The Michigan Day Trip Tour, No. 6: St. Ignace, Gateway to the U.P.
*The Michigan Day Trip Tour is a series of posts all about the Great Lakes State and the many natural and physical wonders it contains. Most destinations included in the series are located within a two-hour drive of Grand Rapids, though some, like St. Ignace and the Soo Locks, are a little further. Hopefully, these posts will encourage you to go out and do some exploring of your own — or at least prove to be mildly entertaining. Enjoy!
From the Porcupine Mountains to Pictured Rocks, and a whole heck of a lot in between, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is filled with plenty of treasures for travelers to explore. As anyone who has been up there could tell you, it’s truly a world unto itself. While there is much to see and do beyond the bridge, it all gets started with the first city you run into after crossing the Straits of Mackinac: St. Ignace.
The second oldest city in Michigan (behind only Sault Ste. Marie), St. Ignace has been welcoming trolls to the U.P. for a long, long time — since 1671, in fact, way before the Mackinac Bridge was ever a thought in anyone’s mind. Given the city’s age, it’s not surprising that history plays a big role in its pitch to visitors. Akin to nearby Mackinaw City, which is home to colonial-era Fort Michilimackinac, and über-popular Mackinac Island, which has its own 200-something-year-old fort and plenty of other historical sites, St. Ignace can equally hold its own.
Among the city’s historical attractions are Colonial House Inn, a bed and breakfast that was originally built in 1870 as the private residence of a well-to-do family; the Museum of Ojibwe Culture, housed in the former St. Ignace Mission building; and the gravesite of Father Jacques Marquette, the French missionary who founded both Sault Ste. Marie and St. Ignace. You can also knock your historical socks off by joining in the (free) Saint Ignace Historical Walking Tour, which sets off from the museum every Monday and Tuesday evening in July and August, providing you with an overview of the Gateway City’s past and allowing you to check out the historical St. Ignace boardwalk along the way.
If history isn’t exactly your thing, maybe the great outdoors are — and there’s plenty of that around here. One of the most popular spots for tourists is a little place called Castle Rock. A limestone rock formation rising nearly 200 feet above the waters of Lake Huron, a short climb up Castle Rock (for a nominal fee, of course) offers scenic views of both St. Ignace, Mackinac Island, and the surrounding waters and wilderness. Before or after your climb, you can also take a picture with Paul Bunyan and his big blue ox and peruse the numerous souvenirs on sale at the gift shop.
Other natural attractions you may want to check out include Straits State Park and Bridge View Park, both of which provide scenic views of the Mighty Mac; Chain Lake, where you can cast a line and find a small sample of the North Country Trail; and Castle Rock’s lesser-known cousin, St. Anthony’s Rock, which is conveniently located right in the heart of the city. If you’re keen to venture out a little further, head west of town on US-2 for about 15 miles to find an awesome stretch of beach along the Lake Michigan shoreline.
On the way to the beach, you might notice signs for the “world famous” Mystery Spot. If it sounds like a bunch of malarkey, well… it kind of is. But even if the the gravity-defying interactive tour doesn’t quite live up to its billing, what’s the harm in some cheap entertainment? Plus, you can also get some mini golf in, check out the maze, and ride the zip line (it’s a tourist trap, so yes, there is combo pricing available).
Back in town, you’ll find plenty of cozy spots to grab some grub. One such locale is Driftwood Restaurant & Sports Grill, where, on top of American fare and televised sports, you’ll also find a couple pool tables, shuffle board and a little foosball. They keep things lively during both the summer and winter seasons, with a DJ or band performing most weekend nights, as well. A little ways down the road, you’ll stumble upon The Galley Restaurant, where seafood and other American classics are on the menu.
Need more choices? Java Joe’s Cafe is the all-day breakfast spot, The Gangplank Pub & Grub (burgers, fish, outdoor seating) wins the nifty naming contest, Joe’s Diner covers your retro dining needs, and Bessie’s Homemade Pasties is ready to serve you a Yooper favorite. And if you can’t eat all the food you want or lack the energy to see everything the area has to offer in a single day, don’t fret: the hotel and motel choices are plentiful.