The island of horses and bikes

From time to time, I just get fed up with riding on roads with heavy motor vehicle traffic. Wouldn’t it be great to have a nice chunk of acreage all to ourselves?

On our recent vacation to northern Michigan, we got to experience what that might be like. We took a short side trip to Mackinac Island.

Mackinac (pronounced Mack-ih-naw) Island sits in the Straits of Mackinac, between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas. It was strategically important during colonial times, and was fought over during the War of 1812. But now, it’s a quiet resort, a “theme park for adults” some call it, but not in the sense that Las Vegas is a theme park for adults. Mackinac is much more sedate.

A short ferry ride gets you to to the island. There’s no bridge from the mainland.

The main reason for that placid atmosphere is that motor vehicles are banned from the island. If you want to get around, you ride a bike or use a horse-drawn vehicle. That fact of life makes for scenes that aren’t common in the rest of the country.

Getting around on Mackinac Island — bikes, horse drawn wagons, and foot power.

Pat and I stayed with our friends Brad and Linda at the Grand Hotel, built in 1887. Maroon coaches with liveried drivers carry guests from the ferry docks up to the hotel.

The Grand Hotel. Men are required to wear jackets and ties for cocktails and dinner.

Don’t want to walk? Take a taxi.

Rental bikes are available at a number of places near the ferry docks. The bikes are nothing special — lots of beach cruisers and six-or-seven speed hybrids. I think we saw two road bikes the whole time we were there.

Bike parking lot.

With no motorized traffic, bikes handle a lot of heavy work duties.

We didn’t do any biking on the island. We were there for only 24 hours, and with cocktails, dinner and dancing in the evening, and golf the next morning, we had no time for anything else (The hotel’s golf course has two nines on different parts of the island. A horse drawn shuttle takes you between the two nines).

The island’s main street. Bike traffic was surprisingly light when we walked along here.

If there’s a down side to spending time on Mackinac Island, it’s that some people on bikes are people who don’t ride much otherwise. So they ride with no attention to rules of the road, and little consideration for pedestrians. Many of them show off their lack of biking skills by weaving back and forth, and struggling to keep their balance. But they’re a minority, and the alert pedestrian can see those kinds of riders in plenty of time to move to a sidewalk.

It’s a charming place, with fudge shops every few steps, a Revolutionary War-era fort with period weapons displays during the day, and always, a pleasant breeze off Lake Huron. Members of the slow biking movement will feel right at home here.


  1. says

    These are great pictures, Ray. It’s too bad (from my point of view) that you didn’t have some time to do a little riding.

    I’ve “borrowed”–and given you credit for–one of the pictures and linked to this post as well. You can expect tens of visitors from my place. Maybe.

  2. says

    Looks like a very enjoyable trip. It is amazing how nice things can be in car-free environments.

    Except sometimes when cycling in these places the menace of cars can be replaced by the menace of pedestrians :-)

  3. Howard J. Blodgett says

    Makinac Island is one of my most favorite places in the world, oozing with history, charm, and unbelievable beauty. It’s too bad you didn’t take a bicycle ride there–they have a completely flat paved road completely around the island. Most visitors don’t realize it, but many of the trees lining the road east of town aren’t really trees–they’re lilac bushes, the largest and oldest ones in the world, planted by French fur traders over 300 years ago. The island has a Lilac Festival in June, and there are thousand of lilacs in bloom.

    The only real downside–to protect the bicycle renters, you pay through the nose to bring your own bikes over on the ferry. But I’ll do it anyway, because the rental bicycles are nothing special (and some, I believe, are quite dangerous).

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