5 Unforgettable Cincinnati Experiences for Teens | Ohio

Looking for a family vacation that your teenagers won’t groan about? Look no further than Cincinnati, where you can find a variety of exciting experiences that will keep your teens engaged and entertained. From sampling world-famous chili to exploring historic neighborhoods, this guide highlights five unforgettable Cincinnati experiences for teens that will create lasting memories for your family. So, pack your bags and prepare for a trip your teens will never forget!

Unforgettable Cincinnati Experiences for Teens

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Get your chili fix at Skyline Chili

teen boy with Skyline Chili 5-Way Cincinnati

When I think of Cincinnati, one of the first things that comes to mind is Cincinnati chili. Skyline and Goldstar seem to be the two front runners in the battle for the best Cincinnati-style chili, and while we were in town, we checked out Skyline Chili.

Locals will tell you that Skyline Chili is a must-try dish when visiting Cincinnati, and they’re not wrong. The unique blend of spices makes it different from any other chili you’ve tasted. Your family can choose to have it over spaghetti or hot dogs, and it doesn’t matter which way you choose; it’s delicious either way.

The classic Skyline Chili is a secret recipe that hasn’t changed since its introduction in 1949. And, if you’re wondering why it’s called Skyline, it’s because the founder wanted to create a restaurant that offered stunning views of the city’s skyline. So, be sure to enjoy the chili while taking in the view!

Skyline Chili has become a Cincinnati institution and a favorite among locals and visitors alike. With locations all over the city, there’s no excuse not to try it. Don’t be surprised if your family starts craving Skyline Chili long after your trip to Cincinnati ends. Nick ordered his as the “5-Way” – steaming spaghetti covered with chili, diced onions, beans, and a mound of shredded cheddar cheese.

Step back in time at Over-the-Rhine

walking tour awesome Cincinnati experiences for teens

While Cincinnati offers plenty of modern attractions, there’s also an opportunity to step back in time at Over-the-Rhine. This neighborhood’s stunning architecture and eclectic shops are a reminder of Cincinnati’s past. Walking through the area’s lively streets, you’ll see buildings that date back to the 1800s and get a sense of what life was like in the city decades ago.

We did a walking tour with American Legacy Tours, and I cannot recommend it enough! We started in Washington Park (pic on the left), on the grounds of the Cincinnati Music Hall (which is most definitely haunted!). In the 17-1800s, this area was a graveyard. Following a cholera outbreak that killed 10% of the population, people were told to move their loved ones to cemeteries further outside the city.

At the time, people thought that all the deaths were due to toxic gasses released from the bodies (because cholera hadn’t been discovered yet). Most people didn’t move their loved ones; instead, the city dumped three feet of dirt over the graves and created a park.

Then we made our way through the Over-The-Rhine neighborhood on the north edge of downtown Cincinnati. Germans settled in this area during the mid-1800s. They had to cross the Miami and Erie Canal that ran through the city to get downtown to work. The canal was nicknamed the Rhine, and the German neighborhood north of the canal became Over-The-Rhine. This neighborhood is now home to the country’s most extensive collection of 19th-century Italianate architecture.

Get Underground and explore the Hidden side of Cincy

lager tunnel under Cincinnati

As part of our Ultimate Queen City Underground tour with American Legacy Tours, we also went… yep, you guessed it… underground! As a German neighborhood, beer was king in Over-The-Rhine. In fact, in the Cincinnati area, people drank nearly three times as much beer annually (40-50 gallons!) as the national average. Beer was cleaner (safer!) than the water! At its peak, OTR had more than 130 bars, saloons, and breweries.

Beer production was big in OTR, and most of the beer was consumed within about a mile of where it was brewed. While making ale in this area was easy, lager (the preferred choice!) was more complicated since it requires a constant 40-45° temp during the aging and fermenting process. The brewers built tunnels under the city to keep the lager at the correct temperature.

tour underground Cincinnati experiences for teens

These massive lagering tunnels – part of the Kaufmann Brewery – were used to brew and store beer 30 feet below ground in the late 1800s.

teen in lager tunnel Cincinnati Ohio

Because lager must be kept at 40-45° for the aging and fermenting process, it was only brewed from autumn to spring. Large blocks of ice were used to lower the temperature in the tunnels, and cold water ran through the copper pipes to help as well.

However, in 1905, the Kaufmann tunnels were rendered obsolete after the advent of modern refrigeration. They were filled with trash and debris and remained that way for almost 100 years.

In the mid-1990s, the tunnels were rediscovered when the building above was being renovated. In fact, the hole we entered through was the one the developer made with a jackhammer late one night, looking to see what was below the building. Crews hauled out several tons of debris, so now some of the tunnels are cleared and accessible.

Check out all the neon at the American Sign Museum

exterior of American Sign Museum things to do in Cincinnati

The largest public museum dedicated to signs in the United States, the American Sign Museum is a must-do when exploring with teens. It doesn’t take long to explore fully – I’d allow about an hour, but it is definitely a fun stop.

interior of American Sign Museum

The museum covers more than 100 years of American sign history, and you can walk through the different stages of technology and design.

neon lights of American Sign Museum

Our favorite area was “Main Street USA” with signs from a typical Main Street in the height of the neon era. Public tours are available on Saturdays at 12:30 and 2:30pm and Sundays at 2:30pm. Otherwise, there’s an online audio tour, or you can just stroll through the museum at your own pace.

Brush up on history at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Brush up on your history and learn about the brave men and women who risked their lives to help enslaved people escape to freedom. This museum is an important reminder of America’s past and the ongoing struggle for equality. The National Underground Railroad Museum is a must-visit for teenagers who want to learn about the history of slavery and the brave heroes who risked their lives to help the enslaved escape to freedom.

The museum offers a wealth of information about the Underground Railroad’s history and its routes. Visitors can immerse themselves in the exhibits and learn about the journey that so many slaves took to escape from bondage. Through photos, videos, and interactive displays, the museum educates visitors about the importance of the Underground Railroad in shaping American history.

Cincinnati experiences for teens Underground Railroad Freedom Center

What’s more, the museum also hosts special events and programs, so there’s always something new to discover during your visit. Whether you’re a history buff or just looking for an educational experience, the National Underground Railroad Museum is an excellent option for teenagers.

A visit to this museum is a somber reminder of the atrocities that slavery inflicts, even to this day. It’s a reminder of how far America has come and how much more work needs to be done in the ongoing struggle for equality. We were there for about two hours and did not have time to see it all. I’d allow closer to 4 hours to see everything and watch most of the movies.

Bonus Cincinnati Experiences for Teens

If you still have time to explore Cincinnati, here are a few more ideas!

Stop by Graeters for the best ice cream around

cherry chocolate chip ice cream cone from Graeter's Cincinnati

For some of the best ice cream you’ll ever have, stop by Graeter’s, a popular Cincinnati chain. For over 150 years, Graeter’s has been serving ice cream in Cincy, and they’ve perfected how to make ultra-creamy ice cream. Their black cherry chocolate chip is my fave!

Catch a game at Great American Ball Park

Another must-see attraction for teens visiting Cincinnati is catching a game at Great American Ball Park. Home to the Cincinnati Reds, this stadium offers a unique and exciting experience for sports enthusiasts. With a capacity of over 42,000 fans, the energy and excitement in the air is palpable.

Besides the game itself, visitors can explore the stadium and take in the views of the Ohio River and the city skyline. For an even more immersive experience, consider booking a guided tour of the stadium, which includes a visit to the Reds Hall of Fame and Museum.

Set Sail on the Ohio River

We didn’t have time to do a boat trip while we were in town, but I would jump all over doing one of these, especially the sunset cruise.

Cincinnati offers an array of activities for families with teens, from exploring historic neighborhoods to getting immersed in history. Don’t miss out on these one-of-a-kind experiences that will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on your teens as they get a taste of the city’s unique culture and history. Plan your trip today – check out a few of these Cincinnati experiences for teens, and get ready to make memories that will last a lifetime. Have you visited Cincinnati, Ohio? It was a surprisingly fun stop for us and one I’d highly recommend with teens!

