stunning view of the water.

The next flag on our map was for British Landing; there’s not much to see other than a beach-facing canon and the historical placard, but it’s a historically significant stop, and a wonderful place to grab refreshments and take a rest. British Landing is appropriately named, as in 1812, this was the British invasion point that saw the fall of Fort Mackinac the very next morning. It was an entire surprise to the American soldiers, who had not even been notified that war had been declared, and the Fort fell without a single casualty.

Charlene ate a huge pickle on a stick from a small vendor, and we both grabbed water and sports drinks for the next leg of our trip, which was to veer away from the paved coastal roadway and head inland. The pavement gave way to a gravel road, and I carefully watched our map to find the point where we could jump trail from the dirt road to the singlepath that would lead us to our next point of interest. I finally found it, a narrowing place where the two paths nearly diverged, separated by only a few yards. The hiking trail was beautiful! I imagine that the locals use the trails often for recreation and transport on horseback! I’ve read that there are over 100 miles of trails like these on the island, which is fairly impressive given that it’s less than 4 mi². Less than a mile after hopping onto the bridlepath, we heard the sounds of exasperation coming up the hill – a family of four on beach cruising bikes had apparently also joined up with the trail, and they were walking and pushing their bikes through the rooted and rocky path, looking for Crack-in-the-Island. We had arrived at Cave in the Woods, and these destination-driven sight-seers were not impressed. They glanced at the cave, and then trudged on, leaving us to linger.

Cave in the Woods was also formed by prehistoric post-glacial wave action – this is startling to realize given that the cave now sits 150 feet above Lake Huron‘s water-level, and is at least a mile inland. It’s a very small cave, nearly the right size to stand in, and would make excellent natural shelter if you were for any reason looking for that sort of thing one late Mackinac night. I, on the other hand, prefer my accommodations to be a bit more posh.

We began our way further up the trail, where the bikers had disappeared into the woods several moments prior. It was less than 100 yards up the hill when we found Crack-in-the-Island, a place where the actual limestone base of the island is split. At once time, the crack was so large that it appeared like a bottomless pit, but during the 1800s it was used for dumping garbage, and today it’s not much deeper than 6 feet.

The sounds of airplanes piqued our interest, and we followed the rambling, singlepath trail further in the woods until we abruptly came to a board fence. We had found Mackinac Island Airport and in just enough time to watch a small plane takeoff. I took video for my aviation-loving husband, and we continued to follow the trail as it hugged close to the fence-line and grew wilder with every step. We nearly turned back after I stepped on a snake (both snake and I are fine) but we continued our adventures deeper into the island until we finally hit gravel road once more. Civilization!

Checking the map, we continued our journey southeast along the roadway until we reached the intersection of Mackinac Island’s three cemeteries – Ste. Anne’s Catholic Cemetery, Mackinac Island Cemetery, and the Post Cemetery. This was a pretty favorable spot for the horse-drawn tours, and they made slow loops around the gravel path. I particularly loved looking at the very old headstones, but also appreciated the totem pole that was erected on the edge of the land, near where they believe sacred Native American burials took place, a gentle reminder that this island was spiritually significant to the indigenous people long before it became a military settlement.

After a short while in the cemetery, we continued our trek and came upon Skull Cave. I was expecting a cave in the formation that resembled a human skull, but instead found a pretty nondescript cave outcrop that instead gains its namesake from the fact that a furtrader once spent a sleepless night seeking shelter here, and discovered many human bones – presumably from Native American inhumation.

As we continued our hike, we came across a tall set of steps, and a sign which indicated an overlook. Never one to pass by the chance for some beautiful scenery, we coaxed our tired legs up the multitude of steps and stumbled upon Fort Holmes. I usually veer away from the man-made markers and tend to favor natural findings instead, but this was a pretty cool sight – a clear view around the island, and a gentle breeze made for a beautiful place to take a short break.

