Last summer, we took a road trip with my parents to Mackinaw City, Mackinac Island and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It was a pretty easy drive from Grand Rapids (around 3.5 hours) and it’s a fun place to visit with your family. Mackinaw City has gift stores galore, too–a highlight for my girls.
Time for a quick history lesson for all of you who aren’t native to Michigan: we have a lower and upper peninsula, which are connected by a 5 MILE Mackinac (pronounced mack-in-aw) bridge. We stayed in Mackinaw City (yes, it’s spelled differently) which is in the lower peninsula. To visit Mackinac Island, you have to take a quick ferry across the lake to the island. The area has so much fascinating history and it’s very remote, for being such a large tourist town. On Mackinac Island, there are NO motor vehicles aside from a few emergency vehicles–everyone gets around by foot, bikes or on horses. How cool is that?
We dropped Rambo off at Nana n Paws (literally the BEST doggy daycare in the Lansing area)and picked up my parents in Grand Ledge. From there, we were looking at about a 3.5 hour drive. Not too short, but not bad at all. Since we packed a lunch, we only had to stop once (well…twice, since Maddie threw up). I highly recommend the Clare rest stop. There are TONs of handy brochures to pick up and a nice, clean picnic table area.
Once we got to Mackinaw City, we checked into our hotel (Baymont Inn) and ventured out to the city. All of the hotels are in walking distance of everything and there are PLENTY of touristy shops–basically fudge, candy, t-shirts galore. A little kids paradise!
Day 2 was dedicated to Mackinac Island. It was a perfect day for exploring–mid 60s. The only time we were cold was on the ferry. I hadn’t been to the island for years, so everything was new to me again also.
If you chose to pay for ONE thing on Mackinac Island, I suggest the carriage tour. They take you around the entire Island and you learn SO much. It is quite long, so if you have super tiny kids I would beware. Be sure to bring bug spray–the mosquitoes started to get bad! Fort Mackinac was seen from the tour, but we didn’t pay to go inside. You really have to pick and choose what you want to see if you’re trying to stay on budget. If you’ve been to the Island many times, I would pick the fort over the carriage ride.
After the carriage tour, we were famished! Many people suggested Pink Pony, so we ate our lunch there. It has a great atmosphere, tasty food and a pretty large drink menu–the prices are a big higher than normal, but expected for the Island. There are many spots to have a picnic lunch and we probably should have thought about doing that to save some money.
For day 3: we drove across the Mackinac Bridge and to the Upper Peninsula. It was also Gabby’s 4th birthday! Tahquamenon Falls State Park is about 1.5 hours from Mackinaw City. It is a whole different world once you cross the bridge! All you see around you are trees and nature….and BUGS. The State Park has Upper and Lower falls, if you’re doing both start at the Upper and work your way down. Be ready to hike!
For Gabby’s birthday, we had to enjoy an official whitefish dinner–we went to The Lighthouse. It was amazing, but probably not a place I would bring kids again. Perfect for a date night! My white fish recipe was based on our food there.
Restaurants in Mackinaw City we enjoyed. I’m linking them to Yelp so you can bookmark them, if you want!
- Pizza Palace: amazing cheesy breadsticks and pizza. They also had a $12 pitcher of sangria that was enough for 3 of us to share!
- Key Hole: Ricky and I had a date night here. I wouldn’t really bring the girls here, since it’s a bar atmosphere. They had typical bar food, but it was SO tasty.
- Pancake Chef: My parents took the girls there and they said there were huge portions. The girls got 3 Mickey pancakes!
- The Lighthouse: Much fancier than other restaurants on the strip area, we went here for Gabby’s birthday. If you’re looking for whitefish, they had 6 options and the lemon caper one was AMAZING. A bit slow on service and I wouldn’t go back again with kiddos.
On our last day, we made a quick visit to Fort Michilimackinac. I really wish we could have spent a bit more time there. There was a lot of fascinating information and it was so cool to see some of the artifacts they have uncovered from over 300 years ago. Warning: the admission is a bit steep ($11 for adults, $6.50 for kids), but I would say it’s worth it!
We had a wonderful trip and it was great to spend some quality time with my parents. It has been years since we’ve traveled this long together. By the road trip home, the togetherness started to creep up on me and the girls were driving me CRAZY. We all know how to push each other’s buttons! Four days is the perfect amount of travel time for the girls’ ages (6 and 4).
- Remember there aren’t many grocery stores around. When I was packing, I had the “I can always run to the store if I forget it” mentality, but you have to remember there is NOTHING around Mackinaw City. The IGA has a few necessities, but there isn’t a Meijer or drug store, from what I found.
- Ask your hotel for a room with a fridge, if possible. Bringing snacks saves SO much money. A microwave would be an added bonus too! Going out to eat for every meal really adds up. Also find a hotel with free breakfast–totally worth it. A huge water jug was super helpful too, we just filled our water bottles up with ice and water instead of buying a ton of individual plastic water bottles.
- Bring a backpack. Ricky had to buy one and it was so handy to hold water bottles, snacks and brochures. I don’t know why I didn’t think to bring one!
- Break at a rest stop and grab a bunch of brochures. We like the Clare one, there are nice picnic tables for lunch. There’s tons of info and coupons in them! The girls read them in the car, too. They are great keepsakes later or to glue in journals.
- Fudge is amazing, but remember you’ll probably eat what you buy. Like, do you really need 3 slabs? I was in a sugar induced coma and we have SO MUCH fudge left! I even put it on S’mores the other night!
- To save on the ferry, ask if your hotel has a discount. We found Arnold to be cheapest, but it was quite a bit slower. Star had family packages and a coupon.
- If you have the State Parks sticker on your license plate, don’t forget to use it!
- Bug.Spray. Like 3 bottles of it!
Do you have any tips for Mackinaw City area? Or road trips in general? Let me know!
Our road trip this year will be to Niagara Falls!