If you’re looking for more fun experiences with teens, check out these posts:

Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party | 2023

Always a favorite, the beloved Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is back again for 2023!!! The Halloween fun at Walt Disney World starts in just 3(!) short months, and while it’s not imperative that you buy tickets immediately, it’s a great idea to start planning your trip. Check out our favorite “Not So Scary” tips and tricks so that you’re prepared for all the thrills and chills that the Magic Kingdom has to offer. (updated May 10, 2023)

Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party 2023

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Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is a hard ticket event that runs on select nights from August 11 – November 1, 2023, and guests can enter the park as early as 4pm! There’s something for everyone, with 38 available dates and pre-tax ticket prices ranging from $109 to $199 (depending on the date). Tickets are on sale now!

August: 11, 15, 18, 22, 25, 29

September: 1, 4, 8, 10, 12, 15, 17, 19, 22, 24, 26, 28, 29

October: 1, 3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26, 27, 29, 31

November: 1


Will there be military tickets for Not So Scary this year?? Typically, military discounts are offered for hard ticket events at Walt Disney World, but the announcement often comes later than the official event announcement.

In a surprising move, WDW is offering military discounts for most nights of the party this year (everything except for Halloween). However, they’re nowhere near the discounts available in the past. In order to take advantage of these discounts, which are only available to active, reserve, retired, and 100% disabled (with DAVPRM code) military members, the ID holder/spouse must purchase tickets in person at Shades of Green or via email at tickets@shadesofgreenresort.zendesk.com. All tickets purchased at Shades of Green, whether they’re party tickets, Military Salute tickets, Stars and Stripes tickets, or MYW tickets, are tax-free. And now for the pricing; like regular party tickets, pricing is dependent on the party date:

Adult $105/Child (3-9) $95: 8/15, 8/18, 8/22, 8/25, 8/29

Adult $115/Child (3-9) $105: 9/1, 9/4, 9/8, 9/10, 9/12, 9/15, 9/17

Adult $144/Child (3-9) $134: 8/11, 9/19, 9/22, 9/24, 9/26, 9/28, 9/29

Adult $164/Child (3-9) $154: 10/3, 10/5, 10/9, 10/10, 10/12, 10/15, 10/17, 10/19, 10/22, 10/24, 10/26

Adult $184/ Child (3-9) $174: 10/6, 10/13, 10/20, 10/27

Adult $193/ Child (3-9) $183: 10/29, 11/1


The fan-favorite fireworks and the “Boo to You” parade will both be back! This definitely isn’t the scaled-back Disney After Hours BOO BASH of the pandemic, but rather the full Mickey’s Not So Scary of previous years. There will be:

  • The Boo to You parade features villains, ghouls, and other characters and happens twice per night! The Headless Horseman will be kicking off the parade, but will Maleficent take to the streets again??
  • Character sightings around the park
  • Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular with everyone’s three favorite witches!
  • The Not-So-Spooky Spectacular fireworks hosted by Jack Skellington
  • Performances by the Cadaver Dans Barbershop Quartet in Frontierland
  • Treat stops with lots of candy!
  • Costumes are allowed for all guests
  • Over 20 attractions, including a Halloween twist at Mad Tea Party, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, and Space Mountain. Plus, TRON Lightcycle / Run will be available with virtual queue access.
  • Guests can enter the park as early as 4pm and DO NOT NEED a separate Disney park reservation

Will you be attending MNSSHP this year? We try to go to MNSSHP every year for one of the early September parties, and we’re hoping to continue that tradition again this year!

Waves of Honor Veterans Promotion | SeaWorld & Busch Gardens

Since 2005, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment (which includes the SeaWorld Parks in Orlando, San Diego, and San Antonio, as well as Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Tampa, and Sesame Place) has offered free admission to active duty US service members and up to three direct dependents. This offer can be used once per calendar year under their Waves of Honor promotion, but Veterans have often been excluded from the promotion, or when available, it has been a 50% discount for the veteran and up to three direct dependents. (updated on April 26, 2023)

2023 Waves of Honor Veterans Promotion SeaWorld and Busch Gardens


But recently, Sea World announced an awesome limited-time-only offer for their Waves of Honor promotion, and this one is exclusively for Veterans!! Right now, veterans are eligible to reserve their FREE single-day admission (PLUS three FREE tickets for dependents!), and they can be used through July 9, 2023, at SeaWorld Orlando, SeaWorld San Diego, SeaWorld San Antonio, Busch Gardens Tampa, Busch Gardens Williamsburg, or Sesame Place.

To take advantage of this offer, visit the Waves of Honor website, and select which park you’d like to visit. You are required to verify your Veteran status through GovX or ID.me (depending on the park) when reserving tickets online and show your Military ID or proof of service at the gate when you arrive.

Seaworld Busch Gardens Waves of Honor Veterans Promo for 2022 - great way to beat the summer heat!

This limited-time Veterans promotion is a great way to beat the summer heat, especially if you’re planning to be in Orlando in the next couple of months! Even though a lot of SeaWorld Orlando is outdoors, you can cool off by sitting in the splash zone during the Shamu or dolphin shows or brave the chilly temps and venture into Antarctica to see the penguins. Plus, you can check out the brand new coaster, Pipeline: The Surf Coaster, when it opens in May 2023.

Waves of Honor Veterans Promo Details

  • This offer is open to retired and honorably separated officers and enlisted personnel of the US military. Active duty service members are eligible for four free tickets year-round through the Active Duty Waves of Honor Promo.
  • Tickets must be reserved online by May 14, 2023, and redeemed at the park by July 9, 2023. This offer is not available at the gate.
  • Currently, there are not any black-out dates listed, but it’s always a good idea to double-check.
  • If you need more than 4 tickets, you can purchase up to 6 additional guest tickets at 50% off, and those are available year-round.
  • Looking for more to do in Orlando? Check out the Universal Studios Military Freedom Pass.

Seeing Six on Broadway with Kids

When I think of New York City, I automatically think of super-tall skyscrapers, giant foldable slices of pizza, and massive crowds of people. But nothing screams New York to me more than Broadway. There is absolutely nothing like seeing a Broadway show or watching the wonder in your child’s eyes as they watch their first one. Seeing SIX on Broadway with kids is the perfect way to expose youngsters to the magic of a Broadway show. And with a new deal (at the bottom!), it’s easier than ever.

Six Queens on stage Six the Musical Broadway

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Disclosure: A huge thank you to Six on Broadway for the tickets. As always, all opinions are honest and our own.

mother and daughters at Lena Horne Theatre Broadway Six the Musical

The award-winning SIX (including the Tony Award® for Best Original Score!) is about the six wives of Henry VIII. But this isn’t some boring history lesson. No, it’s a modern retelling set more like a pop concert. It’s loud, it’s energetic, and it’s a whole lot of fun!

Only ten people are in the cast, and they’re all female(!) – the six Queens and four ladies-in-waiting. That’s right; Henry VIII doesn’t even get to make an appearance! The show’s premise is that the six wives are in a girl band, and they’re competing for the lead spot. Their competition centers around which Queen had it hardest while married to the awful Henry the Eighth. Each Queen performs a solo to sway the audience to support her quest for the top spot – and each channel a current music icon from Britney to Beyonce to Adele.

girls in purple Six the Musical Broadway with kids

The girls and I were excited to see the show while we were in NYC over the weekend. They dressed in cute purple tops to match the purple of the marquee and the lights (Ellie’s purple lace-edged top and Lexie’s purple sweater). I’ve heard that people even dress up in homemade versions of the Queens’ costumes though unfortunately, we didn’t see anyone dressed up while we were there.

Although they knew nothing about Henry VIII’s wives before the show, SIX piqued their curiosity and sparked some interesting conversations. I love when something like a show can inspire and encourage my kids to seek more knowledge or information about something because I think it’s important to grow and learn continually.

smiling girls outside six on broadway with kids

SIX is recommended for ages 10+, but I wouldn’t have a problem taking a child a few years younger than that. A couple of the songs are a bit racy, but the lyrics would likely go over the heads of most kids/tweens. At 80 minutes long with no intermission, it’s a great first show if you think your kiddos would have difficulty sitting through a longer show (for comparison, Hamilton is almost three hours long, including intermission). Audience participation is encouraged; the girls enjoyed clapping to the beat and dancing in their seats. It’s honestly the most fun I’ve ever had at a musical!

