Mackinac Island is the crown jewel of Michigan! Located at the tip of the mitt in the Straits of Mackinac, visitors go to experience a different kind of island vibe. While there’s nothing tropical about this Great Lakes island, adventurers of all ages find there’s tons of things to do on Mackinac Island any time of the year!
While it doesn’t have the stereotypical palm trees and boat drinks, Mackinac Island leaves the welcome mat out for all who climb aboard to get a different glimpse of Pure Michigan!
This northern gem takes the spotlight as one of the very best of amazing northern U.S. vacation destinations anytime of the year.
And, Mackinac Island sure knows how to put on her best dress regardless of what season or time of the year.
But, for those fair weather travelers, late Spring, Summer and Fall are amazing seasons to experience her grandeur.
So, let’s hop the ferry and go for a short boat ride to a Michigan’s version of island paradise.
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Mackinac Island: Pure Michigan Paradise
About Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island sits in Lake Huron, between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. Geologically, Mackinac Island is over 13,000 years old. But, the bedrock under the island dates back over 400 million years.
But, people didn’t start living on the island before the 1600’s. The Odawa, Ojibway, and Potawatomis people called Mackinac Island home before the Europeans even arrived.
Today, it’s still considered a sacred place to their ancestors. And, “the Ojibwa and the Odawa are still living in the Straits until this very day”, says the Lancing State Journal (March 7, 2017 – “Mackinac Island Restores Its’ Native American History“)
Then, in 1671, first European and French Jesuit missionary, Father Jacques Marquette started the first settlement.
Fort Mackinac, founded in 1780, is a walled cluster of military buildings on a coastal bluff. The Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum has local works, including Native American art, maps and 19th-century photos.
Today, while Mackinac Island is located within the City of Mackinac Island corporate limits, 82 percent of the island’s landmass is owned by the State of Michigan and managed by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission (MISPC).
Mackinac Island Fun Fact: “It was 125 years ago that Mackinac Island State Park was established as Michigan’s first state park – the first “state park” in the entire country, in fact. But for two decades before that, the majority of Mackinac Island was known as Mackinac National Park. It was the second national park in the United States, created just three years after Yellowstone National Park.” – MackinacIsland.org
Getting around on Mackinac Island
Part of Mackinac Island’s charm is there are no motorized vehicles. There’s no cars, trucks (not even UPS trucks!), motorcycles, scooters and even golf carts on the island. Other than emergency vehicles and snowmobiles in the winter, gas powered vehicles are prohibited.
According to AAA, “Motorized vehicles have been prohibited on Mackinac Island since 1896 because the horses were disturbed by the noisy engines of some of the island’s first cars. Furthermore, carriage drivers formed an association, convincing islanders to ban automobiles.”
Even today, with very few exceptions, transportation is limited to single horse, horse and buggy, bicycle or your own two feet.
So after researching this magical and quaint Mayberry island, I hope this entices you to want to go to them all! Let’s grab our sightseeing bag, your bicycle, and let’s all head on down to the ferry for a little getaway to experience a different kind of island life!
30+ Incredible Things to Do on Mackinac Island, Michigan
Rent a Bicycle
Bicycles are one of the best ways to get around. In fact, exploring by bicycle is one of the favorite things to do on Mackinac Island.
You can bring your own bike on the ferry (for a fee) or rent a bike once you disembark the ferry.
Bicycle rental shops are located on Main Street on the island. Depending on the bike rental shop, they have new bikes, tag-a-longs and child bike trailers in addition to adult and child size strollers!
Oh, if your kid is of the fur type, you can rent one of their bike trailers so you can take your pup along for the ride. And visitors with disabilities can rent electric wheelchairs or scooters as well.
Staff members will ensure that your bike fits perfectly, making your experience comfortable and fun! Included with your bike rentals, you’ll get a bicycle helmet, front basket and trail map.
Bike around Mackinac Island
Once you get your bike ready to roll, it’s time to put your feet to the pedals making the most of your Mackinac Island adventure!
