Mackinac Island is far and away one of the most prized small towns in Michigan and on top of that, it’s one of the most beautiful islands in the United States!
Because of its reputation, Mackinac Island has become the kind of place where visitors come expecting endless charms. From its incredible natural views, rich history, and peaceful car-free environment to its lovely boutique hotels, horse-drawn carriages, and ever-delicious Mackinaw Island Fudge it’s almost impossible not to fall in love with it!
Having grown up in Michigan for the first 23 years of my life I have been fortunate enough to have visited Mackinac Island many times and it’s somewhere that I will never get tired of coming back to! I’ve created so many special memories here with friends and family over the years and it’s always the first place I’m telling my non-Michigander friends to visit if they’re ever in Michigan! You just have to experience the magic of the island for yourself to know what I’m talking about.
Lucky for you, this guide covers all of the best things to do on Mackinac Island as well as some of my insider tips and answers to common questions to help you get straight to planning the most incredible trip to Mackinac!
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.
Mackinac Island FAQ
Brief History of Mackinac Island
Don’t worry I won’t go on for too long but if you are curious about Mackinac Island’s history it began all the way back in 1671 when two Frenchman planted a settlement on the island.
In the years to follow Fort Michilimackinac (now recognized as Fort Mackinac) was built and there was a back-and-forth battle between the British and Americans for control of the island but after the War of 1812 was over it was the Americans who regained control. This is when Mackinac Island became a successful hub for the fur trade.
The main reasons were due to its abundance of wildlife and many travelers coming through on the Straits of Mackinac that would become customers until around 1830 when the fur trade started moving further west.
It wasn’t long before Mackinac Island would transform into a summer getaway! In the mid-1800s rail travel started spreading throughout Michigan and three popular rail companies wanted to incentivize people to use their transport systems so they worked together and quickly constructed the Grand Hotel in only 3 months’ time!
It quickly became the driving force of the island’s economy as guests loved it and the word was spreading. To this day this iconic hotel is still thriving and is definitely Mackinac Island’s most recognizable landmark!
The Ferry to Mackinac Island
This photo was taken before Star Line had rebranded to Mackinac Island Ferry Co
The main way for tourists to get to Mackinac Island is on the ferry from mainland Michigan. These ferry rides are a whole experience themselves! On a nice day, I love sitting up on the exposed upper deck and feeling the wind through my hair while taking in awesome views of the water, the Mackinaw Bridge, and Mackinac Island. The best part is when you get close enough for the Grand Hotel to come into view!
What you need to know is that there are two ferry companies, Mackinac Island Ferry Company and Shepler’s. To be honest, I have taken both and it’s hard to say that one is really any better than the other but I’ll break down the main differences below.
Mackinac Island Ferry Company (Star Line) vs Shepler’s Ferry
Mackinac Island Ferry Company (previously Star Line) has the classic ferry that takes around 45 minutes to get to the island or the 20-minute Hydro-Jet Ferry. The Classic Ferry ONLY departs from Mackinaw City whereas the Hydro-Jet departs from both Mackinac City and St Ignace in the Upper Peninsula.
The cost at the window for Classic round-trip tickets is $22.95 for adults and $17.95 for kids (ages 5-12 years). Pricing for the Hydro-Jet is $34 USD for adults and $24 USD for kids (5-12 years) and children 4 and under are free. If you book your tickets online you can save $3 USD on the Hydro-Jet!
Shepler’s Ferry only has one type of ferry which only takes around 16 minutes to get to the island. Their standard tickets cost $34 USD for adults and $24 USD for kids (5-12 years). If you want a more leisurely ride you would want to choose Mackinac Island Ferry instead.
Mackinac Island Ferry also has another element of fun with their pirate ship boat! In 2023 from June 16th through September 3rd, you can choose to sail on The Good Fortune to or from the island and ride on the Hydo-Jet for the other journey. You will need to purchase this combo ticket for $42 USD for adults and $32 USD for kids ages 5-12.
Something I have to point out is that certain time slots listed on both of the ferry schedules also include a free detour under the Mackinaw Bridge. The captain will even give you some facts and information. If you’ve never done this before it’s a super cool experience and you really get to see how impressive the craftsmanship is from up close.