And now for the deal – for a limited time, you can get BOGO tickets (select seats) for Six the Musical as part of the Broadway week promotion. The winter run of Broadway Week is from January 17 – February 12; it runs again in September.

Have you seen SIX the Musical yet? If so, did you see it on Broadway or the touring show in your town?

Black Rock Oceanfront Resort | Ucluelet, BC

Ucluelet, on the western coast of Vancouver Island, is a beautiful place with rugged, rocky coastlines. Its remote location means that it doesn’t experience the same level of crowds as other beach destinations on the island, making it an ideal getaway for both Canadians and international travelers. And if you’re planning to spend some time in Ucluelet, the Black Rock Oceanfront Resort is the perfect place to stay.

This post contains affiliate links, and we may earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you!) if you purchase when you click on the links. Thank you for supporting Love Dwells Here!!

Disclosure: A huge thank you to Black Rock Oceanfront Resort for working with us on this trip. We partnered with them to show why Black Rock Resort is the perfect place to stay when exploring Ucluelet. As always, all opinions are honest and our own.

view from the Black Rock lobby

Even though we were already planning to stay in Tofino, I knew I also wanted to stay in Ucluelet. The two towns are only about half an hour apart, both on the western coast of Vancouver Island, but they’re VERY different. I would say that Tofino is a bit trendier, more expensive, and has more restaurant options. Ucluelet, on the other hand, is quieter, closer to more hiking, and considerably less crowded.

Black Rock Resort on the rocky Vancouver Island coast

Black Rock Oceanfront Resort is the perfect place to stay when you visit Ucluelet. Its location on the rocky bluffs of western Vancouver Island is perfect for watching the wild storms that grace the island or taking in the view of the ocean.

And even more impressive than the view is the fact that Black Rock strives to be a zero-waste hotel. They’ve maintained a Green Rating with the Vancouver Island Green Business Collective and take sustainable tourism to the next level.

living room in 2 bedroom trail suite at black rock

We had a fantastic two-bedroom suite with amazing views of the black rocks and the ocean. I love staying in two-bedroom suites because they usually have two bathrooms, and now that the kids are getting older and spend more time in the bathroom, it really is a lifesaver. Plus, having room to spread out, especially on a longer trip, can be such a sanity saver!

kitchen at Black Rock

Our suite also had a kitchen which is awesome if you’re planning to cook in the room to save a little bit of money. We ended up not using it other than to make sandwiches, but it’s such a great feature to have – and something we definitely would have used on a longer stay!

coffee on the balcony

Now, we did use the Nespresso machine. We’ve never actually used one before so we had to Google how to put the little pods in and more importantly, how to get them out, but it was a hit with the whole family! Rooms come fully stocked with the pods and then we also had little cups of half-and-half in the refrigerator. We went through all of it the first afternoon, but don’t despair, the front desk is happy to refill as needed.

Bedroom Black Rock Oceanfront Resort

Each bedroom featured a king-size bed and a private bathroom with a HUGE shower, a tub, and even heated floors! There were doors out onto the balcony from each bedroom as well.

girl playing on black rocks Vancouver Island

The first thing Ellie wanted to do when we arrived was head out to the beach, so that’s exactly what we did. There’s a trail down to the rocky coast and we lucked out and it was right by our room. Easy enough!

girl jumping big beach Ucluelet Vancouver Island

I swear she could have spent all day out there, hopping from rock to rock, checking out the tide pools, and just watching the waves crash. Do make sure to be careful if you’re climbing on the driftwood because it can shift and it’s not super sturdy.

Also, flip-flops were not the best shoes for climbing around the rocks. We wore hiking boots the next time but also would have been totally fine in our Teva sandals.

Black Rock Resort gym

The teens, on the other hand, were more interested in the gym than the beach. Black Rock Resort Ucluelet has a great fitness room in the main building and the teens spent a couple of hours there every single day. Gotta stay in shape for varsity sports!

Things to Do While Staying at Black Rock Oceanfront Resort

Wild Pacific Trail

hiking the Wild Pacific Trail

One of the biggest draws to Black Rock Oceanfront Resort is the proximity to the Wild Pacific Trail. This trail runs along the coast, weaving in and out of the trees, and it opens up to expansive views of the ocean. Nick and Ben hiked the whole trail from the resort to Rocky Bluffs – about 3km each way – and then they came back changed into gym clothes and decided to run the trail. Pretty sure trail running is now a new hobby of theirs!

Wild Pacific Trail Vancouver Island

Can you think of a more beautiful place to hike?!

Wild Pacific Trail views

Views for days! And I seriously love that these two thought to take a picture of them together while they were out hiking!!

Pacific Rim National Park Hikes

Rainforest Loop Pacific Rim National Park Vancouver Island

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is also nearby. It’s situated in between Tofino and Ucluelet but we opted to visit on one of our Ucluelet days. We hiked the Rainforest Trail which has two separate loops – A (north) and B (south). We went for the A (north) loop as many reviews said it was the prettier of the two and it’s the one with the red National Park chairs.

Rainforest Trail Pacific Rim National Park Vancouver Island

The reviews did not mention the fact that there are TONS of stairs. While it is advertised as a boardwalk trail, note that it is NOT fully accessible due to the stairs. There are roughly 500 of them so be prepared to get your climb on! Each loop of the Rainforest Trail is only about 1km, so they are considered “easy” on AllTrails.

If you’re looking for an accessible trail, the Shorepine Bog Trail is just under 1km and gets excellent reviews! It’s another boardwalk trail and perfect for both wheelchairs and strollers.

Pacific Rim National Park Beaches

kids splashing in waves Long Beach Vancouver Island

After hiking, we visited Long Beach, also in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve. It is important to note, that in Pacific Rim National Park you either need to pay when you park or have a valid Canadian National Park pass. We ordered our National Park pass online ahead of time. And because we were visiting so many parks on this trip we went with the annual pass that covers admission for the whole family into all the parks for a year.

The water around Vancouver Island is freezing. Not literally – it was probably around 45–50°. But still very cold, especially without a wetsuit. My crazy kids were the only ones in the water without wetsuits, and they lasted longer than I expected. Long Beach is as you guessed it, a very long beach. In fact, it’s 10 miles long and is the longest beach in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

Ucluelet Aquarium

girl at the Vancouver Aquarium

The Ucluelet Aquarium, while on the small side, is still a great deal of fun. It’s a terrific place to spend an hour and check out the sea life that lives in the area around Ucluelet. It is a collect-and-release aquarium (I never realized that was a thing!) so the exhibits are always changing. Most animals stay for around 9 months, but the giant pacific octopus is usually only there for 3-4 months in the late winter/early spring.

We had a fantastic time exploring the Ucluelet area for a few days. It’s a great spot if you’re looking for outdoor adventure and if you’re looking for a wonderful place to stay (in any season) to take in the beauty of western Vancouver Island, Black Rock Oceanfront Resort is perfect. Ucluelet is still one of those places that’s not on everyone’s radar, so it’s a bit of a hidden gem!

Is Vancouver Island on your bucket list?? While many people visit Victoria, the western side of the island is way less crowded! Ucluelet and the Black Rock Oceanfront Resort are definitely worth checking out!

Kicking Horse Mountain Resort | Golden, BC

Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, just outside of Golden, British Columbia is a popular winter destination in the Canadian Rockies. It’s known as the “Champagne Powder Capital of Canada” and gets about 24 FEET of fluffy snow every winter. But it’s a fantastic summer destination as well! Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is the perfect place to stay if you’re looking for adventure, no matter the season!

pin image for Kicking Horse Mountain Resort Golden British Columbia

This post contains affiliate links, and we may earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you!) if you purchase when you click on the links. Thank you for supporting Love Dwells Here!!

