Mackinac Island is unlike anywhere else: Quaint, but bustling on a lively summer weekend. Old-fashioned, but visitors aren’t without their favorite modern-day amenities and conveniences -- well, with one major exception, of course: cars!
Located in the Straits of Mackinac, where two Great Lakes meet, the island is picturesque, pure and straight out of a travel magazine. Vacationers definitely won’t need to “filter” their Instagram photos to capture the true beauty the island has to offer.
One of the better-known island activities involves renting a bicycle -- perhaps for the duration of a stay, or just a few hours. There’s no wrong way to do it.
It just depends on what kind of an adventure you're looking for, and how much time the agenda allows. People can bring their own bikes, as it’s fairly inexpensive to bring one on the ferry, or there's the option to rent one upon arrival.
Even for those who don’t consider themselves particularly athletic, biking is the perfect way to step away from the sometimes-busy pace of the downtown area and see the island on your own terms. A lot of the paths are paved, if that’s what you’re into. And there's also plenty of unpaved trails, if that’s more your style.
Some of Mackinac's most notable spots include Arch Rock, a stunning natural formation that’s been made “famous” by years and years of photo-ops -- yes, even pre-social media.
As you might guess by the name, Arch Rock is quite literally a big arch of rock -- actually limestone, to be specific -- and it stands 146 feet above the water, spanning 50 feet, if you look up the numbers.
Another famous limestone “tower” is Sugar Loaf, which you can access off several winding bike trails and carriage roads, most of which are paved. Sugar Loaf is a burial site of the island’s early Native American inhabitants, and it juts up 75 feet into the air at a horseshoe in the pathway. You won’t want to miss it.
Back to the biking: You can rent single-speed bikes, all the way up to 10-speeds, or a beach cruiser, a tandem bike or a mountain bike. Some of the rental shops even offer baskets and child carriers.
OK then. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s build that adventure, shall we?
How much time do you have?
About an hour or two before I catch the final ferry out of town
It’s definitely no secret, but you can’t skip it -- the perimeter of the island, that is. You should take the time to tour Mackinac Island’s shoreline by bike, without a doubt. M-185 is an 8.3-mile loop, and it’s the only state highway in the United States that’s car-free.
It’s known as Main Street if you’re downtown, and then it turns into Lake Shore Road. There are plenty of signs, so you’ll be able to figure out the route pretty easily. Be sure to snap lots of quick photos to add to your Instagram story for later -- just remember, we don’t advise taking “biking selfies.” You’re short on time, remember? Let’s stay safe.
You can, however, hop off your bike, roll up your jeans and wade into the water a bit, if the weather’s cooperating. You’ll pedal past some cool geological formations, including the aforementioned Arch Rock and then Devil’s Kitchen, a small cave on the island’s southwestern shore, from here. (Just Google it, if you want to find the specifics on accessing Devil’s Kitchen).
The path along M-185 is pretty flat, and accessible for almost any rider, so we feel confident in saying: You got this.
Even for a noncyclist, eight miles isn’t as long as it sounds when you’re on a seat and two wheels. Sure, you could always turn around and head back early if you're tired, but you likely won’t want to. If you truly only have an hour, we don’t recommend many stops. Keep pedaling and you should make it back in time. If you have two hours, explore a bit.
And if you want to save Arch Rock for the end of your trip, which many people recommend, start by heading west out of town on the paved path. Look for a solid yellow line that leads the way.
Oh, and for anyone who’s not as crunched on time: It’s worth scoping the vantage point above Arch Rock!
Start with the loop we just mentioned, and then head to the center of the island if you’ve still got some energy. There’s so much to see. Try the bluffs to peep some last-century cottage-mansions and old buildings, or if you’d rather hit the quiet back roads, then veer into the forest.
One Northen Michigan blog offers the following “woodsy escape”: Ride up the center of the island, past Fort Mackinac, to Garrison Road. You’ll definitely want to pop the kickstand on your bike and prepare to take in some historic sites, such as old stone-walled Protestant and Catholic cemeteries, Skull Cave and the battlefield-turned-golf course, Wawashkamo.
Worth mentioning: Garrison Road dead-ends at Lake Shore Boulevard, but it’s nice it to come over here anyway, if you have any interest in seeing a panorama of the Mighty Mac (yes, we mean the bridge) in all its glory. If you ask us, you can't skip this part!
A full day
Rewind to the 18th century at Fort Mackinac, where 16 buildings in the fur-trading village offer exhibits showing how people performed trades, cooked, or even battled with one other. We’re referring to the cannon- and musket-firing demonstrations, of course.
Another blog recommends heading up Fort Hill, but warns that the hills can be challenging. This is an area we touched on in our half-day plan, but here’s a slightly different twist:
Hang a right to pass the top of the fort. At the intersection just past Fort Mackinac, take a left on Garrison Road. Go check out Skull Cave first, if you haven’t done that already, and once you’ve learned its extensive history, stay right on Rifle Range Road until you hit a path known as Sugar Loaf Road.
At some point along this path, Sugar Loaf will appear -- and you’ll be floored by the massive 70-foot cliff-rock that towers above the surrounding forest. A cave runs through the rock, and although a typical-sized adult can’t fit through, it’s still fun to try climbing out there, just to sit and relax, the blogger said.
She continues, “Next, you should take a quick stroll up the west staircase to the lookout point that provides an elevated view of the rock and forest. It’s a must-do!”
Hope you rented the mountain bike!
If you’re even more adventurous -- and daring! -- look on your trail map for Tranquil Bluff, which offers stellar Great Lake views from the top.
You likely won’t find the crowds as the terrain you visit gets tougher, which can be a positive for some experienced riders. If you’re looking for space to roam the island, you can feel fairly confident you’ll find it if you hit the woods out here.
You have all weekend? Lucky you.
Better go do all of the above!
Of course, this hinges on your experience level. But really, if time is no factor, we recommend getting a little lost -- in a good way, of course. Hop off your bike at times and trek around on foot. There are plenty of trail markings so that you can find your way back to M-185.
Immerse yourself in the island. Explore a little. Explore a lot.
Pack some food and don’t forget to grab some Mackinac Island fudge. You can view a trail map here to plan your routes.
Bonus tip: One website recommends pedaling over to Mackinac Island Public School to take in the perfect sunset.
“There’s plenty of room on the grass to sit back, relax, and enjoy some of the most gorgeous fiery skies you’ll see this summer. Of all the things we did during our day on Mackinac Island, this was seriously one of my favorites. You'll also have a front-row seat to watch sailboats and ferries, all while being in the midst of some adorable, colorful houses.”
The colors are vivid, the breeze is fresh, the views are spectacular and the feeling in the air is magic. What more could you ask for? Mackinac is calling.