Six Exceptional Things to Do on Mackinac Island

Today, featured blogger Jesse Land of Things to do in the U.P. tells about six of his favorite can’t-miss Mackinac Island activities and attractions.

Photo by Eric Baillies

Photo by Eric Baillies

Growing up in the central Upper Peninsula made it easy for my family to take day occasional day trips to Mackinac Island. My Dad would pack up the car in the early morning and about three hours later my mom, dad, sister and I would be on a ferry to the island.

Those early memories include horses (lots of horses), fudge and ice cream, the hustle and bustle of the downtown area and bike rides around the island. They’re fond memories, but I realize now that my family only scratched the surface. Known for it’s horse and buggy rides, fudge and bicycles, I continue to discover things to do on the island that I never knew about.

Below I’ll list just a few of my favorite things to do on the island. Some you’ve heard of, others you probably haven’t!

The Mackinac Legends and Lore Nature Trek

Photo by Eric Baillies

Photo by Eric Baillies

Want to to be guided around the lesser known parts of Mackinac by a local? Mary Patay’s “Mackinac Island’s Legends and Lore Trek” will get you just that. On my recent trip to island, Mary guided my friends and I away from the busy downtown and through the solitude of Mackinac Island State Park. We toured Arch Rock, Sugar Loaf, Fort Holmes and caught the view from Robinson’s Folly.

The walk was peaceful, scenic and it was great to get a local’s perspective. The tour is just $10 per person and you can set up your own trek by calling Mary at (231) 590-5731 or emailing her at mackinachealthandfit@yahoo.com.

The Observation Tower and Exhibits at Mission Point

Maybe you’ve seen the tall glass observation tower at Mission Point Resort, maybe you haven’t. But one things for sure, it’s well worth checking out. With five floors of historical exhibits ranging from the filming of Somewhere in Time to the construction of the Mackinac Bridge and much more. And though each level boasts a different enthralling exhibit, they all share one feature, an awesome view!

The Carriage Ride

The Mackinac Island Carriage Tour is popular for a reason! It’s a great way to see some of the islands highlights while experiencing part of what makes Mackinac great, the horses. And the tour guides to a great job with imparting tidbits of history and little known facts as you’re pulled away from downtown, past Arch Rock, to the Butterfly House and back again.

Bike Around the Island

Photo by Baillies

Photo by Eric Baillies

Also popular for a reason, the eight mile bike ride around the island is one of a kind experience. Even though there was a light rain, we threw on our raincoats, rented bikes from Mackinac Wheels†and had a great time. I love this bike ride because it’s mostly flat, very scenic and of course, there are no cars. And for you fat tire enthusiasts, Jimmy from Mackinac Wheels has been guiding weekly group single track rides through Mackinac’s interior, so be sure to ask about that.

Tour Mackinac by Kayak

Though we weren’t able to make time to get out on kayaks or stand up paddle boards on my last trip, I really, really want to make sure we do next time. Paul and the crew at Great Turtle Kayak Tours have a great selection of kayaks, canoes and stand up paddle boards to choose from, as well as a few great tour options. Personally, I want to check out the nearby Round Island Lighthouse so I’ll be connecting with them on my next trip!

Stay on the Island!

Photo by Eric Baillies

Photo by Eric Baillies

One thing we didn’t do during my childhood trips to the island was stay there. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I fist stayed on the island and I’ll never forget how cool it was to wake up to the sound of the horses hooves clopping on the street below our room. On my most recent visit, we stayed in a waterfront suite at the Chippewa Hotel and wow, what a view! And of course, it was nice to be just a few steps from the Pink Pony, too.

Yes, it can cost more to stay on the island but if you sign up for the hotel’s newsletters (like I do) and keep an eye on their social media channels (which I also do) you might be surprised at some of the great deals they offer.

Those are just a few of my favorite things to do on Mackinac Island. What are a few of yours?

Jesse-Land-headshot1Jesse Land writes about Upper Peninsula travel at www.thingstodointheup.com.

