The Great Northern Route

The main attraction around St. Ignace is anachronistic Mackinac Island, one of the top draws in the Midwest. Pronounced “MACK-i-naw,” this tiny island is almost completely car-free, and walking and cycling trails loop around its 2,200 ac (890 ha) (even UPS delivers parcels by bike!). Now billed as a sort of bygone-days living museum, during the early 19th century Mackinac Island was the headquarters of John Jacob Astor’s early fur-trading empire. For two centuries before then, its coveted position at the heart of the Great Lakes meant that French, British, and later, Americans frequently fought over it. Historic sites and beauty spots abound, so be sure to move quickly through the Main Street commercial area around the ferry landing, which is oversupplied with fudge shops (an island specialty since Victorian times).

Apart from slabs of fudge, the biggest tourist attraction on Mackinac has to be the aptly named Grand Hotel (906/847-3331, $359 and up, including breakfast and dinner), which has been in business since 1887. Famous for its 660-ft-long (201-m) “World’s Longest Front Porch,” packed with potted plants and comfy chairs, the hotel is definitely deluxe; room rates are pretty high, but you can explore the place and enjoy a drink or high tea, or pay for a self-guided tour ($10 for nonguests). Room rates elsewhere on the island start around $150 at most of the many nice hotels and B&Bs, like the Main Street Inn (906/847-6530), at the heart of town. No matter where or how long you stay, Mackinac Island is a great place to rent a bike (or take a horse-and-buggy ride), cruise around, and forget about your daily grind.

Passenger ferry services (about $27 round-trip) from the docks in St. Ignace are fast (20 minutes each way) and frequent from April through October; call Star Line (800/638-9892) or Shepler’s (800/828-6157) for times and rates.

Map of the Great Northern through Michigan.
Map of the Great Northern through Michigan.

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