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MACKINAC ISLAND TRAVEL GUIDE

arch rock on mackinac island

Visit Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island is America’s summer place: a mix of Victorian charm; sweet chocolate fudge; rich history and pure northern Michigan magic.

It’s Mackinac Island, a seaside resort and crown jewel of Michigan tourism that sits quite majestically at the tip of the Michigan mitten (also known as the lower peninsula).

Visitors to the island aboard a Mackinac Island ferry can’t help but be awed by the island’s beauty, especially once the wide white façade of the Grand Hotel comes into view.

A vacation destination for travelers from across the world, this national historic landmark is a must on your vacation bucket list for a day-trip; weekend getaway or extended vacation.

The island is also the Governor’s summer residence, so you’re in good company if you decide to visit then.

If you’re looking for a vacation spot that will provide you with a lifetime of memories, start planning your Mackinac Island getaway now.

mackinac island michigan

About Mackinac Island

If you’ve ever imagined a fairy-tale come to life, chances are it might look a little like bit Mackinac Island, Michigan.

This historic park is part of the Michigan State Parks system: 1,800 acres of living history that transports to you back to another time.

Little more than four squares miles, the island is home to almost 600 year-round residents.

The island’s population swells in the summer months, when visitors from around the world flock to the tiny island’s distinctive resorts, unique Inns, tiny Bed and Breakfasts other lodging for a perfect island getaway.

You can learn more about the best places to stay on Mackinac Island here.

Seeped in Michigan history, the forts on and around the island, like Colonial Michilimackinac, provide a glimpse of life in the 1700 and 1800’s, a time when the fur trade prospered and missionaries, Native Americans, and settlers roamed the island.

mackinac island street

Automobile-Free Mackinac Island

There are no automobiles are allowed on the island and transportation is by foot, horse and buggy or bicycles.

Strolling along the island streets and paths lined with well-kept Victorian mansions, it’s quite easy to image life on the island in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s when the island was a summer retreat and luxury vacation destination who traveled by train to reach this Michigan island.

Set off the Michigan coastline tight at the spot where Lake Michigan and Lake Huron meet, the island is technically located on Lake Huron.

It’s across Lake Huron you’ll travel from Mackinaw City Michigan to get to the island, arriving at the ferry docks to begin your adventure.

mackinac island overview

What to Do in Mackinaw City

Mackinaw City sometimes seems to live in the shadow of the island, but there is still much to do here.

Downtown Mackinaw City is a bustling site.

Here, Mackinaw Crossings offers plenty of shops for tourists and nearby restaurants are available for a lunch break.

All of this and more is located just off of Huron Avenue, close to ferry docks, meaning you can shop and grab lunch in Mackinaw City, and be on your way to the island within minutes.

If you want to explore more of Mackinaw City, tours are available through the Mackinac Olde Time Trolley Company.

Head out of the city to Headlands Dark Sky Park in Emmet Counties to see the night sky as you’ve never seen it before.

For fans of naval history, take a moment to visit Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, one of many historic Michigan lighthouses.

Check out the Official Mackinaw City Chamber of Commerce or Visitors Bureau for more Mackinaw City information.

lake huron view from mackinac island

Plan a Trip to Mackinac Island

There is a reason the island was named a “Top U.S. Island” by both USA Today and TripAdvisor: it is truly a magical place.

In the early summer, a heavy floral scent of flowers during the Lilac Festival permeates the air.

During the summer and fall months, tourists flock to the island to take in the old time charm of the island.

Just eight miles around, this tiny island is somehow able to pack so much in: rich history, natural beauty, grandeur with a little bit of tourist camp, horses, bicycles, freshly-made fudge…and unforgettable freshwater sea breezes.

Horse drawn carriages? Check. A bevy of stately Victorian homes and cottages? Check. Charming historic downtown shopping area loaded with treats for young and old? Check.

You’ll also find a mix of old-time charm and carriage tours; outdoor activities like biking and hiking to national historic landmarks and shopping in historic downtown Mackinac.

mackinac island ferries

How to Get to Mackinac Island: Mackinac Island Ferries

Travel to Mackinac Island is by plane or boat; most visitors arrive via a Mackinac Island ferry from Mackinaw City or St. Ignace, which is all part of the fun!

Sit on the open-air upper desk and feel the wind on your face as you take in some of the most stunning scenery on the Great Lakes.

