No cars, just bicycles and horse-drawn carriages. It might feel like a throwback to another era, and Mackinac Island certainly has quaint charm. But it’s also a beautiful modern-day getaway.
“Mackinac’s car ban is one of the things we’re most famous for,” says Alison Abraham, assistant director of Mackinac Island Tourism. “It’s been in effect since the late 1800s, when it was decided that, due to the size of the island, the size of the streets and the fact that the people were riding horses so much, automobiles and the island wouldn’t mix very well. It’s been our unique selling point ever since.”
Mackinac Island, which has an offseason population of less than 500, is surrounded by Lake Huron and is just east of the Straits of Mackinac. It has a lively central hub downtown where the majority of business is located, while the rest—82 percent—is comprised of Mackinac Island State Park (recently named the top state park in the country for families by Family Fun magazine.)
Mackinac is a terrific spot for private meetings and events. Note: The island’s season is May-October. Outside those months, many hotels and restaurants shut down.
Already an excellent destination for groups, Mission Point will soon be even better. In the works are upgrades to the rooms and the hotel’s food service, a spa, a marketplace that will include a café, an upscale boutique, a sweets shop and a newsstand.
“The goal is to have the feeling of a lake lodge that exudes casual elegance, refined but comfortable,” says Liz Ware, the resort’s spokeswoman and a member of the family that owns the resort. “We want it to be clean and light, blending old traditions of the island with a new, light aesthetic.”
Built in the 1950s, Mission Point has two side-by-side lodges that, combined, offer 242 guest rooms. It boasts 38,000 square feet of flexible meeting space. The fine-arts building can accommodate a large trade show and also has an auditorium with theater seating. The conference center can host up to 150 guests seated and 175 standing.
“Groups can enjoy an outdoor lunch on our patio overlooking the lake,” Ware says.
The resort’s flower-rich grounds include herb gardens for use in the hotel restaurant’s cocktails. Enjoy an upscale Italian meal at Chianti, or unwind next to the lake at Bistro on the Greens.
The Grand Hotel is aptly named. The aweinspiring wooden structure was built nearly 130 years ago. It both embraces its rich history and keeps up with the times: Guests enjoy modern amenities while the hotel’s original architecture and charm have been tastefully preserved.
“You feel like you’re somewhere special,” says Managing Director Ken Hayward. “Unlike modern hotels, it still has a parlor, not a lobby, where guests can relax, read a book, enjoy a newspaper ... We even do an afternoon tea.”
The hotel offers 390 guest rooms plus the longest porch in the world, a 660-foot covered area overlooking the water that can be used for cocktail receptions. Its upscale Main Dining Room also looks over the Straits of Mackinac.
The Grand Hotel offers 14 private event spaces. The largest is the conference center, which can accommodate up to 500 guests for a seated affair and 750 for a standing event. The smallest is the conference room, which can seat 14. The other event spaces can host anywhere from 36-350 guests.
Looking for a distinctive dining option for your guests? Cannonball Drive Inn is a 111-year-old outdoor eatery with 22 picnic tables and a menu in which hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza and barbecued ribs are the most popular items. The restaurant also caters to vegans and vegetarians.
Open during the daytime only, Cannonball Drive Inn can accommodate groups of up to 200 people. “We have a variety of themes for groups,” says Manager Jack Armstrong. “We can do lamb and beef skewer parties, finger food parties and barbecues. We have hayrides, too, in which we take guests out to British Landing.”
Tents and wagon covers are provided in case it rains.
“Boats stop here, get their food and go back to their boats,” says Armstrong. “Bike riders stop for lunch or something to drink.”
Cawthorne’s Village Inn at the Grand Hotel offers a relaxing, casual atmosphere. The entire restaurant and bar—it is a one-room facility—can be rented for up to 125 guests for a seated event, up to 300 for a standing event and up to 400 on a flowing basis.
“It’s a mom-and-pop-type place,” says Manager Travis Vartanian. “We’ve got 10 TVs for sports fans.”
The most popular menu item is the Michigan plank whitefish served on a maple plank board with potatoes and vegetables. “People come from all around for that,” Vartanian say.
Looking for a perfect activity for eventgoers? Get them on the water.
The Isle Royale Queen, a small cruise boat, leaves Mackinac Island, passes under the Mackinac Bridge into the Straits of Mackinac and then returns to the island.
The Isle Royale Queen’s interior lower deck has built-in seating and can host up to 50 guests for a seated dinner. The exterior upper deck can host up to 40 guests for a seated dinner and up to 60 for a strolling cocktail party. The average cruise lasts 90 minutes.
Cruise themes vary, from Mackinac Bridge to Michigan Craft Beer to Bourbon Under the Bridge to Sip Sails at Sunset to Fireworks.
On board is a full-service cash bar. Some cruises provide live entertainment, too.
Horse-drawn, covered carriages take guests 5 miles into the island’s interior, with a stop at Surrey Hills, an exhibit building that showcases the carriage industry. At that same stop, guests can visit downtown, the Grand Hotel and Carriage Tours Stable, a beautiful collection of antique carriages and sleighs.
Also part of the tour is an exploration of the state park; a stop at Arch Rock, a natural limestone bridge approximately 150 feet above Lake Huron; and Fort Mackinac, which includes exhibits and musket firing and cannon fighting demonstrations.
Twenty carriages can hold up to 20 guests each for the first part of the tour to Surrey Hill. Fifteen carriages (each pulled by three horses) can hold up to 35 guests for the departure, which winds through the state park. The tour takes approximately two hours.
Sample a Brew
Even Mackinac Island has been hit by the Michigan beer craze. The newly renovated Mary’s Bistro Draught House, located in the charming Island House Hotel, boasts 50 craft beers on tap.
Get to Mackinac Island via a 20- to 45-minute ferry ride from Mackinac City or St. Ignace. (Delta Airlines serves Pellston Regional Airport, about 16 miles from the ferry dock.) Once on the island, most hotels have dock porters who will transport your luggage to your hotel. A horse-drawn taxi ride costs $5-$10.
MACKINAC ISLAND BY THE NUMBERS
492 Year-Round Population
6 Fudge Vendors
3.8 Square Miles
Fun Fact: Murdick's Candy Kitchen Mackinac Island's Original Fudge Shop, Opened in 1887.