Mackinac Island, St. Ignace, and Mackinaw City - Visiting Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
Updated: Apr 11, 2020
Crossing the iconic Mackinac Bridge was the highlight of our trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (UP) in the summer of 2017. It is quite impressive. It is ranked 22nd on the list of the world's longest suspension bridges. Just north of the bridge is St Ignace. This is where we begun our visit to the UP.
This is a popular spot for travelers who come to explore the UP. From here, you can easily get on a ferry to visit Mackinac Island. But there are so many other reasons why St Ignace should be on your list of places to visit in the UP. It is full of Northern Michigan small town charm. It is much more peaceful than Mackinaw City, another hot spot for UP travelers to catch the Mackinac Island ferry. In St Ignace, you will deal with less traffic and people overall. An added bonus is that the hotels here are more affordable and many of them have great views of the water, Lake Huron's Moran Bay.
We spent a couple of days here enjoying the small quiet town and traveling to the surrounding towns. We even visited Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and it's twin city of Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. More on our Canada trips on a separate blog post. Our hotel had a private beach. We spent some time there, relaxing.
St Ignace has some good restaurants with great local UP food and fresh fish from the lake but, don't judge me, our favorite place to eat was Jose's Cantina. They have great food and a nice Patio. I highly recommend it. Everything in St Ignace was very accessible. It was easy to get to the ferry port for our visit to Mackinac Island.
Although infamous for being tourist heavy, visiting Mackinac Island is an important part of the any tour of the UP. Mackinac Island is an interesting place to visit. It is located on Lake Huron, in the Straits of Mackinac, between the upper and lower peninsula of Michigan.
A significant part of the island has undergone historical preservation and restoration. There are many Island tours that showcase this. I enjoyed looking at the beautiful colorful houses and carefully manicured lawns.
Mackinac island is listed as a National Historic Landmark. It is accessible only by ferry. Once on the island, the only way to get around is by bicycle or horse drawn carriage because there is a general ban on motorized vehicles. We had Tobe in a stroller so armed with a map, we opted to walk almost everywhere. It is not a very big place so this wasn't too much of a challenge.
The Grand Hotel is the most iconic hotel on the Island and one that I recommend that you stay at, or at least visit, while on the island. It has been and continues to be highly rated as one of the best hotels in the world. They have great facilities including a beach and golf course. It is well known for a number of notable visitors, including US presidents and Mark Twain! There is a dress code while on resort grounds.
I like that the island tries to maintain all its unique features and keeps away franchises. There are other accommodation options aside from the Grand Hotel. There are numerous small Bed & Breakfast establishments to chose from. Many tourists stay on the Island but many also make this a day trip destination and stay in neighboring Mackinaw City or St. Ignace.
One of the big tourist attractions on the island is Fort Mackinac. It was founded in 1780 and has an interesting history related to the American revolution. Although visiting the fort is interesting, a big plus for me was the park below the fort. It was a great place to relax, catch some shade, and let Tobe play for bit. Right in the park was a historical monument that Patrick really liked - the Missionary Bark Chapel. It is said that Father Claude Dablon, a Jesuit priest from the mission of Sault Ste. Marie, wintered on Mackinac Island in 1670-71 and did some missionary work here.
Mackinac Island has a lot of dinning options. There are many restaurants all over the place especially on Main street. They are all quite good and the difficulty lies in picking one. The grand hotel also offers dining options for guests and day visitors. My favorite spot was Mary's Bistro Draught House. I don't like beer but my husband appreciated that on the island, they have the most beer on tap. Mankinac Island is also famous for its fudge so make sure you grab some while you are here.
Located just before the bridge, Mackinaw City is a gateway of sorts to the UP. We stopped here on our drive back from the UP. There were a lot of interesting things to do here and so many cute little shops for souvenirs, fudge, popcorn, etc.
We visited Colonial Michilimackinac which was a cool step back into revolutionary times. It is a recreation, based on historical maps and archaeological finds, of an 18th-century fort and fur trading village. We also visited Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse. There were stunning views of the Straits and the bridge from the lighthouse.
For my husband, the highlight of Mackinaw City was visiting the Mackinaw Bridge Museum that is located above the Mama Mia Pizza Restaurant. I think he liked it mainly because they had pizza. It is free to customers and the pizza is great! If you could only visit one place in Mackinaw City, go here! The museum had interesting finds too. We spent the rest of our time in Mackinaw City visiting parks, shopping, and eating fudge.
This was our last stop on our Northern Michigan Tour before heading home. We were initially planing to visit Cheyboygan, then take a ferry and spend a few days on Bois Blanc Island but Patrick had to go back home for a work emergency. This was a great vacation, our first one since Tobe was born. Read about the first half of this trip in the blog post: Northern Michigan - Seeing Glen Arbor, Sleeping Bear Dunes, Traverse City, Petosky and Charlevoix. Happy reading!