There’s over 70+ miles of trails, paved and unpaved, throughout Mackinac Island State Park. If you’re an adventure seeking cyclist, you can ride to extraordinary rock formations such as Sugar Loaf and other Mackinac Island landmarks including Fort Holmes and Anne’s Tablet.
Or, if you prefer pavement riding, you can pedal the 8.2 mile outer rim that offer great views of Lake Huron, beautiful estates and what we coin, ‘the enchanted forest’.
A leisurely bike ride around the entire island only takes about an hour or two depending on your level of riding and stopping to take photos. There aren’t very many hills to climb, so don’t think bike touring is out of the question. There are plenty of safe pull offs to take a rest, grab a drink of water or take amazing photos.
Anytime you wish to park your bike (even rentals), we strongly encourage you to lock your bicycle. There are plenty of bicycle racks throughout the island. However, don’t park bicycles on private property or in designated horse carriage loading zones.
Travel Pro Tip: Depending on season and time of year, you may encounter busy pedestrian and bicycle traffic; summer months especially. Share the road. Always practice good bicycle safety and etiquette.
Hike, Walk or Stroll
Mackinac Island is totally accessible by foot. Only four square miles, most landmarks are within walking distance to downtown and the south side of the island. And what’s awesome is it doesn’t cost you a penny to put your feet in walking mode.
Other cool trails on and off the beaten path are Crack in the Island, Sunset Rock, Anne’s Tablet, Marquette Park, Sugar Loaf, Fort Holmes and Fort Mackinac. Don’t forget to take in the view from Stone Cliff! And if you dare to go in, Skull Cave is for the adventurous and brave.
If you’re really up for the 8.2 mile run around the entire Mackinac Island, you’ll be treated to some incredible views of the clear lake waters, pebble beaches, distant islands and of course, the “Mighty Mack” Mackinac Bridge. There’s plenty of places to stop to enjoy the views and enjoy a picnic lunch.
Kayak and Paddle Board
If you love to kayak or paddle board, Mackinac Island Marina and Haldimand Bay is the perfect place to put the floats in the water.
Never paddled a day in your life? You can learn to paddle with Red Cross certified guides on the calm waters in the bay and marina, or explore the natural rock formations, wildlife and see the lighthouses while paddling the Straits of Mackinac.
That aside, paddlers can paddle all the way around Mackinac Island or other kayaking tours with a professional guide from Great Turtle Kayak Tours.
Swim & Snorkel
All along the coast of Mackinac Island, there are plenty of pebble beaches where you can swim in the clear and cool water. The best part is your eyes won’t sting from the salinity! Lake Michigan and Lake Huron makes up 2/5’s of the Great Lakes which are fresh water instead. It’s why they call it ‘unsalted life’.
And, snorkeling isn’t just for exploring the underwater tropics! You need to add snorkeling to our list of things to do on Mackinac Island. You can explore the mysterious underwater caves of the Rock Maze just off of the island.
Self-Guided Walking Garden Tour
Okay, we made this one up.. But we couldn’t help but to stroll past the hotels, bed and breakfasts and Victorian era mansions admiring the colorful gardens.
And what great photography of the beautiful mansions with crisp new painted doors and shutters. Colorful flowers of every shape and size that line white picket fences or draping down from huge hanging baskets, it’s nothing short of an artist’s dream.
Travel Pro Tip: Want to take amazing photos using your cellphone? Read Smartphone Photography Tips for Beginners
If you enjoy teeing it up, chipping, wedging, hooking, and slicing a few on the green, there’s three awesome golf courses on Mackinac Island.
But don’t worry about bringing your clubs on the ferry. You can rent clubs and golf cart for reasonable rates.
Mission Point Resort’s The Greens of Mackinac – One Lakeshore Drive
The Greens of Mackinac at Mission Point Resort, an 18-hole putting course, is a cool venue for the whole family to show their putting skills.
And, if you want to make it an fun evening event, check out their night-time glow golf!
Right next door, you can grab a beverage from Bistro on the Greens, too. Weather permitting, the putting fees are reasonable for both adult guests and kids. Check out Mission Point’s other restaurants as well. There’s something for everybody.
