The Restless Viking: Mackinac Island Winter/Summer

This article was originally published on August 3, 2021 on The Restless Viking website.

While Chuck, Da Viking, was spending the weekend working on the Spectacle Reef crib Lighthouse, I headed to Mackinac Island so I could compare our previous winter caper (January ’21) to the island’s summer charm. (July ’21) The two experiences each held their own distinct, enchanting qualities. Join me as I revisit my favorite winter stops and investigate a mysterious Very Important Person (VIP) who was visiting the island.

The Ferry Ride

The tiny “Huron” ferry boat transported us to Mackinac Island last January 2021.

The winter season is peaceful and provides time for residents to prepare for the summer tourists. Renovation and construction are a focal point during the colder months. Many construction workers travel by ferry daily to assist in the tasks. Several Carhart clad men were on the boat with us in January.

Unlike the winter, there was a long line waiting to board a large ferry boat to Mackinac Island in July 2021. The excitement vibrated throughout the cabin as we pulled away from the mainland. Skidding over the water, leaving a “rooster tail” wake, we arrived in port twenty minutes later.

The much larger ferry boat hauled over one hundred passengers to the island.

Main Street

People chattered excitedly as the plank to the dock was lowered. The stream of humans poured from the vessel onto Mackinac Island. I proceeded straight ahead to Main Street. Looking east, toward the fort, I clicked a photo. The two views of Main Street displayed a significant contrast. Each scene held it’s own story.

Main Street’s view of Fort Mackinac in the winter and the summer.

Mackinac Island Mayor, Margaret Doud, had said, “It’s like being a mayor of two different cities.” In the summer there can be up to 20,000 people on the island during the day, yet in the winter the population is around 500.”

There are ‘islanders’ who were born and raised on the isle, as Margaret Doud was. Then there’s ‘locals’ who live here year round. These two groups will forever keep their identity in the island community. Yet each possess a unique perseverance and steadfast manner to live on a northern Michigan island all year.

Jack’s Livery and Cindy’s Riding Stable

Next I made my way one block north and then headed west to the Gough family stables. The multigenerational family business provides self-guided horse back and carriage rides. There’s an option to hire a guide for a private tour, too.

Jack’s Livery Stable and Cindy’s Stables were quiet and still during the bitter winter. (top)
In the summer both locations were hopping with horses. (bottom)

Last January we had the honor of meeting Dale and Jodi Gough, the owners of Jack’s Livery and Cindy’s Stables. They spend their winter with the horses on their mainland farm. Being invited to observe feeding time was a thrill for us. The winter season is their family’s “vacation”, although Dale happily cares for his brood. He serves his two strings of horses each three to four bales of hay daily. The horses appeared to enjoy their freedom roaming in the open fields.

Dale Gough owns Jack’s Livery and Cindy’s Riding Stable on Mackinac Island.
He has worked in the family business since he was five years old.

When I walked into Jack’s Livery Stable I introduced myself to the young lady taking reservations. I explained how my husband and I had met Dale and Jodi Gough on their farm last winter. “Oh. They’re my parents.” she replied with a genuine smile and introduced herself, “I’m Veronica.” I shared how special it was for me to meet her folks and how I admire her whole family’s dedication. “They are good people.” Veronica nodded with pride.

The horses were being well cared for at Jack’s Livery Stable.

I gave Veronica our Restless Viking business card and asked if I could take some photographs for our blog. She agreed. So from the doorway of the barn I observed a horse’s shoe being checked. Veronica’s sister, Kristi, and brother, Burton, along with their cousin, Teddy, all take pride in the Gough family’s stables.

I highly recommend Jack’s Livery and Cindy’s Riding Stable when you take a trip to the island.

Draft Horses

During the winter some “Dray” (Draft) horses remain on the island to haul deliveries to Doud’s Market and to bring the construction materials needed throughout the island. In the United States these large work-horses are called “Draft,” however in the United Kingdom they go by “Daught” or “Dray.”

Astro and Curly waited patiently outside Doud’s Market with the bi-weekly delivery.
Haley, their driver, waited for a key to unlock the door to the basement.


After purchasing a bag of caramel corn for dessert, I found a quiet spot along the rocky beach to enjoy the lunch I’d packed. The rocks whispered a rattle as the waves threaded their way through the narrow passages and back into the lake. It was peaceful. I wondered how Chuck was doing on the crib lighthouse. My thoughts wandered thinking about our kids, Charlotte and Noah, our friends and their struggles. All my blessings came to mind. Memories, too. Basically, Poppins pondered many things including how vastly different this island community is from the snowy months to the sunny ones.

Monarch Butterflies danced around the milkweed plants along the shoreline.

You guessed it. I ate the WHOLE bag of caramel corn!

Mackinac Island School

I continued strolling west toward the Mackinac Island School. Yes, there’s an actual public school. In the winter, residents bring their youngsters via snowmobile. “Snow Days” are extremely rare on the island! In warmer weather, kids walk or ride their bikes. With a view of the Mackinac Bridge, the school sat peacefully during summer vacation as tourists rode by.

Mackinac Island School
Last year there were 63 students enrolled.

The Grand Hotel

Next I cruised across the playground and up the hill to the Grand Hotel. These pictures capture the bleak winter and the brightness of summer!