You can also sit comfortably below deck and catch a glimpse of the Mackinac bridge as you go by. Catch the ferry either Mackinaw City or St. Ignace in Michgan’s Upper Peninsula.

Travel on Mackinac Island is restricted to bicycle, horse or foot: there are no cars allowed on the Island.

Upon disembarking from the short ferry ride; a visitor’s first stop may be a bicycle rental vendor or the Mackinac Island Tourism bureau.

Mackinac Island tourism swells in July and August, so it’s a good idea to plan your trip carefully.These long-running ferry’s will also accommodate luggage, pets and bicycles and take between 15-25 minutes depending on your departure site.

downtown mackianc island street in summer

Downtown Mackinac Island

In the busy summer months, downtown Mackinac Island is a bustling scene: part New England port town; part tourist haven and a lot of fun.

Toy stores, gift shops and restaurants mingled with fudge and candy. You can even try some Superman Ice Cream, a MIchigan favorite flavor!

Here, you’ll find fun boutiques offering everything from Michigan-made items and home decor to books and fashion. Shopping these cute spots is part of the fun; all ages and budgets will find something to delight; maybe even a find a trinket or two as a souvenir.

Our favorite spot on the island?

Little Luxuries of Mackinac, a happy little store with a unique assortment of whimsical gifts. You’ll find pretty paper, handmade home accessories, luxury bath products and more.

fort mackinac from mackinac island

Things to Do and See on Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island is steeped in rich histories of Native Americans, British, French and Americans who once lived in the area. Ojibwa and Odawa Great Lakes Indian tribes also lived on Mackinac Island and around the Mackinac County area.

Displays and historical markers of these spots now on the national historic register share the rich cultural and military of the island and provide detailed explanations of these interesting spots.

Don’t miss these island spots:

Fort Mackinac

Step off the ferry onto this historic island park and you’ll immediately be immersed in the history of Mackinac Island.

Not far from the docks is Fort Mackinac, a military outpost established in 1780.

One of the Mackinac State Historic Parks, the fort is open to visitors who can wander the grounds; watch reenactments of cannons firing and tour this limestone fort overlooking the Straits of Mackinac.

This national historic landmark is impressive, and looking out overt he Mackinac Island harbor, you can almost feel the ghosts of fur traders and soldiers who once inhabited the island.

Fort Holmes

This fort constructed by British soldiers during the War of 1812 sits at the highest elevation the island.

The fortified earthen structure is in poor shape but visitors are still able to tour the grounds.

Fort Michilimackinac

Fort Michilimackinac was established in 1683 by the French as a strategically-located fortified trading post.

The fort was not built primarily as a military facility but as a link in the French trade system but ended up playing important roles in both the French and Indian Wars, the American Revolution and the War of 1812.

Now, historically accurate exhibits and reenactments tell the story of this military outpost that served as a home to military families over the years.

Although the Fort is in Mackinaw City, it is worth a visit.

arch rock on mackinac island

Arch Rock

Towering above the water and more than fifty feet in width, Arch Rock is the most famous of the rock formations on the island.

The Limestone arch overlooks Lake Huron and is accessed by trails in Mackinac Island State Park.

It can be reached by foot, taxi, carriage or bike. It can also be viewed from below, on the perimeter tour of the island.

Skull Cave

Spooky Skull Cave is a small, shallow cave on Mackinac Island.

This Michigan Historic Site is located in the Mackinac Island State Park.

It is is believed to have been used as an inhumation site by Native Americans of the Straits of Mackinac area in the 18th century. Definitely worth a walk around the island to spot this piece of history.

grand hotel on mackinac island

The Grand Hotel

This acclaimed hotel-resort certainly lives up to its glowing reputation.

Conde Nast Traveler magazine lists the hotel as one of the “Best Places to Stay in the Whole World;” Travel + Leisure magazine lists The Grand Hotel as among the “Top 100 Hotels in the World, and American Automobile Association (AAA) rates the facilities as a four-diamond resort.

The setting for the cult-favorite Hollywood movie “Somewhere in Time,” starring Jane Seymour and Christopher Reeve, the Grand Hotel has hosted many notable visitors, including five U.S. presidents, inventor Thomas Edison, and author Mark Twain.

Take some time and stroll along the “longest porch in the world,” all 660 feet of it.

