Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mackinaw City: Where To Stay, What To Do, PT 1

I'm planning our Mackinaw City vacation right now. Actually, all I am doing right now, is saving money for it. It's already planned. The only thing I have not planned yet, is what days I'll do what.

Sophie and a few others were asking about info on the area, though, so I thought I would write up a quick article about different things to do up in the Mackinac area. For those who have ever wondered, there are two spellings for the word Mackinac.

The city is spelled Mackinaw City- spelled phonetically. The city was spelled this way due to the British occupation of the city. The rest of the biggies are spelled with an -AC at the end: Mackinac Bridge, Mackinac Island, Straights of Mackinac. The AC is still pronounced -AW. It's spelled -AC due to the French period of occupation.

Let's start with Where To Stay. (Please note: All links open in a new window)

When I first looked up info about places to stay up in Mackinaw City and St. Ignace (St. Ignace is the city across the bridge, in the upper peninsula), I looked at hotels and campgrounds. This was 2 years ago for our last trip up there. Due to the area being a hot spot for tourists, prices can get pretty high.

I finally settled on a campground called Mackinaw Mill Creek Campground. The campground is located just outside of Mackinaw City, right on the shores of Lake Huron.

If you are a tent camper, sites start out as low as $9.00 a night, in May. Because the tourist season flucuates, the prices change through out the summer, and can be found on this page, which details the types of camp sites, the price, and the dates.

If you are camping with an RV and need electric hook up's, prices start as low as $10.00 for a 20 AMP super saver camp site in May. Again, these prices are all found in the link above.

There are also an assortment of cabins, which start out at $30.00 in May, and go up significantly from there. The prices can be found here, and the sizes and amenities of the cabins can be found here.
When we stayed 2 years ago, we tent camped in a super saver site with electric. I will say this- the SS sites are TINY. If you have a big RV, it won't fit. Our site barely fit a large tent, a canopy, and 1 car. These sites are perfect, though, if you don't plan to stay at the camp ground a whole lot. The site we had, along with those around us, were rocky- as in the entire ground was round gravel, not dirt. But, we only paid $14.00 a night when all the other campgrounds wanted $35-45 a night for the same type of site.
The campground also has several nice amenities, including:
  • Free mini golf
  • A large arcade & Camp Store (which also sells liquor- in case anyone is interested, as most camp stores do not sell alcohol of any sort)
  • A decent sized "Heated" swimming pool. It supposed to be heated all the time, but when we were up in June last time, the heater was broken, and the water was ice cold.
  • 2 large playgrounds
  • A sandy beach
  • Some sites have a view of the Mackinac Bridge, some sites have a view of Mackinac Island
  • Cabins in assorted sizes from 4 people up to 6 people. Some are electric only, others have bathrooms. I do believe all of them have a microwave and mini fridge, which is nice.
  • Newly built shower houses- in the one we used last time, each shower was in an individual room with it's own door, as opposed to showers all in 1 room with curtains.
  • Free shuttles into Mackinaw City to one of the island ferries- nice for when you don't want to park all day in town while visiting the isle.
  • WIFI access- it was free last time, now there is a small fee to access it. When I went last time, it did not work real well, and I was unable to access it at our camp site, even though we were in the wifi zone.
  • 5 minute drive to the Mackinac Bridge
The campground is nice, and I do highly recommend it. The one thing I really disliked, however, is that they do not have permanent fire pits set up on camp sites. Instead, you have to go and get a "Fire pan" from the camp store (free), and make the fire in it. It's roughly the size of a large frying pan, and a total pain to try and start a fire in it. It isn't something I liked. I'm used to campgrounds that have built in, cement or metal ring fire pits, which are much deeper, and wider. The pans do not allow for much room to stack wood, or get a fire going.

Now that you have a place to stay, lets move on to Things To Do.

Mackinaw City is rather small. Tiny, actually. While there are things to do, some do require a bit of travel over the bridge, or by ferry to the island.  I'll separate things to do by where they are located. The things to do in St. Ignace and Mackinac Island will be posted in a separate article.

Mackinaw City: Things To Do

Colonial Fort Michilimackinaw- This is a Mackinac State Historical Park
This fort is an on-going archeological dig to find the remnants of the original Fort from Mackinaw City. Mackinaw City used to be the location of a fort for fur trades, and was occupied at various times by the French and the British. At some point, the British realized that if they moved the location of their fort to Mackinac Island, they could build it up on the hill, making it nearly inaccessible by any others looking to attack. When they moved the location, they destroyed the old fort. This park is really neat to visit. They have live cannon firings, gun shooting displays, live digs to watch, and much more. You can explore the various buildings they have built, and more. Every building standing is due to extensive archeological digs that presented evidence of the building standing where it is now.  It is the longest on-going Archeological dig in the US, and is active from early Spring to late Fall.
  • COST: Adults are $10.50, children 5-17 are $6.50. Children 0-4 are free. You can also buy a family pass, which will get you into all of the historical parks for just $65 per family. The pass is good for the entire summer.
  • Time: If you are a history buff at all, or like old fashioned parks like this, you could easily stay for several hours exploring the buildings, listening to the presentations, and such. But, you could also get through the entire park in about 2 hours.

Old Mackinac Point Light House- This is a Mackinac State Historical Park
This lighthouse has been restored to it's original condition, and sits on the banks of Lake Huron in Mackinac City, over looking the Mackinac Bridge. This light house is located next to Colonial Fort Michilimackinac, separated by a park. The park is a great place to eat your lunch, but beware

the aggressive sea gulls- and NEVER feed them or leave your food unattended. They will swipe the food right out of your hands.

The lighthouse is small, but it is fun. If you are tall enough, they will take you in small groups up to the top of the light house, where you will have a nice view of the lakes and the bridge.

