10 Unmissable Things to Do in Mackinac Island

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Aerial view of the Mission Point Resort in Mackinac Island

One of the pleasures of writing about a beautiful place is how much it inspires you to travel, and Mackinac Island is a prime example. Although under four square miles of land in Lake Huron, sandwiched between Michigan’s lower and upper peninsula, I can guarantee you’ll want to go after reading this article for less than 30 seconds.

Aside from an abundance of things to do, Mackinac Island has banned motor vehicles. No cars have been allowed here since 1901, and locals and tourists get around by foot, bike, and horse-drawn carriages.

A view down mackinac island main street with no cars
Craig Zerbe / Adobe Stock

The latter is particularly popular with visitors and makes for an unforgettable experience on your trip. Small but perfectly formed, Mackinac Island is the ideal vacation spot – especially if you love the great outdoors, a peaceful environment, and a slower pace.

It also holds an interesting place in Michigan history, particularly with its connection to Native Americans, the American Revolution, and the fur trade.

With a soundtrack of Lake Huron’s waves and the clip of horse hooves, you can relax and recharge away from the trials and tribulations of life. Here is our guide to the best things to do in Mackinac Island, one of Michigan’s best places to visit.

Mackinac Island Bridge in Spring
Brad / Adobe Stock

TL;DR

  • Landmark – Arch Rock/Mackinac Bridge
  • Park – Mackinac Island State Park
  • Free activity – Hiking around the island
  • Activity for kids – The Butterfly Conservatories
  • Activity for adults – Great Turtle Kayak Tours
  • Food – 1852 Grill Room
  • Nightlife – The Pink Pony
  • Place to stay The Grand Hotel

Things to Do on Mackinac Island

1. Visit Fort Mackinac

Fort Mackinac Building
Konstantin L / Shutterstock

One of the island’s most important landmarks, tourist attractions, and historic sites, Fort Mackinac is not to be missed. Dating back to 1780, the fort is a former military outpost, once occupied by the French and later the British. Today it’s where history comes alive.

Much more than a collection of old buildings, the fort offers a regular program of events, including parades, rifle and cannon fire demonstrations, drills, and more. A hands-on experience, you can learn what it was like to be a soldier in the 1880s.

Don’t miss the Fort Mackinac Tea Room for a delicious lunch with stunning harbor views. And pay a visit to the reconstructed Fort Holmes for breathtaking views from the highest point on the island.

2. Explore Mackinac Island State Park

a rocky archway and beach on mackinac island
shrirampatki / Adobe Stock

It will be hard not to explore Mackinac Island State Park, given that it includes over 80% of the island. First established in 1895, this former National Park includes many interesting features, including the famous Arch Rock (pictured), historic forts, notable landmarks, and extensive natural beauty.

There are miles of trails to be explored by foot, bike, or horseback, with a regular program of organized walks and talks available. Try the British Landing Nature Trail, the Botanical Trail, and the Native American Trail to get you started.

Visit Cindy’s Riding Stables to book equestrian adventures, or check out the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau for public tours. Don’t forget to read our guide to essential outdoor gear for ideas on what to pack for your first trip to Mackinac Island.

See Related: Best National Parks in the USA to Visit

3. Try the Famous Fudge

Sign of Original Murdick's Fudge in Mackinac Island
Original Murdick’s Fudge / Facebook

Foodies will love a trip to Mackinac Island – particularly those with a sweet tooth. The island’s world-famous fudge shops are hugely popular, and no visit is complete without coming away with a bag or three of the traditionally made candies.

Mackinac Island fudge has been made locally for over 100 years, and there are several fudge shops to choose from in town, just a short walk from each other. Joann’s Fudge, Marshall’s Fudge, and Murdick’s Fudge (pictured) are some of the most famous.

Murdick’s has been operating since the 1880s and was the first candy store on the island. Marshall’s arrived in 1923, and Joann’s in 1969. Sample them all to discover which one is the best!

4. Take a Horse Drawn Carriage Ride

Tourists on a Mackinac Island Carriage Tours
Mackinac Island Carriage Tours / Facebook

An essential must-do experience when visiting Mackinac Island, a horse-drawn carriage ride is one of the best ways to explore the car-less streets. Perfect as part of a romantic vacation, driving by the historic homes in a horse-drawn taxi or carriage tour is not to be missed.

