Mackinac Island: Where History Lives and Time Stands Still

BY JOANN BELL

Ever pine for the good old days, when SUVs didn’t clog roads, the clip-clop of horse hooves was a familiar sound and daily life chugged along at a slower pace?

Jump in your time machine and drift back to the Victorian era on Mackinac Island (pronounced Mack-i-naw). This tiny gem sitting in Michigan’s Lake Huron is unique not only because of what it offers, but more notably because of what you won’t find. Motor vehicles were banned in 1898, lending the 3.8-square-mile island a special charm that you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Mackinac is so special, in fact, that the entire island is listed as a National Historic Landmark.

Mackinac Island is a Natinonal Historic Landmark

“Road Scholars have always loved Mackinac Island,” said Carmela Cavanaugh, Road Scholar’s Director of North American programs. “Our learning adventures to Mackinac are very popular, and you can see why — the island is absolutely beautiful and so incredibly rich with history and charm. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s really a special opportunity to step back in time and experience life at a calmer pace.”

Accessible only by boat and plane, the best way to get around Mackinac is by horse-drawn carriage, by bicycle or on foot. Dubbed the “jewel of the Great Lakes,” Mackinac proves that good things really do come in small packages — the island is only eight miles in circumference, making it easy to explore if you’re short on time.

“When you visit Mackinac Island, it’s like entering a different world,” said Amy Hodges, a local coordinator for Road Scholar’s Mackinac programs. “Mackinac is a place where people can actually experience historical life and not just read about it. In today’s hectic world, Mackinac Island provides people with the opportunity to experience the serenity of a world without automobiles, shopping malls and fast food restaurants.”

“Mackinac is a place where people can actually experience historical life and not just read about it.”

Take in views along the shores of Lake Superior, learn about the significance of the island’s Victorian architecture and delve into history at renowned sites including Fort Mackinac. This historic landmark was founded during the American Revolution and captured by the British during the first land engagement in the War of 1812.

The island also boasts rich Native American heritage. and its prime spot in the straits between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron once made it a prized port in the North American fur trade. Mackinac’s history can be traced all the way back to around A.D. 900, based on prehistoric fishing camps excavated by archaeologists. Fishhooks and pottery establish a Native American presence at least 700 years before European explorers arrived in the 17th century. 

But Mackinac is not just a great destination for history buffs and bicyclists. Nature is yet another reason to put Mackinac on your must-see list. More than 80 percent of the island is within Mackinac Island State Park. Hikes reveal high limestone bluffs, marshes and sweeping vistas of sapphire water and verdant forests. You can also take in the fresh scents and blooms of the annual Lilac Festival held in June.

Oh, and one more thing: You can’t talk about Mackinac and not mention the fudge. They didn’t invent it, but the folks on Mackinac Island have turned fudge into a fine art.

“It’s not just the taste of the fudge, but the entertaining way it is made and the wonderful smells that pour out into the streets,” Hodges said. 

You’ll have to taste their 19th-century recipes for yourself.


 JoAnn Bell
JoAnn Bell, Senior Vice President of Program Development, develops and manages more than 5,500 learning adventures in 150 countries and 50 states.