Mackinaw City MI: Top Things to Do
Mackinaw City Michigan is the closest you can get to famous Mackinac Island without leaving the lower peninsula. Set right at the tip of Michigan’s mitten, where lakes Huron and Michigan meet, Mackinaw City is a must-visit Michigan vacation spot.
Many visit it as a stop on their journey to the island, but Mackinaw City is much more than a gateway to an island adventure. There is plenty to explore in Mackinaw City, from its downtown shops to its gorgeous parks, historic fort and a handful of tourist attractions unique to the city.
Read on to learn more, and for our list of the 31 top things to do and places to eat in Mackinaw City. You can scroll to the bottom for an interactive map of where to find all of these must-see spots!
About Mackinaw City
The village of Mackinaw City is a busy place with a lot going on. Not only is it the stepping-off point for both Mackinac Island and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the area also swells with its own tourists in the summer and fall seasons. Labor Day also brings a huge influx of travelers for the annual Mackinac Bridge Walk.
There’s more to Mackinaw City, though. It’s located close to beautiful beaches on both Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, which provide endless opportunity for outdoor activities. It’s a very kid-friendly spot, too, with many beautiful parks and attractions to keep families entertained.
31 Top Things to Do in Mackinaw City Michigan
See Fort Michilimackinac
106 W Straits Ave, Mackinaw City MI
History buffs will love Fort Michilimackinac, located right near Mackinac Bridge. When it was built by the French in 1715, it was the great fur trade center of the colonial northwest until it was relocated to Mackinac Island in 1781.
In 1960, Colonial Michilimackinac became a National Historic Landmark which means today visitors can explore the fort. It’s fun to step into the past to see staff and interpreters, dressed in 18th century clothing, moving about the fort’s reconstructed buildings.
The Fort is set in Michilimackinac State Park and has stunning views of Mackinac Island, the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Bridge. Fort Michilimackinac is part of the Mackinac State Historic Parks. Other historic parks in the area include Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island.
Take a Ferry to Mackinac Island
Visitors to Mackinaw City often use ferry services to travel to Mackinac Island, Michigan’s top tourist destination. Be sure and have you camera ready. You’ll pass some very picturesque spots, including Round Island which you’ll recognize from the iconic lighthouse.
Shepler’s Ferry and the Star Line Ferry carry passengers to and from Mackinac Island from both St. Ignace and Mackinaw City. The pleasant trip across the water takes about 15 minutes. Visitors often find favor with either of the two ferry Services for different reasons.
556 E Central Ave, Mackinaw City MI
If you’re looking for a fast trip to the island with a Mackinaw mainstay, look no further than Shepler’s. With docks in both Mackinaw City and St. Ignace, ferrying visitors to Mackinac Island may be their predominant purpose, but customers can also enjoy Shepler’s lighthouse cruises, night sky cruises, and Fourth of July cruise, offered by the company.
Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry/Mackinac Island Ferry Company
801 S Huron Ave, Mackinaw City MI
From either St. Ignace or Mackinaw City, you can take the Star Line Mackinac Island ferry, the only Hydro-Jet ferry service to Mackinac Island aboard the Star Line, now known as Mackinac Island Ferry Company. Using this ferry service, you’ll experience quick and affordable transport to Mackinac Island, along with other services, including tall ship and pirate cruises.
There’s even a tour which takes customers out of St. Ignace beneath the Mighty Mac on the way to the island.
Try Some Mackinaw Fudge
Mackinac Island is famous for its fudge, but you don’t need to hop on the ferry to try some top-quality fudge. Every fudge-lover has their preferred fudge shop, and Mackinaw City is home to quite a few highly acclaimed fudge shops. Here are some of our favorites.