Grand Hotel’s “The Jewel” – 1 Grand Avenue
The Jewel is comprised of the Grand nine, across the street from the hotel; and the Woods nine, set in the interior of Mackinac Island.
The Jewel features unparalleled scenic beauty, lush landscaping and meticulously manicured tees, fairways and greens that overlook views of Round Island and Lake Huron.
Transportation between the Grand nine and Woods nine is by specially designed horse-drawn carriage. Clubs are available for rental. Golf carts and pull carts are available.
To reserve tee times, please call (906) 847-3331 and ask for the Golf Shop. They also have amazing golf-n-stay packages.
Wawashkamo Golf Club – 1 British Landing Road
The third is the Wawashkamo Golf Club‘s nine-hole links golf course. It dates back to 1898 as the oldest continuously playing golf course in Michigan.
Historically, this course was laid out on a farmer’s field; formerly the site where the 1814 Battle of Mackinac Island took place. Wawashkamo is located within Mackinac Island State Park.
Mackinac Island Travel Pro Tip: While you can drive a golf cart on one of the golf course, they are not permitted on the roadways on Mackinac Island. But, there are plenty of other fun ways to get around on the island!
Horse Drawn Carriage Tours
If you’re feet are aching from shopping on the Main but aren’t looking to sit on the porch just yet, take a relaxing horse-drawn carriage tour of Mackinac Island.
Tourists can listen to the historic narration and clip-clops of horse hooves as you enjoy seeing all of the island’s charm. The carriage tour lasts a little under two hours.
Oh, and your pups are welcome to go with you! While small pups can ride on your lap, larger dogs may require a child ticket purchase.
Horse-drawn carriage sightseeing tour tickets run about $30 for adults and $11 per child (ages 5-12). Small children under 4 can ride for free on an adult’s lap.
Horse Back Riding
There are three venues where you can rent a horse to go trail riding. Cindy’s Stables, Jack’s Livery Stable and Mackinac Community Equestrian Center where you can learn to ride a horse.
Cindy’s Stables – 7447 Market Street
Cindy’s Stables does not accept reservations by phone. They primarily operated on a first-come first-serve basis. However, they do accept same-day, in-person reservations. Saddle horse rentals are about $60/hour (2022 rate).
Before assigning a horse to ride, each rider is required to answer a short riding questionnaire. The staff will then match you with a horse that fits your skill level. Be aware, they are only able to accommodate riders under 250 pounds.
Children must be at least 10 years old and 50 inches tall in order to ride. They provide the riding helmets.
Jack’s Livery Stable – 7754 Mahoney Avenue
Jack’s Livery Stable, sister company of Cindy’s Stables, you can learn to drive your own horse and buggy as well as individual horseback rides. The same qualifications and requirements apply as Cindy’s above.
Mackinac Community Equestrian Center – 3800 British Landing Road
The Mackinac Community Equestrian Center (MCEC) and Mackinac Horsemen’s Association is nestled away on a beautiful 3.5 acre site on the back half of Mackinac Island. The facility is located across from historic Wawashkamo Golf Course and only a short distance from British Landing.
Surrey Hills Carriage Museum
Speaking of horse and carriage, there’s the amazing Surrey Hills Carriage Museum on Mackinac Island that features an actual working blacksmith shop. You can learn about the different types of horse carriages after which, you can visit their three shopping venues for souvenirs and eat a picnic lunch on the grounds.
Horse in History Museum
If you and your family are horse lovers, you’ll want to experience this unique display of equine culture at the Mackinac Community Equestrian Center.
From photos selected from the State Park Archives to personal photos of Islanders and their horses, it is a great exhibit that shows the daily interactions between the horse and their humans on Mackinac Island.
Silver Screen Movie Prop
Behind Fort Mackinaw, you can visit the famous gazebo that was featured in the 1980 American romantic fantasy drama film Somewhere In Time staring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. Originally it was located at the Grand Hotel but since, has been relocated and restored.
Butterfly House and Insect World
6750 McGulpin Street, Mackinac Island, MI 49757
If you love butterflies, then you’ll want to take an hour or two to visit the third oldest live butterfly exhibit in the United States.
