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mackinac bridge

Journey to the Top of the Mackinac Bridge

For a while I’ve been wanting to share one of the greatest views of Michigan, from Michigan’s greatest icon.

Last September I had the rare opportunity to have a tour to the top of the Mackinac Bridge. It was the finale of a year-long 50 state tour, and probably the best finale you could have in Michigan. I was allowed to bring one guest, so I brought my father. These were taken on September 17th, 2007. You can read the full story at my 50-state tour website.

Leave a comment below and Let me know what you think, as a lot of people I’ve shown the photos too told me they wouldn’t be able to handle it.

After meeting our tour guide we were escorted to the south tower of the Mackinac Bridge where we had to cross to the other side of the bridge. There wasn’t much traffic at the time, but I had a feeling they didn’t want me standing in the middle of the bridge for a long time trying to compose the best photo. So I quickly snapped this view.

Mackinac Bridge Lanes

At this point I was introduced to the entrance of the Mackinac Bridge towers. In this next photo you can see a small oval hatch, and yes, it’s as small as it looks. That little hatch is the doorway.

Mackinac Bridge Lanes

This hatch is small. Next time you’re driving over the bridge look closely and you’ll be able to see it as long as you’re not driving too fast. You have to enter carefully, put in one leg, then crouch and tuck your head in, then bring in your other leg. When we exited we were specifically instructed to not step out into moving traffic, as people tend to forget that they’re just a foot away from oncoming traffic over the tiny white bar at ankle height.

Mackinac Bridge Lanes

Once inside you step directly into the elevator shaft that’s as old as the Mackinac Bridge (1957). The elevator is just big enough to fit three men snuggly, while the tour guide is propped up a little hire so we can all fit in. We were squeezed so tight that I didn’t have a room to move around my large camera. The elevator goes as high as the second cross-beam of the tower. At that point you can see down part of the cross beam where you can go through several cubby holes and pick which ladder to climb up.

Mackinac Bridge Lanes

This was our ladder.

Mackinac Bridge Lanes

The ladder continued to the top (notice in the photo above where it says “up!” with an arrow, just in case people don’t figure it out themselves since there is no other way to go) of the Mackinac Bridge, about 30-40 feet climbing straight up this ladder as my camera was strapped over my shoulder it added just enough width to my body that i had to lift it above my shoulders for it to fit through the holes, and my camera would clank off the iron several times on the way up and down. And yes, I hit my head on the steel a couple times as well.

Mackinac Bridge Lanes

Eventually, I made it to the top, where I climbed out of the final cubby hole.

Mackinac Bridge Lanes

There I was, on top of the south tower of the Mackinac Bridge, looking north to the Upper Peninsula with the greatest view I have ever seen in Michigan.

Mackinac Bridge Lanes

I was standing 552 feet above the water. The road itself is 199 feet above the water. At road level it was a littler windier than an average day. That meant at the top it was extremely windy. Our guide educated us on how the middle of the bridge can bow up to 10 feet in either direction. To our untrained eyes we weren’t able to tell, but he was sure to tell us that the bridge was bowing to the west (or to the left in this photo). I was fascinated with the traffic below as I have crossed the bridge dozens and dozens of times, now they looked like little match box cars.

Mackinac Bridge Lanes

My father, our guide, and I stood at the top level for probably 20-30 minutes as we chatted, enjoyed the view, and as I snapped well over 100 photos.

Mackinac Bridge Lanes

I was fortunate to see this last photo published in Issue 14 of JPG Magazine, for their theme titled “Birds-eye View”.

Mackinac Bridge Lanes

In my humble opinion, this is by far the single greatest spot to stand in all of Michigan. If only I had a Yooper Steez shirt at the time to wear to the very top. My bigger wish is that a freighter would be crossing below the bridge just as we were standing at the top. Luck wasn’t with us that day, but going to the top was all I needed.


28 Wonderful Comments

  1. I really like the 1st birds eye photo (4th from the end) I haven’t seen that one before. I imagine it would make a sweet slide.

  2. Ryan Sullivan
    Jun 17, 2008

    What amazing pictures! How did you get such a great opportunity?

  3. Great photos! I would never be able to do that climb. Just seeing the photos was enough to make me feel uneasy. Thanks for sharing the experience.

  4. You and Mike Rowe of Discovery Channels’ “Dirty Job”…Cool

  5. Wow, these are amazing shots.

    Do you know about the collection of Mackinac Bridge construction photos at the UP Digitization Center? About 2100 shots, all black and white, documenting all aspects of the bridge being built.

    http://vielmetti.typepad.com/vacuum/2008/06/the-bridge-at-m.html

    is what I wrote about it once upon a time. A collection worth sifting through.

  6. Wow! I’ve read about people who did this trip before, but they didn’t have all of the fabulous photos like you did with your story.
    I’m not surprised JPG wanted that picture, it’s a great shot. Thanks so much for sharing!

