HORSES! Hundreds of them...shipped over in early spring through October, when they return to the pastures of the Upper Penisula. You will everything from personal, awward-winning Dressage horses, fancy carriage horses or those strong workhorses who haul the freight! Horse lovers, beware!
I love the ferry ride to the island! You cross the Mackinac Straits...imagining what it must have been like for the Native Americans and, later French Traders. While the boat ride now takes a quick 15 minutes, it is not hard to sense that real danger was present at every crossing for those not fortunate enough to be in a high powered, temperature controlled triple-decked catamarand.
Sheplers, Star Line and Arnold Lines all service the island. Oh, and there is an airport, for those who need a quick junket to parts unknown. Ferries leave from both St. Ignace (For those north of the Mackinac Bridge) and Mackinac City (For "flatlanders" from the south...).
Obviously you need to take a boat across the strait to get to the island. The ride takes only 20 minutes by hydrofoil. Cost is $24 for the round trip, but if order on line ahead of time, the cost averages $21 per person. There is the Star Line, Sheplers, and Arnold lines of boats, and all have docks at Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. Boats leave every 1/2 hour
Carriage rides take you to most places along the main street and mostly to the Grand Hotel on the hill. People pay for tours on these rides. The poor horses are well trained to keep going along in a steady pace and not make upset rides. Most rides are in wagons.
A 2 hour ride will cost about $24 and up
There are long lines to get a bike and then it looks as if many people go about 2-3 blocks and park it to go shopping. It is beyond my comprehension why you would rent bikes at a high cost and then park it to shop the rest of the day. Few people use the bikes to get up to Grand Hotel of the trails in the outback area.
At a pricey average cost of $8 per hour, you need to really enjoy the ride and park concept.
Your options for traveling around the island are limited to horse, feet, and bike. There are a number of bike rental shops right as you get off the boats. A few things to remember...horses and people have the right of way. Some of the roads are extremely steep - you'll probably have to walk the bike up them. Rental charges are usually by the hour. Some places will also rent baby carriers. Most importantly - DON'T LOSE YOUR RENTAL STUB. Somehow, I lost two of the three stubs we had. I figured this was OK, since the numbers would have been sequential and they could have pulled all three rental agreements. Well, you would think I murdered someone. I was read the riot act about how I was told to guard them with my life, etc. etc. So put them in a safe place, it will save you the hassle later.
Despite this - I highly recommend Ryba's Bikes - good prices, and well maintained bikes. Website is below.
To get across to the island and back home again, you'll have to take a ferry. Arnold Transit is one of the options, and it's a pretty good one. They get numerous awards for best ferry (all the lines probably do), but I will give them credit - the boats are large, clean, and can really move! You can sit up on the deck or in the comfort of an interior room - if the weather is decent at all, go upstairs (or in front!) and watch the waves roll by. Be sure to go online ahead of time and order a coupon for $2 off every ticket ahead of time. Children under 5 are free. In season, boats run out every half hour.
If you're coming to Mackinac Island, you'll probably be taking a ferry - unless you have your own boat, or make arrangements to fly here by private plane.
If you are staying overnight, and need assistance with your luggage, just identify yourself to one of the helpful porters when you get off the ferry. Arrangements will be made to take you to your hotel or B & B via horse-drawn "taxi".
Mackinac has a lot of great biking trails, and you can literally spend hours simply exploring the interior of the island. Many of them, however, are hard to find, not clearly marked or wind in confusing directions. Maps of the bike trails are free, and you can pick them up at the Mackinac Island Tourist booth, which is located almost directly across from the Arnold Line docks on Main Street. It's clearly marked, and they have information about pretty much everything that goes on around the island.
There are no motor vehicles on Mackinac Island, so having a bike or renting a bike is a must.
Our second visit to the island we brought our own bikes and saw so much more of the island, because we did not have to keep track of the time that our bikes had to be returned. I advice bringing your own bikes, even though there is a handling fee charged by the ferry lines. A MUST!
If you do not have a bike here is a well known bike rental company on the island: http://www.rybabikes.com/
We took Shepler's Ferry from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island for the simple reason, our bed and breakfast provided us with a coupon.
An adult round trip ticket is $19.00, children $9.50 and if you are bringing on bikes it is $7.50/bike (still cheaper to bring your own bike than renting one on the island).
The ferry ride is sixteen minutes long and departs from either Mackinaw City or Saint Angnus. Here is a schedule of departure and arrival times: http://www.sheplersferry.com/ferry/m_schedule.html
My family has had an allegience to the Arnold Boat Lines since before I can remember. The fleet has multiple catamarans, which are the fastest ferries in the entire Mackinac area. They also have larger, slower boats for those who enjoy the view, and these boats run in winter, even after the other boat lines have long since stopped operating. The catamarans run on a one-boat-every-half-hour to and from the island, and the larger boats run once an hour. Arnold has a dock on both sides of the Mackinac Bridge, which can spare you the hassle of having to cross the bridge.
There are a couple of companies for the trips to and from the island. Make sure you catch the trip back because staying on the island is pricy. Do look for prices around all of the companies and than decide on the cheapest one. When I was there the prices were the same everywhere, but I've been told it's not always the case!
After dozens of visits to the island and watching hundreds of unknowing tourists try to pedal one-gear rental bikes up San Fransisco-like hills, I STRONGLY recommend bringing your own bike on the ferry. Round-trip fare is only 6.50 per bike, and you'll be extremely glad you brought multiple-speed, comfortable bike rather than renting a rusty 1980's-style bicycle.
To get to Mackinac Island, take I-75 north to Mackinaw City to US 23 EAST.
There are three ferry services that have service to and from Mackinaw City and St. Ignace, Michigan from early May thru the end of October.
firstname.lastname@example.org or www.arnold.com
email@example.com or www.sheplersferry.com
firstname.lastname@example.org or www.mackinacferry.com
As of 2004:
All three charge $17 round-trip per adult and $8 per child 5-12. Children under five are no charge. There is a $6.50 charge per bicycle or cart. (What kind? Ask them. I imagine a wagon, shopping cart, or hand-pulled golf cart w clubs-there is a golf course on the Island!) If one books through Shepler's website and prints their ticket out, they get a $1 discount per adult and $.50 discount per child.
During June-August the ferries run about every 15 minutes each, from the two mainland cities to the Island. May, September and October less often but still enough not to worry about a stringent schedule. I would contact them early in 2005 to see if they up their tariffs. With fuel prices going up, they may well.
They also will carry large items for you, contact them about cargo rates.
All have free day-trip parking and charge about $2 overnight, if you stay on the Island.
They have designated areas for overnight parking, so don't try to cheat and say you will be back same day and stay overnight, your car will be towed! If for some reason you decide to stay on the Island overnight (if you can afford it and are lucky enough to find a room available) go to the office of the ferry service you used on Mackinac Island and tell them, or your car will be gone when you get back!