If you are bringing your own bike there is a separate bike tickets you will need to buy along with your fare tickets. With Mackinac Island Ferry, the cost is only $16 USD (plus a $2 USD licensing fee) whereas Shepler’s charges $21 USD flat.
Dogs are welcome to join you on the ferry! There is no additional fee but your dog must be leashed at all times.
One thing that does stand out about Mackinac Island Ferry is that they offer FREE day (6 am to 11 pm) and overnight parking (up to 5 days). You just park in their nearby lot and a shuttle will pick you up and drive you to the dock! I have to admit, this has always been a super convenient and streamlined experience for me.
Shepler’s also offers FREE day parking but overnight parking beings at $20 USD. Both companies also offer more premium parking options in their dock lots.
Other ticket options
Both Mackinac Island Ferry and Shepler’s have ticket options that will allow you to bundle and save if you are traveling with families or want to visit the island two or three days in a row. You can also conveniently add Mackinac Island experiences onto your tickets before checking out.
Note: all sales are final for both companies.
Fun Fact: Mackinac Island does have an airport and you can fly there from St Ignace. This would make getting to the island even more unique!
15 Best Things to do on Mackinac Island
1. Bike around the island
Biking around Mackinac Island is truly the best way to see all that there is to see! I’ve only done it once as a kid but I still remember how beautiful it was! This is something I plan on doing again the next time I visit to refresh my memory as an adult.
You’ll coast through downtown, ride alongside Lake Huron, and pass several landmarks with historical significance.
The perimeter of Mackinac Island is only 8.3 miles of fairly flat pavement so biking around the entire island is easy and should only take around an hour if you go without stopping. To me though the beauty of the ride is found by taking some time to enjoy the different landmarks and viewpoints along the way.
You can see the full list of recommended stops here but my favorites are Arch Rock (more on this below), seeing Mackinac Bridge from British Landing, and walking out on Mission Point Resort’s lawn to the chairs that face the water.
If you aren’t bringing your own bike with you to the island there are a few different bike rental shops to choose from in town!
2. Arch Rock
The most iconic natural sight on the island is Arch Rock! This arch-shaped limestone rock has the most breathtaking backdrop of trees and bright emerald waters!
It’s located 30 minutes walking from Main Street and is most commonly visited as a stop if you are biking around the island. However, since it’s not that far away it’s very possible to go and see it regardless if you plan on biking or not!
You can view it from the road but to get the best view you’ll just have to walk up around 200 stairs to get to the viewing platform.
You should know before planning out your itinerary that Arch Rock is also close by to Fort Holmes, Sugar Loaf Rock, and Skull Cave burial grounds so might as well add them on while you’re in the area! Just plan on spending a few hours here if you want to do it all.
If you are also going to Fort Mackinac during your time on the island this would be a great activity to combine with it as the path from the fort connects straight to Arch Rock (and all of the other places I mentioned).
3. Sample Mackinac Island Fudge
If you’re a chocolate lover (who itsn’t!?) you can’t visit Mackinac without enjoying some Mackinac Island fudge!
It’s been a staple ever since Rome Murdick started making this sweet treat for vacationers in the 1880s. He was the first to prepare his fudge on marble slabs right inside his family’s candy shop for all to see.
The cool thing is that the creation process hasn’t changed and to this day you can still witness it live at several of the different fudge shops around the island. It happens frequently throughout the day so just walk around enough until you find it happening!
Every time I watch the fudge-makers do their thing I’m always so mesmerized seeing runny chocolate transform into a 30lb log of fudge! This is definitely one of the best things to do on Mackinac Island!
Besides the Original Murdicks’s Fudge, a couple of my other favorites are Ryba’s and Joann’s Fudge.
Mackinac Island fudge freezes well (and also makes a great gift!) so in case you can’t decide on just one flavor make sure to leave a couple of pounds free in your luggage.
Money Saving Tip: Believe it or not fudge can get expensive because it’s priced by weight. If you don’t feel like spending a lot I recommend getting a few different samples from many of the fudge shops. This is what I call fudge-hopping!
4. Mackinac Island Butterfly House & Insect World
Transport into the tropics at have a look at various types of butterflies and insects from all around the world at Mackinac Island Butterfly House & Insect World.
