How to vacation in Mackinac inexpensively?
May 18, 2010 9:36 PM   Subscribe

Help plan an August vacation in Mackinaw City/ Mackinac Island, MI relatively inexpensively.

My wife, my stepdaughter, and I are hoping to visit Mackinac Island for the Fudge Festival the weekend of August 20th this year. We would like to have the most fun for the least money. Where should we stay? Where should we avoid? What activities? Etc.


We live in Madison, WI, so we can drive there, but if other options are cheaper given the cost of gas then great.

My wife will be about 6 months pregnant at the time of the vacation, so we should probably avoid heavy physical activity. ("Moderate" activity for us is a 2.5 mile hike in hilly terrain). Biking won't work for my wife.

Staying on the island itself is not financially an option, but we're looking at hotels in Mackinaw City and the online reviews don't look pretty. Are there affordable hotels in Mackinaw City that would be particularly good (or at least not particularly bad)? We are currently considering the Clarion. Our maximum lodging budget is no more than $500 (including tax) for a three-night stay.

My stepdaughter is a tween and for her, a pool and waffle maker are prized amenities in a hotel. My wife and I (early thirties) value cleanliness and the availability of non-smoking rooms.


This question covers a few different topics; don't let the emphasis on lodging skew your answers if you have suggested activities or general tips for vacationing in that area.
posted by Jpfed to Travel & Transportation around Mackinaw City, MI (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have friends from Madison who actually drove there through the Upper Peninsula to Mackinaw City and then drove south took some sort of ferry (with their car) to Manitowoc from Ludington. That's what I'd recommend (you could do it in reverse, of course.) It's all worth seeing that way, with no duplication.

That said - you're crazy to want to spend three days there. The island is strictly a one-day thing. I've been there a few times. The hotels are not excellent. Six months pregnant doesn't sound like too far along to enjoy a bike ride around the island, which is my favorite part of Mackinac Island. You can go around the island and it's really really flat - you're basically going around the shoreline, although you can add a few other short routes to see the governor's place and all that. It's a *very easy* ride, so don't be discouraged. In the "downtown" part of the island, there are some interesting sites to see - reconstructed parts of the fort and all. But the tourists are maddening and, like I said, you can do it all in a day and not miss a thing.

So what to do the rest of the time? Well, from Mackinaw south, I'd head down 31 a bit and cut over to 119, which heads along the western coast of Michigan - it's a sublimely beautiful ride, especially once you get past Cross Village. (And in Cross Village, it's fun to eat at Legs Inn, an oddball bar / burger joint on the lake and in the middle of nowhere, where Bob Seger likes to hang out - he's got a place around there - and where all the staff seems to be from Eastern Europe, students who work there during the summer because there's not enough local population to fill the jobs.) This ride basically ends in Harbor Springs, a beautiful little town, and then you cut around Little Traverse Bay to Petoskey, the old haunting ground of Ernest Hemingway and family. Petoskey's a nice town (I believe the whole downtown is on the historic register due to its well-preserved and beautiful lakeside buildings.) Go to City Park Grill for dinner - one of Hemingway's favorite places and the decore apparently hasn't changed much - and spend the night somewhere around town. The next day, head down to Traverse City - stop for roadside cherry pies and wild brown rice, go to Sleeping Bear Dunes and stay around there, taking the ferry from Ludington the nest day.

None of the driving is extensive enough to swallow too much of any one day, and you'll stumble across many fine places and sites. From Mackinac Island to Ludington, you'll have a zillion opportunities to buy fudge and have fun. But three days around the island is way too many.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:51 PM on May 18, 2010

If biking is not an option, a ride in a horse-drawn carriage would be a nice substitute.

I agree with Dee about the island being a one-day attraction. The Crossings at Mackinaw City could provide another half day of activities. Others: Fort Michilimackinac, the Mill Creek historic park, and a nice if small water park. (It's no Noah's Ark, but still.)

I would consider staying at the Terrace Inn in Cheboygan, 15 miles away, since prices in Mackinaw City are inflated during August. Not much of a breakfast but there is a Big Boy restaurant right next door.

In addition to the old ferry mentioned by Dee, there is a new and faster ferry that runs between Milwaukee and Muskegon. And this would allow you to visit the Sleeping Bear Dunes on the way.
posted by yclipse at 3:07 AM on May 19, 2010

And one point in response to Dee -- every hotel and restaurant in Northern Michigan bills itself as "Hemingway's favorite". They can't all be right.
posted by yclipse at 3:09 AM on May 19, 2010

every hotel and restaurant in Northern Michigan bills itself as "Hemingway's favorite". They can't all be right.

Except that in the case of the City Park Grill - the restaurant I mentioned - Hemingway himself acknowledged being there (it was called the Grill Café aback then), and his youngest sister, Sunny, mentions in one of her book that the entire Hemingway clan used to dine there after the long train ride from their home in Oak Park when they'd come up for the summer, before they continued on to their lake home.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 4:20 AM on May 19, 2010

Response by poster: Dee Xtrovert- thanks for the suggested Michigan itinerary- breaking up the driving sounds great. I probably should have been more clear- biking is simply not an option for my wife.

Thanks, all, for the suggestions!
posted by Jpfed at 7:03 AM on May 19, 2010

Response by poster: I should also mention that we love hiking in state parks, and Ludington State Park doesn't look that far out of the way if we're using a ferry.
posted by Jpfed at 7:15 AM on May 19, 2010

but we're looking at hotels in Mackinaw City

Be sure to check out the hotels in St. Ignace, across the bridge, too. There's regular ferry service from St. Ignace to Mackinac Island. (I've stayed at the Quality Inn in St. Ignace a few times, and thought it was nice, but it's towards the upper end of your price range.)
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 7:21 AM on May 19, 2010

The drive across the UP is one of my favorites, especially in the summer. On the way there are some interesting and easy side trips, like Fayette, which is a ghost town from the old iron smelting days, Kitch-iti-kipi, the Big Springs and of course Tahquamenon.

There are two ferries across Lake Michigan, the Badger out of Manitowoc and the Cross Lake Ferry that leaves from Milwaukee. The Badger is an old retrofitted car ferry and crosses to Ludington. The trip is slow but fun, provided the weather is good. They have stuff to do, (Badger Bingo!) and you can book a small room if you want to take a nap. When you get to Ludington, stop at House of Flavors and eat ice cream. Totally worth it!

The Lake Express Ferry is fast and also fun to do, it docks in Muskegon.

I don't know about the hotels in Mackinac, but people are right that the island is a one day trip. The west coast of the lower pennisula is truly spectacular and there are great places to stay, good restaurants, lots of things to do. The Leland, Northport area is worth exploring, and can be another day trip.

That's it, I am planning my own vacation!
posted by chocolatetiara at 7:30 AM on May 19, 2010

I did Mackinac as part of an around-Lake Michigan roadtrip a few years ago and it was fun. Depending on your interest in silly stuff, there's a Mystery Spot not too far away. (The tween might love it.) There's also a mini-golf place in town. I definitely agree with the suggestions to drive over to the Legs Inn for lunch and do a little driving in that area. It's gorgeous. Also, if you like weird and creepy dolls, don't miss the Nun Doll Museum just a short drive away. I wish I could remember what motel we stayed at in Mackinaw City, because it met your requirements perfectly: clean, pool, waffle maker at breakfast, but it's been a few years now and I can't call it to mind. Have fun!
posted by MsMolly at 7:31 AM on May 19, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, for your answers. Everyone contributed something useful, so I'm going to mark this as resolved without highlighting the whole page with best answers. Thanks again!
posted by Jpfed at 3:57 AM on May 29, 2010

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