- Joann’s Fudge of Mackinac Island
- 303 E Central Ave, Mackinaw City MI
- 226 E Central Ave, Mackinaw City MI
- Original Murdick’s Fudge
- 190 S Huron, Mackinaw City MI
- Devon’s Mackinac Island Fudge Company
- 304 E Central Ave, Mackinaw City MI
Discover the Mackinac Bridge Museum
231 E Central Ave, Mackinaw City, MI 49701
Everyone who has seen the Mackinac Bridge, knows that it’s an engineering feat unlike any other. Also known as the “Gateway to the Upper Peninsula, the bridge is a Michigan wonder. Learn all about why it’s called the “Mighty Mac” at the Mackinaw Bridge Museum, an incredibly unique Michigan museum located above Mama Mia’s Pizzeria in downtown Mackinaw City.
The Mackinaw Bridge Museum was constructed by J.C. Stilwel, an ironworker who participated in the bridge’s construction. Throughout time, the museum has collected numerous of the artifacts used in the bridge’s construction from fellow ironworkers who participated in the build.
See the Mackinaw City Lighthouses
Michigan has over 120 lighthouses and light station locations, making it the state with the most lighthouses in all of the United States. Many of these lighthouses are historic landmarks that tell the story of Michigan’s long maritime history. In Mackinaw City, two lighthouses stand out as favored tourist stops, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, and McGulpin Point Lighthouse.
McGulpin Point Lighthouse & Historic Site
500 Headlands Rd, Mackinaw City MI
There is a rich history surrounding McGulpin Point and its role in navigation. The lighthouse at McGulpin Point is even older than the one at Old Mackinac Point, having opened in 1869 and you can even stay overnight on the lighthouse grounds at the McGulpin Point Cottage.
The lighthouse is not the only famous historic navigational tool found here, though; The Big Rock at McGulpin Point is estimated to have been discovered by French explorers in 1615, and served as a navigational aid to sailors before the construction of the lighthouse.
Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse
526 N Huron Ave, Mackinaw City MI
Since 1889, Old Mackinac Point has been a guiding light for sailors passing through the Straits of Mackinac. Visit Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse and be transported back to 1910 with restored quarters and exhibits.
Explore the Keeper’s Quarters, engage with hands-on displays and original artifacts, and hear the story of Keeper George Marshall, his wife, and their extended family. Don’t forget to stop by the Mackinac Shipwreck Museum or tour the lighthouse tower itself to round out your visit to the “Castle of the Straits.”
Go Back in Time at Mackinaw Area Historical Society Heritage Village
1425 W Central Ave, Mackinaw MI
Experience history firsthand at the Mackinaw Area Historical Society Heritage Village. Here, you can witness moments of great change throughout history, from the introduction of electricity to the rapid evolution of transportation.
Become immersed in the sights, smells, and sounds from centuries ago and learn something new about Michigan’s history. With monthly programs fit for all ages, there’s no better way to spend a fun and educational day out with the whole family in Mackinaw City.
Explore Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park
9001 W US-23, Mackinaw City MI
For those looking for an outdoor activity to engage the whole family, take time to explore some of the northern Michigan forests that sustained the state’s significant lumber industry at Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park in Cheboygan, near Mackinaw City.
Smell the sawdust generated by the experienced sawyers who demonstrate the traditional pit saw method of cutting lumber and feel the power of the creek used to cut timber inside the old reconstructed sawmill.
Explore the forest from new heights with the Adventure Tour guided treetop nature trail, as well as the five-story Treetop Discovery Tower, Forest Canopy Bridge, and Eagle’s Flight Zip Line. Engaging programs showcasing the North Woods will educate and delight visitors of any age.
Take in the Stars at Headlands International Dark Sky Park
15675 Headlands Rd, Mackinaw City MI
See the night sky like never before at Headlands International Dark Sky Park. Michigan has only six state-designated dark sky parks, but Headlands is the only one that holes international dark sky status. The goal of a dark sky preserve is to restrict artificial light pollution in order to provide an unobstructed view of the night sky. While this is done to promote astronomy, you don’t need to be an astronomer to appreciate the wonders of a night sky filled with stars.
