Are we there yet? It’s an innocent question, yet—when those four words are repeatedly uttered from the backseat of a car—they have the power to drive anyone mad. Rather than putting the cabash on your family vacation to Mackinac Island, opt for a scenic route and visit Northern Michigan staples along the way, turning your drive from frantic to fun.
Start from Traverse City and follow U.S. 31 North. It’s a sure-fire way to keep the, “Are we there yets?” to a minimum during your weekend away. Leaving Friday morning is a good idea. It guarantees a late afternoon arrival in Mackinaw City—still time to enjoy the town—despite frequent stops, giving you the entire weekend to explore the island and the surrounding area.
A Friday morning start also means something for your hunger. Just 20 minutes into your road-trip is the charming village of Elk Rapids, which happens to host a farmers market at the Elk Rapids Chamber of Commerce, 305 U.S. 31 North, every Friday from 9 a.m. to noon. Stock up on fresh, local produce and continue on U.S. 31 for about 30 miles until you hit destination No. 2: Charlevoix.
Look for “The World’s Largest Cherry Pie” monument just south of the city. The monument features the pan that once held more than 5,000 pounds of cherries, as well as the recipe created by Dave Phillips in 1976. Though Charlevoix’s record was broken in the late 80’s and again in the early 90’s, the monument provides a nice family photo-op and a good excuse to get out of the car and stretch your legs.
A few more minutes in the car and you’re ready for lunch. Grab a bite at one of the many restaurants in Charlevoix’s busy downtown, or dine at Stafford’s Weathervane Restaurant (106 Pine River Lane, 231-547-4311) on Pine River Channel. Sit outside on the deck and watch the boats go by as you indulge in their specialty dish—Oak Planked Whitefish with Parmesan whipped potatoes and vegetables.
Not hungry yet? Maybe another half hour north will rev up your appetite. Stop at Petoskey’s Bob In-Again (1150 Bay View Road, 231-347-1750) for Bobby Burgers, frozen custard and hula-hoops in a 1950’s-diner atmosphere. Or get take-out and backtrack to Sunset Park, a few blocks from downtown Petoskey, for a picnic and postcard-worthy view of the bay before piling back into the car.
Thirty-five miles later and you’ve arrived in Mackinaw City. Check in to one of the downtown hotels, motels or B&Bs, ditch the car, and explore S. Huron Street. There you’ll find Animal Tracks Adventure Golf (220 South Huron Ave.). This mini-golf course, open late, offers competitors the chance to win a free game by correctly matching animals to the tracks printed on each hole-marker. Or, make your own stuffed souvenir at Mackinaw Bay Build Your Bear (312 South Huron Ave.). Wander over to Mackinaw Crossings for boutiques, ice cream and mirrors—Maze of Mirrors, that is. Hold your hands out in front of you to avoid walking into a mirror, or four, as you attempt to find your way out of this maze for all ages. End your night with a laser-light show at the theater in Mackinaw Crossings, which repeats every night at 10:30.
After a good night’s sleep, it’s time for day two: Mackinac Island—just a brief ferry ride from Mackinaw City. Don’t be afraid to wear the kids out with nature walks, carriage rides and biking around the island. The odds of having energetic passengers for the drive home after a busy day away from the “horseless carriage” are slim-to-none. But just in case the “Are we there yets?” start up again, be ready to make some pit stops.