  7. That is awesome man! I have always thought it would be so rad to base jump the Big Mac! I use to skydive a lot, but never base. It would be a very technical jump for sure but could make some headlines! Beautiful view for sure!

  8. Yooper Steez
    Admin
    Jun 29, 2009

    Ben,

    That would be incredible. I haven’t skydived yet, but really want to. I think a base jump from the Mighty Mack might cost you a few nights in jail, but it’d be worth it!

    Just be sure you’re wearing a Yooper Steez shirt when you do it for all the media attention it will receive.

  9. Yooper Steez
    Admin
    Jun 29, 2009

    Edward,

    Thanks for those photos! Those are amazing. I may have to use some in a blog post soon.

  10. Nancy Syrjala Holwerda
    Jun 29, 2009

    Thanks…those are the coolest pics. Did anyone catch the Dirty Jobs show with the bridge?

  11. I’m in awe. I hate heights, but would do that. OMG… I’m so envious.

  12. Chad Therrian
    Jul 19, 2009

    You do know there is an elevator in the tower right?

  13. mapourcho
    Jul 27, 2009

    Awesome shots that is just amazing. Thank you for sharing

  14. This was really neat to look at, being how interested i am in that kind of stuff. But i must say i would not be able to do that, with all the latter climbing and the small spaces (claustrophobic) and being scared of heights, but like i said it was very neat to look at. Where you afraid of falling? When climbing the latter or even at the top of the tower?

  15. Brian Swanson
    Sep 17, 2010

    This is absolutely wonderful !!!! Can you tell me how it came about that you were able to have this tour done?

  16. Yvonne Lesser
    Sep 17, 2010

    Very cool. I too am afraid of heights but did enjoy your pictures. I was born in the UP but left when I was 18 in 1966. Still go back at least once a year. Drove my 2 grandsons over the bridge last summer and they were fascinated.

  17. I totally echo the previous Donna’s comment. I’m afraid of heights, but I’d give my eye teeth be up there!! (BTW: What are eyeteeth?) (I just Googled it…they are your canines.

  18. Laurie Cervantes
    Sep 29, 2010

    I get dizzy just looking at these great photos! How exhilarating and beautiful that must have been. I live in California, now, but remember many trips over the Big Mac when I was young, and how it sounded as we drove over that green grating in the center lanes … scared me silly. And, now I’ve seen the view from the top! Thanks so much for that!!

  19. I have been on top of both towers and down in the south anchor pier – totally awesome!! Even though I live in St. Ignace and the bridge is part of my daily life, I am still amazed at the majesty and beauty of the Mighty Mac! Very happy and proud to be a “Yooper”.

  20. Hey, my family and I are going this august maybe and I was wondering how you got the chance to do this climb! I thought it would be a blast, but I’m having a hard time finding where I can get a price and a location to have the chance to climb up the south tower!
    If you have any information please let me know!
    ~Katie

  21. Katie, as far as I know the Mackinac Bridge Authority gives a limited number of bridge tower tour certificates away each year. A lot of them are given to different organizations and auctioned off.

  22. I recently visited an old friend of mine in the eastern U.P, and he had just returned from a similar tour to the top of the International Bridge in the Soo. No elevator… they had to walk up one of the arches.

  23. Oh, my goodness!! These pictures are so fantastic! I have to tell you, though, I have a horrible fear of heights, and I’m freaking out just looking at them! I would LOVE and hate to do what you did at the same time, if that makes sense. I’m in love with Michigan and the Great Lakes and would love to see so much beauty at such a wonderful angle, but man, I’d be terrified of the heights. Once you started describing how the top of the bridge can bow to the wind, I was thinking, “Oh, man. I could never stand up there!” You’re very brave to go up there! :)

    Thanks again for such a wonderful story and excellent pictures! I want to visit Michigan even more now!!

  24. matthew french
    Jan 27, 2012

    i made the trip to the top of the bridge in 2000. i was frightened out of my mind for the first 10 minutes up there. it was in October and unbelievable colors all around. the painting crew took us up by the elevator part way and then hand over hand the rest of the way. i tip the scales at 22o and i don’t know how anyone much bigger than me could have gone up. thanks for the beautiful pictures.

  25. Amazing pictures! Thank you for sharing them. My husband who retired from the State MDOT highway department almost had the chance to go up, but for some reason they couldn’t do it that day. I don’t know if I could. I enjoyed your pictures!

  26. A friend of mine took me up here on my birthday many years ago. The July morning was a bit foggy and we could barely see St. Ignace to the north or Mackinaw City to the south. It’s something I brag about every time I head downstate.

  27. Saw it thru my friend’s eye’s. If I could, I would do it but age keeps me from doing daring things anymore!!

  28. That has to be one of the coolest things I’ve seen. I hope I have an opportunity to do this one day.

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