Mackinac Island is surprisingly small in some ways; surprisingly large in others. The absence of cars immediately makes it a bigger place, leaving the end away from the boat docks accessible only the slower modes of foot, bike or carriage. Any visit to the Island ought to include time away from the fudge factories and t-shirt shops, and the best way to do it is on bicycle.
We arrived at the Arnold Line docks and immediately headed for bike rental shops. We scoured our tickets, the pamphlet racks, and tour guides for discount coupons, but couldn’t find any. There are plenty of vendors with bikes; as in any tourist area, you’ll pay a premium if you rent from the first one you meet on Main Street.
Because it was a warm day, and a circuit of the island is always popular, we planned to rent bikes first before exploring more of the island on foot. We wandered a few blocks counterclockwise around the island, looking at rate boards and finally stopping at Mackinac Wheels just past the Island House. Despite my better judgment, the five of us left on four bikes, with my younger kids determined to ride a two-seater.
In addition to our bicycle built for two, we had pretty basic Schwinns (three gears or so), which is largely what you’ll find on the island. Anything with more gears rents for more, but if you’re simply circumnavigating the island, basic will do just fine. (Those who head inland and up the steep central hill will probably want to pay the extra).
We’d caught one of the earliest ferries to enjoy the morning before the crowds arrived, and were pedaling off by 8:30. It proved to be a warm day on the island, hitting 95 degrees by mid-afternoon: one of the hottest days I’ve ever experienced in upper Michigan. Cycling early proved to be a good decision in several ways, as we beat the heat and had only modest company on the road. We continued counterclockwise on M-185, the state’s only highway that does not allow cars. Appropriately enough, it’s certainly the only highway marked with hand-carved, wooden mile markers.
It doesn’t take long to get out of ‘town’: another quarter-mile, and we had Lake Huron on our right, and the pricey Mission Point Resort on our left. The ‘highway’ (now appropriately named Lakeshore Road) then swings around to the north, running for two miles out to Point St. Clair. This is the most deserted and the prettiest part of the trip, with the bluff on your right and the lake across the road. There are at least half a dozen picnic tables along this stretch, and plenty of places to pull off, wade in the water, and skip stones into the distance.
After mile 3, the island’s edge runs northeast for a mile before curving straight south at Point Aux Pins. St. Ignace and the UP shoreline come into view along this stretch. We pulled off and watched the ferries running both ways, including the Star Line boats with their characteristic roostertails of water arcing behind.
After Point Aux Pins, you head nearly due south, with great views out across the Straits of Mackinac and of the Mackinac Bridge. I don’t think there’s a prettier suspension bridge anywhere, and this is a beautiful and unique perspective. You pass British Landing, where the redcoats came ashore in 1812 and then marched south to surround Fort Mackinac, surprising the American garrison who were not yet aware that war had broken out. A similar American attempt in 1814 failed miserably, a contrast that really galled me as an eight year old.
The last three miles of the trail bring you back to the more populated part of Mackinac, past the small community of Stonecliff and several pretty parks. By mile 7, you’re back in ‘civilization’, and soon can see the Grand Hotel (whose prices are comparable to its elevation) above you on the bluff.
With less than a half-mile remaining on your return to mile 0, you reach Windermere Point, which marks the beginning of the small bay around which downtown and the docks are constructed. By now, you may need to dismount to reduce the chance of running someone down while trying to ride.
It takes a leisurely hour to ride around the island, and I’d make it a part of any trip here. My perfect day on Mackinac explores the shoreline by bike, the inland by carriage ride, and leaves time for visiting the fort and rewarding one’s self with an ample serving of fudge.