Disclosure: A huge thank you to Kicking Horse Mountain Resort for making this trip possible. We partnered with them to show why Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is the perfect place to stay when exploring the Canadian Rockies. As always, all opinions are honest and our own.

view from Golden Eagle Express Gondola

For starters, you can’t beat the location. Surrounded by mountains and nestled in the forest, Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is a dream. It’s named after the nearby Kicking Horse River, which got its name when James Hector, a member of the famed Palliser Expedition (1858), reported getting kicked by his horse while exploring the river.

The resort is about an hour west of the famous Lake Louise and offers a beautiful location with wayyyy fewer crowds. And there’s still plenty to do!

Kicking Horse Mountain Resort Grizzly Bear Refuge

kicking horse grizzly bear refuge sign

One of the biggest draws of Kicking Horse Mountain Resort is the Grizzly Bear Refuge. While it’s no surprise that you can potentially see a grizzly in the wild when you’re driving through western Canada, you can significantly increase your chances by visiting the Grizzly Bear Refuge at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort.

Usually, to get up to the Grizzly Bear Refuge, you can take the Catamount Chairlift. However, it’s not running during the week due to staffing issues right now. They are driving people up to the refuge, but it needs to be booked ahead of time so call guest services if you’re interested.

Boo the grizzly bear Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

Here, Boo, the resident grizzly, lives in an expansive 20-acre enclosure – the largest of its kind in the world. Boo was rescued as a cub when a poacher killed his mother. Knowing that such a young cub would never survive on its own, the Grizzly Bear Refuge was built at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, and Boo has been living there for the past 20 years.

Boo and the Kicking Horse Gondola summer

Guests can visit the refuge and often can catch a glimpse of Boo. There are no guarantees that you will actually see him; he is a wild animal and is treated as such by the staff at Kicking Horse, but he does make appearances – especially in the mornings, so visit first thing if you’re hoping to see Boo.

While tours are offered, he isn’t fed during the tour, so he doesn’t associate food with humans. He’s encouraged to forage and hunt on his acreage, and when his diet needs to be supplemented, it’s not done where he can see.

Boo the bear Kicking Horse Grizzly Refuge

Boo has ponds, creeks, waterfalls, hills, clearings, and woods to explore. Kicking Horse Grizzly Bear Refuge has done a fantastic job of ensuring that Boo has as natural of an environment as possible.

Kids with Boo at Kicking Horse

We had a fantastic time learning about and observing Boo at the Kicking Horse Grizzly Bear Refuge. I highly recommend stopping here – even as a day trip from the Banff/Lake Louise area.

Kicking Horse Resort Mountain Biking

Smiling kids ready for mountain biking

Kicking Horse is also known for their mountain biking. There are over 50km of trails all over the mountain, ranging from beginner to more expert tracks.

The kids were excited to try their hand at mountain biking; the first step is always safety gear. Kicking Horse has packages where you can rent equipment, including bikes, for a half day, full day, or even longer.

kids with mountain bikes in gondola

Like many places, Kicking Horse Bike Park is suffering from some staffing shortages. This meant that some of the trails were not open because they didn’t have staff to run the chairlift. You’ll find this more of an issue if you’re visiting during the week versus on the weekend because they have things fully running on the weekends.

But, the kids were still willing to try, so they headed up to the top of the mountain, and the only option was to ride down! To get to the top of the mountain, you load your bike into the gondola and take a scenic trip about 3500 feet higher than the base.

mountain bikes at top of Kicking Horse

Made it to the top of the mountain – at an elevation of 7700 feet!

girl mountain biking down mountain Canada

Kicking Horse Bike Park offers excellent alpine riding, with all types of trails, through alpine meadows and with gorgeous mountain views the whole way down.

Kicking Horse Mountain Bike Park

And it is a ride DOWN! This is not just a bit of up and down on trails through the trees. It’s a 3000+ foot descent down a mountain.

view from top of Kicking Horse

Can you see the little dot on the road at the bottom of the picture? That’s one of the kids heading down the mountain. But check out those sweeping mountain vistas they could enjoy on the way down!

kids mountain biking Kicking Horse Mountain Resort summer

While some trails are easier than others coming from the gondola, none are truly beginner trails. If you’ve never mountain biked before, I highly recommend you go on a day where you can start halfway up the mountain from the Catamount Chairlift.

While Nick, Ben, and Lexie did make it down the mountain safely, it took them way longer than expected. There were several points where they had to walk the bikes or travel very, very slowly and cautiously. Had they been able to do at least one run from the midpoint to get a feel for it, I think they would have felt way more comfortable coming from the very top.

kids mountain biking Golden BC

But they made it and were all smiles at the bottom!!

Kicking Horse Mountain Resort Via Ferrata

Via Ferrata is another fun thing to do at Kicking Horse. The kids were planning to go while we were in town, but due to the VERY late snowmelt, the Via Ferrata track was still covered in snow, and we had to skip it. If it’s open when you’re visiting, I highly recommend giving it a try!

Via Ferrata is a form of climbing where you’re attached to a cable and clipped into attachments on the cliff face, ensuring you will not fall. There are steel cables and ladders on the mountain face that you climb along.

Kicking Horse has three routes of varying lengths and degrees of difficulty. The Pioneer Route (1 hour) is the shortest option, and it’s a great choice if you’re unsure about the whole Via Ferrata thing. The Discovery Route (2 hours) goes a bit further and features a few short technical sections. And the Ascension Route (3 hours) is one of the most technical routes in North America! It takes you to the summit of Terminator Peak and includes the Guts Bridge. All the routes have a guide, orientation, and gear + an Adventure Pass so you can visit Boo at the Grizzly Bear Refuge.

Kicking Horse Resort Gondola and Chairlift

view from Kicking Horse Mountain Resort Gondola

The Kicking Horse Scenic Gondola (Golden Eagle Express) isn’t just for mountain bikers looking to get to the top of the mountain. Resort guests and the general public can hop aboard for a scenic journey up to 7700 feet. Once at the top, there’s a variety of hiking trails as well as the Eagle’s Eye Restaurant (open seasonally). And keep your eyes open for wildlife – the gondola goes right over Boo’s enclosure!

Catamount Chair Golden BC

And if you’re looking for an open-air option, the Catamount Chair is a great way to explore Kicking Horse! This lift is how you get to the Grizzly Bear Refuge, but you can also just ride it up and down and take in the views. If all of the mountain biking trails are open, the Catamount Chair will take you + your bike about halfway up the mountain.

The Adventure Pass is the best deal for sightseeing at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort. It combines all the fun of the Golden Eagle Express Gondola with a visit to the Grizzly Bear Refuge to see Boo. Currently, tickets are $52.95CAD for adults, $44.95CAD (13-17), $26.95CAD (6-12), and free for the under-five crowd. But, even better, they have a family ticket option for only $121.95CAD that covers two adults and up to four children/youth!

Things to Do Near Kicking Horse Mountain Resort 

And the fun doesn’t stop when you get outside Kicking Horse Mountain Resort! There’s plenty for the whole family to do in the Golden, BC area.

White Water Rafting with Glacier Raft Company

kids rafting the Kicking Horse River Golden BC

Glacier Raft Company has been rafting the Kicking Horse River for the past 40 years. And when it comes to planning rafting trips, they have it down pat. They offer several different trips depending on the age/ability of the rafters. And they even offer heli-rafting, which looks totally extreme!

Golden Skybridge

view of Golden Skybridge and waterfall British Columbia

Canada’s highest suspension bridge, the Golden Skybridge, is located about five minutes from the Glacier Raft Company offices. In fact, we started the day on the river and spent the afternoon exploring everything at Golden Skybridge. If you want to do the suspension bridges – there are 2 – and walk the loop trail, allow a couple of hours. If you’re going to take advantage of everything the park offers – ziplining, playgrounds, rock walls, etc – then plan to spend half a day.

Yoho National Park

Natural Bridge Yoho National Park

While lesser known than nearby Banff National Park, Yoho National Park is just as beautiful. With gorgeous lakes (Emerald Lake, I’m lookin’ at you!), the Natural Bridge (above), the very popular Takakkaw Falls, and tons of hiking, Yoho is an outdoor lover’s paradise.

