Mackinac Island (“MAK-e-naw”) is a treasured American vacation destination where visitors take a step back in time every year. The car-free island is blessed with natural beauty, shimmering waters, and a charming historic town, ensuring there are plenty of things to do on Mackinac Island.
Everything moves slower on Mackinac Island, and it’s little wonder why it was named the world’s friendliest town in 2015.
Once you step foot on Mackinac, the appeal is palpable. There are few worries on the tiny island hamlet on a perfect Michigan summer day. Head to the Michigan beaches, saddle up on a horse, bike around town streets, or enjoy the sunset with your significant other. The island makes for an excellent destination for romance in Michigan, or you can bring the whole family as there are many things to do on Mackinac Island.
Where is Mackinac Island?
I know you are wondering what to do on Mackinac Island, but before we dig into that, let’s set up a location. Mackinac Island is a small island between the Upper and Lower Peninsula of Michigan. The Ojibwe tribe first inhabited it before the Europeans settled here in the 1600s. The name of the island in Odawa is Michilimackinac and “Mitchimakinak” in Ojibwemowin means “Great Turtle“. Why a turtle? It was thought that the island, with its impressive limestone bluffs, looked like a giant turtle rising out of the water.
It’s a popular place to visit in the summer; situated in Lake Huron and the Straits of Mackinac, there are plenty of beachy activities to enjoy. Mackinac Island is well connected to Mackinaw City and St Ignace via ferry.
Mackinac is a special place to visit in the United States as it is home to the historic Fort Mackinac. This is where the Colonial era fort was built and has deep roots connected to the Great Lakes fur trade in the 18th and 18th centuries. You can still see many remnants of the island’s past to this day.
There are no motorized vehicles allowed on Mackinac Island. This dates back to the late 1800s when horses were very disturbed by the noise of car engines. Now you can get around the island with a bike or horse carriage.
Mackinac Island is a varied destination perfect for many Michigan travelers. Around the Grand Hotel and through the Victorian neighborhoods, you’ll notice it is very posh, while the historic district offers fantastic shopping and fudge tours. Some wish to take on the hiking and biking trails on the island for a more active vacation.
Is Mackinac Island the Same as Mackinaw City?
There are a lot of “Mack” in some things in the area. There is Mackinac Island, the Mackinac Bridge, the Straits of Mackinac, Mackinac County, Mackinaw City and the USCGC Mackinaw vessel, so it is easy to get confused. Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island are two different locations, with Mackinaw City connected to the Lower Peninsula.
Mackinac Island, has its origins in the Anishinaabek language/Ojibwa, where the name Michilimackinac means “place of the great turtle.” The French constructed Fort Michilimackinac in 1715 on the mainland in Mackinaw City and altered the Indigenous name to suit their language.
As time went on, the name Michilimackinac was abbreviated to Mackinac. In 1761, the British took control of Fort Michilimackinac and, two decades later, relocated the fort by traveling over the ice from the mainland to its current position on the island, known today as Mackinac Island.
When the British established present-day Mackinaw City in the 1850s, they revised the spelling of the city name to reflect the local pronunciation, which includes a “w” sound at the end.
If you are vacationing to Mackinac Island and want to enjoy all the best things to do on Mackinac Island, we recommend actually staying on the island. However, rates are lower in Mackinac City and Saint Ignace.
What is so special about Mackinac Island?
What is the fame of Mackinac Island and why is it so special? Mackinac Island is known for its lack of cars, and reliance on horse-drawn carriages and bicycles. One can come here and enjoy the feeling of yesteryear.
Food-wise, Mackinac Island has delectable treats such as fudge, caramel corn, and saltwater taffy. The Grand Hotel, is one of the most famous hotels in the US and one of the best places to stay in all of Michigan.
How to Get to Mackinac Island
One small airline, Great Lakes Air, serves Mackinac City; however, the most popular way to get to the island is via ferryboat. Ferry service is regular during the summer and leaves from either Mackinaw City on the Lower Peninsula or St Ignace on the Upper Peninsula.
No reservations are needed for the ferry. Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry and Star Line charge $34 and $31 (respectively) round trip.
How to Get Around Mackinac Island
Since no personal motorized vehicles are allowed on Mackinac Island, there are only a few methods to get around the island and do all these best to do on Mackinac Island. Bicycles, carriages, saddle horses, and on foot.
