Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer
It is April, and that means the horses are returning to Mackinac Island. The island’s 500-plus horses arrive throughout the month by ferry. It’s a gradual process of transporting hundreds of horses from the Upper Peninsula farms where they winter to their summer jobs on the island.
Ryan Lieblang holds a team of percheron horses. (Photo: Rod Sanford | Lansing State Journal)
While officially off-season and subject to our changeable weather, the early spring is a great time for a visit to the island. Prices are lower, and crowds sparse. During April and May, it can also be a very romantic time, in the sun, mist, rain (or even snow), and minus the hordes of school children that come later in the year.
I loved staying at Island House Hotel, a Mackinac tradition with 160 years of hosting visitors. The porch was a wonderful place to rock and to look out over the harbor. We were traveling with a group, so we choose a suite with a private balcony overlooking Mackinac Island State Park. The suite had two bedrooms, one with a king bed and the other with two queen size beds. The suite also had two bathrooms, one featuring a Jacuzzi-style tub. Up to eight people can squeeze into the spacious accommodations. Island House opens on May 6.
Our daughter has turned into a breakfast fanatic, although she now prefers being served about 10:30 a.m. Accordingly, we slipped into the Pancake House on Main Street for a rib-sticking brunch. I stuck to the more traditional Western Omelet, but we also sampled their “famous” Banana Nut French toast, which was about as rich as it sounds. Lots of hot coffee was consumed as a prelude to renting bikes and riding around the island.
For folks who don’t ride bikes regularly and who just want an afternoon outing, the island is paradise, with a flat, circular, 8.2-mile route around the island and past landmarks Arch Rock and Devil’s Kitchen. You can rent a bike of any speed or type. I always look for the one with the soft seat. There are also more than 70 miles of dirt and paved trails on the island.
All of this fresh air required a search for an outstanding burger, so we stopped at the Huron Street Pub and Grill. The Bacon & Bleu Burger called my husband’s name, while I sampled the Father Marquette, a lightly fried whitefish sandwich. Both were good, and the onion rings a must order. The Pub had a really nice selection of beers on draft, too.
After a little fudge sampling, we stopped at JL Beanery for an afternoon coffee and a view of the water while we plotted our evening. We had never done the tour of haunted island sights, but it was a pleasant night for a stroll, and we learned about the history of the island and some of its previous residents, happy and unhappy. When the streets of Mackinac Island get quiet, it is very possible to imagine that you aren’t alone.
If you want lots of non-spectral company, plan your trip June 3-10 for the 68th Annual Mackinac Island Lilac Festival. Some years the only things that don’t show up are the lilacs, which bloom on their own schedule. The celebration’s signature event is the Lilac Festival Grand Parade.
For me, visiting Mackinac Island has become a rite of spring … a magical escape to a simpler time and one where no cars are necessary. Just ask the horses.