How To Make The Most of An Indie Film & Music Festival on Historic Hell’s Half Mile

Today, guest blogger Blair Giesken gives us some tips for making the most of Hell’s Half Mile Film & Music Festival happening in Bay City September 25-29, 2014! 

The name “Hell’s Half Mile” started in the late 1800’s when a stretch of Bay City’s riverfront was peppered with rowdy saloons and seedy hotels where loggers and shipmen would go to “blow off a little steam.”  Then, locals came to call it Hell’s Half Mile.  Today, they call it home to one of the most collaborative and inspiring film and music festivals around.

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 4.39.09 PM

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

As a writer and director of 4 films showcased over 2 years at Hell’s Half Mile Film & Music Festival, Rider Strong (yes, 80’s babies— we’re talking former Boy Meets World actor Rider Strong), sees the irony in it all.  “’Hell’s Half Mile was the strip of waterfront where lumberjacks used to go boozing… Now, a bunch of us from Hollywood go there for a film festival. Not much has changed.”’

Jokes aside, Hell’s Half Mile does more than satisfy those who live for great independent films and music.  It’s a movement.  A grassroots effort to grow and celebrate a community that hasn’t lost (and will never lose) its love for the arts.  And in its 9-year history, HHM has been bringing independent filmmakers, actors, and musicians from across the country to experience how truly alive with the arts the Great Lakes Bay Region is.

If you love independent film and music even half as much as the artists, directors, actors, and musicians who attend Hell’s Half Mile Film and Music Festival each year, you’ll want to plan ahead so you can soak up the total experience when it returns to Bay City, September 25-28.

Here are a few tips for taking in all the great film & music that spans this all-out 4-day festival:

Don’t just sit there!

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

HHM isn’t about plopping down mindlessly in a seat to watch a movie or squishing into seat number 2,001 at a sold-out arena concert.  If you’re looking for that type of passive experience, this isn’t your jam.  It’s about connecting people to true, raw independent film and music.  Connecting musicians to filmmakers, filmmakers to festival-goers, filmmakers to film students, and so much more.   Our suggestion?  Get involved.  HHM makes it easy for you to sit in on panel discussions from the film directors and actors themselves, attend workshops to learn more about the art of filmmaking from the pros, or mingle with the musicians you came to see firsthand.  You can even volunteer at the festival to get behind-the-scenes access (and in some cases, entry into the opening night party & premiere film!)

Get Your Bearings

While HHM Film & Music Festival takes place primarily along… you guessed it… Hell’s Half Mile… there are other venues and festival hotspots you’ll want to explore between films and performances.  Check out HHM’s festival venues & hotspots map ahead of time so you know how to hop from venue to venue (and where to stop for a cold brew or a bite to eat along the way!).  And be sure to pay special attention to the list of restaurants, bars, and coffee shops on the list of festival hotspots – many of them host special dinners and live music performances during the festival to round out the total Hell’s Half Mile experience.

Do Your Homework

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

Photo courtesy of Go Great Lakes Bay

Hell’s Half Mile Film & Music Festival is a totally hands-on, involved experience for independent film & music lovers.  So if this is your first time attending, you might want to get in the spirit of the festival by revisiting some past classics.  Get your hands on films from past years of the festival, or download a few tracks of some musicians who have graced the Hell’s Half Mile Stage.  Though the lineup changes each year, it’ll give you a feel for the types of film and music that flood Hell’s Half Mile during the 4-day celebration (and will get you familiarized with many of the writers, directors, and actors who are repeat visitors to HHM).

Don’t View & Run

With so many great films and performances packed into just a few short days (this year, September 25th-28th), you’re not going to want to miss a minute.  So find a place to cozy up, and do it well in advance.  Hell’s Half Mile has put together a list of hotels near the film and music venues, or you can book your stay directly at the new GoGreat.com.