Most of the main sights are close enough together that many visitors opt to walk. There are electric scooters available for those not as mobile. While the carriage tour gives a nice outlay of the island, the best way to get around is by bicycle. You can bring your own or rent one on the island.
Best Things to Do On Mackinac Island
1. Travel Back in Time at Fort Mackinac
Towering above the Straits of Mackinac and overlooking Marquette Park, Fort Mackinac was constructed in the 1780s, and seeing it is one of the best things to do on Mackinac Island.
Built during the American Revolution, British forces established the fortress to hold rebellious Americans at bay. After America gained independence, the fort was closed in the late 1800s. It has now been restored and is a National Historic Landmark.
Many of the buildings within the stone walls were constructed after the fortress’s exterior, dating back to the 1800s. As you explore the once-mighty stronghold, you will be transported back to the late 19th century.
Exhibits and displays help to bring the past to life. Learn more about famous battles, military training, and life within the fortress. The high vantage point also affords sweeping views over the water and the village.
- Admission: Adults $13.50, Youth (5-12) $8, Children (4 and under) $0
- Hours: Peak Summer 9:00 am – 7:00 pm
2. Discover the Island’s Religious History at Sainte Anne’s Church
Sainte Anne’s Church is a white building with a towering steeple and colorful stained-glass windows. The present building dates back to the 1870s, replacing older places of worship, and it stands on land donated by Magdelaine Lafromboise—a fur trader and ardent follower of the Catholic faith.
As well as admiring the church from the outside and seeing the collection of religious items inside, you can also visit the small Images of Faith Museum within the church. The museum contains several artifacts about the island’s settlement and religious history. Records go as far back as the late 1600s.
3. Tour the Island by Horse-Drawn Carriage
Private motor vehicles are prohibited on Mackinac Island. As a result, horse-drawn carriages are a terrific way to get around the island’s highlights in comfort. A horse-drawn carriage on Mackinac is one of the best things to do in Michigan!
You can relax in the carriage as you explore among the most romantic things to do on the island. The driver will point out key sights and regale you with local stories. If you prefer to take the reigns yourself, there are also riding schools where you can learn how to ride and then explore the island by horseback. You can even drive your own horse-drawn carriage for a unique experience.
- Horse Rental: $50 per hour
- Self Drive: $80 two pax carriage, $100 four pax, $120 six pax
- Operator: Jack’s Livery
4. Admire the Collections in The Richard and Jane Manoogian Art Museum
Operated by Mackinac State Historic Parks, The Richard and Jane Manoogian Art Museum is a must-visit for all lovers of art, culture, and history. The museum is housed in a historic 1838 Federal-style building. It was built by the US government to serve as housing for Native Americans visiting the island’s Indian agency. It was known as the Indian Dormitory. Later used as a schoolhouse, it has housed the art museum since 2010.
The museum contains many unique pieces from the local area, spanning all eras from the prehistoric period up to the current day. It is especially known for its large collection of Native American art and artifacts.
- Admission: Adult $8, Youth (5-12) $5.50, Children (4 and under) $0
- Hours: Summer 10:00 am – 5:00 pm
5. Tee Off at Wawashkamo Golf Club
One of the oldest golf courses in Michigan, the beautiful nine-hole Wawashkamo Golf Club, was designed by Scottish golf architect Alex Smith. Created in the late 1800s, it is spread across the land that once saw fighting during the American Revolution.
The historic golf course remains largely unaltered today since its creation; it is one of just a few American links courses to have remained true to their original design. It’s a stunning course, especially during a Michigan fall.
The summer-only par-72 course was designed to encourage golfers to use a range of clubs. It features long, rolling terrain and affords terrific views of the forests and lake. The historic clubhouse is an ideal place to relax after a great game.
- Cart Green Fees: $55 for 9 holes, $85 for 18 holes
- Walking Green Fees: $40 for 9 holes, $60 for 18 holes
6. Have Fun on the Water
Take to the sparkling waters of Lake Huron for fun and adventure. There are various ways to enjoy the lake. Get active and paddle a kayak around the island’s edges or have a go at stand-up paddleboarding.
Alternatively, let someone else make an effort while you relax on a luxurious sailing boat. Treat yourself to a classy evening and board the 90-foot Isle Royale Queen III—a stylish yacht—for a scenic sunset excursion. Other options include fishing trips and parasailing.
