Mackinac Island - A land without cars.

Imagine an island where the automobile was banned in the late 1800s. There are no cars, trucks or motorbikes of any kind. You would imagine, as I did, an atmosphere of tranquil, unhurried peace where the moment you disembark from the ferry you have stepped back in history to a time before the internal combustion engine.

Now make that island easily accessible to a zillion tourists. The result is an immense culture shock. One which will soon having you begging to return to a land where the car is king. At least then there are rules of the road.

Today we visited Mackinac Island. We emerged from the ferry to be confronted with thousands of tourists, bicycles, horses and horse drawn wagons and carts of every description. It was utter chaos. Crossing the street we were in far more danger of being run over by an animal or unruly bicycle than we have ever been by a car. Cyclists swerved in every direction, horses and heavy wagons blocked the road then started suddenly forward. Crowds of tourists bunched up in impenetrable groups. The Nine Circles of Dante's Hell came to mind.

Despite the sheer havoc of the place, I loved it.  As well as a zillion people the main street had an almost endless row of tourist shops selling trinkets, cheap food and fudge of every description. It was like Disneyland on steroids.

Chaos on Main Street

More chaos.

David went white with panic. To be fair, he is violently allergic to horses. One look at Main Street, Mackinac and he grabbed his bike and headed for the hills, literally, as quickly as possible. Once out of town the Island took on the kind of laid-back charm we had expected. We still had to keep an eye out for out-of-control cyclists and wayward draught horses but we were now able to cycle along at our own pace and enjoy the scenery. We biked for a while along the coast, past beautifully restored ginger-bread houses painted in pretty pastel lemons, blues, lilacs, pinks and limes.

Ginger-bread houses in pastel colours

Lodgings on Main Street.
Hard work if you're a bell-boy

At the four mile point, about half way round we turned off and climbed a moderate hill into the interior. Here along back lanes and quiet cliff front drives we found the Queen Anne style summer houses of the rich with their sweeping verandahs and conical turrets.

Cliff Bay Drive

Queen Ann style mansion on Lake View Boulevard.
Mansions with views

We also found the Island's airport. It was incongrous, on an island where cars are completely banned, to see private planes and jets lined up to whisk the wealthy to their summer houses. The irony is that no other technology is banned. We were treated to the sight of a horse drawn carriage from The Grand Hotel waiting to pick up guests from the airport while the carriage driver chatted on her mobile phone.

An airport transfer waiting for guests to arrive - you can just see the driver using her mobile phone.

Anyone headed to the Grand?

Fast Facts:
Mackinac Island Village banned automobiles in 1898. In 1900 they were banned from the rest of the Island. Today the Island has a permanent population of 500 residents. In summer that number swells to many thousands. No motorised vehicles are permitted except, ironically, on the golf course where electric golf carts are prolific. The Island is just off the 'coast' of northern Michigan in Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes. In summer ferries depart the 'mainland' every half hour and take about 15 minutes.

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For the next post in this series click - here

For all my posts on this road trip click - here

13 July 2014


  1. hi lyn

    never heard of this island....seems an amazing place......had a giggle about the motorised golf buggies..... loved your photos....

  2. Lol - I was thinking of you and S when I saw the buggies.