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Michigan’s Northern Adventure

Northern Michigan is packed with historic sites, outdoor activities and tasty treats suitable for the whole family

By Julia Rivera

Because cars are banned on Mackinac Island, carriage rides are a popular alternative.
Photo Credit: Eli Duke

Over the years Michigan has built a billion-dollar tourism industry. In 2011, $17.7 billion of direct spending from tourism was poured into the economy, according to the Michigan Travel Commission. In the same year 33 percent of visitors were from out of state. Whether you’re from or traveling to the Great Lakes state one thing is for sure—visiting Mackinac Island is a must.

Even today the sound of horses pulling carriages can be heard throughout the island. Transportation is either by foot or horse and the Grand Hotel offers saddle horses as a way to explore Mackinac Island’s 40 miles of bridle paths.

The Victorian-era Grand Hotel is one of the island’s most popular attractions. This year marks the 130th birthday of the hotel and June 30-July 2 the hotel will celebrate with an anniversary celebration. To commemorate the historic landmark Detroit Public Television released a documentary in March, Inside Grand Hotel. The hour-long film explores the hotel’s most famous spaces while also telling the stories of those who have kept the hotel a Michigan landmark.

The Grand Hotel
Photo Credit: Alexi Schnur

One of the many benefits of staying at the Grand Hotel is a unique dining experience. Julie Rogers, the hotel’s director of marketing, says, “We offer a first-class dining experience, which is tradition. After 6:30 p.m. it becomes a special occasion and we require the guests to dress up. Everyone including children dress nicely and it’s a time for families to get together.”

While your food digests have a seat in a rocking chair and take in the views of the Straits of Mackinac from the world’s longest porch. Rogers says the 660-foot porch was renovated this year to expose the original hardwood floors as well as add a protective waterproof layer.

The hotel offers a variety of activities for visitors, but travel outside the hotel for a peek into the rich history this little piece of Michigan. Fort Holmes is located at the highest elevation on Mackinac Island. Originally named after Britain’s King George III, the fort was constructed in 1814 during the War of 1812 and is still standing today.

Spending the day learning about the island’s history can work up an appetite. Luckily, downtown is full of eateries unlike that of

Fort Mackinac founded in 1780.

any other city. Mustang Lounge offers a casual menu, with a twist. When eating at the lounge it means you’re having a meal in a little piece of history. The structure is one of the oldest on Mackinac Island, and it’s surrounded by original log walls that date back to the 1780s, a half-century before Michigan was even a state. The Mustang Lounge is the oldest building in the state of Michigan to house a tavern and restaurant that is currently operational, according to its website.

For those with a sweet tooth, you’re in luck—Mackinac Island is known for its delicious homemade fudge. The Original Murdick’s Fudge has been in business since 1887 and has a selection of 21 flavors of fudge from classic chocolate to salted toasted coconut double chocolate.

Fort Holmes, built in 1814, provide insight into the region’s history.

Working off the sugar rush proves not to be an issue in this area of Michigan. There are a number of outdoor activities from biking to swimming. Diving to explore shipwrecks is also an option. The Straits of Mackinac Underwater Preserve offers a look at vessels that have succumbed to treacherous weather conditions dating back to the 1800s. The preserve contains 12 marked shipwrecks, with additional sites in the shallows near shore, and others in deeper waters nearby.

Diving down to explore a shipwreck isn’t for everyone, but you can opt to take a boat instead. Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tours located in Munising brings you back in time when America transported items in ships, not planes. The two-hour tour showcases Lake Superior’s natural underwater museum with two different wreck sites, rock cliffs and caves, and a historic lighthouse. Check out a rare, fully intact, wooden sailing ship that was built before the Civil War and sits only a few feet from the surface of the lake.

The Straits of Mackinac Underwater Preserve has 12 marked shipwrecks that divers can explore.

If you’re looking for something a bit sweeter, less than two hours north is Paradise, the wild blueberry capital of Michigan. In the 1920s wild blueberries became the main industry of the northern town. Sitting on the water, shoreline steamers transported the blueberry cargo to Detroit, Chicago and Buffalo.

Today, some commercial picking continues as wild berries can still be found in the area.

To commemorate the local heritage, the Paradise Area Chamber of Commerce hosts an annual Wild Blueberry Festival. Held in the third week in August, the three-day festival provides entertainment such as musical performances, petting farms and pie-eating contests as well as plenty of blueberry-based goodies like pancakes and muffins to snack on throughout the festival.

Paradise is also home to the Whitefish Point Marathon. The 26.2-mile course along the shoreline of Lake Superior is a USA Track and Field-certified course and is now a Boston Marathon qualifying race. After the race runners can enjoy refreshments including the yooper pasty, a meat pie native to the upper peninsula of Michigan.

Don’t want to run a marathon to get the chance to taste a pasty? Not to worry—head down to Berry Patch Gifts, Bakery and Restaurant. Owner Shirley Clark says, “It’s more of a meat pie than a turnover. It was brought to the peninsula from New England. Women would make the pasty and wrap it in newspaper for the men for lunch. They would keep it in their shirt to stay warm until lunchtime.”

The yooper pasty, pronounced “pass-tee,” is a small circle of piecrust filled with meat, potatoes, onions and spices. It was served as a hearty meal to replenish the workers after a hard morning of mining and was easy to consume as it doesn’t require utensils.

Today some restaurants have put a modern spin on the dish. You can find gluten-free pasties, vegetarian pasties, breakfast pasties, pizza pasties and much more!