7. Feel Chills at the Haunted Theater
Actors and actresses no longer tread the boards at this old theater—you’re more likely to encounter ghastly characters and monsters from the island’s illustrious past. The haunted house is suitable for kids (over the age of seven) and adults alike, with plenty of jumps, squeals, and wholesome, old-fashioned fun for all, all for just $8.50 a ticket.
The building dates back to 1885, originally used as a roller rink. Over the years, it was used as a dance hall, theater, and cinema before finally becoming a cool haunted house attraction in 1974. Legend says that the building is haunted by souls buried in the historic Indian burial ground located in the ground underneath.
The attraction tells of old island legends and lore, with many stories passed down from indigenous groups. The monsters are made with lots of skill and artistry, and you’ll come face to face with characters like the Phantom of the Opera, the mythical Ocryx, a malevolent Manitou from the lake, and spirits from Arch Rock.
8. See the Lovely Little Stone Church
Officially called Union Congregational Church, the Little Stone Church is a terrific photo stop when visiting Mackinac Island. Built-in the early 1900s, beautiful locally gathered fieldstones and imported granite were used to create an eye-catching appearance. The interior boasts handsome woodwork and stunning stained-glass windows.
9. Enjoy Leisure and Sports at Great Turtle Park
An attractive place for some outdoor relaxation and leisure, Great Turtle Park has a selection of sporting facilities, including a sand volleyball court, disc golf course, soccer field, basketball court, and softball field. You can unwind around the charcoal fire pit and enjoy a spot of outdoor lunch.
10. Watch Pretty Creatures at The Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House and Insect World
Home to the oldest living butterfly collection in Michigan, The Original Mackinac Butterfly House, and Insect World is a family favorite and one of the best things to do on Mackinac Island with kids. The lush tropical gardens are filled with multi-colored butterflies from across the planet, all flitting around you, while the insect house has creepy crawlies galore.
There are gigantic stick insects, all kinds of beetles, huge scorpions, Madagascan hissing cockroaches, and more. You can also see reptiles like chameleons and terrapins. Stop by the gift shop before you leave to pick up mementos.
- Admission: Adults (12+) $12, Children (5-11) $8, Toddlers (4 & under) free
- Hours: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
- Address: 6750 McGulpin Street
11. Gaze Across the Water to Round Island Lighthouse
Stand at the southern edge of Mackinac Island, and you can see the photogenic Round Island Lighthouse, located on the neighboring uninhabited island. Built in the 1890s, the lighthouse saved many vessels from meeting with disaster.
A wooden tower stands atop a red stone base, leading many people to draw comparisons with a traditional schoolhouse. If you have a sense of déjà vu, don’t be alarmed – you might have seen the lighthouse in the film “Somewhere in Time” from the 1980s. If you want a closer look, you can charter a private boat.
12. Treat Yourself to a Little TLC at Lakeside Spa and Salon
Lakeside Spa and Salon is the only full-service wellness and health retreat on Mackinac Island. Although part of Mission Point hotel, day passes are available for the spa.
Luxuriate in the sauna or steam room, have a rejuvenating facial, get your hair or nails done, and enjoy various relaxing treatments. There are various types of massages, such as hot stone, Aveda, and deep tissue, and other therapeutic options include reflexology, cupping, and plant peels.
13. Sample Delectable Fudge
Mackinac Island is quite famous for its delicious locally made fudge, and there’s a wide selection of stores where you can get your sweet fix. Many establishments let you see how the candy is made – the island’s shops produce some 10,000 pounds of fudge daily during the high season!
There are plenty of samples to help you pick your favorites. Try exciting flavors like raspberry truffle, vanilla salted caramel, amaretto, chocolate cherry, chocolate mint, and many more. A box of fudge also makes the perfect gift for family and friends.
14. Appreciate Art in Mackinac Arts Council Gallery
No matter how many times you visit Mackinac Arts Council Gallery, there’s always something new to discover. The collections are regularly rotating, featuring works by both local and national artists.
There’s no charge to visit the gallery (although donations are gratefully received), and staff members are happy to give information about the island’s works, art, and culture. The gallery is housed in the old Mission Point Theater, and the center still has a small theater where you can watch diverse performances.
15. Follow the Native American Cultural History Trail
The well-marked Native American Cultural History Trail runs along the M-185 ring road around the island. Informational signboards along the route provide insights into the area’s indigenous past.
Learn about the history of Native American groups on the island and see the impact indigenous peoples had on the wider Great Lakes area.
