Taking a narrated horse-drawn carriage tour of Mackinac Island is a must for first-time visitors. You’ll get the lay of the land and take a look at some of the most popular sights, from Grand Hotel to Fort Mackinac to Arch Rock.
Yet, a carriage can only take you so far into the rugged interior of Mackinac Island. For visitors who want to experience Mackinac Island from the inside out, there are a few other options: explore Mackinac Island on foot, explore Mackinac Island by bike, explore Mackinac Island from the air and explore Mackinac Island on horseback.
You can venture off on your own on the 70-plus miles of paved and earthen trails through Mackinac Island State Park. Guided tours also are an option. For example, Inside Out Tours of Mackinac provides hiking and biking tours of Mackinac Island.
We caught up with Inside Out guides Mike Matulis and Mallarie Chester to ask about some of the can’t-miss sights to see on a tour into the interior of Mackinac Island:
Q: Why did you start a tour guide business on Mackinac Island?
A: Mike and Mallarie fell in love on Mackinac Island. And they fell in love with Mackinac Island. Now, the Grand Haven, Mich. couple spends summers living on a sailboat in the Mackinac Island harbor. When family and friends come to visit, Mike and Mallarie take them on tours of their favorite sights. “They’ve enjoyed what we’ve had to show them,” Mike said. “They would say, ‘You should do this for other people.’”
Q: Where do you take people on tours of Mackinac Island?
A: Inside Out offers a two-hour hiking tour that starts downtown and visits sights including the Crow’s Nest, Robinson’s Folly, Lover’s Leap, Arch Rock, Sugar Loaf, Point Lookout, Fort Holmes, Skull Cave and Anne’s Tablet. Mike and Mallarie also offer a two-hour biking tour that hits many of the same sights plus several that are farther north on Mackinac Island including Eagle Point Cave, the War of 1812 Battlefield, Friendship’s Altar, British Landing and Sunset Rock. Along the way, they share fascinating history and legends about Mackinac Island.
“For the most part, people only know the town and the perimeter of Mackinac Island on the highway, so one of our favorite things to do is to get away from town in the interior where it’s less crowded and just explore,” Mike said. “There’s a lot to see.” Mike and Mallarie have been able to share their love of Mackinac Island together, and they love sharing that with others, too.
Q: What are your favorite sights on Mackinac Island?
A: Mackinac Island’s Sugar Loaf is Mike and Mallarie’s favorite sight. The giant stack of limestone rising out of the ground is the source of Native American legend. If you know where to look, you can even see the silhouette of a face in the rock. Mike and Mallarie always point out the face and share the incredible legend. “We like to see the looks on people’s faces when it comes clear that they can see it,” Mike said.
Another favorite spot is Robinson’s Folly, a lookout on Mackinac Island’s East Bluff high above the popular roadway below. It, too, is the stuff of legend. And the view is one of the best on Mackinac Island. “A lot of people are down below on their bicycles and see (the bluff above) and don’t even know how to get up there,” Mallarie said.
Speaking of amazing views, Fort Holmes sits on the highest point of Mackinac Island and offers a panoramic perspective of the south half of the island and the surrounding water. Plus, like the better-known Fort Mackinac, there’s a lot of interesting history detailed inside Fort Holmes by Mackinac State Historic Parks. “We like to go out of the way to places that are lesser known,” Mike said. “I just feel most at peace when I’m out on the trails. You feel the history and it’s a beautiful place to be.”
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While Inside Out Tours of Mackinac takes visitors off the beaten path into some challenging terrain, the route can be altered to stay on the pavement so that it’s accessible for everyone.
In addition to hiking and biking tours, you can also enjoy a tour of Mackinac Island by horseback with a guide from one of Mackinac Island’s liveries, from the air in the comfort of a Mackinac Island helicopter or plane.