St. Ignace – Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

St. Ignace, MI

Friday morning we were up bright (okay, it’s a relative term) and early ready to continue north.  We left Empire, MI (20 miles west of Traverse City) and headed to the Mackinac Bridge.  We planned to stay in a casino lot that does not take reservations so we wanted to arrive early enough to get a spot.

After driving about 150 miles, we came to the bridge.  As bridges go, this is a pretty big structure.  The length of the bridge’s main span (length between the two towers) is 3,800 feet, which makes it the third-longest suspension span in the United States and 16th longest suspension span worldwide.   Measured shoreline-to-shoreline the bridge is 5 miles long.

The road is two lanes across the bridge, but construction narrowed both directions to a single lane, increasing the “pucker factor” for those with gephyrophobia (oh, just look it up!).

But the views from the top on this clear day were fantastic!

Looking to the west.  No gephyrophobia here!

Looking east to Mackinac Island

Zoom showing the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island

Just over the bridge is the little town of St. Ignace.   A few miles north of that is the Kewadin Casino, our destination.  We arrived a bit after noon and were able to get a nice spot in the corner.  The RV parking is a gravel area around a large paved parking lot near the casino.  It’s not much to look at but has electricity and water and there is a dump station on the drive out.  For $10 a night you can’t beat it, especially if you like to gamble.

The RV Lot. We are in the center of the picture.

St. Ignace has an interesting history as a Native American settlement before the arrival of Europeans, a transportation center for the fur trade in the eighteenth century, and lumber transportation center in the nineteenth century.  Today the town is a bit run down and the main industry seems to be as a terminal for three passenger ferry boat lines taking tourists to nearby Mackinac Island.  The three ferries are pretty similar, so the Star Line features a water jet shooting a rooster tail out the back of the boat.  The water jet doesn’t make the boat any better than the competitors, but it looks impressive.

There is a nice walking tour on a boardwalk running along the waterfront, with numbers marking places of interest.  We obtained a pamphlet describing these places at the Chamber of Commerce offices and set off to check them out.  After 25 stops along the boardwalk, we had a good understanding of the history of the town.  One of the interesting stops was at the Commercial Fisherman’s Memorial.

The plaque on the memorial lists the names of the 25 local fishermen who lost their lives in the fishing business since 1851.


As we walked out to a small lighthouse on a pier, we came across another interesting site pictured below.

It is the remains of the terminal for the SS Chief Wawatam, a coal-fired train ferry and icebreaker that operated in the Straits of Mackinac between 1911–1984. Her home port was St. Ignace and she shuttled back and forth during her entire working life between that port and Mackinaw City, Michigan.

The Chief Wawatam was 338 feet in length and could hold 18 full sized rail cars.  The rail cars were loaded and unloaded from the front of the ship.  A large sea gate (pictured below) was raised for loading and unloading, then lowered to keep water out during travel.  When it docked in the terminal great care was taken to align rails in the ship with the rails on the dock to prevent the cars from derailing.

Another interesting (to some of us) site in St. Ignace is the St. Anthony’s Rock, just a block off the main street of town.


We intended to stay here for two nights, but the weather prediction for today (Sunday) was for rain.  Since we do not travel in the rain, we decided to stay put one more day.  With nothing much to do here in St. Ignace, we recrossed the Mackinac Bridge and found a local coffee shop to visit.

The Starbucks in Mackinaw City is a bit unique in design.  The ground floor contains the serving area and the second floor the seating.  The third floor is the starting point of a zip line that runs away from the rear of the building over a miniature golf course.

Tomorrow’s forecast is for clear skies so we will be off early headed west to Marquette, MI.  More on that later . . .


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20 Responses to St. Ignace – Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

  1. Thanks John, I have to pause midway of your story to check the meaning of gephyrophobia! I don’t think I am one of them :). But for sure your co-pilot was happy to see St Anthony’s rock which I believe is a precursor of better looking rocks to come.

    Dark clouds just passed over us, and the sun is out and hope you are spared as well.

    • placestheygo says:

      John was wondering how many people would look up the word:) You can tell how desperate I am to see rocks!!! We’ve had dark clouds and rain off and on all day but nothing bad.