16. Snap Pictures of the Island’s Awesome Geological Features
Many limestone rock formations cover the island, creating a natural wonderland. There are sea caves, rock arches, and stacks, each created by the forces of nature, offering plenty of photo opportunities.
The 146-foot-tall Arch Rock is one of the island’s most well-known geological features. Measuring up to 50 feet wide, the natural stone archway is certainly impressive. You can see the arch from above or below. Dwightwood Spring is another interesting feature in the locale.
Another imposing sight is the towering Sugar Loaf. It is the biggest limestone stack on the island and stands a whopping 75 feet tall. Caves include Eagle Point Cave, Skull Cave, and Cave of the Woods. Robinson’s Folly, Devil’s Kitchen, and Sunset Rock are even more cool natural attractions to visit Mackinac Island.
17. Soak up the Views from Fort Holmes
Fort Holmes was another protective structure built on Mackinac Island by the British. The fort was constructed in the early 1800s and strategically sited at the island’s highest point.
It served as a lookout point and was designed to help forces protect the island. Little remains of the original fort today, although you can look around a replica, enjoy the sweeping vistas, and learn more about the island’s wartime history.
18. Visit the Grand Hotel Horse Stable and Carriage Museum
You can meet the majestic horses that live at this working facility, a terrific attraction for equine lovers. There are only a few Hackney horses around the country, so this a great chance for horse fans to get up close and personal to these beautiful creatures. Take a self-guided tour of the museum, too, where you can see several vintage carriages and sleighs.
19. Peer into the Past at Biddle House
Biddle House is a National Historic Landmark and one of Mackinac Island’s oldest structures. Constructed in the late 1700s, it was initially a private home before becoming an important center of the fur trade. The building is named after a previous owner and influential fur trader, Edward Biddle.
Today, it shows what life was like in times gone by, having been restored to reflect the early 1800s. The period kitchen, complete with a working fireplace, is at the heart of the home.
20. Chill Out in Marquette Park
A yesteryear playground and vegetable garden for British soldiers based at the nearby Fort Mackinac, Marquette Park is a verdant outdoor space perfect for enjoying the sunshine. The park is named after Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit missionary who established the first European settlement in Michigan.
You can enjoy the many types of trees and flowers – depending on the season. The park shimmers in hues of pale purple thanks to the lilac bushes. Visit the tranquil Peace Garden – created to celebrate good relations and 200 years of peace between the USA and Canada – and see the impressive bronze statue entitled “Be Still”.
Other park features include a small dome-shaped replica chapel, statues and monuments, picnic areas, and large expanses of grass. It offers amazing views over the lake too.
21. Have a Beer at Great Turtle Brewery & Distillery
After enjoying all these best things to do on Mackinac Island you’ll likely be ready for a cold one. One of the best Michigan breweries is right on Main Street.
Great Turtle Brewery & Distillery is the premier craft brewery and distillery on Mackinac Island, offering visitors the opportunity to unwind and savor a delicious meal and refreshing drink with loved ones. As the island’s first and only establishment of its kind, it’s fitting that they bear the name of “Mackinac,” which translates to “Great Turtle.”
Is Mackinac Island Open in the Winter?
Mackinac Island is indeed open year round, though the primary season for travel is between May and October. This is when you can truly enjoy all the best things to do on Mackinac Island and when most businesses will be open.
Where To Stay on Mackinac Island
The Best Restaurants on Mackinac Island
- Woods Restaurant: Situated away from town, a trip to this Bavarian-themed restaurant in a historic wood home is an experience. The atmosphere is rich, the service fantastic, and the superb European dishes served here. It often features live music.
- The Gate House: An upscale American restaurant at the Grand Hotel with an outdoor patio. Has a happy hour and live music weekly.
- The Chuckwagon: The epitome of a hole-in-the-wall. The classic diner is an instituion on the island with a long history of serving great burgers, sandwiches, and breakfast.
- Island Slice Pizzeria: A classic counter service pizza joint with good pizza and several Italian dishes on the menu.
READ MORE MICHIGAN TRAVEL TIPS
I hope you enjoyed this guide on the best things to do on Mackinac Island. Here are a few relevant articles for more travel around Michigan.
- Things to do in Grand Haven
- Things to do in Traverse City
- Things to do in Saugatuck
- Things to do in Petoskey
- Things to do in Ludington
- Things to do in Holland
- Things to do in Saginaw
- Things to do in Lansing
- Things to Do in South Haven
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