Established in 1991, the Original Butterfly House and Insect World‘s tropical garden is filled with thousands of fluttering wings from four continents.
You can also see tons of different species of bugs and beetles, walking sticks, mantis’ and worldly insect displays. This is a great place to take your family on this incredible educational tour they’ll never forget.
Mackinac Island State Park
7029 Huron Rd, Mackinac Island, MI 49757
Originally Mackinac National Park (America’s 2nd National Park) existed in 1875 for 20 years following. The 1,044-acre park was created in response to the growing popularity of the island as a summer resort-like vacation destination.
Though it’s no longer a National Park, Mackinac Island State Park still boasts is beauty with trails, woods and the limestone Arch Rock formation, covers most of the island.
Visit Fort Mackinac
7127 Huron Rd, Mackinac Island, MI 49757
Located on a bluff that overlooks the Straits of Mackinac, Fort Mackinac served as a home for soldiers and their families.
The Fort is a former American and British garrison outpost that dates back to the late 18th century during the American Revolution.
However, during the War of 1812, the British captured the fort in America’s first engagement of the war.
Today, Fort Mackinac’s 14 original buildings still stand the test of time and harsh weather. Visitors can watch cannon salutes, bugle calls, daily reenactments and demonstrations, and tour several interactive displays that show what life was like during America’s birth.
The Fort eventually became the headquarters for Mackinac National Park where tourists to the island visited the great fortress on the bluff, much like they do today.
2234 Fort Holmes Rd, Mackinac Island, MI 49757
Fort Holmes perches on Mackinac Island’s highest point. The Fort is actually a log and earthen defense compound constructed by British forces during the War of 1812. It was originally named Fort George after King George III of Great Britain. Fort George was built to protect Fort Mackinac against American forces.
But, post War of 1812, the United States reclaimed Mackinac Island and the Fort. Thus, renaming it to Fort Holmes in honor of U.S. Army Major Andrew Holmes who was killed in action in 1814 battle.
After which, it was abandoned and left to ruins. But, in 1875 while under management of Mackinac National Park and later, Mackinac Island State Park, it was reconstructed.
Today, Fort Holmes still stands yet to see another reconstruction to preserve it’s historic importance.
There are two ways to walk to Fort Holmes. There’s a long paved road which can be accessed by heading north on Garrison Road for about 4000 feet from Fort Mackinac, and then switching back to the right on Fort Holmes Road for another 2000 feet. But most people take the stairs.
World’s Famous Fudge!
We savored the best for last; FUDGE! Mackinac Island is “America’s Fudge Capital”. But we’ll go even further in saying they do have the best fudge in the entire world!
Confectioners make over ten thousand pounds of fudge each day on Mackinac during tourist season. What’s cool is you can watch them make their different fudges through the glass windows. Sorry, no window licking allowed!
But, there are six other fudge confectioner shops on Mackinac Island, so you can sample them all and take some back to the mainland to indulge later.
Camping on Mackinac Island
Unfortunately, there is no camping on Mackinac Island. Since the island is so small, to prevent potential wildlife fires and preservation of the plant and wildlife habitats, nobody can camp on Mackinac Island.
So, there’s no bringing your hammock or tent. There are no campgrounds or places to camp. But, there are several other venues where you can spend an overnight or two or three or…!
Where to Stay on Mackinac Island
Oh, and just to give you a ballpark idea of how much it is to stay at the Grand Hotel, the summer rates very from $800-$1100 per night!
Wrapping up our fun things to do on Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island puts on an amazing show to welcome tourists from all over the world! Michigan’s prided island paradise does it right by sharing it’s vibe with all who visit.
While the perception of island life is that of warm tropical sunshine, palm trees and boat drinks, everyone needs to experience the northern exposure type of island vacations.
It’s the type of place where Hallmark movies are made. From picture perfect white picket fences, brilliantly manicured flower gardens and welcoming inns. The no-car island resort awaits your arrival to play on the people beaches, hitch a ride on a horse drawn carriage or bike the 8.2!
Mackinac Island will always be one of my favorite destinations. We hope it becomes one of your best island vacations too!
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