If you’re looking for a great place to stay (in the summer or winter!) with plenty to do but away from all the crowds of Banff/Lake Louise, Kicking Horse Mountain and the town of Golden are great alternatives. It’s one of those places that’s still a bit of an unknown, but I know it will catch on in no time. Start planning your trip now so you can visit before word gets out!

Tips And Tricks for Kicking Horse Mountain Resort

  • Make sure to check the website for hours and availability. Summer in the mountains can be somewhat unpredictable, so make sure that opening hours have not changed. We visited in early/mid-July and were shocked that the Via Ferrata was still closed due to the late snowmelt.
  • Definitely get the Adventure Pass at KHMR so you can use the gondola/chairlift and see Boo!
  • Pack bug spray – we found the mosquitos worse than we expected – especially up at the Grizzly Bear Refuge.

Have you been to the Canadian Rockies before? Is biking down the side of a mountain something you’d do? Or is hanging out with Boo at the Grizzly Bear Refuge more your speed??

A Visit to Calgary’s Heritage Park | Alberta

History comes to life at Canada’s largest living history museum, Heritage Park. It’s an immersive experience and tons of fun for the whole family. Visiting is absolutely a must-do when exploring Calgary. And make sure to set aside a full day for this adventure as there is so much to do and see!

pin image for Heritage Park

This post contains affiliate links, and we may earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you!) if you purchase when you click on the links. Thank you for supporting Love Dwells Here!!

Disclosure: A huge thank you to Heritage Park for partnering on our visit. As always, all opinions are honest and our own.

Heritage Park Calgary sign

As a kid, Heritage Park was my absolute favorite place to visit in Calgary. Anytime we had a free weekend, I was begging to go! Between the midway rides, the reenactors in period costumes, and the fun treats, there was nowhere better to be.

Now, (more than!) twenty years later, I was excited to bring back my children and see if Heritage Park still lived up to the hype or if it was one of those cases where the nostalgic memories were better than the current experience. And without a doubt, it is still as fantastic as ever.

historical dirt street in Heritage Park Calgary

Heritage Park is located just 15 minutes south of downtown Calgary and only 45 minutes from the airport. Nestled on 127 acres near the Glenmore Reservoir, the park explores the history of the Canadian west. Visiting truly is like stepping back in time.

Boy with backpack looking at Storyseeker exhibit Innovations Crossing

We started the day at the brand new Innovation Crossing building. Here, the STORYSEEKER exhibit helps guests learn about Canada’s energy history, as well as about different artifacts housed within the park. It’s one of the few buildings with air conditioning, making it a great place to check out on a hot afternoon.

girl walking into Prospect Ridge Heritage Park

And then we headed outside to explore! Much of Heritage Park is outside, so make sure to dress accordingly and pack sunscreen, especially during the height of the summer season.

Heritage Park oil rig

At Heritage Park, you can explore Western Canada‘s history from the 1860s to the 1950s. The park is broken into sections focusing on different time periods.

  • Heritage Square, technically outside the park (so you can visit without paying admission), focuses on the 1930-1950s.
  • Prospect Ridge explores Western Canada’s Natural Resources from the 1880s-1930s.
  • At The Settlement, you’ll find the 1860s-1880s fur trading fort and First Nations Encampment.
  • The Ranch is an early 1900s pre-railway settlement.
  • The Village Centre is a c. 1910 Prairie Railway Town, and the nearby Antique Midway, with rides and games, is from the same period. 

oil rig and reenactor at Heritage Park

The historical reenactors, dressed in period costumes (of which the park has 13,000!), are what make Heritage Park so unique. Yes, it’s fun to walk around and look through the historic buildings, but the reenactors truly bring history to life.

Kinsman Railway Playground Calgary

I have fond memories of playing on the Railway Playground when I was younger. We didn’t take the time to play on this visit – mainly because there’s so much to see and do at Heritage Park. But it’s nice to know there’s somewhere that the little ones can run around and play while visiting.

Heritage Park Midway Rides

Smiling kids riding The Caterpillar amusement park ride

As a kid, my absolute favorite part of Heritage Park was the midway rides. No, they’re not the big thrill rides you will find in today’s amusement parks, but they will still put a smile on your face! And the midway rides are included in the price of admission to Heritage Park Historical Village!

Bowness Carousel at Heritage Park Calgary

The Bowness Carousel was a gift from the City of Calgary in the 1980s, though it was initially built in 1904. Unlike traditional carousels, where the horses go up and down, the horses on the Bowness Carousel go back and forth.

2 kids on Ferris Wheel

Common in a traveling amusement park in the early 1900s, Heritage Park also has a Ferris wheel. Technically, they have two – one for the youngest visitors and one that’s open to people of all ages.

smiling girl with red sno-kone

With the summer heat, sno-kones from the Midway Treatery are a must! One of the things that I appreciate most about Heritage Park is that the prices are very reasonable.

girl on boat swing Calgary

The park has the cutest Children’s Boat Swings! Built about 100 years ago in what was then known as Czechoslovakia, they were donated to Heritage Park in the 1980s.

Lunch at Heritage Park

lunch at the Wainwright Hotel Heritage Park Calgary

We opted to have lunch at the Wainwright Hotel – partly as a break from the intense heat (close to 40º C – nearly 100º F), but also because I’ve heard great things about the menu! You definitely HAVE to get the pickle fries – they were absolutely delicious, with a bit of a kick. The Wainwright Hotel has quite a few choices on the kids’ menu and even has an option to swap the fries for fresh fruit!

teen boys enjoying lunch at the Wainwright Hotel Calgary

If you know anything about Ben, you know that if tacos are on the menu, he WILL order them! Nick went more traditional with the Sausage and Perogies entree, and both choices were delicious!

Smiling girl with giant cookie from Alberta Bakery

Ellie was excited that her lunch included a chocolate chip cookie from Alberta Bakery (located inside the park). We got it to go, and she enjoyed it as we continued walking around.

Exploring the Historical Village

learning about the printing press at Heritage Park

One of my favorite parts about Heritage Park is how educational the whole experience can be. As a child, I wasn’t really aware that I was learning when we visited, but as an adult, it’s easy to see how educational the visits with the reenactors actually are. These people are the real deal, and they know what they’re talking about. Many have worked in the park for decades, and they are all well-versed in the history of the Canadian west.

acid relief images in newspaper

We’ve seen printing presses MANY times but usually in the context of printing a book. Ever the curious one, Ben asked how they go about printing different images in a weekly newspaper because it’s not the same image over and over (like in a book). They took the time to explain how they printed images wayyyyy back in the day, and we learned all about acid relief.

Print shop at Heritage Park

We also learned about the Linotype machine. Rather than setting individual letters, this machine allowed you to set entire lines of type, drastically speeding up the typesetting process.

learning about linotype at Heritage Park printer

The historical reenactors at Heritage Park go above and beyond. While they all have their usual lines about their location, they could also answer every question we asked. And trust me, my kids can ask the most random questions! Like meeting Disney characters, you get out of the experience what you put in. If you ask questions and are involved in the conversation, you will learn SO much more.

Front Street in Heritage Park Historical Village Calgary

Isn’t Heritage Park just the cutest?!

Front Street has a row of shops, including Gledhill’s Drugstore, the Claresholm General Store, and the Vulcan Ice Cream Parlour. All of the shops are open for perusing or actual shopping, and historical reenactors staff them.

girl eating a slice of saskatoon pie

As work ramped up on the Canadian Pacific Railway in the 1880s, Chinese immigrants arrived in droves to work the rails. Once the railway was complete, these immigrants, mainly men – and numbering over 17,000, couldn’t afford to return home to China.

Many opened up businesses in western Canada, mostly grocery stores, laundries, and cafes. The Club Cafe is a recreation of a typical Chinese cafe in southern Alberta, and interestingly, “Club Cafe” was the most common name for Chinese cafes in Alberta!

