Published: June 16, 2013
MACKINAC ISLAND, Mich. - Producers of the 1980 movie "Somewhere in Time" didn't need to build elaborate sets to depict the tale of a playwright who travels back to 1912 to find romance. They simply filmed on Mackinac Island, a Great Lakes enclave that retains its Victorian-era charm thanks to its ban on motor vehicles.
Motor vehicles have been banned on the island since the start of the 20th century after an automobile frightened some of the horses. These days, people still travel by horse-drawn carriage, as well as by bike and by foot.
Mackinac Island, located off the Straits of Mackinac separating Michigan's Upper and Lower Peninsulas, was an important outpost in the region's fur trade, but that gave way to fishing and eventually tourism.
Among the main attractions: the Grand Hotel, a 385-room luxury hotel that played a central role in "Somewhere in Time." In fact, fans of the movie, many in period costumes, descend on the island and the hotel every fall for a weekend of re-enactments and a screening.
You get reminders of a bygone era before even leaving the mainland by ferry. Crews cart overnight luggage onto the ferry, the way full-service porters used to at train stations and hotels. The Grand Hotel stands out as your ferry approaches the island. Closer to the dock, you pass a pair of quaint lighthouses, including one featured in the movie.
Once you're on the island, you have plenty of options. Head to the Mackinac Island State Park Visitor's Center for an orientation. About 80 percent of the island is controlled by the state park, but staff there can point you to other things to do, too.
Native Americans were the first settlers on the island. European missionaries came to the area in the 1670s, followed by fur traders. The British moved operations from the mainland to the island in 1780 as protection from Americans in revolt.
So important was the outpost that the British didn't cede the island until 1796, well after Americans won the Revolutionary War. The British got Mackinac Island back briefly after a surprise attack at the start of the War of 1812.
Through those years, the island's military center was Fort Mackinac, built on top of a hill a short walk from the main village. For $11, visitors can stroll through Fort Mackinac. You can witness demonstrations of old-style guns and a cannon - be sure to cover your ears. You also can see some of the buildings once used for distributing supplies, housing soldiers and more.
Despite the lack of motor vehicles, Mackinac Island has a state highway, running some eight miles around the island. You can walk or run it - consider the Mackinac Island Eight-Mile Road Race in September. You also can rent bikes.
If eight miles is too much, there are shorter hikes you can take, including ones to natural stone formations such as Arch Rock and Sugar Loaf. There are more than 60 miles of trails to choose from throughout the 1,800-acre state park.
The Grand Hotel is such a draw among tourists that non-guests must pay a $10 admission fee. That allows you to shop, dine or browse an art gallery inside and lets you walk through the flower gardens in front of the hotel. Check out the Cupola Bar on the top floor for a wonderful view of the Straits of Mackinac. There's a dress code in the evening.
It's free to walk along the streets downtown, where you'll find shops, churches, museums and other buildings. You'll also see lots of horses and carriages in lieu of cars. If you want to ride one, several companies offer tours and taxi service. Tours cost $24.50 and last nearly two hours.
Whether you're at Mackinac Island for the day or with an overnight stay, be sure to stop by one of the many shops selling fudge - the island's specialty cuisine. Just leave your diet on the mainland.