Location: Mackinac Island, Michigan
Webpage: Michigan State Park
General Description: As the name implies Mackinac Island State Park is on Mackinac Island. If fact, it covers 74% of the entire island, 2.8 square miles. M-185 circles the entire island and is the only state highway in the state that is motorless, since cars are restricted from the island. The park was first established as the second national park, after Yellowstone, in 1875 and was first administered by the War Department. After Fort Mackinac was closed down the park was transferred to the state in 1895. The state park can be visited by foot, bikes, or horses and includes the historic sites of Fort Mackinac and Fort Holmes and geologic sites including Arch Rock. The best way to visit the park, according to many visitors, is by carriage in one of the many Carriage Services on the island.
1) Although not part of the state park, the historic town of Mackinac Island is a beauty to behold, assuming you can avoid the many bicycles and horse carriages. There are many shops and historic buildings to explore within the confines of the town. Included are many shops making fudge of all varieties, which has been a staple for many years on the island and is a tourist attraction all by itself.
2) We elected to pay for the main Carriage Tour of the island to explore the state park. This carriage ride begins by taking visitors up the hill from the center of town to the horse stables. Along the way, historical buildings are pointed out, the most noteworthy being the Grand Hotel which dominates the island with just about the largest covered porch in the world. At the horse stables you exit the carriage to explore the Wings of Mackinac Butterfly Conservatory and The Surrey Hill Museum. We did not visit the Butterflies so I cannot comment on them, but the Surrey Hill Museum is well worth the short walk. This is actually the stables for the Grand Hotel, so you do get see some of their horses. However, the main attraction is the large collection of horse drawn carriages, all of which are still functional today. From the ornate to the ordinary, these carriages are excellent examples of this period of our history.
3) When you are ready you then board a 35 person horse drawn “bus” to take a ride through the forests in the state park. The only stop is a five minute break at the Arch Rock, which is a famous limestone formation where the interior limestone has fallen away exposing a large free standing arch with views of the straits.
4) After this stop, the tour continues through the state forest with a stop at Fort Mackinac for those touring the fort, which we were. I understand the tour continues back to the Surrey Hill Museum where you reboard the two horse carriages for a ride back down the hill to the center of town. We elected to walk the quarter mile from the fort back to the town center instead. This way you get a nice view of the statue of Father Marquette, which I understand is of the likeness of the artist since there were no portraits of Father Marquette from the 1600s.