As the 3rd oldest live butterfly house in the United States, it has 1800 sq ft of tropical gardens filled with hundreds of butterflies. You can walk around the open greenhouse and watch them up close and to me, the coolest part is when they land on you!
This activity is especially great for families with children. Admission is only $13 USD per adult and $9 USD for children (5-11 years) and children 4 and under are free.
5. Horses & Carriage Tours
Since Mackinac Island is car-free you’ll either need to walk or bike everywhere but if you’re looking for a more authentic way to see the island then a carriage tour is a fabulous option! Just have a seat and listen to the soothing clomp of the horse’s hooves as it shows you around. It would also be a super romantic activity for couples, in fact, this is how my dad proposed to my mom years ago!
The company that does this is Mackinac Island Carriage Tours and the tour lasts around 1 hour and 45 minutes. You’ll visit 6 different stops with the last being the Grand Hotel! Once here you can opt to get off but you won’t be able to get back on and would just need to walk back into town.
I’ve done it before and to be honest, while it was a peaceful experience with great views I am too high-strung to sit for this long so it’s not something I would necessarily do again but if you have time to kill it’s definitely worth doing at least once.
Admission for adults runs $39 USD and $16 USD for children ages 5-12 years. If you want to bring along your 4-legged friend this is an additional $16 USD charge if they weigh 35 lbs or more.
You aren’t allowed to make advanced reservations unless you’re booking a private tour. Otherwise, general tours are booked in person at the ticket counter and you will be placed on the next available carriage tour.
6. Slow down time at Marquette Park
This beautiful little park is the grassy area that is right below Fort Mackinac and across from the harbor. It is seriously so scenic to relax here and enjoy the view of the Straits and Round Island Channel. There are also a couple of historical elements here too like Missionary Bark Chappel on the west side and the Marquette Monument towards the east which is a figure of the man who preached to the Indians from the chapel.
My favorite way to relax at Marquette Park is to first head inside the small corner general store across the street called Doud’s Market and grab some food, snacks, and drinks for a little picnic. You could also walk to Watercolor Cafe across the street on the water to grab a coffee too.
My Finding’s Fact: Doud’s Market is actually the oldest grocery store in America!
7. Photograph Round Island Lighthouse
This little red and white lighthouse is so cute! It is best photographed from the Mackinac Island Ferry cruises just make sure to board early so you can have your first pick at a seat on the east side of the rooftop.
If you miss it and you’re big into lighthouses or photography you could also do this 3-hour Eastbound Lighthouse Cruise that departs from Mackinac City. It costs $75 USD per person and visits Round Island Lighthouse and a few other lighthouses including the private Bois Blanc Lighthouse and other scenic locations.
8. Enjoy a drink on the Grand Hotel’s Porch
The Grand Hotel is impressive just to look at but imagine getting to have a drink on the porch with a view of the Mackinac Bridge is the distance. A fact that I’m sure you weren’t expecting to learn is that The Grand Hotel actually has the largest porch in the world at 660 ft (201 m) long! How crazy is that?
This is my absolute favorite thing to do on Mackinac Island and I just look forward to sitting in one of the wooden rocking chairs with a drink in hand each time I visit.
Now, technically to do this without being a hotel guest you are supposed to pay a $10 USD fee to access the porch, however, I have never had to pay. I simply enter from the entrance by Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor and continue up the hallway until I’m inside the lobby. Side note, it’s also really fun to walk around and explore here because the decor and furnishings are so unique.
When I’m ready to walk out onto the porch I just order an Arnold Palmer from the Geranium Bar. Once I’ve gotten my drink I just walk right through the doors by the bar that connects to the porch and has a seat – I’ve never been questioned so far and I hope that doesn’t change!
Important to note: the Grand Hotel has a VERY strict dress code after 6:30 pm. Men must be in a suit or sport coat, necktie, and dress pants (no denim or shorts). Options for ladies are skirts, blouses, dress sweaters, and dress pants.
9. Walk the grounds of the Grand Hotel
When you leave the Grand Hotel’s porch don’t miss out on exploring the immaculate hotel grounds! Exit down the carpeted red steps towards the beginning of the porch (where the horse and carriages stop) and follow the path that leads towards the fountain and pool.
You can keep walking around here and enjoy the beautiful landscaping and fountain. It eventually connects to the pool and a very short trail that will take you out to either Lake Shore Drive or Cadotte Ave depending on which way you follow it.