The Grand Hotel was striking in both seasons!
Winter (top) Summer (bottom)

During the off season, construction can be completed on Mackinac Island. There were wooden crates and equipment trailers set in the front of the famous hotel as improvement were being made. Across the front lawn last January there was quite a ruckus. I had wondered what they were building. Gawking at the equipment, I felt like a kid dazzled by the huge trucks.

On this summer trip I was able to witness the masterpiece they’d constructed. It was a spa-style pool! Wow! It was spectacular and inviting! It amazed me how the workers had configured this lavish landscape in the blustery cold winter months.

With improvements completed, vacationers could now relish in the island’s magic.

A VIP Mystery

After heading east I slipped into the shade of the Grand Hotel’s Stable. As I gazed at an older styled carriage on display and the photos of presidents who’ve ridden in it, a worker moved the velvet ropes and pulled the cart out the front door. Then he began polishing this vehicle. With the carriage pulled away I was able to step closer to the photographs of the presidents on the wall.

President Ford was one of the five United States Presidents who had ridden in this special carriage on Mackinac Island.
The other Presidents were Harry S. Truman, Bill Clinton, George Bush (Sr.) and John F. Kennedy.

I made my way to the carriage standing in the sun. “I’ve got a VIP client to pick up in 40 minutes.” The worker explained to the small, curious crowd. He shared that he was second in command of the Grand Hotel’s string of horses. This gentleman was dressed in a waistcoat (vest), slacks and a top hat waited for him on the driver’s seat. Another man harnessed a team of horses.

The Grand Hotel Carriage Tours Stable

I secretly hoped he’d ask me to assist him with driving this rarely used carriage, but I resisted my temptation to offer help and presented myself as an adult. At the same time I tried to causally fit in a way to ask who the ‘client’ was, but I was unable to discretely slide the question into our conversation. I learned that he had been working here for two summers. As the gentleman drove away, I was hoping I’d catch a glimpse of this mysterious client as I strolled the streets. I noted that he headed west. . .

Scenes of Contrast

I casually headed west and down the hill. As I walked a helicopter flew over and landed out of sight. Soon a small airplane whirred overhead.

Stopping for a photograph in front of the Grandview condominiums I noticed that the homes appeared welcoming in both seasons. As I neared the Grand Hotel, I kept a look-out for that VIP carriage. No luck. I headed down the hill to The Little Stone Church.

Grandview Condos The Little Stone Church

Tavern Time

Across the street from the Little Stone Church I noticed an outdoor seating area at “The Gate House” restaurant where I could cool off with a strawberry daiquiri. A man in a crisp white shirt sat near me and ordered a Diet Coke. We struck up a conversation. He nodded, “I just flew in.” I was curious, “Was it in the plane or the helicopter?” He smiled, “The plane.”

I silently surmised, ‘I bet he just flew in with the mysterious client. The carriage must have gone to the airport, that’s why it hadn’t been at the Grand Hotel.’ I think I lifted an eyebrow, ‘Maybe, I can find out who this person is.’ I smirked to myself. Jumping in with my connection I shared, “My husband recently earned his pilot’s license. I love to fly with him! It’s like a secret up there.” I glanced upward and continued with my realization, “Although most of the pilots I know fly into nearby airports for pancake breakfasts and chili lunches.” I wondered about this gentleman’s job, ” How do you arrange all your customized flights? Are in direct contact with the clients or do you work through an office?” I asked.

The pilot explained that he organizes his own clients’ flights all over the mid-west. “It’s not too hard. Once you’ve done this for awhile.” He smiled. We chatted about landing on islands and lengths of runways. We chatted about the places he’d been and the number of weekly flights he completes. Presenting as an adult again, I tried to find a segue to directly ask who was this mysterious client.

Just then, another couple came and sat between us. They hijacked our conversation by talking about how they’d grown up together, went their own ways and were recently reunited. It was a good story, but they interrupted my investigative work.

Unfortunately I never saw or even learned the name of the mysterious VIP client who visited Mackinac Island on July 10, 2021. Oh well. It was a pleasure meeting the hard working folks who cater to the wealthy.

The Two Cultures of Mackinac

Mackinac Island holds an enchanting magic in the summer season. For those vacationers who come regularly, the island contains a nostalgic sense of coming home. For the island residents caring for their visitors is a priority. Islanders and locals refer them affectionately as, “Fudgies.”

The winter season allows for the islanders and locals to display their tenacious grit of living with purpose. The residents demonstrate a close knit community. Islanders and locals don’t seem to worry about competing with their neighbors, rather they take care of each other. They live authentically while quietly enduring the colder weather.

The winter sunrise view of the Mackinac Bridge. In July butterflies were dancing in view of the bridge.

I find Mackinac Island entrancing both in the winter and the summer. The sound of the horses’ hooves clomping along the streets has offered me a sense of stepping back in time no matter the season. I recommend traveling to Mackinac Island anytime of the year!

Check Out Our Video Of Mackinac Island in the Winter

Here’s our video capturing our caper at Mackinac Island last winter.

Articles from our winter travels to the island:

Mackinac Island Horses Mackinac Island History

Mackinac Island Life Mackinac Island School

Chuck and Martha Hayden, aka The Viking and Poppins, enjoy going on adventures off the beaten path. They also like to share their explorations with others. The Viking is a retired expedition leader while Poppins is a retired teacher. The two offer independent views of their journeys showcasing places, people, and cultures as they explore the world. Visit and follow them on their website and social media accounts. Website | Facebook | Instagram |YouTube

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