Fairy Tales, Castles & Fudge – Mackinac, MI
Once upon a time in a land far far away (Cape Blanco, OR) a young girl (well, youngish anyway) opened up a picture book to do some reading. There she found a castle with spires and turrets on a beach in a foreign land (Michigan). The story was full of light (a pretty Fresnel light), heroism (girl power no less) and things that only seemed possible in the pages of a book.
“Surely this is fiction” mused the girl “something so fantastic cannot exist”
It was the beginning of a dream, a long dream that would eventually take the girl, her handsome knight (Paul) and their trusty steed (Polly) to the top of the tip of a mitten-shaped land called Mackinaw City. There the castle awaited them, no longer shining her bright light but just as fairy tale beautiful as ever. They were all welcomed in (the steed too) , they marveled at her beauty and they lived happily ever after.
That, my loyal blog readers, is pretty much exactly how we ended up here. Paul and I first read about Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse in a children’s book in 2012 when we were lighthouse hosting at Cape Blanco. At the time we’d never seen anything like her and the stunning 1892 girl became an obsession for us ever since. When we came to Michigan we knew this would be top of our list, and I can tell you right now that she totally lived up to the expectation.
But I get ahead of myself.
Just 2 days before we were scheduled to arrive we were a tad stressed out and not at all sure we’d make it. We’d been calling and checking campsites for over 2 weeks around Mackinaw City and nothing had showed up. The State Park just north of town had spots, but only for rigs 30-feet or shorter. The campgrounds were all booked solid and most weren’t even returning calls. Finally, just a day before we were hoping to arrive, we got through to Mill Creek Campground. With over 200 acres of land and 600 campsites they’re by far the biggest campground in the area, and by pure luck we were able to get in. It was pricey and we’d have to move sites in the mere 4 days we were there, but we finally had a place to stay. Phew!!
The Magic Of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse
We got into camp a minute after official check-in time (1:01 PM), backed into our extremely spacious spot (a pleasant surprise) and loaded doggie into the car to rush over to the lighthouse. And the visit was just as magical, if not more so than the picture story.
“Are you chaperoned?” asked the lovely lady inside the gift store
“I am” I answered dutifully “but we have a dog too”
“Oh bring her in!” she immediately answered “we’re dog-friendly here. Does she like treats?”
“You are officially my favorite lighthouse EVER!!” I gushed
Marking the crossroads of Lake Huron & Lake Michigan, this unique-looking lighthouse guided ships across the dangerous straits from 1892 to 1957. She’s an exotic lady, built on a foundation of ashlar limestone, constructed of Cream City brick and trimmed with Indiana Limestone. And to top it all off she’s got tour guides in period costume, a perfectly restored interior and turrets and spires like a real castle. Plus she’s dog-friendly…OMG…throw me off the edge and call me done!
We spent over an hour hanging at the light that day and the next evening I went back to try and capture her at sunset. I’ve been dying to get a good lighthouse sunset shot since we left Oregon, but the light (and timing) just hasn’t come together. That night it finally did and in a most spectacular way too. Just moments before the sun passed beyond the horizon the dark, grey sky broke into brilliant flames of red and orange. It only lasted for about 5 minutes, but that was all I needed. It was a fairy tale ending in a place far, far away. Quite fitting really.
VISIT NOTES: The lighthouse grounds are open for visitation 9AM to 5:30PM in summer and costs $7.50 to visit. Tours of the tower are offered every 15 mins. For more info click HERE.
BRING DOGGIE? YES, if there’s two of you. The gated lighthouse grounds are entirely dog-friendly (doggie entrance is FREE) and the only place you cannot bring paws is up into the tower. Tower tours take only 15 mins so it’s easy to swap out and visit while the other person stays with doggie on the grounds.
And Another At McGulpin Point
Although not initially on our radar it took us only milliseconds upon arrival to realize that there is another castle-like lighthouse only 2 miles away from Old Mackinac Point. She was actually the built prior to our fairy tale gal to mark the Western part of the Straits of Mackinac and guarded this point from 1869 until she was decommissioned in 1906. Designed in “Norman Gothic” style with an octagonal tower and a rather unusual third-and-a-half-order Fresnel lens she then went through several iterations of being a private residence until she was taken over Emmet County in 2008.