Newly completed in 2022 was the Secret Gardens, try to see if you can find where it is (look at the picture above for a hint)! In the Grand Hotel’s most recent newsletter, they say to expect an even more impressive garden than last year as the grounds crew had planted around 55,000 bulbs last fall! The colors should last from May through October.
10. Sit down for a snack at Gate House
At some point, you’re probably going to be hungry for a snack and I have just the perfect recommendation! Head over to the Gate House Restaurant on Cadotte Ave. It’s a little more off-the-beaten-path, unlike the restaurants on Main Street.
Now, I’ve never had a full meal and I’ve heard mixed things about taste and portion size from my relatives but I do know that their appetizers are delicious and moderately priced between $14 to $18 USD. I love their Bavarian Pretzel served with cheese and mustard. It’s massive and super soft! They also serve really great house nachos which are loaded up with all kinds of toppings!
Gate House is located just 5 minutes of a walk away from the Grand Hotel so we usually like to stop on our way in or back out from visiting the Grand Hotel.
11. Shop for souvenirs on Main Street
If you’re like me, one of the things to do on Mackinac Island is to grab souvenirs for yourself, friends, and family. There are so many adorable little boutique shops to peruse through along with your typical touristy souvenir shops.
Some of my favorites are Little Luxuries for unique treasures, accessories, candles, clothing, and more, Poppins for home decor, cute cards, and stationery item, and Threads of Mackinac for high-quality and comfortable t-shirts with on-trend designs.
Just be warned though, you might want to buy it all and I can’t say I blame you!
12. Learn the history of Fort Mackinac
One of the best things to do on Mackinac Island for history lovers is to visit Fort Mackinac! Of all of Mackinac Island’s landmarks Fort Mackinac definitely takes the top spot! The fort is the oldest building in the entire state of Michigan built in 1782.
As I touched on in the history section at the beginning of this blog, the control of Mackinac Island went back and forth with the British, and during one of the times when the British had possession, they moved the fort from Fort Michilimackinac (what is now Mackinac City) to Mackinac Island because they were afraid that it would be too vulnerable for a U.S. attack.
Today you can enter the fort and check out the gun firing platforms, the officers living quarters, solider’s barracks, the Post Hospital, and more for just $15.50 USD for adults and $9.50 USD for children (5-12 years). You can purchase tickets in person or here online.
There’s also a museum gift shop, bathroom, food stand, and a tea room restaurant.
At the gun firing platforms, you can even book a special cannon-firing experience that takes place at the gun firing platform. It costs $75 USD per person but it does include your admission price of the fort. Only ONE person can do this every morning for the first cannon firing of the day so be sure to book this well in advance by calling 906-847-3328. You can read the full details and check the firing times here.
In 2023, Fort Mackinac is open from May 12th to October 8th. They are open daily from 9 am to 5 pm.
13. Sunset Rock for sunset
One of the best things to do on Mackinac Island is to end your day with a beautiful sunset! You would’ve probably never guessed it but Sunset Rock is indeed the best place on Mackinac Island to watch the sunset! Here lies uninterrupted panoramas of the Mackinac Bridge and Round Island Lighthouse. Just pray for no clouds and you’ll be transfixed by the show that will happen in the sky!
It’s located a quarter of the way around the west side of the island. To get there walking would take around 30 minutes but if you are renting bikes for the entire day then you can also get here this way too!
For the best spot, plan to get to Sunset Rock at least 30 minutes before the sun sets.
14. Little Stone Church
This will just be a quick little stop right off of the road for some quick pictures of this official Michigan Historic Site!
The Little Stone Church was actually built out of fieldstones in 1904 and since these stones aren’t indigenous to the island they must have been transported here! If the doors are open make sure to step inside to see the beautiful stained glass!
Little Stone Church is located between downtown and the Grand Hotel and you can even attend a church service here on Sundays at 10:30 am!
15. Kayak and paddleboarding tours around Mackinac Island
A way less popular method to getting around Mackinac is on a guided kayaking or paddleboarding tour! This is specifically a great activity for outdoor enthusiasts who want more of an adventure or returning visitors who have already biked or walked around Mackinac Island.
