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

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WHERE IS MACKINAC ISLAND??

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.

HOW DO I GET TO MACKINAC ISLAND??

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.

MACKINAC ISLAND FERRY / FERRY TO MACKINAC ISLAND

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.

VIEWS OF MACKINAC BRIDGE

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.

FLIGHT TO MACKINAC ISLAND

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).

HOW DO I GET AROUND ON MACKINAC ISLAND??

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.

HOW IS THE WEATHER ON MACKINAC ISLAND??

MACKINAC ISLAND SPRING WEATHER

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.

MACKINAC ISLAND SUMMER WEATHER

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.

MACKINAC ISLAND FALL WEATHER

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.

MACKINAC ISLAND WINTER WEATHER

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.

WHAT IS THERE TO DO ON MACKINAC ISLAND??

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 FESTIVALS

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.

FORT MACKINAC

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.

MACKINAC ISLAND FUDGE

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

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.

ORIGINAL MACKINAC BUTTERFLY HOUSE

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.

GREAT TURTLE KAYAK TOURS

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.

TAKE A CARRIAGE TOUR

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.

WHERE SHOULD I STAY ON MACKINAC ISLAND??

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.

BEST MACKINAC ISLAND HOTEL FOR FAMILIES

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!

MACKINAC ISLAND HOTELS IF YOU’RE LOOKING TO SPLURGE

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.

CAN I VISIT MACKINAC ISLAND FOR THE DAY??

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.

WHERE SHOULD I EAT ON MACKINAC ISLAND??

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.

ROUND ISLAND KITCHEN

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!!

PINK PONY AT THE CHIPPEWA HOTEL

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!

MIGHTY MAC HAMBURGERS

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.

FORT MACKINAC TEA ROOM 

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.

IS MACKINAC ISLAND EXPENSIVE??

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!

WHY SHOULD I VISIT MACKINAC ISLAND??

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

WHAT’S A MACKINAC FUDGIE??

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.”

IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MACKINAC AND MACKINAW??

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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