Although it was grey and dreary when we went to see her we totally enjoyed the grounds (all dog-friendly) and the little hike down to the shoreline. Another awesome lighthouse!
BRING DOGGIE? YES, if there’s two of you! The grounds around McGulpin Point are all dog-friendly and the tower is self-guided so it’s easy to swap out and visit the lighthouse while the other person hangs with the paws. There is also a lovely dog-friendly trail leading down to the shoreline.
Fudge & Old Nostalgia At Mackinac Island
We were pretty lighthouse-focused for our trip to Mackinac, but we knew we couldn’t pass through here without taking a trip to Mackinac Island. This teeny little 3.8 sq.mi island is the most famous historic resort town in the area. You can only get here by ferry and no motorized vehicles are allowed, so it’s like a step back in time when you get off the boat. Streets jam packed with the clippity-clop of old-fashioned horse carriages, bicycles on every corner, a revolutionary fort and 19th century Victorian-style homes. Plus fudge….endless and unlimited reams of shops selling fudge (seriously, never seen so much fudge in my life).
It’s a total tourist-trap and it gets crazy full on the week-ends, but it’s also surprisingly enjoyable even for non-tourist folks like ourselves. Some old friends of ours drove up to meet us for the trip and we went over together for the day with their 2 kids. We did all the typical touristy stuff -> walked through 1780 Fort Mackinac (which is excellent by the way), saw them fire the old guns & cannons, walked around the historic downtown streets, had some fudge and ice cream (at Joann’s Fudge) and finished off the day with cocktails and snacks at the infamous Pink Pony. I had WAY more fun than I expected and thoroughly enjoyed the experience…including the fudge 🙂
VISIT NOTES: There are several ferry services that take you to Mackinac Island, including Arnold Mackinac Island Ferry, Shepler’s Ferry, and Star Line Ferry. We chose Star Line which got us there in only 18 minutes and bought a slight discount on the $24/person fare through our campground. For more info about the island click HERE and HERE.
BRING DOGGIE? YES! The ferry to the Island and all the grounds on the Island itself (including the Fort!) are 100% dog-friendly. The only place you cannot bring doggie is inside the restaurants/bars, so as long as you’re just visiting & not eating on the Island you’ll be happy to have your paws along.
Quick Day-Trip to Cheboygan
Our last day in Mackinac we took a quick day-trip to Cheboygan just 20 mins East. The main reason was of course to see the lighthouses there, both Cheboygan River Front Range (1880) & Cheboygan Crib (1884). Sadly both were closed when we were there (only River Front offers tours), but we were able to enjoy them from the outside and also swim with Polly by the sandy beach right next to Cheboygan Crib.
We also tried to get into the local brewery, but ran into the same weird UP dog rules we first encountered in Marquette the prior week. They had an outdoor seating area, but we couldn’t sit there unless Polly was on the outside of the fence. The fence here is solid and several feet high (that’s too much separation for us) so we decided to pass. You’ll have to let us know if you go and like it.
VISIT NOTES: Cheboygan River Front Range Light is open for visitation 9AM to 5PM on weekends only. Fore more info click HERE.
BRING DOGGIE? YES, for the lighthouses! The area around both lighthouses is dog-friendly. You won’t be able to bring doggie inside, but you can enjoy the grounds with paws in tow. The beach next to Cheboygan Crib is dog-friendly too.
Hanging By The Shore & Downtown
The rest of our days in Mackinac we just spent hanging around camp enjoying the beach & beautiful views of the bridge, biking the fabulous little 3-mile trail into town (which went right by our campground) and visiting the cute, little downtown. There are ton of little shoreline parks all along the downtown area (all dog-friendly) and plenty of little spots to grab something to eat and buy fudge (there’s always fudge).
I know it’s wrong to have a favorite spot, but we so TOTALLY enjoyed our stop here. Despite the kitsch, we both felt the entire place had a great vibe and a super relaxed and inviting feel. From the paw-friendly waterfront beaches to the awesome lighthouses I have to declare this the best stop we’ve had in Michigan so far. Plus, how can you beat real-life castles and fairy tales?
From here we depart the Great Lakes and head somewhere only those in “the know” know. It’s a bit of a local secret and a place that boasts some of the clearest waters in the state. Plus something else happened that made it aaaall the more extraordinary. The magic is not over yet….
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