Exploring Mackinac Island: A Visitor's Guide

Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island is a National Historic Landmark and a very a popular summertime tourist destination in Michigan. Most people come to wander through the beautifully restored historic buildings of the quaint village, many of which contain shops and restaurants. Nearby is an historic fort and some lovely terrain to explore. The island does not allow motorized vehicles and must be reached by ferry, adding to the charm and character of olden days.

Although the island portrays an earlier time period, visitors will have no trouble finding lovely hotels with all the modern amenities, fine dining options or simple eateries, and plenty of things to do day and night.

Almost 3/4 of the island is a state park with historic buildings, including Fort Mackinac, as well as beautiful scenery of high cliffs, ravines, natural bridges, caves, and rock formations. The island, 3 miles long and 2 miles wide, is easy enough to explore on foot but visitors can also get around on bike, horse, or in a horse-drawn carriage. Ferries run from Mackinaw City and St.Ignace. The island can also be reached by small aircraft.

Fort Mackinac

In the late 1770s the British decided to change sites and chose the high bluffs of Mackinac Island. During 1780-81, Fort Mackinac, under the command of Lt. Governor Patrick Sinclair, was relocated on the island and many of the wooden structures replaced with stone buildings.

The 14 original buildings at Fort Mackinac include interactive exhibits and a children's play area. The 1880s soldier interpreters play concerts of military music, fire rifles on the grounds, and provide a cannon salute over the harbor.

Biddle House

The Edward Biddle family owned the Biddle House, built in the late 18th century, for several generations. Exhibits focus on the Biddle family and on living history demonstrations of early 19th century crafts. The furnishings of the house focus on textile production processes including cleaning, carding, spinning and knitting wool, and quilting. Living history demonstrations such as candle making, dyeing, laundering, and gardening take place outside in the yard.

Indian Dormitory

The Indian Dormitory housed the headquarters for the American Indian Agency, with a territory that stretched as far west as Minnesota. The dormitory was built in 1838 as a result of the Treaty of Washington negotiated in 1836.

Hundreds of Native Americans, from the Great Lakes region, gathered annually to receive annuity payments at the Indian Dormitory. Today the building serves as the Indian Dormitory Art Museum.

McGulpin House

Built in the late 18th century, the McGulpin House may have been part of the mainland Michilimackinac community and moved to the island after 1780. The unique French-Canadian architecture of the building is the focus. Exposed wall sections show original lathe, plaster and wallpaper layers, paint colors and a section of the wall that may have contained a Catholic shrine.

Benjamin Blacksmith Shop

The Benjamin Blacksmith Shop dates from the 19th century, and was operated by an island resident until the mid-20th century. It no longer stands in its original location on Market Street, but was moved to its current location in the late 1960s.

American Fur Company Store and Dr. Beaumont Museum

This former fur trading company and retail store has been restored and semi reconstructed. The building today is a tribute to both the company that occupied the original building and to Dr. William Beaumont, a pioneer in studies of the human digestive system. Exhibits recreate the 1820s store and also display Dr Beaumont's medical instruments.

Mackinac Island Butterfly House

Mackinac Island Butterfly House is proud to be the third oldest live butterfly exhibit in the United States. The greenhouse garden is filled with hundreds of butterflies from all over the world. Visitors can also enjoy the exotic giant insect exhibit with reptiles and amphibians living in their natural habitat.

Mackinac Island Carriage Tours

Mackinac Island Carriage Tours offer horse-drawn carriage rides and taxi services on the island. The tours lead past the scenic and historic points of interest including Fort Mackinac, Arch Rock, Skull Cave, Surrey Hill and the Grand Hotel.

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