Wawashkamo Golf Club

This nine-hole golf course – the only golf course on Mackinac Island- was designated one of “America’s Historic Golf Landmarks” by Golf Digest and sits atop a former 1814 battle site.

The views from this scenic course include the Mackinac Bridge, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.

Richard and Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum

Located in a Native American Indian dormitory on the island, this museum exhibits fine and decorative art pieces and maps, jewelry and photographs from the island, documenting the islands history.

Original photographs from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century also document the natural beauty of the island.

Michigan philanthropists Richard and Jane Manoogian rebuilt and reopened the museum, which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Marquette Park

Just east of historic downtown Mackinac, you’ll find a lovely park at the foot of Fort Mackinac.

The velvety green grass on the gently rolling hills and the towering hardwoods forming a shady canopy make this spot hard to resist.

Be sure and find a spot to sit, rest and watch the visitors as the come and go along Huron Street.

mission point resort on mackinac island

Mission Point Resort

With 18 acres of Mackinac Island waterfront, this family-friendly resort on Mackinac Island received a Certificate of Excellence from Trip Advisor and a Readers Choice Award from Conde Nast Traveler.

A lovely resort in a truly gorgeous setting, Mission Point Resort is definitely worth checking out.

ADA and Wheelchair Accessibility on Mackinac
Although many of the buildings on Mackinac Island are quite old, local business owners and innkeepers do their best to accommodate travelers of all abilities.

The ferry’s are accessible and upon landing on the island, the downtown area is relatively flat, allowing for wheelchair accessibility.

Wheelchair-accessible horse-drawn carriage rides (like these through Mackinac Island Carriage Tours) are available.

Some of the hotels are limited in terms of space and lack of elevators due to the age of the buildings, but will work with you to help you find accommodations with other properties if they are not able to meet your need.

Reaching out in advance with specific detail regarding your needs is encouraged.

Top 25 Places to Stay on Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island Lodging

We’ve stayed at just about every spot on Mackinac Island, from hotels to inns; cottages to Bed and Breakfasts; and even some Airbnb’s and private rentals.

We’re sharing some of our favorite places to stay as well as some of the other lovely lodging spots on the island HERE.

Sift through them and find YOUR favorite place to stay on Mackinac Island.

biking on mackinac island

Mackinac Island Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What’s the Best Time of Year to Visit Mackinac?

A. Mackinac Island is beautiful any season of the year. During the winter travel to the island is limited; check the the ferries to see when they are running. The Turtle Trek in February; Mackinac Island Lilac Festival in June; the Fudge festival in August and other island events bring visitors throughout the year. In the summer months, the island is the warmest and its a perfect time for easy hiking and biking.In the autumn months, the fall foliage is spectacular with blazing red and yellow leaves against the bright blue backdrop of sky and sparkling Lake Huron.

Q. What’s the big deal about Mackinac Island Fudge?

A. One thing is certain, your visit to Mackinac Island has to involve fudge. Fresh Mackinac Island is somewhat of local delicacy: not many imitators are able to match the creamy, rich chocolate confection that has become an island staple. There are currently 13 fudge shops on Mackinac Island, making so much fudge that the island imports 10 tons of sugar per week.

Q. Should I Rent a Bike on Mackinac Island?

A. Bicycling around Mackinac Island is a fun way to get around and a great way to see all of the island. You can bring your own over on the ferry or rent one from one of the many bike station right near the ferry docks. The towering trees provide a comfortably shady respite from both the sun and the crowds.
The island itself it approximately eight miles around – perfect for day-long bike or hike on the paved walkways alongside the cool and breathtakingly beautiful Lake Huron.
If that sounds daunting, take the marked trails that cut through the island – some of them dating back to the days when the Island was inhabited by the Native American Menominee tribe.
Carriage tours are also a great way to tour the island if you’re not up to hiking or biking.

About the Author
Bella DiMascio is a Content Editor for mymichiganbeach.com. She grew up in the Detroit suburb of Westland and later attended Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo where she majored in Communication Studies and minored in English: Writing. Creative writing has been a hobby and interest of Bella’s since she was in elementary school and she is thrilled to be using her talents to highlight the Great Lakes State. Outside of writing, Bella enjoys getting outside with her two Australian Shepherds, playing video games, and binging shows on Netflix.