No matter what the spelling, you pronounce it “mack-in-aw.” Forget the “c,” pretend to be French. It’s fun, actually.
Mackinac Island. Mackinac Bridge. Straits of Mackinac. Fort Michilimackinac. Only Mackinaw City gives you a break. Or, if you really want to use that “c”, you can call the bridge “The Big Mac.”
Blame it on the early French settlers to the area, who heard the Native Americans speaking the name and tried to write it down in their own language. The word Mackinac is believed to be an abbreviation of the word Mishemikinock, Chippewa for “big turtle.” However, some contend that it is derived from the name of a small, lesser-known Native American tribe that lived on the island and was wiped out by the Seneca of New York. You can read more about this second story here.
Regardless of the origin of its name, Mackinac Island is a lovely 3.8 mile island sitting in the midst of Lake Huron, at the eastern end of the Straits of Mackinac and between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Hundreds of visitors flock to its shores on an annual basis- the local population is around 500. The many charms of this beautiful spot include the ban on most motorized vehicles, the famous fudge, the gorgeous views, and a rich history.
Living in the Midwest for a number of years, we finally decided it was time to check out the iconic Mackinac Island for ourselves.
Most visitors jump off from Mackinaw City or St. Ignace, where the Shepler’s and Star Line ferries run from May through October. Most businesses on the island coordinate their opening and closing days with the ferry schedule. You can also fly over out of the Pellston, Michigan airport. In the winter, there are actually ways to get to the island- the adventurous can check that out here!
Once on Mackinac, carriages or bicycles are the way to get around. Several bike rental places are scattered throughout the main part of town, rentals starting at around $4/hour. You can also bring your own bike across on the ferry for around $6.50. Horse-drawn carriages provide transportation or tours around the island as well- you can find a information on a few here. Many people find that walking is the best way to see everything they want to see, and to stop in to shops, restaurants or attractions whenever they like.
We had a great time renting a tandem bicycle and checking out Fort Mackinac, buying fudge, and stopping for the amazing views. A visit to the Grand Hotel is a must, although to go inside you must either be staying there or pay a fee to take a tour. But you can walk around the grounds and take in the scenery for free. The bike road around the island is a mere 8 miles long. 80% of the island is Mackinac Island State Park land. Beaches and parks abound, and while camping is not allowed, there are plenty of hotels or bed and breakfasts if you plan to stay overnight.
A Midwestern U.S. vacation or trip isn’t complete without a visit to Mackinac Island!
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