“Fall-ing” in Love with Mackinac Island
Autumn is a magical time in Michigan. The air is crisp and the forest canopy is lit up with brilliant shades of red, yellow and orange. It’s a time to steal a few more days of warm temps and outdoor adventures – in running shoes rather than snow shoes.
October is also a time when Heather and I traditionally escape for a quick getaway without the little ones (thanks Grandma!). The last few years we’ve jumped on a plane and headed to out-of-state destinations – the Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee for beautiful surroundings and exquisite food at Blackberry Farm, and last year to Chicago for a more urban experience.
Fall is a time to reset, recharge and reconnect. This year we decided to head north, not south, and to travel by boat, not plane. We planned a weekend on Mackinac Island.
Neither of us had ever spent a night on the island. In fact, other than a quick day-trip with our girls this summer, neither of us had been to Mackinac Island since we were kids ourselves. So we were excited to check out the island’s offerings without the anxiety of worrying about a three year old running into an oncoming horse and carriage. We found out that there is much more to Mackinac than fudge and ice cream.
We dropped the girls off for school on Friday morning, grabbed a couple cups of coffee, and headed west and then north around the bay. We listened to podcasts during the drive featuring authors Jonathan Fields and Elizabeth Gilbert talking about their most recent books. Rather than driving straight to Mackinaw City for the ferry, we detoured to Petoskey to check out the new Burnt Marshmallow brewery and for lunch at Chandler’s, one of our favorite spots in northern Michigan.
We arrived on Mackinac Island by 3 pm after a short, uneventful ferry ride and checked into Hotel Iroquois, a delightful inn set right on the harbor. We put on our walking shoes and headed out to explore. During our previous day-trip to Mackinac Island with our girls in June, we remained in the downtown, checking out the shops and sights and climbing up to Fort Mackinac. This time, without our extra “luggage,” we were intent to explore.
While researching our weekend’s activities, we discovered that there are extensive trail systems throughout the state park on the west side of the island. During both days of our trip we trekked up and down, and back and forth through the trails, stumbling upon a number of interesting historical points – many commemorating British and American battles from the War of 1812 – along the way.
We worked up a big appetite while hiking and enjoyed a great dinner at The Carriage House restaurant on our first night. It’s a bit pricier than many other options on the island, but we had a great dinner with wonderful service.
Day two was filled with more hiking in the morning, and we rented bikes in the afternoon and rode around the island. We enjoyed lunch and a couple of beers at The Pink Pony, and a casual dinner at the Gate House. We capped off the night with beers at the Draught House and watched the Cubs beat the Dodgers.
We found fall to be a great time to visit Mackinac Island. The crowds are thinner – much thinner – than summer and the colors are magnificent. It’s easy to get a table at a restaurant or stool at a bar. If you want to get over to the island this fall, though, you better hurry. At the end of this coming weekend most of the hotels, restaurants and shops close down for the season.
We heard from a number of people that this weekend is the “last hurrah,” and there will lots of fun and rowdy Halloween parties taking place. Establishments will be looking to clean out their inventories of goods, food and drinks with great specials and discounts. Mackinac Island does remain open during the off season, as several restaurants, hotels, shops and city buildings do remain open. We learned that trails are groomed for cross country skiing and snow shoeing during the off season, so we’re giving some thought to one more visit this winter for a bit of winter adventure.
When you live within a couple of hours of a place like Mackinac Island, it’s easy to take for granted what a special place it is. But upon arriving on Mackinac, you’re quickly reminded of its unique character, charm and beauty while observing large groups of international tourists who traveled halfway around the world to get to this tiny island in northern Michigan. It’s a great place, especially in the fall, to take a step back in time and escape to a slower pace of life.