The views you’ll get from the water will be incredible and you’ll be able to see just how clear the water is! When you book with Great Turtle Kayak Tours you’ll have the choice of several different route options that will vary in length and endurance levels needed as well as the sights visited.
Their most popular tour is the sunrise tour to Arch Rock and the Rock Maze or the sunset tour near Devil’s Kitchen and the Grand Hotel. You can even add 1 or 2 hours of snorkeling to the Arch Rock tour!
All tours are priced between $79 to $100 USD per person. While I have yet to do this myself, the uniqueness of this tour definitely makes it stand out as one of the best things to do on Mackinac Island!
Where to Eat on Mackinac Island
Main Street is where you’ll find the vast majority of restaurants on Mackinac Island and when it comes time to eat you might just be a bit overwhelmed because there are quite a few dining options to pick from so I’ve listed my personal favorites!
- Mustang Lounge – Michigan’s most historic tavern serving excellent hand-tossed pizza, juicy burgers, and delicious sandwiches like their brisket sandwich. They also have a lot of brews on tap to try too. It will be busy in the summer so be patient or come during the middle of the day. Note: card payments are an added fee so bring cash.
- Seabiscuit Cafe – Great option for lunch with simple menu items like fish and chips, soups, salads, and sandwiches. The prices are more reasonable than other restaurants and typically the service is good. This is my favorite restaurant on the island!
- Millie’s on Main – A homestyle pub that we ended up trying last time because it was only of the only restaurants open late. We were actually very impressed with their upscale menu options and portion sizes! It was really delicious.
- Lucky Bean Coffee House – If you want to buy coffee from a local business over the Starbucks on Main Street try Lucky Bean! It’s a tiny hole in the wall making delicious espresso drinks.
- Carriage House – I haven’t been here yet but I am determined to someday! it’s always so busy and I forget to reserve a table. The waterfront view from Carriage House looks so beautiful and the dining room is immaculately decorated. If you want fine dining on the island this is it!
Important Tips for Visiting Mackinac Island
- Don’t miss the last ferry – With your ferry ticket, you can return on any of the ferry departure times. If you are visiting on the last ferry of the night make sure to keep track of time so you don’t get left on the island!
- Wear comfortable shoes – as a lot of walking and biking will be done during your visit be practical and wear comfortable walking shoes
- Travel light – unless you are an overnight guest there is no reason to bring much with you but what I would recommend having is a small backpack to put any souvenirs you purchase in. This is also helpful to stay hands-free if you want to rent a bike.
- Bring cash – a lot of restaurants and businesses charge a fee for cards so cash will come in handy!
Where to Stay on Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is a tiny island so as you can imagine the hotel options are very limited. I cannot stress enough that you will need to book months in advance to secure the best hotels at the lowest rates. I personally love using Booking.com for this because they offer free cancellation on most hotels until super close to my booking date!
Pine Cottage Bed & Breakfast $ – The cheapest option that usually has some availability even if booking late. It is located around a 10-minute walk from town and only 6 minute’s walking to Fork Mackinac. The rooms are small but updated and clean and a daily continental breakfast is included. The nightly rate begins at $200 USD but can reach the $500s.
You can check availability and book Pine Cottage Bed & Breakfast here.
Island House $$ – For a hotel with a stunning water view from the patio’s on-site restaurant this hotel is a great option for those celebrating a special occasion! It is located right past Marquette Park. High-season pricing ranges between $300-$500 USD and even more for rooms with a water view. There is also a hot tub and a pool to enjoy and the staff will bring your bags from the ferry for you. Breakfast is an additional $25 USD.
You can check availability and book Island House here.
Grand Hotel $$$ – You can beat the grandeur of the Grand Hotel so staying here is a must if you want the ultimate Mackinac Island experience! Their suites would also be perfect for honeymooners. The hotel has also sorts of amenities including the outdoor swimming pool, tennis and pickle ball courts, golfing, shopping, lawn games, live music, a fitness center, a salon, several dining options, and more! High-season pricing begins at $500 USD for the most basic room.
You can check availability and book the Grand Hotel here.
Final Word on the Best Things to do on Mackinac Island
I hope you’ve found my guide on the best things to do on Mackinac Island to be helpful! Writing it has been so fun and it already has me dreaming about the next time I’m able to visit this place!
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