A horse-powered gem in the Straits of Mackinac
Coined Michigan’s Crown Jewel, Mackinac Island is a unique experience to get outdoors and travel back in time at one destination. Located between the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan, this 3.8-square-mile island doesn’t allow cars. You’ll either get around by foot, bicycle and even horse! Each visit can be tailored to the individual. Here are some of the most common ways to create a Mackinac Island adventure.
Get to the island by ferry
You have two options for ferry rides on your journey to Mackinac. Both Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry and Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry allow you to buy tickets online or in-person at their booths in St. Ignace and Mackinaw City. You can pay extra to bring your bike to the island on the ferry, saving you time and money. If you do take a bike, walk it up the dock when you reach the island. Wait until you get to Main Street to hop on and take off!
Ferry schedules vary depending on the day and time of year, plan accordingly. Many paid island activities can be packaged with your ferry ticket. Look into the Bridge Tour ferries, which take a slight detour under the Mackinac Bridge for a perfect photo op.
Along Main Street, you’ll find several places to rent a bike by the hour or for the day. Rates vary. Several hotels also have bike rentals for their guests. You can decide which rental location is best for you and learn more about the rules of the road. The island has 1,400 bikes for rent!
With a bike or on foot, you can go anywhere. Journey around M-185, the 8-mile perimeter of Mackinac Island. Climb up to Arch Rock for a stunning view over Lake Huron. Ride into the center of the island to discover the many trails of Mackinac Island State Park — which covers over 82% of the island. A lesser-known botanical trail connects the Scout Barracks of Fort Mackinac to Arch Rock. Ride or walk underneath the trees and read up on the species you see along the way. Lastly, make sure to peruse the hills and valleys of East and West Bluffs. You’ll see beautiful cottages on one side of the road, a watercolor painting come to life on the other.
Visit Fort Mackinac to walk through the many original buildings inside, which were built by the British during the American Revolution. Observe cannon firing demonstrations, rifle firing demonstrations and talk to historic interpreters to gain insight into what life was like in the fort. Make sure your kids swing by the Kids’ Quarters! Admission to Fort Mackinac also gives you access to the Biddle House, American Fur Company Store and Dr. Beaumont Museum, Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, McGulpin House and The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum. If you don’t want to stop at all these places, a Mackinac Island Carriage Tour will cover some of the key facts about them while making sure you can see more. These horse-drawn carriage tours will mix facts of the past with education about the city of Mackinac Island. You can also drive your own carriage at Cindy’s Riding Stable and Jack’s Livery Stable.
See the world’s longest porch at the Grand Hotel
Admission costs $10 if you aren’t staying at the Grand Hotel. This fee gives you access to walk on the lawn (Look for the Secret Garden!) and take a self-guided tour through the hotel. Some rooms have placards signifying celebrities who have stayed at the high-end resort. Admission also gives you access to the porch and Cupola Bar, where you can relax and enjoy a drink among beautiful scenery.
More sites to see
Mackinac Island has several quick stops perfect for photo ops, learning more about the island’s history and seeing its natural formations. Make sure to check out Fort Holmes, the highest point on the island. You can walk inside the fort to read about its role in the War of 1812. Also visit The crack in the island, Sugarloaf Mountain, the cemeteries, Anne’s Tablet, British Landing (and Mackinac Island Historic State Park British Landing Nature Center), Devil’s Kitchen, the Michigan Governor’s Summer Cottage, Skull Cave and Brown’s Brook.
A site for movie fanatics
Although Christopher Reeve was Superman and Jane Seymour was Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, the two also starred in a movie that was filmed on Mackinac Island — Somewhere In Time. Fans of this flick can visit the Somewhere In Time gazebo, the very spot along M-185 where Elise McKenna and Richard Collier speak for the first time, Mission Point Theater where McKenna performed her play (the seat Reeve sat in is marked with a plaque) and see other memorabilia in the Grand Hotel. The movie plays every Tuesday night at Mission Point Theater, which is free to guests.
Get to know the town
Apart from being a premier vacation destination, Mackinac Island is home to 500 residents year-round. Much like any other city, it has a post office, UPS delivery service, emergency services, City Hall, school and newspaper. You’ll spot most of these businesses along Market Street, and the school is close to the Grand Hotel. The newspaper, The Mackinac Island Town Crier, charges $1 per paper. You can buy it or subscribe to it inside their office to catch up on the local news. It’s one of the cheapest souvenirs you can purchase on the Island!
A trip to the island would not be complete without sampling and purchasing much of its famous fudge along Main Street. Try the fudge crawl, where you sample from each fudge store if you have a real sugar tooth! The island has several great food options with varying price ranges: Island Slice Pizzeria, Watercolor Cafe, Seabiscuit Cafe, the Chuck Wagon, the Tea Room at Fort Mackinac, Lucky Bean Coffee House, the Pancake House and the Grand Hotel’s buffets and served meals. On a sunny day, grab food to-go and picnic at Marquette Park or Windermere Point, overlooking the Straits of Mackinac.
While it is popular in the summer, the island is open to visitors from May to October, depending on weather conditions. Come for the Lilacs in June, but make sure to come back in the fall for the crimson leaves along Cadott Avenue with Grand Hotel in the background. You can find additional ideas to do on Mackinac Island as well as other top attractions in the Eastern U.P. in our four-day itinerary.