Shop at Mackinaw Crossings
S Huron Avenue, Mackinaw City, MI 49701
It’s one of the most unique shopping area in northern Michigan: a Victorian-inspired shopping area featuring fun shops, restaurants, and live entertainment. You’ll also find comfortable benches to relax and take in the scenery or enjoy an ice-cream cone.
Visit the Icebreaker Mackinaw Maritime Museum Inc.
131 S Huron Ave, Mackinaw City MI
The USCGC Mackinaw WAGB-83, also known as the “Queen of the Great Lakes” and “The Largest Icebreaker on the Great Lakes,” measures out at a whopping 290 feet. The ship was built as part of the war efforts of World War II to meet the ever increasing demand for war materials to be transported during winter, but was decommissioned in 2006.
Today she rests in her namesake home of Mackinaw City where visitors can tour the ship, book overnight encampments, and even group events. Learn all about the Mackinaw’s 62-year career of breaking ice on the Great Lakes while visiting the ship’s many important spaces, including the Captain’s Quarters, Bridge, Engine Room, and more.
Enjoy Wawatam Park
300 N Huron Ave, Mackinaw City MI
One of the best ways to enjoy Mackinaw City is to spend time outdoors relaxing near the waterfront. At Wawatam you can do just that, with plenty of picnic tables, benches, and grills to provide the perfect picnic at the shore, with a view of Mackinac Island in the distance. Walk along the beach or paddle along the waterfront to see a blend of historic sites and beautiful green parks, just be careful of boat traffic and strong currents through the Straits of Mackinac.
Ride the Mackinac Old Time Trolley
One greatway to see most of these spot is by taking a ride on the Mackinac Old Time Trolley. You’ll get a narrated, historical tour explaning all of Mackinaw’s timeless historical sites, including the Mackinac Bridge,Colonial Michilimackinac, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, & the Coast Guard Icebreaker Mackinaw.
More Amazing Things to Do in Mackinaw City Michigan
- Parasail over the Straits of Mackinac at Mackinaw Parasailing and Jet Boat Adventures
- Take in A Summer Concert at Conkling Heritage Park
- Go bowling at Pharaohs Family Fun Center, an Egyptian-themed family arcade
- Kayak under the Mackinac Bridge with Great Turtle Kayak Tours
- Catch some fish at the Fishing and Observation Pier near the Ferry Docks
- Have a Picnic at Williams Park and take in the Mackinac Island views
- Stop by the Michigan Welcome Center to get the lay of the land
- Hike the trails at Wilderness State Park
- Watch some old-fasioned log-rolling at the Jack Pines Lumberjack show
Where to Eat in Mackinaw City
There’s no shartage of restaurants and places to eat in Macknaw City. You’ll find all of the fast-food chains, and there’s many tried-and-true favorites. Here ar some of them worth checking out:
- Audies Restaurant
314 N Nicolet St, Mackinaw City, MI 49701
- Dixie Saloon
401 E Central Ave, Mackinaw City, MI 49701
- Harbor Lights Grill in Carp Lake
6492 Paradise Trail, Carp Lake, MI 49718
- Scalawags Fish and Chips
226 E Central Ave, Mackinaw City, MI 49701
Fun Mackinaw City Events
Annual Mackinaw City Motorcycle Rally
The second annual Mackinaw City motorcycle in June is quickly gaining in popularity. Drawing motorcycle enthusiasts from across the country, the event includes live entertainment, a Blessing of the Bikes and some pure Michigan Fun.
Mackinaw City Fireworks
Sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce the fireworks are some of the best in northern Michigan. Billed as the largest fireworks display in Northern Michigan, the Mackinaw City Independence Day celebration kicks off at dusk with a performance of the Straits Area Concert Band at Conkling Heritage Park.
Where to Stay in Mackinaw City: Mackinaw City Hotels
Looking for a Mackinaw City hotel? Check our guide to the best places to stay in Mackinaw City. Plan ahead and make your hotel reservations, the summer season kicks into high gear after Memorial Day with the advent of the Lilac Festival on Mackinac Island.
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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.