Blogger- Blair GieskenBlair Giesken is the Founder & Creative Director of Brandscape, a boutique branding and marketing firm based in Grand Rapids.  She was born and raised in the Great Lakes Bay Region, and loves to come back often to visit family, friends, and the place that will always still feel like home.

These Isle Royale Photos Are Sure to Inspire Your Next U.P. Getaway

Today, Michigan landscape photographer Joshua Nowicki shares some photos from a recent trip to Isle Royale. We’re sure his experience will inspire you to add the Upper Peninsula to your Pure Michigan getaway bucket list! 

Several weeks ago, I was invited to photograph a family wilderness program for the Isle Royale Institute (a partnership between Michigan Technological University and Isle Royale National Park).  It was my first trip to the island, and I was incredibly excited. I was delighted to discover that my expectations for the trip were far exceeded.

Sitting on the bow of the Isle Royale Queen IV and watching Copper Harbor, Michigan disappear into the distance as my cell phone signal faded filled me with joy.  As we moved further out into cool air of Lake Superior, a beautiful white all-encompassing fog surrounded the boat adding to the sense of adventure.  Approaching the island, even before I could see the land, there was a warmth in the breeze and a soft sweetness to the air.  As the island appeared out of the fog, the sky began to clear, and the air warmed.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

After disembarking from the ship, we received a short humorous and very informative introduction to the island from park ranger, Lucas Westcott.  Upon setting foot on land, I was struck by the beauty and wealth of wild flowers; a gorgeous layer of orange, yellow, purple and white blanketed sections of the landscape.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

On my first evening, I went for a walk along the Rock Harbor Trail and saw numerous loons, squirrels, and rabbits.  Additionally, upon turning a corner in the trail, I found myself standing within 30 yards of a cow moose and calf.  At night, I enjoyed listening to the sounds of nature and I could even occasionally hear moose walking through the woods near my tent.  I saw more moose on Isle Royale than I have in all of the trips that I have taken to the Upper Peninsula.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

The Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Study is followed around the world, and I delighted in a trip to Bangsund Cabin to meet Rolf and Candy Peterson.  Standing in the Museum of Pathology and listening to Rolf discuss the project was a surreal experience I will always treasure.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

A short walk from Bangsund Cabin, leads to the Rock Harbor Lighthouse which is open to the public as a museum.  The tower of the lighthouse also provides visitors with a magnificent view of Rock Harbor and Lake Superior.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photgraphy

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photgraphy

The number of amazing experiences I had are too numerous to write about in one blog post. Some of the additional highlights of my trip were:

Hiking along the Greenstone Ridge and enjoying the fantastic view of the island and Sleeping Giant Provincial Park in Canada from the steps of Mount Ojibway Tower.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Marveling at the view of the night sky.  I have never seen the Milky Way so clearly and was even fortunate enough to see both the Milky Way and Northern Lights one evening.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Waking early to watch the sunrise over the forest.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photgraphy

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photgraphy

Walking through sections of white spruce and balsam forest covered with Old Man’s Beard Lichen.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Having the rare opportunity to watch a group of pelicans fly over the island, finding greenstones along the beach near Rock Harbor Lighthouse (all stones were left at the beach as per park guidelines), sitting and watching hummingbird moths busily flying from flower to flower, watching curious squirrels explore our camp, and meeting park superintendent Phyllis Green and discussing how a trip to Isle Royale is an incredible place for a family adventure…just to name a few!

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

If you love hiking and camping, Isle Royale is an absolute paradise where you can enjoy the uninterrupted beauty and sound of nature.  However, if camping is not for you, you can experience the island from the comfort of the Rock Harbor Lodge.  There are a variety of trails that are easy to access from the lodge or by water taxi.

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

Photo courtesy of Joshua Nowicki Photography

I look forward to my next trip to explore more of this beautiful national treasure.

Joshua_NowickiJoshua Nowicki is a St. Joseph, Michigan based photographer specializing in landscape, nature, architecture, and food photography. His photos can be viewed online on Facebook or his website.