These Chinese cafes didn’t actually serve Chinese food. Instead, they served a western menu at a low price point and were an institution across the Canadian Prairies! We split a slice of local Saskatoon pie at the Club Cafe at Heritage Park! Yum!

Flett's Blacksmith shop Heritage Park Calgary

I love how the people in the shops are actually working on their craft. At Flett’s Blacksmith Shop, two different blacksmiths were busy creating when we visited, and they put on quite a show. They stopped to answer our (many!) questions and then got back to their work.

girl standing on fence watching horses Calgary

Ellie wanted to spend all afternoon watching the horses out on the farm. She called and called and called but couldn’t get them to come over to her.

family with five kids standing on farm under trees

The grounds of Heritage Park are just beautiful. Watching Ellie skip down tree-lined paths was a glimpse at what life would have been like in the 1900s. It is such a fun place to explore, and I love that you can let the kids have some free reign to wander a bit.

kids drinking soda at Drew's Saloon Heritage Park Calgary

We stopped in at Drew’s Saloon for a round of drinks. The Saloon is open to visitors of all ages and does serve beer/cider in addition to the sodas the kids picked out.

girl learning to play poker

And the kids even learned how to play poker! Drew’s Saloon was stocked with decks of cards and sheets explaining different hands – perfect for the youngest gambler!

teen boys drinking soda from glass bottles

While so much of Calgary has changed since I lived there in the 1990s, at Heritage Park, time continues to stand still. Walking through the gates brought me back to the turn of the century (1900s) in Calgary, as well as back to my own childhood.

Heritage Park has the ability to magically transport you back in time to the days when life was simpler. And if you’re planning a trip to the Canadian Rockies, you should definitely make time to visit Heritage Park, too.


  • Double-check the park hours with Heritage Park. While Heritage Park Towne Square is open year-round, the historical village is not. The Historical Village is open daily during the summer, but it switches to weekends only from September through November.
  • Also, check the schedule if you’re interested in riding the steam train or the S.S. Moyie – the paddle-wheeler on Glenmore Reservoir.
  • Bring cash for the midway games! They’re only $2CAD, and you’re almost guaranteed to win a prize!
  • Make sure to bring sunscreen since much of the park is outdoors. It was super hot when we visited, and the kids said we should have brought the fans we take with us to Disney!
  • Plan to spend the whole day exploring. We were there from park opening until park closing (10am-5pm) and didn’t have enough time to see and do everything!

Do you like living history museums? Have you ever visited Heritage Park??

Best Tofino Bear Watching Tour | British Columbia

Ever since I was little, I have been fascinated by bears. When I heard that Vancouver Island is home to a huge population of black bears, it instantly jumped higher on my list of places to visit. It was actually one of the catalysts for adding the west coast of Vancouver Island to our itinerary this summer. The Tofino area is one of the best places on the island to see black bears, so I started searching for the best Tofino bear watching tour.

I was shocked when I realized that all the Tofino bear tours are actually boat tours! Who knew there were boat tours dedicated to searching for bears in their natural habitat?! Boats really are the ideal way to see the wildlife, and we’re sharing our experience with the best Tofino bear watching tour around!

pin image for Tofino Bear Watching Tour

This post contains affiliate links, and we may earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you!) if you purchase when you click on the links. Thank you for supporting Love Dwells Here!!

Disclosure: A huge thank you to Jamie’s Whaling Station for partnering on this excursion. As always, all opinions are honest and our own.

early morning at Tofino Harbor

Although black bears live in the forest, they venture out to the coastline, especially at low tide. This means that a boat tour is one of the BEST ways to see bears on the island! They flip over the rocks and comb through the tide pools looking for crabs and other delicious sea creatures.

kids standing at Tofino harbor

We went with Jamie’s Whaling Station, who, as you guessed, also does whale watching tours. They focus on education and provide a wealth of information about the bears, their habitat, and how to protect both. Check-in is at the Tofino Harbor, and you need to be there about half an hour before tour departure. Since we lined our tickets up ahead of time, it was smooth sailing (no pun intended!). We boarded the boat with about 15 other early risers and headed out into the Clayoquot Sound.

foggy morning on Clayoquot Sound

There is nothing like sailing in the morning just after sunrise as the fog floats in and out of the trees on the nearby mountains. Such a beautiful setting!

girl on best bear watching tour in Tofino

For our tour, we sailed towards Meares Island, one of the many islands just offshore of Tofino. Meares Island is known for having one of the largest populations of black bears, and it makes sense since it’s relatively hard to get there and isn’t very populated.

best bear watching tofino

Our first bear sighting of the day!! It’s pretty easy to see the bears since their black coats contrast nicely with the lighter rocks on the beach.

black bears on tofino bear watching tour

When a bear is spotted, the captain will get as close as possible while maintaining a safe and respectful distance. While some passengers may want to get closer, the priority for the crew at Jamie’s Whaling Station is to ensure that the bears do not feel threatened, which can affect their behavior.

tofino wildlife

I cannot even begin to explain how amazing it is to watch these beautiful creatures walk along the shore. It’s pure magic.

kids on bear watching tour tofino

While it was a cool morning, everyone stayed warm enough on the enclosed boat. Layers are recommended, and we found that the Amazon Basics Puffer Jackets were an excellent weight for the summer morning.

Clayoquot sound with fog on tofino tour

Clayoquot Sound is one of 19 UNESCO World Biosphere Reserves in Canada. You’ll find temperate coastal rainforests, rocky coastal shores, and the ocean within the reserve. The crew at Jamie’s Whaling Station does a great job explaining the different ecosystems in Clayoquot Sound and how to protect them for generations to come.

bear tour tofino

These pictures were taken at an appropriate distance from the bears, with a zoom lens, and then further cropped as needed. I highly recommend bringing a zoom lens anytime you’re doing a wildlife tour because it will drastically improve your ability to get good photographs. All of these photographs were taken with the Nikon Z6II plus Sigma 60-600mm Sport lens.

black bears on shore meares island tofino tours

Low tide is the time to see bears, meaning the bear tour schedule changes almost daily with the tides. We lucked out, and low tide was right around 6am when we were in town, so we could combine sunrise and our tour. Two of my favorite things!!

black bear on coastline bear watching tour tofino

Seriously, pure magic watching the bears stroll along the shoreline. Can you see the bear in this photo??

smiling boy on best bear watching tour in tofino

One of my favorite things about Jamie’s Whaling Station is their wildlife sighting guarantee. If you don’t see a whale or bear on the whale watching or bear watching tours, they will give you a raincheck ticket for a FREE tour! They see whales and bears on 95% of their tours, so luckily, they don’t have to give out rainchecks too often.

black bear eating rock crab tofino wildlife

Rock Crab is the main draw for the black bears in these parts. They will dig the crab out from under the rocks, their elongated snouts and sharp claws providing invaluable assistance.

girl spots a bear on tofino bear watching tour

Her face lit up every single time we spotted a new bear!

bear watching tour tofino

bear watching vancouver island

Bear watching tours are offered in Tofino and Ucluelet from April – October when the bears are not hibernating. Starting in May, it’s possible to see mama bears + cubs, although we did not see any cubs on our trip.

Bald Eagle spotted during Tofino wildlife tour

In addition to looking for bears, we also looked for other wildlife. We spotted a few bald eagles in the trees, but they were way off in the distance. And then we happened upon one sitting on the shore and got a much closer look! Such an incredible experience!! Have you seen bald eagles in the wild?!

boy on covered boat Tofino bear watching

There are lots of options for tour operators in both the Tofino and Ucluelet areas. You can do tours on covered boats or more “exciting” higher-speed zodiac boats. Jamie’s Whaling Station provides full-body floatation suits if you opt for the zodiac boat tour. The zodiac tours do have a height requirement – that Ellie has not met yet – so we opted for a covered boat, and it worked perfectly for our family.

kids on covered boat Tofino bear watching tour

Even though the boat is covered, there are giant windows that open up, giving you a clear view of the shoreline. And the back of the boat is open and great for views as well! The plus to the covered boats is that they’re not as cold/windy, which can be a huge bonus on a cool morning or fall day.

smiling kids on bear watching tour tofino

We had the best time on our bear watching tour with Jamie’s Whaling Station. While we’ve seen bears in the wild before, it’s always been as we were driving through the mountains. It was such a unique experience to see them on the rocky coastline – and one that we won’t ever forget!

smiling kids on boat tofino

Things to Remember for a Tofino Bear Watching Tour

  • Make your reservation ahead of time as tours often sell out. Jamie’s Whaling Station has an excellent online booking interface and tells you how many spots are available for each tour.
  • Book more than one tour with Jamie’s and take advantage of their multi-tour discount!
  • Bring at least a light jacket; a water-resistant one is even better!
  • If you plan to take photos, make sure you have a zoom lens. While cell phone pictures are better than nothing, you will likely not get close enough to the bears to get great images. No flash photography is allowed.
  • Do not bring any food/drinks other than water. Bears have a powerful sense of smell, and it’s vital that the bears do not associate the boats with food.
  • Bring a smile and have a great time!

