Editor’s Note: During this period of social distancing, Group Tour magazine will continue to provide group travel inspiration. Many attractions and destinations are closed at this time; please contact them directly for updated information.

Strolling on the beach. Listening to waves caress the shore. Enjoying delicious fresh seafood. Watching a glorious sunset over the water.

Visiting an island might seem a world away. But some of those special places are located right in the heartland of the United States, where it likely takes less time and money to get there.

For an island trip that is sure to create marvelous memories, here are a few places to include on a wonderful Midwest and Northeast island getaway.

Mackinac Island, Michigan

View from Fort Mackinac
View from Fort Mackinac, Mackinac Island, Mich.
Credit: Jackie Scheckler Finch

On a whim, a young playwright named Richard Collier from Chicago decides to stay at Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. Wandering around the historic 1887 hotel, Collier is drawn to the photo of an actress who appeared at the hotel in 1912. Somehow or other, Collier takes himself back in time to meet the actress, his destiny Elise McKenna.

Of course, this is all a 1980 Hollywood movie starring Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve. For the 40th anniversary celebration of the movie Somewhere in Time, a special Oct. 16-18 weekend is planned at Grand Hotel, where ladies in long dresses and frilly hats will be strolling with men in turn-of-the century suits and gentlemanly hats.

“There is a peaceful feeling that encompasses you the minute you step off the ferry boat and onto the island. It may be because there are no noisy cars on Mackinac,” said Tim Hygh, executive director of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau. He added that, except for a few emergency vehicles, the Michigan island is car free.

“It may be because the island is frozen in time with a Victorian-era feel,” Hygh said. “It may be because the streets are lined with horse drawn carriages and people riding bicycles. That euphoric feeling is probably a result of all those reasons.”

Mackinac Island also is a treasure chest of history. At Fort Mackinac perched high over the Straits of Mackinac, guides dressed as U.S. soldiers and Victorian ladies share the fort’s history in 14 original buildings filled with period settings, exhibits and videos. Watch cannon and rifle firing demonstrations and enjoy a panoramic view of the harbor.

Ohio’s Lake Erie Shores & Islands

Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial
Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial, Put-in-Bay, Ohio
Credit: Courtesy of Lake Erie Shores & Islands

Rising 352 feet, the Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial in Put-in-Bay, Ohio, commemorates the Battle of Lake Erie, a key factor for Americans in the War of 1812. The famous quote, “We have met the enemy, and they are ours,” was made by U.S. Navy Admiral Oliver Hazard Perry. The U.S. Brig Niagara is a replica of one of the battle’s ships and sits berthed along Put-In-Bay’s shoreline.

Visitors to Ohio’s Lake Erie Shores & Islands have a wealth of reasons to visit Erie and Ottawa counties in Ohio. The town of Put-In-Bay on the southernmost of the Bass Islands offers kayaking through limestone cliffs, cycling, hiking, spelunking in the world’s largest geode at Crystal Cave, charter fishing, parasailing and much more.

“The Lake Erie islands are popular because they are a resort getaway in the Midwest — an island vacation without flying to the Caribbean,” said Jill Bauer, public relations manager for Lake Erie Shores & Islands.  

On nearby Kelleys Island, marvel at the world’s best example of glacial grooves and a gorgeous beach. “From a walkway, footbridge and stairs you can look down on the immense grooves, which are 400 feet long, 35 feet wide and up to 10 feet deep, suggesting the tremendous power of the ice that formed them,” Bauer said.

“Glacial Grooves Geological Preserve contains marine fossils that are 350 to 400 million years old,” Bauer said. “They were scoured into solid limestone bedrock about 18,000 years ago by the great ice sheet, which covered part of North America.”

Mount Desert Island, Maine

Acadia National Park
Sand Beach, Acadia National Park, Mount Desert Island, Maine
Credit: Courtesy of Dobbs Productions & Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce

The island with the unusual name is Maine’s largest island and the second largest on America’s Eastern Seaboard. At 108 miles, Mount Desert Island is home to the nation’s second busiest national park — Acadia National Park.

As for that unusual island name, “Legend has it that when the French explorer Samuel de Champlain arrived in 1604 at what is now Mount Desert Island, he referred to it as L’Isle des Monts-déserts (meaning island of barren mountains) due to the bare, rocky mountaintops,” said Alf Anderson, executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce. “To this day, many locals still use the French pronunciation of ‘desert.’”

The largest town on Mount Desert Island, Bar Harbor has some 18 mountains on the island, plus epic oceanfront cliffs and hiking paths lined with wild blueberry bushes. Because it is said to be the first place the sun rises in America, Cadillac Mountain is a popular spot to hike at sunrise.

“The neighboring towns of Southwest Harbor and Tremont feature vibrant waterfronts with working fishing piers and local flair,” Anderson said. “The village of Northeast Harbor is a people watcher’s delight, where one might spot a celebrity or two while walking in the quaint downtown.”

Liberty Island and Ellis Island, New York, New York

Statue of Liberty
Statue of Liberty, Liberty Island, N.Y. Credit: Courtesy of National Park Service

With her outstretched arm holding a torch burning with the light of freedom, the Statue of Liberty can bring tears to the eye. The 15-story statue represents America and has been a welcoming sight for millions.

Standing in New York harbor, the world-famous Statue of Liberty by sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi was a birthday gift from France on July 4, 1884. The Statue of Liberty sits on 12-acre Liberty Island, so a ferry ride is necessary but that is part of the pleasure. Keep a camera handy for great views of the statue from the water.

For another interesting stop, the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration gives voice to the unique stories of the nation’s immigrants. More than 12 million immigrants entered America through Ellis Island between the years of 1892 and 1924.

Opened in May 2019, the Statue of Liberty Museum on Liberty Island consists of three gallery spaces, including the Immersive Theater with a 10-minute multimedia experience telling the story of the statue and the ideals she represents.

In Inspiration Gallery, visitors can see an up-close view of Liberty’s original torch. Held high for nearly 100 years, the torch was rescued from the elements and replaced in 1986. Massive glass walls provide magnificent views of the State of Liberty herself set against a stunning backdrop of the New York City skyline, making it a favorite photo spot.

Article by Jackie Sheckler Finch