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Mackinac Island Road Trip For Runners

People may think of Mackinac Island as a summer destination, but it closes out the fall season with a memorable half marathon

Runners compete at the Great Turtle Half Marathon. Photo: Courtesy of Gault Race Management
Great Turtle Half Marathon Photo: Courtesy of Gault Race Management

Runners are used to their races being closed to traffic. But on Mackinac Island, that isn’t necessary.

The car-free island located just to the east of the Mackinac Strait, which separates Michigan’s two peninsulas, is a throwback to the Victorian age. Horses and carriages or bicycles provide all of the transportation on the island, which is reached by a 15-minute ferry ride from the mainland.

The island became a tourist destination in the late 1800s, as wealthy vacationers from Chicago, Erie, Montreal and Detroit would come to Mackinac Island (pronounced MACK-in-awe) for the cooler weather and spectacular scenery. The island’s signature landmark, the Grand Hotel, was built in 1887 to accommodate the growing number of visitors. Featuring the “longest front porch in the world,” the hotel serves as a good symbol for the island’s draw—beautifully manicured gardens, Victorian architecture and an embrace of a slower-paced time when people dressed for dinner and lounged in rocking chairs.

While the island celebrates its historic roots, that’s not to say you’re limited to Victorian age entertainment (after all, you can even follow the Grand Hotel on Twitter). For athletes, the island offers more than just carriage rides and fudge shops—and the fall is the perfect time to take advantage of fewer tourists and better prices.

The 14th running of the Great Turtle Half Marathon is expected to draw 1,300 participants on Oct. 24. It’s the last weekend of the tourist season, and race organizers take full advantage of the late fall weather and special events on the island to make for a memorable running experience.

The course starts at the Mission Point Resort ( and follows the shoreline to provide great views of Lake Huron and the Arch Rock Formation. It then moves to the interior of the island where most of the course is run on bike paths and paved roads. Mackinac Island is only about 4 square miles in area—and half marathon runners explore much of it. If you’re not up for the half, the event also includes a 5.7-mile distance (and a chance to set that 5.7 mile PR).

Save some energy to also visit the Mackinac Island State Park, which occupies 80 percent of the island and features 61 miles of roads and trails ( You can hike, bike or ride horses through the park to see the fall colors and impressive views of the lake from the limestone bluffs.

Or you can save that for another day and take it easy in a rocking chair, reading a book, and enjoying the sounds of four-legged traffic.

And don’t forget the fudge—you’ll have earned it.

For more information, visit