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Stepping back in time

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Mackinac Island doesn’t have a courtesy car, but if you call the local taxi company the nearest horse and buggy will make its way to the airport terminal. In fact, no motorized vehicles traverse the streets of the island, except for emergency vehicles, and the picturesque views outside of the cockpit will have you stepping back in time for a grand getaway.

Crystal blue waters surrounding Mackinac Island rival those of the Caribbean. Photo courtesy of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau.

Nestled in the Straits of Mackinac, a three-and-a-half-mile waterway connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, Mackinac Island boasts a trip fit for presidents and fudge connoisseurs alike. The history of the island dates back to the Revolutionary War as the British Army built Fort Mackinac to oversee the American and French naval fleets navigating the Great Lakes, and control trade throughout the waterways.

Fast forward nearly three centuries and the fifth largest bridge in the world is built just east of the island, while a 3,500-foot runway was added to accommodate air travel. The “Mighty Mac” connects Michigan’s lower peninsula to what locals reference as the U.P., or upper peninsula. The 26,000-foot suspension bridge provides scenic views as you prepare to enter the traffic pattern at Mackinac Island Airport. Twin suspension towers rise 552 feet into the air and the more than 42,000 miles of cable holding it all together can be seen from above.

A pro tip as you prepare to land is to tell your passengers to have their cameras ready. From the monumental suspension bridge to the world’s largest front porch, the airport traffic pattern provides exclusive views that you can only get from above.

After touchdown, stop by the terminal to register your aircraft. A landing fee of $12.50 is charged for piston single airplanes; larger fees are charged for piston twins, turboprops, and jets as determined by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission. Monthly and annual permits are available for pilots who intend to frequently visit the community. I highly recommend calling the taxi company ahead of your arrival and ordering a horse-drawn carriage. The walk from the airport to main street is nearly 2 miles, and the wait for a taxi could take some time if plans haven’t been arranged in advance.

With dozens of travel accolades from organizations like TripAdvisor, Readers’ Digest, and others, the island boasts almost every travel award possible. The resort-style stays and bed-and-breakfast accommodations are a key high point, but many argue it’s the hospitality that makes the island stand out. One example is when the building next to a wedding reception caught fire in June: Islanders stepped into action to preserve the day for a newly married couple.

The historic Grand Hotel has featured visits from presidents, dignitaries, and celebrities alike. Its famed porch sprawls 660 feet with incomparable lakefront views where rocking chairs sit for you to take in the beauty of the Straits of Mackinac. No two of the 338 rooms are alike, with each one showcasing a particular theme ranging from Princess Diana to the Vanderbilts.

Mackinac Island’s airport terminal boasts modern amenities and a comfortable setting for pilots and passengers. Photo courtesy of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau.Evenings are a special occasion at the Grand Hotel, and the resort has a dress code. After 6:30 p.m., women are required to wear a dress, skirt, blouse, or slacks, and men are required to wear a coat, tie, and slacks. The Grand Hotel Orchestra jazzes things up at night when dancing and cocktails flood the ballroom.

Bikes are the best way to navigate across the island, and rental shops line Main Street. Bike or walk to the north end of the island and climb the stairs to see Arch Rock, a rock formation more than 50 feet wide that overlooks the crystal blue waters of the Straits of Mackinac.

After the long hike up the steps to Arch Rock, stop by Mission Point Resort and relax on the lawn in one of the resort’s Adirondack chairs. The lawn sits directly on the waterfront, and you can catch freight liners and sailboats navigating the Great Lakes. Mission Point also features an 18-hole grass putting course for kids and adults alike.

Food and drinks are not hard to come by on Mackinac, where world renowned chefs dazzle and pub delicacies delight. The Pink Pony is a common stop that overlooks the harbor and features meals for any time of day. From brunch to dinner and cocktails during the night, the historic bar offers a wide selection of food and specialty drinks including its Pink Pony Punch.

Above all else, Mackinac Island wouldn’t be a trip without a stop by one of the many fudge shops in the area. Named the fudge capital of the world, the island imports 10 tons of sugar each week to fuel the 13 fudge shops. In the late 1800s, the Murdick family visited the island and opened Murdick’s Fudge as sweets were commonly requested to celebrate a summer getaway. Grab a pound, or five, before you preflight the airplane for your return flight home.

Alyssa J. Miller

Zach Huffman

A private pilot and certificated remote pilot, Zach Huffman is an entrepreneur who creates drone flight programs for media companies and universities across the United States.
Topics: US Travel

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