Mackinac Island is the crown jewel of Michigan and gem of Great Lakes where adventurers can enjoy tons of things to do on Mackinac Island any time of the year! Located on Michigan’s tip of the mitt on the Straits of Mackinac, visitors go to experience a different kind of island vibe.
While this island paradise doesn’t have the stereotypical palm trees and boat drinks, Mackinac Island puts out the welcome mat for all to explore, learn and enjoy the laid back vibe of island life.
This Michigan destination 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.
Fair weather travelers can enjoy visiting the island during the late Spring, Summer and earlyFall to experience her grandeur and sparkle.
So, let’s hop on the ferry and go for a short boat ride to experience all the different things to do on Mackinac Island!
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30+ Fun Things to Do on Mackinac Island
The “Unsalted” Island 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 in their article, “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.
From 1875 to 1895, most of Mackinac Island was designated a Mackinac National Park. It was the second national park in the United States, created only 3 years after Yellowstone National Park. The Soldiers from the fort were designated as the Park Rangers.
Then two decades later in 1895, the military handed over the National Park to the State of Michigan. Mackinac Island State Park was established as Michigan’s first state park. In fact, it was America’s first “state park” in the entire country.
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.
Getting around on Mackinac Island
Part of Mackinac Island’s charm is there are no motorized vehicles. Other than emergency vehicles and snowmobiles in the winter, gas powered vehicles are prohibited. There’s no cars, trucks (not even UPS trucks!), motorcycles, scooters and even golf carts on the island.
The reason AAA dates back to 1896 when motorized vehicles became prohibited on Mackinac Island. Carriage drivers formed an association, convincing islanders to ban automobiles because the horses were disturbed by the car’s noisy engines.
Even today, with very few exceptions, transportation is limited to single horse, horse and buggy, bicycle and walking.
So after sharing the history of this magical and quaint Mayberry of an island, let’s get down to the nitty gritty and see all the different things to do on Mackinac Island.
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.
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 also plenty of places to stop to enjoy the views and enjoy a picnic lunch.
Bike around Mackinac Island
One of our favorite things to do on Mackinac Island is riding our bikes! In fact, bicycles are one of the best ways to explore the island without spending a ton of money. It’s also a great way to get some exercise.
You can bring your own bike on either of the two ferry companies, Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry Company or Shepler’s Ferry. There will be a small cargo fee aside from your regular boarding fee to bring your own bike aboard.
A little money saving tidbit, you can get cheaper ferry tickets online using their discounts.
Or rent a bike on Mackinac Island once you disembark the boat to head into town right on Main Street. They have a good selection of adult and kid’s bikes, tag-a-longs, child bike trailers and even adult and child size strollers.
Visitors with disabilities can rent electric wheelchairs or scooters as well. And, if your bringing your fur kid, you can also rent one of their bike trailers so your pup can go too!
The bike shop employees will ensure that each bike fits the rider, making your experience comfortable and fun! They usually include in your bike rental a bicycle helmet, front basket to put your bag and a Mackinac Island trail map.
Once you get your bike ready to roll, it’s time to put your pedals to the pavement to enjoy all the other things to do on Mackinac Island!
Though Mackinac Island is small, surprisingly, there’s over 70+ miles of paved and unpaved multi-purpose trails to ride. There aren’t very many hills, so don’t think bike touring is out of the question.
But, if you prefer riding on pavement, you can pedal the 8.2 mile outer rim that offer incredible 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, snack or picnic lunch. There’s picnic tables and pull offs to take in the scenic beauty of the lake.
I do highly recommend locking your bicycle, even your rental anytime you park your bike. There are plenty of bicycle racks all over the island.
However, don’t park bicycles on private property or in designated horse carriage loading zones.
And lastly, especially on weekend, holidays in the summer, Mackinac Island gets a bit crowded. So bring your patience and follow bicycle riding rules and etiquette. Remember, you’re there to relax and have fun. Mackinac Island is not the place to ride your bicycle fast or dodge in and out of traffic like New York City.
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
Swimming and snorkeling are also super fun and adventurous things to do on Mackinac Island!
And, snorkeling isn’t just for exploring the underwater tropics! In fact, we even should add snorkeling to our list of things to do on Mackinac Island. We learned that water loving visitors can explore the mysterious underwater caves of the Rock Maze just off of the island.
All along the coast of Mackinac Island, there’s 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! Why? Because Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are unsalted.
Self-Guided Walking Garden Tour
Okay, we made this one up…sort of! Walking is one of the most favorite things to do on Mackinac Island because it’s a slower pace.
With all the beautiful mansions decorated with crisp newly painted doors and shutters, it’s the ideal destination for a leisurely stroll.
There’s nothing tiring about roaming the back streets, checking out quaint bed and breakfasts and ogling the grandeur of the posh Victorian era mansions with meticulously groomed gardens.
Seriously, Mackinac Island is an artist’s and photographer’s dream! Colorful flowers of every shape and size line crisp white picket fences. And those huge beautiful hanging baskets on Main Street with flowers and foliage draping down, it’s nothing short of a million dollar painting or magazine photo!
✰ OUTSIDER PRO TIP ✰ Learn how to take amazing photos using your cellphone! Read our Smartphone Photography Tips for Beginners
If you enjoy teeing it up, chipping, wedging, hooking, and slicing a few on the green, there’s three beautifully groomed 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 at any one of the following golf courses or resorts.
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 Grand 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 Outsider 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 (2022)
Horse Back Riding
There’s also 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 Mackinac, 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. Most people take the stairs.
The other option is the 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.
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
Sad to say for those who wish to rough it instead of staying in a posh hotel or bed and breakfast, there is no camping on Mackinac Island. There are no campgrounds or places to camp.
To prevent potential wildlife fires and preservation of the plant and wildlife habitats, nobody can camp on Mackinac Island. Visitors are not even allowed to string up a hammock or a tent even for the day.
Where to Stay on Mackinac Island
There’s quite a plethora of places to stay on Mackinac Island. Lodging ranges from small and quaint Bed and Breakfasts to renting a posh room at the Grand Hotel. Either of which, Mackinac Island visitors can indulge in the comfort and friendly hospitality!
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 (2022). So, this is one of those U.S. travel destinations to really save your pennies for if you plan on spending even just a couple days.
Wrapping up our fun things to do on Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island puts on an amazing show welcoming tourists from all over the world! Michigan’s prided island paradise does it right by sharing her laid back 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 inspirational place where Hallmark movies are made. From picture perfect white picket fences, brilliantly manicured flower gardens and welcoming inns overlooking the lake waters, it will become one of your favorite travel destinations!
The no-car island resorts awaits your arrival to skip rocks on the beaches, hitch a ride on a horse drawn carriage or bike the 8.2!
Mackinac Island will always be one of my favorite island destinations. And by our descriptions here, we hope it becomes one of yours too! Because there’s tons of things to do on Mackinac Island!
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