Legs briefly rested, we departed down the same steps that we came up, and continued towards our next finding, Sugar Loaf. This 75-foot tall post-glacial formation is one of the very largest on the island, complete with a small cavern into it’s core, where Native American inhumation once again took place.

We had one more pit-stop on our walking island tour – beloved Arch Rock, the first thing that I had spotted on my map and wanted to visit. We actually intentionally saved the rock for our last stop, knowing that the afternoon light would be more favorable looking east through the rock. The only thing disappointing about the beautiful rock are the masses of tourists that cling to its observation rails, carriage loads of people dropped off every ten to fifteen minutes. If you patiently wait, you might snag a few photos without strangers in them.

We had walked nearly 10 miles already, and our legs and feet were very tired. We were about 150 feet above the lake level, and took a welcome set of stairs down to the roadway where we were greeted by Dwightwood Springs as it trickled down the rock face, a natural spring that has quenched thirsts of travelers for centuries, but is now deemed unfit for drinking – though we saw many brave fudgies try it anyway.

Having already visited Lake Erie in 2015 during a police training seminar, I wanted to check Lake Huron off my list and get my feet wet. The temperatures were mid-eighties, and despite the fact that there were many natives out enjoying the water, it was a bit cold for my Georgia-born footsies. The water was SO CLEAR! Lake Huron is currently my favorite of the Great Lakes, although I get the feeling from the Michiganders that you’re not really supposed to show favoritism.

Only a mile or so back to town, and we headed right back to where we started – Mackinac Island Pancake House, conveniently attached to a Ryba’s Fudge Shop. I know Mackinac is famous for its fudge, but not being much of a fudge enthusiast, I selected Detroit Grand Slam flavored ice-cream (A RICH CARAMEL COFFEE ESPRESSO BASE AND A SEA SALT CARAMEL SWIRL MIXED WITH COFFEE ESPRESSO CHOCOLATE FLAKES). Charlene was kind enough to share a bite of fudge with me, so I can at least say that I’ve tried it, and if it’s your thing, I’m sure you’ll find it top of it’s class.

All in all, we walked nearly 12 miles on the Island, and still didn’t see a fraction of what Mackinac has to offer. We did earn ourselves a handsome dinner back on St. Ignace. We chose one of her local favorites, Village Inn. I had bacon wrapped crab stuffed scallops – whats not to love about that! – and Charlene had glazed salmon while we shared bavarian pretzels between us. I don’t know if it was all the walking or if the food was just that good, but it was probably the most amazing thing I’ve had in a really long while.

I don’t think either of us were conscious by the time our heads hit the pillows that night. For the second night in a row, we slept soundly in our quaint accommodations.The next morning, we packed up our belongings and headed out for the second part of our adventure, but not without first stopping off at Castle Rock, one of the oldest lookouts in Michigan. We paid our $1 admission and begrudgingly climbed (yet another) giant set of stairs. The overlook certainly did not disappoint, but I’d be lying if I said that my main motivation for checking this particular spot off my list is driven by a love for the Castle Rock TV series.

After Castle Rock, we headed for the shores of Lake Michigan for me to check another of the Great Lakes off my bucket list. Our gracious host at Northernaire Motel (Andy) had given us exact directions to a recommended place to visit the lake, and I was delighted to find it was a gravel access road that literally ran the shore of the lake. We found an easy put in place with a great view of the bridge and took some obligatory photos as I played in the water for a few minutes.

I can definitely see why Mackinac Island is a beloved favorite of Michigan-natives, and I now have a deep appreciation of the place myself. It’s definitely on the top of my favorite trips list right now, and somewhere I will certainly visit again in the future!

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Adventurer / SysAdmin / Photographer

Hello fellow adventurer! I'm Jessica Jones, or just Jess if you'd like. I'm a driver at Jeeptographer.com, primarily with Blue, my 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe Rubicon . I'm 36 years young, and I enjoy adventuring to beautiful spots with the primary intent of taking photos. I *love* capturing our natural world.

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