Horses and History
Many travelers feel like they have entered a different period when they visit Mackinac Island, and locals go to great lengths to preserve the 19th-century charm of the small island.
“Mackinac Island is considered the crown jewel of the Great Lakes,” said Mary McGuire Slevin, director of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau. “We don’t have any cars — it’s all horse-drawn carriages, like a step back in time. Eighty percent of the island is state park, and we have about 70 miles of great hiking, biking and horseback-riding trails.”
Visitors travel to the island by ferry or airplane to enjoy the quiet lifestyle and quaint downtown district. The island has some 40 different types of accommodations, from large resorts to small bed-and-breakfast inns.
Most groups that visit Mackinac begin their experience with a horse-drawn carriage ride around the island.
“The carriage ride is probably the No. 1 thing to do,” Slevin said. “It’s a two-hour tour through the state park, and it tells the history of the island and about all of the forestry efforts. The tour ends at the Grand Hotel, which is a must-visit.”
For many people, the Grand Hotel is the main attraction on the island. This stately 1887 property overlooks Lake Huron, giving visitors a taste of the area’s natural beauty and 19th-century hospitality. Guests who stay overnight at the hotel can enjoy all of its amenities, including its five restaurants; groups can also tour the hotel and arrange to have lunch at its gourmet buffet.
Among the other points of interest around the island are the Tower Museum at Mission Point (a maritime museum) and the Wings of Mackinac Butterfly conservatory. Outfitters on the island offer bicycle and electric-scooter rentals, as well as kayaking and paddle-boarding opportunities.
Ships and Shrines
The Saginaw Bay of Lake Huron cuts deep into the eastern section of the Michigan landscape, giving the state’s mainland its famous mittenlike shape. Bay City and other towns in the area welcome groups with a number of exploration activities.
“The tall ship Appledore is moored in Bay City,” said Herb Zeilinger, group sales manager at the Great Lakes Bay Regional Convention and Visitors Bureau. “It goes out on public tours as well as reserved group tours. They can do lunch or dinner cruises, as well as special things like stargazer tours, which happen on clear nights in the summer.”
Another option for smaller groups is the Jonny Panther Quest Adventure. This excursion takes place on a flat-bottom boat that carries 12 passengers up the Saginaw River to Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, home to one of the country’s largest populations of bald eagles.
Groups with an interest in the arts or faith-based attractions might also enjoy a visit to the small town of Indian River.
“They have one of the world’s largest Catholic shrines, called Cross in the Woods,” Zeilinger said. “It’s a 40-foot-tall wooden cross with a bronze Christ figure hanging on it. The bronze sculpture was done by Marshall Fredericks, and his studio and gallery are located in Saginaw. So you can see the sculpture, then go into the gallery and see the plaster molds hanging on the wall, as well as hundreds of other sculptures.”
Many groups that tour the Saginaw Bay area also make a side trip to nearby Frankenmuth, a town famous for its German heritage and traditional chicken dinners.
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