There is a place in the United States where all motor vehicles have been completely forbidden. A place where the main modes of transportation are bikes, horses, or your own two feet. It’s worth the extra effort: this is an area full of excitement, tourism, and history. A place my family and I love to visit – if for no other reason than to ride our bikes.
Mackinac Island Michigan
Bike riding is a fun pastime for my family. We often travel to new places based solely on its ability to accommodate bikers. We search out areas that offer either a safe place to ride downtown or designated bike paths, usually through a park or wooded area. Mackinac Island, Michigan has both.
On Mackinac Island, bikes are one of the main modes of transportation. Motor vehicles are strictly prohibited from entering the island, so besides the horse drawn carriages and other bikers to look out for, riding on the island feels pretty safe. However, I would recommend not getting too comfortable. There are still many rules and things to look out for when biking around Mackinaw Island – especially with kids. So here are our best tips.
Getting a Bike on the Island
Before you can start riding around the beautiful, fun filled island, you’ll need a bike. How do you get one? Well, that’s easy. There are two ways to get a bike for your use on the island. Either you can bring your own with you to the island by paying the extra bike transport fee with the ferry, or you can rent a bike from one of the many rental companies on the island after you arrive. I always choose to bring my own simply because I like how my bike rides. If you choose to rent a bike on the island there are usually several options to choose from, including single speeds, 3 speeds, mountain bikes, tandem bikes, and pull behind carriers for babies or toddlers. Bikes can usually be rented by the hour or for the day.
Choose the Right Path
The island is made up of several different paths. Deciding which path is right for you is important. Typically most people tend to stay near the downtown area and ride around the main pass which leads to the fort, famous Arch Rock, restaurants, and stores. This is where my family also tends to stay on our bikes when we have the kids with us.
In this area there are many places to stop for breaks, places to use the restroom or grab a snack – all important when you’re riding with young kids. Plus, it always made me nervous to venture out too far with young kids on bikes for the fear that they will give up half way and I’ll be stranded riding my bike while carrying both their bikes and them in my arms on the way back.
When we travel without the young kids, my husband and I prefer to head out on the paved bike trail that circles the island. This 8.2 mile path is breath-taking with a constant view of the lake on one side and wooded seclusion on the other. Since not as many people choose to venture out this far from the main strip, the ride can be relaxing with only the sounds of seagulls and the smell of fresh cedar to distract you from your peddling. Plus, if you get tired along the way, there are always places to pull off the path and sit on the beach until you’re ready to ride again. Just be prepared that food and restroom stops are few and far between once you get moving away from the main strip.
While the third path option is not something I’ve tried yet myself, I do know of several people who constantly tell me I’m missing out. Throughout the center of the island are mountain bike paths woven between the trees. These paths are unpaved and better navigated by a serious off road biker. However, along these trails are some of Mackinac Island’s best kept secrets- places like Sugar Loaf, Skull Cave and even the island’s historic cemeteries.
Maneuvering the Island
There are a few other things to consider when biking Mackinac Island, Michigan.
- Parking. Knowing where to leave your bike when frequenting the downtown businesses can be confusing at first since there aren’t any bike racks like some of us are used to. Bike parking can be found along side the road within the lines. Most likely you will see several other bikes already using this space. Simply follow suit. Just remember where you left your bike because the parking area and streets often become overcrowded. I’ve lost my bike a time or two and was left to wandering around wishing I had an alarm to sound to lead me back to it.
- Locking up your bike. Whether or not to use a bike lock is your preference. There are certainly people who do both. Keep in mind that there aren’t typically places to lock your bike to.
- Bikes and horses. Even though motor vehicles are banned from the island, bikes are not the only mode of transportation. There are also horses, horse drawn carriages and a lot of foot traffic. Common road rules still apply and there are officers present to enforce the laws. Be considerate and attentive.
Other Places to Bike Ride Nearby
On the other side of the ferry from the island, you can either find Mackinaw City or St. Ignace. We usually choose to stay in Mackinaw City overnight and have found that they also are very progressive for bike riders. Not only is there a boardwalk along the lake to ride with a lighthouse and fort to visit, but the North Central State Trail runs through the area. The North Central State Trail connects Mackinaw City, Cheboygan, Gaylord, Indian River, and Topinabee with trails for biking or walking. The trail is a ride we would love to one day make, but haven’t yet completed fully.