Try Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, which offers tours and taxi services across the island. Or make your wedding extra special by booking a unique transport to and from the service. Check out the MICT website for more information.

You can also visit the Surrey Hills Carriage Museum to learn about the history of the vehicles on the island. The museum also features a working blacksmithy, so you can have a go at creating a unique souvenir.

5. Hike or Bike Around the Island

A woman walks along a road by lake huron
ExploringandLiving / Adobe Stock

At just over eight miles, hiking and biking the trail around Mackinac Island is a wonderful way to spend your time. And the fact that there are no cars around ensures you’ll only need to watch out for horses and fellow hikers and bikers.

The M-185 is the only official highway in the US where vehicles aren’t allowed. You’ll find some of the island’s best sights along this route, including breathtaking vistas, breccia rock formations, historical points of interest, and the vastness of Lake Huron.

For cycling, you can bring your pedal power across on the ferry ride or try Mackinac Wheels to rent one for your bike ride. Electric scooters are also available, but be aware they cannot be used around the whole island without a recharge.

See Related: Best Hiking Trails in the World

6. Make a Splash With Watersports

Sail boats in Mackinac Island and sunset view
Michael Deemer / Adobe Stock

Being surrounded by water, Mackinac Island is an ideal watersports destination. You’ll find sailing, kayaking, paragliding, swimming, and waterskiing on offer. If you’re not a water baby, skipping stones at Windermere Point is a popular pastime.

Lake Huron fishing charters are offered for anyone who wants to try a spot of angling on a Great Lake. For scuba diving, you’ll need to head to St. Ignace on the mainland, where exciting shipwreck dive charters are available from St. Ignace Scuba.

Great Turtle Kayak Tours leads guided kayak excursions around the island and is a great option for the whole family. And if you prefer to be less active, sunset cruises are popular for enjoying the stunning Mackinac Bridge at twilight.

7. Stroll Through the Downtown Area

Without a car, a stroll through the Mackinac Island downtown area is a serenely pleasant experience. With historic charm, boutique shops, white picket fences, and lake views, it’s a wonderful way to spend an afternoon.

You’ll find unique gift shops, art galleries, grocery and hardware stores, clothing retailers, and more along the main street. With fun and funky shops you won’t find anywhere else, it’s the perfect place to treat yourself or a loved one.

The fall is a good time to visit, as local shops heavily discount their wares to mark the end of the summer season. Aside from the beautiful autumnal colors, you can snag a bargain, too!

See Related: The Cheapest Shopping Destinations in the World

8. Play a Round of Golf

Wawashkamo Golf Club in Mackinac Island, Michigan
Wawashkamo Golf Club / Facebook

If you fancy hitting the links, Mackinac Island has a small but interesting selection of golf courses. There are three to choose from, each with a distinct personality. Pick up one of the best golf travel bags before you go.

Wawashkamo Golf Club (pictured) has the oldest continually played course in Michigan and the site of the Battle of Mackinac Island in 1814. The Greens of Mackinac offers 18 holes at Mission Point Resort with real bent grass greens.

The nine-hole Jewel boasts some of the most beautiful natural surroundings, with a horse-drawn carriage ride at the famous final hole. For family fun, The Grand Hotel also has a challenging miniature golf course open to non-residents.

9. Step Back in Time at the Historic Houses

Historic McGulpin House in Mackinac Island
Mackinac State Historic Parks / Facebook

Aside from the forts, Mackinac Island boasts a wonderful selection of historic old houses. Many have costumed interpreters in season and are a great place to learn about the region’s past.

Home of Edward and Agatha Biddle, The Biddle House is located on the main street and showcases Native American history and the fur trade. Next door, the Benjamin Blacksmith shop has been hammering on since the 1880s. A ticket to Fort Mackinac will grant you entry to both.

The Mcgulpin House is one of the oldest on the island, originally built in 1780. Restored and relocated in 1982, it houses a small museum on the house and Mackinac Island architecture. Plus, you can visit the Dr. Beaumont Museum for a fascinating exhibit on the doctor’s important stomach experiments.

