How to Have a Perfect Day on Mackinac Island

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How To Have a Perfect Day on Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island takes you back in time with its horse-drawn carriages, Victorian homes, and the grandest hotel of all.  While here, spend the day biking, visiting a historic fort, and satisfying your sweet tooth with the famous Mackinac Island fudge.

Where is Mackinac Island?

Mackinac Island is located within the state of Michigan in Lake Huron.  It sits to the east of the Mackinac Bridge which connects the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan.

How to Get There

There are a few ways to reach the island, the most common way is by passenger ferry.  Ferries leave from either Mackinac City in the lower peninsula or St. Ignace in the Upper Peninsula.  There are two ferry companies that service the island, Shepler’s Ferry and Star Line Mackinac Island Hydro-Jet Ferry.  Click on each to be taken to their respective websites for more information.

Another option is to fly.   With Fresh Air Aviation, passengers will be transported with a quick flight from St. Ignace in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. 

Now that you know how to get to there, here is the list of best things to see and do on Mackinac Island!

The Grand Hotel

The Grand Hotel is known as the Jewel of the Great Lakes for good reason.  This once summer vacation retreat in the 1800s is now a National Landmark and one of the world’s top hotels.  The Grand Hotel continues to charm generations with its top notch-hospitality and heritage.  

The Grand Hotel’s big claim to fame is that it served as the setting for the movie, Somewhere in Time.  Today, it offers a variety of events and packages throughout the year.  If you visit in the shoulder season you may be able to snag a deal and make it worthwhile to stay here overnight, extending your time on the island. 

If you stay overnight you get to catch these beautiful sunsets

You can visit the hotel and explore its grounds as a non-guest for a $10 admission fee.  One can also golf, dine, and shop at the hotel.  A great way to see it all without breaking the bank!

If interested in staying on Mackinac Island other than the Grand Hotel, there are several other places to stay.  It’s not cheap to stay on the island, but there is a range depending on your budget.  If you are looking for truly budget accommodations, consider staying in Mackinaw City.  You can easily catch the ferry to and from the island to spend the day.  St. Ignace (in the Upper Peninsula) also has accommodations, although much more limited in terms of lodging and dining. 

Biking the Island

No trip to Mackinac Island is complete without biking the island.  The bike path looks like a regular two-lane road, but remember, no vehicles here!  The 8 mile loop runs along the outer rim of the island, beginning and ending on Main Street, where several bike rental companies are located. 

The island is fabulous to bike around.  Since you have no vehicular traffic to worry about, it’s very safe for the whole family, kids included.  Kids can ride their own bikes or ride tandem with a parent, or even in a pull-behind. 

The bike path along the perimeter of the island, on the island’s east side

We always assemble a picnic with items from Doud’s Market, located on Main Street.  Doud’s has an excellent selection of packaged and fresh foods, perfect for picnicking.  We bike past the crowds in town where we can then spread out a bit and begin our pleasant ride.  The first area we stop at is the east side of the island.  The calm, shallow water is very enticing to take a quick swim.  If you’re visiting on a hot summer day, or freezing cold water doesn’t bother you, be sure to take a dip!  However, beware – these are the Great Lakes!  The water temperature hovers around 59 degrees in the summer.  In contrast, the west side of the island’s waters are much more rough, deep, and dark blue and definitely not safe for swimming.

Along the way, there are many scenic pull offs so you can check out the beautiful scenery.  Near the end of the loop, before you get back to Main Street, there is a playground by the school that is fun for kids.

A Taste of Mackinac Island – Fudge!

A trip to Mackinac Island wouldn’t be complete without tasting some Mackinac Island Fudge!   This ultra-sweet treat became a must have during summer trips to the island as far back as the 1880s.  A man by the name of Rome Murdick made fudge on marble slabs in his candy store which lended a unique flavor to the concoction.  In doing so, one could watch the fudge making in action, often via large windows, which turned into a show for visitors.

Famous Murdicks Fudge

Fudge remains a big part of the draw to the island.  Sampling the different types is fun and will for sure satisfy any sweet tooth.  There are currently 13 different fudge shops on Mackinac Island.  How about picking a piece from multiple stores and having a tasting on the great lawn of Marquette Park?!

Arch Rock

Arch Rock is formed from limestone and is about 50 feet wide, rising up 146 feet above the water.  One can reach the arch a variety of ways such as walking, cycling, and even horse & carriage!  The beautiful blue-green water is visible through the arch’s opening, which is why many tourists flock here for a photo opportunity.

Fort Mackinac

If you visit Fort Mackinac, you will be visiting the oldest building in Michigan!  The fort takes visitors back to Revolutionary War times when British Soldiers moved Fort Michilimackinac (now known as Mackinaw City) to the island.  It changed hands a few more times:  to Americans in 1796, and back to the British in 1812, and finally back to Americans where it remained an active fort until the 1890s.

When visiting the fort, keep in mind the majority of the visit will be outdoors.  The fort is accessible with an entrance for wheelchairs located in the back.  

During your visit, expect to engage with costumed interpreters and also witness rifle and canon demonstrations.  There are 14 buildings restored as they would have been back when the fort was active.  

Mike and Braden enjoyed their visit to the fort but they liked Fort Michilimackinac, located in Mackinaw City, a lot better.

For the most up-to-date visitor’s information click here.

Take a Horse Drawn Carriage Ride

There are currently two companies that offer horse and carriage rides on Mackinac Island, Gough Carriages and Mackinac Island Carriage Tours.  Both include an informed guide during your tour.  

Jacks Livery Stable offers drive-your-own-buggy, if that is something you’d want to try your hand at!  You’ll receive a short lesson and then are off to explore on your own.  

Horse-drawn carriages are a way to get around the island

Mackinac Island is a special place, especially in this day and age.  Removing oneself from modern distractions and immersing in the history, heritage, and an era of simpler times leaves visitors content and fulfilled.  While summers bring the flocks of visitors, how about a visit in the off-season?  Fall in Michigan is especially beautiful with the leaves changing colors, the crowds a lot lower than in the summer months, and you’ll likely score a shoulder season deal.  

Dietary Notes

As always, everyone’s needs are different.  At press time my husband is grain-free and two of our kids are allergic to nuts and eggs.  Although we encompass a fair amount of dietary restrictions, we can only offer advice as to what pertains to our own family, as that is where our expertise lies!

Visiting Mackinac Island with dietary restrictions is relatively easy.  Our favorite grocery store on the island, Doud’s Market, has an excellent selection of fresh and prepared foods as well as packaged goods.  We easily find what we need for a picnic on the island.  We have also had luck at every restaurant we have tried on the island.  If staying in Mackinac City, we recommend dining at Dixie Saloon.

For more on traveling with dietary restrictions, be sure to check out our guide:  On the Go with Allergies.

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