Night Riders: Cycling Mackinac Island after dark

On our last trip to Mackinac Island, Michigan, my husband and I decided to take our first-ever nighttime bike ride. Mackinac Island is a small island located between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, in the Straits of Mackinac. It’s a picturesque vacation spot filled with old-fashioned Victorian homes and hotels, historic sites, natural landmarks , and touristy kitsch. No motor vehicles are allowed and all travel on the island is by foot, bicycle or horses. Since there’s no car traffic to contend with, it’s a great place for a night-time bike ride.

Dave, rechecking our gear.

We ventured out about 9 PM on a Saturday night. The island was alive with night life – music swelled from the entrances of the bars and restaurants. The streets were full of visitors out for a late night stroll or a bite to eat. We donned out bike clothes and checked out lights and bikes for safety. We didn’t want to end up trying to change a tire in darkness or discover that our lights did not work halfway around the island.

Once we left the congested six blocks or so of the downtown area, we were in the wild. The waters of Lake Huron on our right, and the woods and cliffs of the island to our left. Other riders were out  too. Mostly the island residents and summer workers,who ride big old coaster bikes with fat tires and wire baskets on the handlebars. A few were tourists like us. We stood out with our cycling clothes, helmets and lights. The island regulars don’t bother with those niceties. Anyone who spends a summer on Mackinac Island gets to know that eight-mile trip around the Island like the back of their hand and doesn’t need lights to find their way.

Still a little daylight over Lake Huron; ferry-boat in the distance (© Huffygirl 2012)

There was still a little light in the sky when we started out, but by the time we’d ventured a few miles it was pretty dark. We met a couple who told us there would be fireworks in St. Ignace that night. We were taking our time biking, afraid to go too fast with only our little headlights lighting the way, so we figured we’d be to the north side of the island in time to see the fireworks.

Huffygirl, wearing white for safety, and the last glow of the sunset over Lake Michigan (© Huffygirl 2012)

By the time we reached the far side of the island, it was pitch dark. We could barely see the lights of St. Ignace, about five miles away on the coast of the upper peninsula. Soon the fireworks started and we stood arm in arm on the rocky beach, watching the free show. The five-mile distance made for an unusual show. We’d see the sky light up with the colorful explosion in silence, then heard the booms of the fireworks as each display fizzled out.

The lights of St. Ignace, barely visible.

Once the show was done, we headed back to town. Small animals scurried across the road in front of us from time to time, but without mishap. Our headlights made eerie shadows on the trees. When the rocky beach on our right turned to wooded shores, we were plunged into a totally dark path, our headlights almost useless. Maybe that’s why the island regulars don’t bother to use them. If we were riding at night at home we’d have to worry about hitting deer crossing the road, but not a problem here. Deer no longer populate this island. Our biggest worry was running into another rider, as most bikes did not have lights.

Once back in the glow of street lights of the town, we headed up the hill for a nighttime look at the Grand Hotel. The “host” who stands guard during the day to keep the unsightly bikers away from the front of the hotel, had finally retired. The steepish downhill ride back down to the main street seemed more exciting in the dark, but probably safer with the clutch of daytime tourists and horse-drawn cabs gone for the night.

The grandeur of the Grand Hotel in daylight (© Huffygirl 2012)

This summer we plan to be back. We’ll be night riders again, but this time not so wary. This time we’ll venture farther from the safe island perimeter, up the hills into the deeper, more deserted  parts of the island. And we’ll bring a better camera next time to capture more of the adventure.

The night riders. (© Huffygirl 2012)

© Huffygirl 2012

Read more about Mackinac Island from


It’s the Victorians! More backroads views of Mackinac Island

Victorian architecture is the prevailing style of Mackinac Island. Original buildings were built during the Victorian age, and new buildings have followed suit. The result is a place that truly appears to be frozen in time, with lovely picturesque homes, hotels and bed and breakfasts, featuring turrets, towers, porches and widow’s walks.