  2. Ingrid says:

    I hated that drive over the bridge on the metal non-paved lane. It was really difficult to hold onto the steering wheel and I was driving a Passat at the time. Thanks for the info on the Casino lot. I’m feeling a real pull to head that way next summer 🙂

    • placestheygo says:

      This Casino does take reservations, Ingrid, but it isn’t monitored very well. We didn’t know that. We pulled in and got a spot and then went to register. We were then told this but luckily they had a site open. It is also $10 a night for water and electric. But there is lots of room and two parking lots to boondock.

  3. Laurel says:

    I figured gephyrophobia meant fear of bridges, but I had to look it up. Thanks for the vocabulary lesson — now I can impress all my friends! (Except friends who read your blog.) 🙂 We try to not travel in the rain, either. Although we did have to drive in all-day rain coming from Portland to Port Angeles a couple of days ago. Such a drag!

    • placestheygo says:

      Laurel, John enjoyed using this “big” word!! Haha! We have electric jacks and have already replaced a couple because of water. John thinks he has the problem fixed but he doesn’t want to take a chance. We will sit if it rains. We have been luck for the last two years to have a place to wait out rains or were able to stay in the park we were in.

  4. Sherry says:

    Just loved the comment “Look it up”. Way to tell them. I do not have it. But am happy to know about that casino. We have not tried casino camping but I really want to. All I have to do is find one that is on my way before I get there not after like this one. Love the rock. 2000 BC now that is fantastic. Wish someone had a picture of it in its natural state before so much development relegated it to a little patch with a fence.

    • placestheygo says:

      Sherry, this is our first casino. We really did need a reservation but lucked out and got the last spot with electric and water. I understand that most casinos don’t take reservations.

  5. libertatemamo says:

    That may be the coolest Starbucks I’ve ever heard of. The Casino camping is a gooood deal. I’d do it for $10..definitely


    • placestheygo says:

      The Starbucks is very new. It was all windows on the two floors we saw. My storm photo on Facebook was taken from the window on the second floor so you can see we are right across from the water.

  6. allisonmohr says:

    I love the idea of ziplining out of a Starbucks.

  7. A zipline in Starbucks? Now that is something i could handle!

  8. LuAnn says:

    No gephyrophobia for us, although three years ago when we crossed this bridge it was stormy with high winds and there were warnings to cross at no more than 25 mph. It was rather unpleasant weather when we stayed at St. Ignace Casino so this post was very fun for us, as we stayed cooped up inside for most of our stay. We finally have internet again so am playing catch-up on my reading. Safe travels to you two. 🙂

  9. So where is the photo of each of you doing the zip line????

  10. Jodee Gravel says:

    Would love to be getting some of that rain here in SoCal! It would have been something to see that train ferry loading rail cars! And 18? Floating that much weight bogles the mind. Or at least my mind :-). My bridge phobia kicks in when driving under them – I’m sure that has its own big name – and likely comes from living in earthquake country.

  11. pmbweaver says:

    Paul knew you two would enjoy that area. He said he has dropped more than a few bucks at that casino.

    I would have my head between my knees going over that bridge. I could barely look at the photos.

    Only you two would fine the most unique building that houses a Starbucks. Lol

    Safe travels.

  12. This is an area that I know pretty well–having lived in the Upper Peninsula for a few years. The header photo really made me miss those great bodies of water. Pretty calm day when you took that photo.

    Vic and I both suffer from mild cases of gephyrophobia that were definitely more acute when traveling in the motorhome. Great photos of going over the bridge–especially the profile of John. (I think it made Vic miss driving the Big EZ.)

    Looking forward to seeing photos of Marquette. It has been decades since I have been there.

  13. Gay says:

    What a nice ride…bridges don’t usually scare me, but that one looked especially narrow.
    I liked the walking path with the stops and history lessons. So many of the fishermen killed were so young. We have had lots of rains here in Montrose too!

  14. Bob and Jo says:

    Love that bridge and area. There is a pizza place in mackinaw city that has the best film on building the bridge in their upstairs museum.

  15. Pam says:

    We missed the rock somehow when we were there.

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