Travelling to the Island without a car is as enjoyable as hanging from the ceiling with a rope around your neck. What makes it worse is all the important things you need to know that no one ever tells you. So, if you are moving to the Island for summer employment, planning a vacation without a car or you are simply on a budget, these tips will help. (I hope).
Unless you fly, you will always end up on a bus for a portion of the trip.
The Basics: (My tips are below if you already this stuff)
Indian Trails is really the only bus that will get you as far north as Mackinaw City or St Ignace. It operates mainly (though not exclusively) within Michigan. There are other bus companies such as The Big Bus, but they don’t go as far north. Although you can book a bus trip to St Ignace through Greyhound from any city in America once you reach the lower to mid Michigan areas no other bus heads towards St Ignace so even Greyhound will transfer you onto a Indian Trails bus. This usually happens in Lansing, MI. Nevertheless, you will be transferred with your luggage at some point on the way to the Island. It’s up to you which company you book your ticket through but either way you will arrive in St Ignace between 11:00pm and 12:00am on an Indian Trails bus. Both companies are cheapest as far in advance as possible and both offer discounts. However, when given the option always try to book through the company directly who you will be travelling with. In this case, it would be Indian Trails. (If you book through Greyhound and have an issue you will need to call Greyhound even though you are on a Indian Trails bus).
So, here are my tips for catching the bus to Mackinaw City or St Ignace which all come from excruciating personal experience.
TIP: Indian Trails will arrive in Mack City/St Ignace twice a day at 11:40pm or 12:05am. (Depending on where your original start point is there is a bus with an 9am arrival. Chicago for instance offers this service.). By this time you have missed all the ferries across to the Island and you’ll need to stay the night in a hotel. When you are leaving the Island returning home, the bus stops at 8am-9am. Shepler’s is the closest ferry to the bus stop on the Mack City side.
TIP: When booking the bus through Indian Trails or Greyhound, there may not be an option to end the trip in Mack City. (Only St Ignace). If Mack City isn’t offered but you prefer to get off there, book St Ignace anyway and let the driver know you want to get off a stop early. If your ticket says an end destination of Mack City but want to get off at St Ignace, it’s the same thing – book Mack City and let the driver know. He may charge up to $5 extra however to stay on the bus for an extra stop but they always let you.
IMPORANT! If you plan on getting off in Mack City, and are arriving pre-season (April/ early May) double check the ferry schedules because Mack City ferries start operating a few weeks later in the season than St Ignace. If the ferries aren’t running from Mack City, make sure your ticket has an end destination of St Ignace . Otherwise, you will need to get a taxi from Mack City to St Ignace in the morning in order to get a ferry to the Island.
SUPER IMPORTANT TIP: If you are going to get off in Mack City be aware there’s only one or two hotels with 24 hour lobby attendance. I booked into the Clarion ( I think, it has been 2 years now) and arrived at the hotel at 11pm to find it locked and closed even though I paid for the room. There was no note on the door or email sent to me to let me know what to do. I saw lights on at the Hamilton Inn so I went in to see if they had any rooms. Luckily, they said the Clarion had arranged a room there for me because they do not have 24 hour lobby service. I had paid extra to stay at the Clarion and was charged the same amount even though they switched hotels without my knowledge. So, if you feel the need to book a hotel in advance for your midnight arrival, I would plan on staying at The Hamilton Inn as rooms in the early or pre season can be as little as $49 a night. (As opposed to $200+ mid-season).
You can catch an Amtrak train only to a certain point in Michigan, then you need to get on an Indian Trails bus to continue north. If you are travelling from Chicago for example, you can get off at Lansing or Kalamazoo, however, that’s as far as you can go without transferring to a bus. If you get off at Kalamazoo, the Indian Trails bus actually has a designated stop at the train station on its way to St Ignace. Be aware there is only one bus a day to St Ignace through Kalamazoo. As long as you’re careful and can coordinate the train arrival with the once-a-day bus departure, this may be an option. I believe the wait between arrival of a train and the departure of the bus is sometimes less than an hour from Chicago. This probably isn’t enough time. (The bus leaves at 3:23pm only from Kalamazoo last time I checked but please double-check!) The bus cannot guarantee they can or will wait for you. Make sure you have ample time between your train arrival and the bus departure. Call ahead to Indian Trails and let them know you will be arriving on a train and the ETA. Also don’t forget that the bus does not stop at every Amtrak station. If the bus doesn’t stop there, you need time to hail taxi and get to the bus station as well.
I believe the only airline that flies directly to the Island is Great Lakes Air. You can fly into Pellston Airport with either Lake Shore Express or Delta Airlines and then use the 24 hour a day air taxi service to Mackinac Island using Great Lakes Air (906)643 7327. However, if you’re stuck and can’t use the air taxi service and you fly into Pellston, even though its only 12 miles from Mackinac Island, there is only one other way to get there – bus. Yep! The Indian Trails bus rolls through at roughly 11pm at a local convenience stop. If you do fly into Pellston, time your flights well so they connect and if you are flying and then catching a bus, remember the bus does not stop at the airport and comes only once a day. If your flight is too early, you will spend all day waiting for the bus. If your flight is too late, you will need accommodation and you will waste another day of your holiday waiting until 11pm the next night for a bus.
I hope this information helps! Good luck on your travels and have fun this summer!