There are few things more emblematic to Michigan than the Mackinac Bridge, which connects the mitten state’s northern and lower peninsulas. The longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere, the bridge sits about 200 feet above water level, allowing vehicles traveling across an amazing view of the Straits of Mackinac where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron connect.
Every Labor Day, the bridge also hosts more than 40,000 people who walk across the 5-mile span. This year, as a Michigan Fitness Foundation ambassador, I got to run with about 400 people ahead of the walkers and It. Was. Amazing. I’m sharing my experience in the hopes it inspires you to head over there next year armed with a few tips to make your trip even better.
My friend and running mentor Janet and I traveled to St. Ignace just over the bridge in the Upper Peninsula (or the UP) on Sunday, had a nice dinner lake-side, then sat on a bench at Bridge View Park and enjoyed the sunset while watching the light play on the Mackinac Bridge. Tip: There are lots of related events both at Mackinaw City in the lower peninsula and St. Ignace in the UP, so there’s more traffic than usual. That said, it was easy to move around and we easily found a table at the Driftwood Restaurant with lots of free parking, right across from the lake.
We spent the night at the Quality Inn, which is just a couple of minutes from Bridge View Park (near the festivities), had a nice breakfast starting at 5 a.m. and was super clean if a bit dated. Tip: Book way in advance, especially if only staying one night (the holiday means a lot of hotels have a two- or three-night minimum). You can stay at Mackinaw City and take a bus to the starting line, or stay in St. Ignace and take a bus back from the end of the walk/run. Tip: Bring cash, as there’s a $4 toll to cross the bridge, but it’s not yet set up to accept credit.
Runners were scheduled to arrive at 6:15 a.m., so we arrived at Bridge View Park and got free “princess” parking spot right at the park, meaning a very short walk to the starting line by the Mackinac Bridge Authority offices. We caught up with my Skirt Sports sister, Jessi, who walked with folks from the governor’s office.
Janet and I lined up with the runners, waiting for almost 30 minutes before we were given the OK to cross. Tip: The area is notoriously windy, so bring a light jacket or long-sleeve shirt. Unless you’re super human like Janet and cold doesn’t bother you anyway. (See what I did there?)
We soon saw the sunrise’s telltale orange-red-yellow hues in the background, making us especially grateful to have been given this opportunity. Tip: Walkers begin at 7 a.m., but you can arrive early enough to watch the sunrise. Also, there are port-a-potties set up at the beginning and end, but none on the bridge itself.
The wind made running a bit more challenging, but not so much that we feared we’d be tossed into the drink. Tip: Michigan National Guardsmen and women, and Michigan State Police were posted all across the bridge; Coast Guard vessels could be seen patrolling the waters, so we felt especially safe.
We set out at a very comfortable place, reaching the mid-point easily but all up-hill. The bridge’s north lanes are blocked off to traffic, so there’s lots of room to run or walk, while still allowing for the occasional stop for photos. Tip: Definitely plan to take lots of photos. The view is gorgeous and changes with the sunrise.
As you can see in the photo above, part of the bridge has grates, giving it the flexibility it needs to withstand strong winds. Running on the grates was a bit nerve wracking, but yet another experience nonetheless. Tip: The grate’s holes are very small, so I wasn’t worried about losing my phone, but are incredibly strong to withstand the constant traffic, which even includes the area’s ubiquitous logging trucks.
I was fortunate to have such awesome company on this trip and was thrilled to run into a few other runner friends as well.
After the run, we took a bus back to St. Ignace and were back in our hotel early enough to get a quick shower in before check-out. In the end, both Janet and I felt that the trip was worth the holiday travel challenges (did I mention more than 40,000 people participate each year?!) and worth repeating. Tip: The event is very family friendly with several generations walking together. We even saw one runner with what looked like a two-month-old baby in a jogging stroller.
Because we didn’t know whether the hotel would open up its breakfast before we had to meet up with the other runners, Janet and I swung by the now-famous Cops & Donuts in Clare on our way up to St. Ignace. The spot didn’t disappoint and neither did the donut I ate post-run. Tip: Make the detour to the bakery on the way up north. You won’t regret it.
In the end, both Janet and I spent a significant amount of time figuring out how we could get back up north for next year’s Labor Day event. It was a fun experience with no hiccups, perfect weather and many memories that will stick with us. Two thumbs up, for sure.
Have you ever participated in the Mackinac Bridge Labor Day Walk or Run? Does your community have any similar events? Any tips to share? (Click on “Continue Reading” to leave a comment.)