Have you ever seen a bear on the coastline? Would you do a boat tour to go see bears??

Ultimate Guide to Mackinac Island | All of YOUR Questions Answered

If you have questions about Mackinac Island, you’ve come to the right place. This tiny island in Lake Huron is packed with things to do and is the perfect spot for a fun vacation with the family. We visited in October, and I received SO MANY questions about our trip that I put together this Ultimate Guide to Mackinac Island and tried to answer everything.

Ultimate Guide to Mackinac Island

This post may contain affiliate links and we may earn a small commission (at no additional cost to you!) if you choose to purchase when you click on the links. Thank you for supporting Love Dwells Here!!


map of Michigan pin on Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island, part of the state of Michigan, is located near the Straits of Mackinac. It sits in Lake Huron between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. If you think of Michigan’s lower peninsula as a hand, Mackinac Island is just north of your middle finger.


Given that it’s an island with no bridge to the mainland, you can’t drive to Mackinac Island. Cars aren’t even allowed on the island except for a few emergency vehicles. Your options for getting to Mackinac Island are the passenger ferry, a private boat, or a quick flight.


Most visitors to Mackinac Island take the ferry from either Mackinaw City in the Lower Peninsula or St Ignace in the Upper Peninsula. Two companies, Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry and Starline Mackinac Island Ferry, shuttle passengers back and forth from the mainland every half hour or so during the peak season from late April to the end of October. While Shepler’s closes at the end of the season, Starline runs their ferry to Mackinac Island year-round if you want to explore a snow-covered winter wonderland on the island.

Shepler's Ferry to Mackinac Island

With either line, you can check your luggage at the ferry dock, and depending on where you’re staying, it will get delivered to your hotel. You can even bring bikes or leashed pets (for an additional fee) if you’re interested. Round-trip tickets for both Shepler’s and Starline are about $30/adult.


We opted for Shepler’s because they offer a “mighty Mac“ sailing. On these departures, which are offered daily at no extra charge, you take a scenic detour under the mighty Mackinac Bridge. Mighty Mac sailings are roughly 25 minutes instead of the usual 16 minutes.

Mighty Mackinac Bridge connecting Upper and Lower peninsulas of Michigan

The Mackinac Bridge is quite impressive! It’s the longest suspension bridge in the western hemisphere, with 7400 feet of roadway suspended over the Straits of Mackinac. The bridge’s total length that connects the Upper and Lower peninsulas of Michigan is nearly five miles.


There are no commercial flights to Mackinac Island. You can get as close as Pellston Regional Airport (PLN) in Mackinaw City or Chippewa County International Airport (CIU) north of St Ignace. You can take the shuttle to the Mackinac Island ferry docks from either airport.

If you REALLY want to fly to Mackinac Island, you’ll need a private plane or a charter flight. Great Lakes Air and Fresh Air Aviation offer charter service from St Ignace. The 7-minute flight will run you right around $100/adult (round-trip).


Since there are no cars on the island, you may be wondering how to get around once you’re on Mackinac Island. Your choices are by foot, by bike, by horse-drawn carriage, or, in the winter, by snowmobile. As we visited in October, we opted for the foot/bike/carriage options.

When we arrived on the island, we decided to walk down Main Street and to our hotel. It gave us time to take in the sights, check out some shops, and kind of get the lay of the land.

girl biking loop around Mackinac Island

Bikes are one of the most popular ways to get around the island. In fact, there are more bikes per capita on Mackinac Island than anywhere else in the country. You can rent bikes from many locations downtown as well as from some of the resorts. If you do end up renting a bike, make sure to pedal around the perimeter of Mackinac Island on M-185. It’s the only highway in the country that prohibits cars!

horse drawn carriage mackinac island

If you’re looking at the horse-drawn carriage option, both Mackinac Island Carriage Tours and Gough Carriages offer carriage tours of the island. Additionally, you can call for a horse-drawn taxi from Mackinac Island Carriage Tours – they’re available 24 hours a day during the summer season. You can’t just “hail” a taxi, though; you do need to call 906-847-3323 and request taxi service. It will run you $6 to go one-way between downtown and either the Grand Hotel or Mission Point Resort. Due to the price, we opted to walk/bike and only used the taxi service once to go from our hotel out to Fort Mackinac.



In April, when regular, daily ferry service starts back up to Mackinac Island, the weather is in a state of flux. Highs are in the 50s and 60s, but if there’s a late cold snap, highs can plummet to the 30s. Make sure to pack layers to stay warm if it’s colder than usual.


Like you might expect for an island in the northern US, Mackinac Island has warm and comfortable summers. Most people visit between Memorial Day and Labor Day partly because everything is open but mainly because the weather is perfect. Summers typically have highs in the 70s and lows in the 50s. The long summer days are usually sunny – Mackinac Island has less than 2 inches of rain every month in the summer. Even though it’s not overly windy, there’s a steady breeze on the island, and it blows that cool lake air year-round.


Horse drawn carriage tour on a fall day on mackinac island

Fall on the island is my idea of perfection. By late September, highs are in the 60s, and they drop to the 50s in October. If you time your trip just right, you can catch peak fall color in mid-October, before the island shuts down for the season. September is usually the rainiest month of the year, with an average of 3 inches of rainfall.


The passenger ferries end their daily service at the end of October. From November until April, there aren’t many visitors to the island; it’s mainly just the 500 year-round residents. Most hotels and attractions are closed since there aren’t tourists around. Average highs are in the 20s and 30s, with lows in the single digits. The island gets almost 100 inches of snow annually – January is the snowiest month of the year.


Be sure to check out our Things to Do on Mackinac Island with Kids post for all the details, but here are some of the highlights.


Mackinac Island has a couple of big festivals throughout the summer season.

  • The Mackinac Island Lilac Festival runs from June 3-12, 2022 (and in 2023, it’s from June 9-18). This 10-day festival is the largest summer event on the island. There are special events, tours, races, and even a parade!
  • The Mackinac Island Fudge Festival is from August 26-28, 2022 (and August 25-27, 2023). This event, held the weekend before Labor Day, celebrates the sweet treat that Mackinac Island is known for. There are fudge demonstrations, plenty of food, and lots of fun for the whole family.


kids at Fort Mackinac cannon

On Mackinac Island, time stands still; and that’s even more evident at Fort Mackinac. The fort, founded during the American Revolution, was especially significant during the War of 1812 – it was the site of the first land engagement in the United States! Fort Mackinac is an absolute must-do when you visit Mackinac Island. Plan to spend at least half a day in order to see and do everything.


girl enjoying fudge on Mackinac Island

You can’t come to Mackinac Island and not buy some of the delicious fudge that the island is known for. You’ll smell it wafting out of the storefronts as you make your way down Main Street. Make a day of it and try fudge from each of the 14 shops! Our favorite was from Original Murdick’s Fudge, though every shop was delicious.

BIKE M-185

kids biking M-185 around Mackinac Island

Another Mackinac Island staple is biking. There are plenty of places to rent a bike for a couple of hours, for the day, or even for the length of your trip. Once you’ve secured your rental, head to the island’s perimeter and bike the 8.2-mile M-185 loop. There are no cars on this highway, just other cyclists and pedestrians taking in Lake Huron and Mackinac Island views.


