Marvelous Mackinac Memories

Thanks to Melissa Mackey for sharing her story about her trip up north with her husband and teenage twins!  Check out the end of the post to see the beautiful pictures she took!

This summer, instead of taking one long vacation like we usually do, my husband and I decided to take our 13 year old boy/girl twins to Northern Michigan for a long 4th of July weekend.  We decided to stay in Mackinaw City and take day trips from there to Mackinac Island and the Pictured Rocks in the UP.  My husband and I had been to both places before, but the kids hadn't, so they were psyched.

We arrived in Mackinaw City on Thursday evening, just in time for dinner at Darrow's Restaurant.  Darrow's is a must-visit if you're anywhere near Mackinaw City.  Even if you're not in the city, it's worth the trip.  Portions are plentiful - enough for even the hungriest teen.  Cool family tip: Make sure to save room for dessert!  Darrow's serves some of the best pie any of us have ever had.

After a restful night, we headed to the ferry docks bright and early the next morning for a day trip to Mackinac Island.  We chose Shepler's Ferry this time.  The day was warm and sunny, so we followed our very excited children to the outdoor deck up top.

Cool Family Tip: Twice each day during peak season, Shepler's takes the scenic route to the island - right under the Mackinac Bridge.  I'd driven across the bridge many times, but this was a view few get to see - and it was well worth it.

The trip to the island is an excursion in and of itself.  The kids were thrilled to be able to see the Grand Hotel and Fort Mackinac from the boat.

Once we arrived at the island, we headed to the eastern shore for some scenery.  As you may know, there are no cars allowed on the island, so travel takes place by horse & buggy, bicycle, or on foot.  We opted to go on foot.

Much of the island is actually a state park, and trails and footpaths abound.  We hiked along the lakeshore until we reached the steps to Arch Rock, one of the most scenic national landmarks on the island.  The steps are steep, and we heard a few moans from the kids on the way up.  When we got to the top, though, the moans turned to gasps as we enjoyed the phenomenal view of Lake Huron.  My son took this cool picture of the lake as seen through the rock.

After Arch Rock, we hiked for another hour or so - until the kids complained they were hungry.  We made our way back to downtown and had lunch at the Pink Pony.  This is one of the hottest night spots on the island, but by day it offers great food and a family atmosphere, with wonderful views of the lake & harbor.

Cool Family Tip: Save time to visit some of the unique shops along Main Street downtown on the island.  From clothing & books to the famous fudge, there's something for every member of the family.  And don't miss the Grand Hotel - even if you don't go inside, it's worth seeing from the outside.  It's a great photo opp, like this one from my son (he says it looks like I postcard, and I agree!)

The next day, we got another early start on the drive to Munising and the Pictured Rocks.  It's about 2.5 hours from Mackinaw City, and we heard moans about that from the kids, too.  But again, moans turned to awed silence as we drove across the Mighty Mac and onto scenic US-2 in the UP.  This 2-lane highway follows Lake Michigan along the southern shore of the UP.  Much of the lakeshore is unspoiled and tranquil, and it had even my video-game-loving teens mesmerized the entire way.

In the summer, the Pictured Rocks boat tours go almost hourly.  We arrived in Munising in time for the 1 p.m. sailing.  My husband and I had taken the tour in June 1990, and it was so cold out on Lake Superior that year that, even with jeans & windbreakers, we got really cold and had to go inside the cabin of the boat (which is still great but not quite as awesome as up on deck).  So, even though the air temperature in Munising was a balmy-for-the-UP 86 degrees, we made the kids wear jeans and bring sweatshirts and jackets (talk about moaning!).  It ended up staying so sunny and warm that we not only didn't need the jackets & sweatshirts, we were rolling up the legs of our jeans.  Important Family Tip: Dress in layers and be prepared for any weather!  Temperatures on Lake Superior can vary wildly, even in the summer.

Warm clothes aside, we were enthralled by the unbelievable views of the magnificent rocks on the 2 ½ hour tour.

On the return cruise, we got a close-up view of the Grand Island Lighthouse, built in 1863.

Cool Family Tip: Stop in St. Ignace on your way back from the UP.  We ate pasties at the Mackinac Grille, and walked along the boardwalk next to the St. Ignace ferry dock.  The kids loved just watching the boats go to and from Mackinac Island, and we grownups loved the sunset over the lake.

We headed home on July 4, wishing we could stay longer, but glad our teens got to experience these Pure Michigan gems.

Melissa Mackey is Online Marketing Manager at Ann Arbor-based Fluency Media, where she is proud to be part of the team that works on the Pure Michigan online account. A lifelong Michigander, she and her husband live in East Lansing with their 13 year old twins.  Share your thoughts about Melissa's story on Twitter (@Mel66), or by leaving a comment below.