  • COST: $6.00 for adults, and $4.50 for children ages 5-17. Children 0-4 are free. You can also buy a family pass, which will get you into all of the historical parks for just $65 per family. The pass is good for the entire summer.
  • Time: You can explore the entire light house, which is set up like a museum, in about an hour.

Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park- This is a Mackinac State Historic Park
Mill Creek is located just outside of town, and down only about half a mile from the Mill Creek Campground. This is located in the woods, and is the featured spot for an old saw mill. The park has extensive hiking trails, though we really did not explore that far into the trails. There are miles and miles of trails going through the forest, however. The park also has a small playground, a working water mill, and demonstrations on how people used to cut trees into useable lumber.

One perk of this park, though, is the Adventure Tour. If you have a Mackinac State Historic Park family pass, this tour does cost extra. This tour also has height and weight restrictions. Gillian was able to do this last time, but only barely. The minimum weight is 50 pounds, I believe, and around 48" tall.
The adventure tour includes a Zip Line, a Forest Canopy Bridge (this bridge is a wire that you cross over top of the trees down below. You are harnessed in and attached to the wires, however), and a rock climbing wall. This tour is $7.00 per person, in addition to the entrance fees.
  • COST: Adult tickets are $8.00, Children 5-17 are $4.75. Children 0-4 are free. In addition, the Adventure Tour is an additional $7.00 per person. You can also purchase a family pass for $65.00, which will get you into all the Historic Parks all summer long.
  • Time: The adventure tour takes about an hour to complete. I would say set aside at least 2-3 hours for this park, as it is fun, and there are a lot of places to explore through the woods.
Mackinaw Manor Haunted Mansion in 3D-
I have not yet been to the Haunted Mansion, so I can't give you an insight to it. It is fairly new over the past year or so.
  • COST: Adults: $6.00, Children: $4.00- there is an extra fee of $4.00 per person for the "Buried Alive" simulator.
  • Time: Uncertain

Mackinac Bridgemen Museum -
Again, I did not get a chance to go to this last time, so I'm unable to provide insight. I do know it's small, though. The museum has items from the building of the Mackinac Bridge in the 1950's.
  • COST: Free admission
  • Time: Probably about an hour would be more than enough, due to the smallness of the site.
Thunder Falls Water Park -
If you are going in July or August, this would be an ideal place to go. The weather up in Mackinaw City, however, is cool through the end of June, only getting into the 70's, so plan this only if you are willing to brave the cold. I have not been there, but it is an outdoor waterpark.
  • COST: Seniors: $16.95, Twilight (admission after 3:30pm) $16.95, Children under 48": $18.00, Adults (and children over 48"): $24.95, Tots 2 & under are FREE.
  • Time: It's open all day from 11a-7p
Icebreaker Mackinaw Maritime Museum -
This is a museum onboard a decommissioned Coast Guard ship called Icebreaker Mackinaw WAGB-83. I have not been there, so no insight on this museum.
  • COST: Adults: $11.00, Children 6-17: $6.00, Children 0-5 FREE. There is also a family pass available for $35.00 (available for two adults, and their children 17 & under- great for larger families)
  • Time: Unknown
Mackinac Old Time Trolley Tours-
There are 2 Trolley companies in Mackinaw City. This one boasts Historical Tours for just $3.00, as well as Bridge tours, Lighthouse Tours, and more.  Last time, I could not remember which one had the $3.00 tour, so we did not get a chance to do this, though I think it would be a fun tour. The website says the Historic Tours begin every 30 minutes.
  • COST: $3.00 and Up, depending on the tour you choose. The website does not give much info.
  • Time: 30 minutes and up- this might not be accurate, as I am judging time based on how often tours leave.
Mackinaw Trolley Company-
The website is outdated by 2 years, so I am uncertain of what the costs are. I do know they are a bit more expensive than the Old Time Trolley Tours, with tours starting out at around $10 per person. They offer a lot of group only tours to various areas.
  • Cost: Unknown, outdated website
  • Time: Depends on the tour
Next up: Mackinac Island and St. Ignace things to do! Check back later for more!


Chris said...

Awesome! Thanks so much for this post. My husband and I have been thinking about making a weekend trip up there late summer or early Fall and this will help a lot! Looking forward to part 2!

Expressions by Heather said...

You're welcome Chris- it's such a beautiful area up there! I would LOVE to go in the fall.

Sophie said...

Thanks for this and the other post, Heather. My brother, sister in law and I were going through your posts and trying to plan something out with all the links you had. Fingers crossed!

Anonymous said...

We are here right now. If you like civilization and normal things in life, do not come here. My family has been here for about 10 hours and everyone wants to leave. If you are from Michigan and like to go "Up North" you will probably love it because there is not much to do.

Expressions by Heather said...

If you are looking for something to do at night Anonymous, head over to O'Reilly's Bar, and get a drink from Dave.

I love going up to Mackinaw, because you can just sit, relax, and unwind from being stressed out.

Anonymous said...

My mom was born in Cheboygan so we travel there every year from Massachusetts to see the rest of her huge family! We spend a week in Mackinaw City and stay at the Lighthouse View Motel - nothing fancy, but comfortable, clean and friendly. It's located across the street from the lighthouse. It's QUIET and a 4 block walk from the center of town. Such a wonderful place to stay for relaxing!! Your blog should also include the fact that there's a great park on the property of the lighthouse and Fort Michmilmackinac (spelling?). We find ourselves wandering over to the park on afternoons where not much is going on. There's tons of picnic tables to sit at and just enjoy the view of the bridge and the lake. Explore the side streets as well - many great little restaurants with fantastic food. May sure and try a Michigan Pastie!!!