Why there are no cars on Mackinac Island

Out of more than 4 million miles of public streets in the United States, there’s an 8.2-mile stretch of road on Mackinac Island that stands apart. M-185 is the only state highway in the country where motor vehicles are not allowed.

Instead, the traffic on Mackinac Island consists of pedestrians, bicyclists and horse-drawn carriages.

You might say that M-185 is literally one in a million. Then again, Mackinac Island itself is one of a kind.

But it could have turned out much differently had Mackinac Island not taken steps to ban “horseless carriages” more than 125 years ago.

RELATED: 10 memorable times when cars drove on Mackinac Island

A horse-drawn carriage passes a Victorian cottage on Mackinac Island's East Bluff

History of Cars on Mackinac Island

It was at the end of the 19th century that the fledgling auto industry was emerging, headquartered in Michigan with Oldsmobile in Lansing and Ford in Detroit. By that time, horse-drawn carriages already had been giving tours of beautiful Mackinac Island for over three decades. They were a key feature of Mackinac Island’s transition from a military outpost and center of the Great Lakes fur trade into a popular travel destination.

When a smattering of motor vehicles first started appearing on Mackinac Island, a group of carriage men petitioned the village council to prohibit the “dangerous horseless carriages” that were frightening their horses. Village leaders enacted the ban on July 6, 1898 and Mackinac Island has been car free ever since!

As automobiles became ubiquitous in the 20th century, the lack of motor vehicles on Mackinac Island has given the place a special character that makes it truly feel like a vacation escape. Visiting Mackinac Island is an opportunity to leave your fast-paced life at the ferry dock for a few days and slow down to clip-clop speed for a much-deserved breather.

RELATED: Where to leave your car when visiting Mackinac Island

Riding a bicycle around the perimeter of Mackinac Island on M-185 is a popular activity for visitors.

Fun facts about Mackinac Island transportation

When you get here to experience the peace and relaxation of Mackinac Island yourself, you’ll understand. In the meantime, if you’re curious, here are five fun facts about the history of transportation on Mackinac Island:

Details on all the ways of traveling to Mackinac Island

  • Horses first arrived on Mackinac Island around 1780 when the British used them to haul parts of Fort Michilimackinac from the mainland near present-day Mackinaw City over the ice to the island. The British sought the high bluffs of Mackinac Island for protection against a possible American attack. Shortly after the Revolutionary War, Mackinac Island became part of the United States. Then, following the War of 1812, the Americans took control of Fort Mackinac for good and the military significance of the island began to wane.

A look at Mackinac Island history through the centuries

The horse is king on Michigan’s Mackinac Island, where motor vehicles have been prohibited since 1898.

  • By the mid-1800s, Mackinac Island was evolving into a tourist destination and tours by horse carriage became a popular way to see the incredible sights. The first carriage license was issued in 1869. More than 150 years later, Mackinac Island Carriage Tours is the world’s oldest and largest horse and buggy livery, one of a handful of liveries on Mackinac Island.

Everything to know about horses on Mackinac Island

What? There’s going to be a car on Mackinac Island?!?


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