10. Be Beguiled By Butterflies

Trail and front of the Wings of Mackinac in Mackinac Island, Michigan
Wings of Mackinac / Facebook

On an island this small, it’s amazing that there isn’t just one butterfly house but two! With roots in the early 1990s, butterflies have become a popular attraction and one of the best things to do on Mackinac Island with kids. The Original Butterfly House & Insect World is located in the town’s Mission District and houses a collection of exotic butterflies and insects. On Surrey Hill, Wings of Mackinac is a charming butterfly conservatory and education center.

Both are must-visit locations for anyone interested in these beautiful creatures. Open from May until October, these indoor centers are a great option for when the clouds open.

How to Get to Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island Ferry in  in Mackinac Island, Michigan
Mackinac Island Ferry Company Star Line / Facebook

Mackinac Island can be reached from northern Michigan’s upper or lower peninsula. It’s a peaceful place with no cars on the island, but you can leave your vehicle at the ferry docks on the mainland.

The Mackinac Island Ferry Company (pictured) sails from either St. Ignace on the upper peninsula or Mackinaw City on the lower. Operated by the Star Line, their website contains details of tickets and timetables.

Mackinac Island Airport (MCD) is serviced by light aircraft from the local mainland. When the Straights of Mackinac freeze in the dead of winter, this is the only way to access the island. Don’t forget your winter clothes!

Where to Stay on Mackinac Island

Cottages on the Shore on Mackinac Island in Fall
ostrows1 / Adobe Stock

Being a popular tourist spot, Mackinac Island features plenty of hotels, vacation rentals, Bed & Breakfasts, and other accommodation options. Below you’ll find a small selection of our favorites. Alas, no camping is allowed on the island, but this does mean that the wildfire risk is reduced.

The Grand Hotel

Fountain and exterior of The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island
ehrlif – stock.adobe.com

The Grand Hotel is undoubtedly the most famous on the island. Fans of the cult 1980 film Somewhere In Time will recognize it as a key filming location, but it’s had its fair share of VIP guests, too.

An iconic hotel with classic, vintage hospitality, this kind of luxury comes at a cost. If you’re not staying overnight, a spot of afternoon tea is a lovely way to experience the historic hotel without breaking the bank.

Mission Point Resort

Aerial view of the Mission Point Resort in Mackinac Island
Mission Point Resort / Hotels.com

Mission Point Resort is another popular option. Boasting 18 acres of property, including five restaurants, a golf course, and a spa, this is a fabulous three-star accommodation experience on the lakefront. Lounging on their famous Adirondack chairs on the front lawn is a highlight, especially at dawn on the “sunrise side” of the island.

Pine Cottage Bed & Breakfast

Front and sign of the Pine Cottage Bed & Breakfast
Pine Cottage Bed & Breakfast / Booking.com

Established in 1870 with a colorful, Victorian, vintage vibe, Pine Cottage Bed & Breakfast is a delightful place to call home for your vacation.

Within walking distance of Fort Mackinac, it’s perfectly located just off Lake Shore Drive. If it’s good enough for Ernest Hemmingway, it’s good enough for me!

FAQs

How much time do you need on Mackinac Island?

If you’re in a rush, two days are enough to see everything on the island. However, to fully appreciate its slow, relaxed pace, you should book for much longer, maybe a week or two.

Is Mackinac Island worth a visit?

Yes! Mackinac Island is one of the best islands in the US – especially for a vacation. A unique place with attractions for all the family, you won’t ever have had a holiday quite like it.

When is the best time to visit Mackinac Island?

So glad you asked. It is possible to visit year-round, but to find out which is right for you, check out our full article on the best time to visit Mackinac Island.

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Stuart Jameson
WRITTEN BY

Stuart Jameson

With over 70 countries under his belt, Stuart is a well-seasoned globetrotter hailing from the UK, now living in Madison, Wisconsin. After traveling the world for seven years (including a hitchhike from Germany to Cambodia) his current mission is to visit all 50 states before turning 50 - something he's going to fail to do if he keeps collecting board games.

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