Walking the Mackinac Bridge

Mackinac Bridge Walk

The Mackinac Bridge is the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere and a favorite landmark in the State of Michigan. The bridge connects the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. The Mackinac Bridge is currently the third-longest suspension bridge in the world.

The Mackinac Bridge opened for traffic on November 1, 1957, and celebrated its 50th-anniversary last year. No matter if it is spelled Mackinac (like the bridge) or Mackinaw (as in Mackinaw City) the ‘ac’ in Mackinac is pronounced ‘aw’. Some folks go around saying they visited the Mackinack Bridge in Mackinaw City. Don’t be one of those unknowing tourists.

What does Mackinac mean?

Anishinaabe-Ojibwe traveling the straits area named it Michilimackinac which is translated as “Land of the Great Turtle” as the shape of Mackinac Island looks like the back of a turtle

Have You Ever Walked the Mackinac Bridge?

It amazes me the number of people I come across that has walked the Mackinac Bridge. Having walked it myself, it’s almost like you’re in this special club where the cost of membership is walking the five-mile span above the straits.

Mackinac Bridge walk

Walking the bridge really gives you a chance to study the architecture and design behind it in a way that is impossible while driving (even if you are one of the few who obey the 45 m.p.h. speed limit). Plus, if you’re lucky like me, on a windy day you will certainly feel (and see) the swaying of the Mackinac Bridge just as the engineers intended.

Current Tolls for crossing the Mackinac Bridge

Per the Mackinac Bridge Authority

Passenger Vehicle $1.50 per axle or $3.00 per car
Passenger car, van, motorcycle, station wagon, SUV, two-axle pick-up truck, and school bus. (A van is a two-axle vehicle not primarily intended for carrying cargo or commercial goods.)
All Others $3.50 per axle

Vehicles not meeting passenger vehicle characteristics including but not limited to tractor-trailers, buses, motor homes, and step or cube vans.

Mackinac Bridge construction 1957
Color photos of Mackinac Bridge construction in St. Ignace, Michigan | 1957

Odd Facts About the Mackinac Bridge

  • If you wonder why it seems like every time you cross the bridge it is being painted – it is because it is. As soon as the painting crew is finished with painting the bridge (a task that takes 7 years) it is time to start from the beginning. It is this type of maintenance that keeps the bridge in such good condition.
  • On April 24, 1959, Air Force Capt. John Lappo flew an RB-47E Stratojet under the bridge’s deck. You can see and hear him reminisce about it in the video “Before the Bridge”.
  • When the bridge opened on November 1, 1957, it made the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse obsolete and led to its closing. The lighthouse was no longer needed for navigation due to navigation lights on the Mackinac Bridge’s towers.
Mackinac Bridge construction
construction of the Mackinac Bridge

Places to stay in the Mackinac Straits area

Comfort Inn Lakeside
Lakefront Rooms with private balconies offer great views of Mackinaw Island and Straits of Mackinac. Sandy Beach, FREE continental breakfast, indoor pool and whirlpool on-premises. Walking distance to…

Holiday Inn Express MACKINAW CITY
Join us at the Holiday Inn Express Mackinaw City to enjoy the comforts of home with the luxuries you deserve. Located just off I-75 exit 339 South at the foot of the world-famous Mackinac Bridge.

Comfort Suites Mackinaw City
Walking distance to historic Mackinaw City downtown district. Across the street from ferry to Mackinac Island. Access to 1200 ft private sandy beach. Shopping, restaurants, theater, golf, free laser show…

Super 8 Motel – Mackinaw City/Beachfront Area
* Dow Gardens, Delta Planetarium, SVSU, Delta College, Northwood

Annual Labor Day Bridge Walk

Last Labor Day, September 3, 2007, marked the 50th Annual Labor Day Bridge Walk. Only 68 people walked the bridge at the inaugural bridge walk in 1958 during the official bridge dedication in June of that year.

walking the Mackinac Bridge
Mackinac Bridge Walk

In 1959 Labor Day became the selected day for that and all subsequent bridge walks. Since then, about 50,000 people on an average walk the bridge each Labor Day.

There is no charge to walk the bridge, but if you are leaving via the bus system from Mackinaw City (the walk begins on the St. Ignace side and heads south) there is a nominal fee (usually around a dollar or two). For more information about this year’s bridge walk visit MackinacBridge.org.

Before the Bridge – The Car Ferries

The car ferry service began on July 31, 1923 with one little boat, Ariel, which could transport 20 cars at a time. The last new car ferry put into service was the Vacationland in 1952. The Vacationland could hold nearly 150 cars and trucks. Quite a jump from the 20 cars that the first boat in the car ferry service could hold.

Just before the Mackinac Bridge opened on November 1, 1957 the five-car ferries in the fleet had their highest volume ever before their service was terminated with the opening of the bridge.

Here is a list of the car ferries that served during the 34-year service:

  • Ariel – 1923
  • City of Sainte Ignace – 1924
  • City of Mackinaw City – 1924
  • Straits of Mackinac – 1928
  • City of Cheboygan – 1937
  • City of Munising – 1938
  • City of Petoskey – 1940
  • Vacationland – 1952

Past Meets Present

This photo of the Mackinac Bridge was taken in 1959. It is a view of the bridge through the northern gate of Fort Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City. I purchased it at Views of the Past in Mackinaw City quite a few years ago.

Ever traversed the Mackinac Bridge?

Share some stories/comments of your Mackinac Bridge memories here. Or post a question about the bridge.

My parents took my children there when they were little. They still remember going and they were very young. You have beautiful photos. The one through the fort wall is very interesting. I am going to lensroll your lens to my lens about Fort St. Joseph in Niles MI. I would love it if you would do the same. I am giving your lens 5 *’s too.

Building Mighty Mac

December 1, 1954 – When the rectangular caisson for the south cable bent pier was finally anchored on a rock at the bottom of the Straits, the rectangular form was cut off at 8 feet below the surface.

January 18, 1955 – Mackinac Bridge site from the northwest after the first construction season. In the foreground, there are materials stockpiled on the causeway.

Other great sites for Mackinac Bridge history and information

Building the Mighty Mac
This presentation is geared towards kids, but adults might find it interesting as well.
Building the Mighty Mac Video
Google Video has the color documentary of the Mackinac Bridge being built. You can view a 1:16 clip for free.
Official Mackinac Bridge Website
This site provides pictures of the bridge throughout its construction and current use, facts and figures about the Mackinac Bridge, the History of the bridge, monthly traffic stats, and more.
MDOT’s Mackinac Bridge Page
Mackinac bridge news and other items. Not as extensive as the official bridge website, but worth a look.
Before the Bridge – Car ferry documentary
This is the story of the fleet of ferries and … all their predecessors that formed the first link between Michigan’s two peninsulas.
History of the Mackinac Bridge
A nice overview of what it took to get to the construction phase of the bridge as well as a brief look at the construction of the bridge (unbelievable that this was constructed in just over 3 years).

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