The Island House, charming Victorian hotel

Although the Grand Hotel is the one everyone hears about, the Island House, built in 1852, was the first hotel on the island. This is where we  stayed on our first anniversary and every time we’ve returned to the island since. The decor features painted Victorian style furniture, over-stuffed  sofas in floral prints, and is comfortable and welcoming. There’s plenty of space to relax on the lawn and front porches, and at night there’s always a fire going for making s’mores. We always try to stay in one of the quaint  fourth-floor rooms, tucked under the eaves, with angled ceilings and dormer windows. Definitely not a place for tall visitors, as anyone taller than me must take care to not bump their  head on the sloped ceilings. An added bonus is the extra exercise we get, as the elevator only goes up to the third floor. The building is actually a collection of three buildings put together, so the inside is a delightful tangle of extra sets of stairs connecting all the floors which don’t quite match up.

A grand looking home on the West Bluff. Pontiac's Trail starts here.

This is one of the original Victorian mansions that can be seen high on the west bluff, as one approaches the island by boat. To get to the west bluff  you’ll have to make the trek up the pretty decent, but doable hill of Cadotte Avenue, turn left behind the Grand Hotel, and take a few back streets to West Bluff Drive. You’ll get a great close up view of the beautiful west bluff homes and gardens. Most people don’t know about Pontiac’s Trail, a short, narrow walking path perched along the west bluff edge, that takes you right up to the front of some of the less visible west bluff homes. Once you’re done admiring the west bluff homes, make sure your brakes are in good working order, and take a wild, downhill ride down West  Bluff Drive, into forbidden bike territory in front of the Grand Hotel, then coast all the way to the bottom into town. Best not to stop on the way down so you won’t get caught by the Grand Hotel guards!

East Bluff home and gardens.

 A harder uphill trip at the straight up road by Fort Mackinac (don’t worry – even the Huffys had to walk up the last little bit), then behind the fort to East Bluff Drive, takes you to another picturesque area of original homes and gardens. Many visitors never see these homes up close, deterred by the steep road leading up, and even steeper one leading down. An alternate route is to ascend Cadotte Avenue by the Grand Hotel, then wind your way around the upper interior roads to the East Bluff, but many visitors don’t bike far enough into the interior to figure this out.  Or, if you don’t mind walking, there’s a steep set of stairs tucked behind the bushes at the bottom of Truscott Street. When you’re done admiring the east bluff homes, make a sharp turn onto  Truscott Street, just past the sign that says something like “Absolutely no biking; walk bikes down” and take a cautious ride down with both hands firmly on your brakes. My life flashed before my eyes on the  steepest part, but hey, it was worth it.

Rooftops of the town below, seen from east bluff.

Back of the Grand Hotel, seen from west bluff. Note the roof top balconies for some lucky guests!

Round Island lighthouse and harbor, seen from east bluff.

Next: Mackinac Island history.

 © Huffygirl 2011

A backroads look at Mackinac Island

The Huffys at the Grand Hotel Tea Garden

Best husband and I are just back from beautiful Mackinac (pronounced  Macinaw) Island, located in Lake Huron, between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. This quaint tourist spot is  home to many historic sites, including Fort Mackinac, where Dr. William Beaumont perfected his experimentation on the human stomach. No motor vehicles are allowed on the island, and visitors must get around on foot, by bicycle or horse-drawn carriage. Our favorite parts of the island are the upper and back roads, where we take our bikes to get away from the crowds, and explore the less traveled (and harder to get to) areas. Here’s some of our favorite spots.

The Grand Hotel

The world-famous Grand Hotel and surrounding gardens. Red geraniums, made voluptuously vibrant by the endless supply of horse manure fertilizer, are the signature theme of the hotel. The gardens and grounds are pristine and manicured. The hotel is formal, requiring dress clothes after 6 PM, and has guards posted at the east drive to prevent those messy-looking cyclists from cluttering up the view in front of the hotel (although those messy horses pulling carriages are allowed.) Always the rebels, we managed to circumvent this by biking up to the west bluff behind the hotel, then coasting down the steep, steep street that runs right into the Grand Hotel drive. They couldn’t catch us and couldn’t stop us, and we had a great ride down.

Notice the “blue sky” of the porch ceiling, repeated on the underside of the porch balconies.

Great view from the porch. Note the geraniums.

This oft-photographed classic phone booth was moved recently from its spot next to the stone church, to make room for a new house constructed there.

A genuine pay phone, for those who’ve never seen one before.

Coming up: Mackinac Island rocks.

© Huffygirl 2011