Arch Rock, a natural limestone arch, on the east side of Mackinac Island

This natural limestone arch is one of the most popular stops on the M-185 loop. If you’re arriving from M-185, make sure to take the stairs to the top for a completely different view! If you do a carriage tour, most will stop at the top of Arch Rock.


We didn’t get the chance to check out the Original Butterfly House because it closed for the season right before our trip. But we heard GREAT things about it from everyone we talked to, though! It’s definitely on the list to do next time we’re in town.


Another thing on our list for next time is a kayaking tour with Great Turtle Kayak Tours. They have sunrise and sunset tandem kayaking tours that look absolutely amazing. They include everything you need to get out on the lake and are perfect for beginners and experienced paddlers alike.


The absolute number one thing you HAVE TO DO on Mackinac Island is taking a carriage tour. There are public options from Mackinac Island Carriage Tours that depart pretty continuously from Main Street and cost $36/adult ($15/child ages 5-12) for the hour and 45-minute tour. Reservations are NOT accepted – just hop in the line on Main Street.

things to do on Mackinac Island

If you can swing it, I highly recommend going the private tour route from either Gough Carriages or Mackinac Island Carriage Tours, as you will have more say in where you go and how much time you spend at each place. We did the two-hour tour with Gough Carriages, and it was a great length for seeing the highlights of the island. Next time, I would consider going with a three-hour tour to have a little more time at Fort Holmes and explore more inland.

horses on Mackinac Island

For private tours, both companies require a one-hour minimum rental. MICT only takes same-day reservations for private tours, while Gough Carriages will let you book in advance. Based on 2021 rates, Gough Carriages is a bit cheaper, but both companies charge just shy of $200/hour for a family of 4.


With over 30 hotels and B&Bs, and more than 1600 rooms, there are LOTS of places to stay on Mackinac Island. However, with all those rooms, there are no chain hotels and nothing that I would consider a “budget” hotel. Expect that a night on Mackinac Island will run you at least $250/night and, in many cases, much higher.

The historic Murray Hotel is often recommended if you’re looking for less expensive accommodations. With 69 rooms, a great location in the heart of downtown, and an old-fashioned atmosphere, it’s a great choice. I found mid-week availability in June for less than $300/night for a family of four.


Mission Point Resort is where you need to stay if you’re bringing along the kids or even the extended family! It was voted one of the Top Resort Hotels by Travel + Leisure, and it’s perfect for the family. It sits on 18 acres of waterfront property on the shores of Lake Huron, has everything from bike rentals to mini-golf, and the famous Great Lawn full of Adirondack chairs.

massive Great Lawn, dotted with Adirondack chairs, at Mission Point Resort Mackinac Island

Kids under 12 eat free at Mission Point restaurants, and in the summer, Mission Point offers complimentary kids’ activities. We had a fantastic time when we stayed at Mission Point Resort in October, and I cannot recommend it highly enough!


The Grand Hotel, affectionately referred to as “America’s Summer Place,” is the epitome of luxury on Mackinac Island. It’s one of the top resorts in the country and a national historic landmark – and has the prices to prove it.

horse drawn carriage at the Grand Hotel Mackinac Island

Even if you can’t afford to stay at The Grand, you can grab a rocking chair on the world’s longest porch and take in the views of the Straits of Mackinac (for $10/person). Note: Grand Hotel does have a dress code. During the day, casual resort wear is appropriate. After 6:30pm, it’s dresses/skirts for women and coat and tie for men – including all kids 12 and older.

Another splurge-worthy option on Mackinac Island is the Hotel Iroquois. This waterfront boutique hotel has beautifully decorated guest rooms and gorgeous gardens.


Plenty of people do a Mackinac Island day trip. Hotels book up quickly and are often expensive in the summer, so people will stay in St Ignace or Mackinaw City and come out to Mackinac Island for the day. If all you want to do is explore the downtown area and grab lunch, a day is fine to see the highlights. If you’re going to spend time biking the perimeter of the island, join a kayaking tour, or really get a feel for the island, you need at least a couple of days.


Like with hotels, there are plenty of places to eat on Mackinac Island! We were only in town for a few days, so this list is by no means exhaustive.


At Mission Point Resort, Round Island Kitchen features a Michigan twist on classic comfort foods. They’re open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and have both inside and outside dining available.

Cherry Braised Beef Nachos at Mission Point Resort Mackinac Island

Without a doubt, our absolute favorite thing on the lunch/dinner menu was the Cherry Braised Beef Nachos – Shaved cherry-marinated beef, wonton chips, purple cabbage, Monterey cheese sauce, fresh jalapeño, cilantro & sriracha-lime crema. Even if you’re not staying at Mission Point, I would make the trip to the resort just for these nachos!!


This popular downtown restaurant can have a bit of a wait, so get on the list early if you’re interested. We had lunch at the Pink Pony on our arrival day, and it did not disappoint!

lunch at the Pink Pony Chippewa Hotel

The lunch menu features soups, salads, and sandwiches, while the dinner menu has steak, chicken, fish, and pasta entrees. Make sure to request a table outside by the water if the weather is nice!


Another popular place, especially with kids, Mighty Mac Hamburgers serves up fast food Mackinac Island style. They have burgers, dogs, chicken tenders, beer-battered fish, fries, and rings, along with indoor and outdoor seating.


The tables under the yellow umbrellas have one of the best views of downtown Mackinac Island and the harbor. In fact, we stopped at the Fort Mackinac Tea Room primarily to take in the view but also to enjoy one of the famous Grand Hotel Pecan Balls.

Grand Hotel Pecan Ball where to eat Mackinac Island

Since the Tea Room is located on Fort Mackinac, admission to the fort is required. But you can make a day of it and explore historic Fort Mackinac and also enjoy lunch or an afternoon snack at the Fort Mackinac Tea Room.


This is hard to answer because, like many places, it can vary. It’s not the cheapest place you can visit, but it’s definitely not the most expensive either. There are a range of hotel prices, going from kind of budget to more middle of the road at Mission Point Resort to super expensive at the Grand Hotel. Visit during shoulder season (April/May or September/October) to keep the price lower and enjoy fewer crowds!


Simply put, Mackinac Island is pure magic. There’s nowhere else like it in the country. It’s a place where you are transported back in time to a bygone era. There are a variety of things to do with kids on Mackinac Island, but also plenty of luxury hotel and dining choices if you’re looking for a romantic getaway.

But at least once in your life, you should sail away to Mackinac Island and enjoy the break from cars. Take in the sights of this beautiful island where the only traffic is horse-drawn carriages or lines at the fudge shops.

girl looking at turquoise waters of Lake Huron


Ok, you know how I mentioned all the fudge on Mackinac Island? According to Michigan slang, the tourists who flock to Northern Michigan (which technically is the northern part of the mitten, not the Upper Peninsula) are known as “fudgies.”


So this one can get kind of confusing, but the most important thing to remember is that they’re all pronounced the same – MACK-in-awe. The area was initially called Michilimackinac by the Native Americans and meant “place of the great turtle.” The Native Americans thought that Mackinac Island looked like a turtle coming out of the water.

When the French arrived and built a fort, they translated the pronunciation of the area to something that better fit the French language. Fort Michilimackinac was born, and like common French pronunciation, it included a silent “c” that sounded like “aw.”  Eventually, the British took over the fort and moved it onto present-day Mackinac Island. They also shortened the name to “Mackinac.” Now you have Mackinac Island, Fort Mackinac, Mackinac Bridge, and the Straits of Mackinac, all with the traditional French pronunciation.

On the mainland, where Fort Michilimackinac used to be, lies Mackinaw City. The founder of the city, Edgar Conkling, opted for the more phonetic spelling – Mackinaw. But no matter how it’s spelled, it’s ALWAYS pronounced MACK-in-awe!

view of harbor how to get to Mackinac Island

So, have you been to Mackinac Island yet?? Did we miss visiting your favorite place on the island?? I’m always looking for new places to explore! Are you planning a trip to get there ASAP??

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