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Every summer, I get a decent amount of questions about Mackinac Island. As a kid, I grew up vacationing there as a “fudgie” (a tourist), and then as a college student, I worked and lived there as a seasonal worker. And while I would never call myself an “islander” (someone who grew up on the island and lives there year-round), I have spent months exploring, hiking and biking every nook and cranny of Mackinac and that history has left me with a lot of knowledge about the island! So this post will cover everything you need to know before heading over to the island!
So without further ado, here’s everything you need to know to help you plan your first Mackinac Island getaway!
First, let’s address a couple of basics:
How do you say, “Mackinac”?
The last “c” is pronounced as “aw” in Mackinac.
How big is the island?
The island in total is a little under 4 square miles. M-185 is an 8-mile road that runs around the edge of the island. You can bike the whole loop in about an hour, a little longer though if you want to check out any of the stops along the way.
Fun fact: It’s the only state highway in the country that prohibits automobiles.
How do I get to the island?
By ferry, private boat or plane.
The most commonly used option is the ferry. You can leave from Mackinaw City (in the Lower Penninsula) or St. Ignace (in the Upper Penninsula). If you have to traverse the Mighty Mac bridge to get to your chosen city of departure, be aware, there is a toll.
BUDGET FERRY OPTION: If you’re looking to get over there for the best price possible, Star Line has a classic economy ferry option. These boats take about twice as long to get to the island (about 40 mins) but are more affordable.
If you pick one of these departures, make sure you get there a little early and sit up top to see the bridge best!
Where should I stay?
Off the island
On the mainland, there are tons of lodging options in both Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. You can find a variety of hotels, timeshares, airbnbs, campgrounds and RV parks, in various budgets.
As of recently, I’ve stayed in a cabin at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping in Mackinaw City and camped with our RV at Tiki RV Park in St. Ignace. I can attest to both being just fine. Mackinaw Mill Creek is on the water, and they have beautiful new cabins that we really enjoyed staying in with friends!
On the island
There are also a bunch of lodging options on the island. Picking which one to stay at really depends on what kind of trip you want:
Looking for something luxurious & historical: Grand Hotel.
Looking for lots of amenities & to be far from downtown? Mission Point Resort.
Other hotel options worth looking into (listed in order of their current rating standing on Tripadvisor): Main Street Inn and Suites, Hotel Iroquois, Chippewa Hotel Waterfront, Lilac Tree Suites & Spa, Bicycle Street Inn & Suites and Waterfront Collection, The Inn at Stonecliffe, and Island House Hotel.
Lastly, there are other non-hotel options, including Bed & Breakfasts, Rental Cottages & Condos.
What about my luggage?
If you’re taking the ferry over to your choice of lodging, then your luggage will be tagged at the boat dock before you venture to the island with your hotel’s name. The ferry company will load your bags onto the boat. Then once you get to the island, a porter will be waiting to bike your luggage to your hotel. I recommend letting them take your bags. The island can become quite busy, and rolling your luggage around would be a hassle. (To make sure your hotel offers this service, just ask when you are making your reservation.)
The porters literally are biking your bags to your hotel. My boyfriend at the time did this job, and I can attest to seeing that its grueling work. Tipping is highly recommended.
I’ve heard there are no cars allowed on the island. So how do I get around once I’ve arrived?
Bikes are the primary method of transportation, but they aren’t for everyone. The Grand Hotel and Mission Point Resort both have horse-drawn carriage shuttle options available to get you to their respective properties. (Please note: there is a small fee for that service.) For other hotels or destinations, there is a horse-drawn carriage taxi service available as well.
Next, more of a breakdown of what to do on the island!
What are the most popular activities to do on the island?
Here are the things that a majority of the “fudgies” will do. If you’re only there for a day or two, any of these can be great fun and a great way to experience the island!
Take a Carriage Ride
Lines will build early. If you want to do this, take an early morning ferry over.
Check out Arch Rock
This is the easiest to walk / bike to of all of the rock features on the island.
Bike the 8-mile loop around the island
BUDGET TIP – I’ll get more into biking later in the post, but if you’re thinking of being on your bike for more than 1 or 2 hours and have an easy way of getting your bike to the island, it is well worth the $11 round trip cost to bring your own bike on the island. This summer, we saw rates in the $60 range for a daily rental.
PRO TIP – Since there’s no car traffic on the island, there are instead a lot of horses! This should be no surprise to you, but they do poop. The island does employ people who do a really great job of picking it up, but when it rains, it gets challenging to keep up with! If your bike does not have fenders, you WILL get horse poo splattered on your back. My advice: if you believe it might rain, bring your rain jacket. You’ll be happy you have it. If you forget to bring it and it starts to rain, buy an overpriced poncho. Again, you’ll be glad you did!
Visit the Grand Hotel
If you are not staying at the Grand Hotel, you can still enter, but for a $10 admission fee. After paying this fee, you’ll also be able to step onto the world’s longest porch and explore the grounds.
Film buffs might enjoy checking out the filming locations from Somewhere in Time that are scattered throughout the island, including The Grand Hotel. If this is something you are interested in, some of the most popular filming locations are included on the map below from the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau:
Visit Fort Mackinac
I highly recommend going to the fort for an hour or two. It is not very expensive (for the 2019 Season – adult tickets are $13.00 and child (5-12) tickets are $7.50 if purchased ahead of time online). The fort is where you can learn the most about the history of the island. Also, the views from up there are some of the best on the island!
Also, the Tea Room at the fort is my favorite place to have lunch if you want to sip on a glass of wine and take in the island views.
Visit the Butterfly House
This destination is very popular with families with little kids. It will get incredibly crowded on rainy days.
Go Shopping Downtown
Go Horseback Riding
There are a lot of options. My personal favorite has always been the Murray Hotel fudge, but you can walk into any of the stores to sample flavors and find your own personal favorite!
Seeing the fudge be made right in front of you is a tradition for the island that dates back to the 1800s!
What’s the least taken advantage of activity on the island?
Biking the inner island trails. Mackinac Island is COVERED in biking trials! If you get the opportunity to explore the inside of the island, I say go for it. A lot of the crowd will stay downtown or on the outer loop all day. Honestly, it is entirely possible to bike along some of the inside trails and only see a couple of other people while doing so. I especially recommend hitting up some of the trails on the NE coast to find some beautiful elevated lookout spots, such as the one in the main photo for this post!
Lastly, where should I eat on the island?
I personally am pretty budget-conscious, so I generally try to bring over salads for lunch and snacks. This way, we only are eating one expensive meal on the island.
However, there are a tremendous amount of restaurants on the island serving up tasty eats, and this year, we did splurge with eating a couple of meals on the island. Here are a few recommendations that have stood out to me:
If you want to be fancy: The Grand Hotel’s Grand Luncheon Buffet
If you want views: Fort Mackinac Tea Room
If you want to pick up a quick bite: Doud’s Market – a spot with essential grocery items, as well as many quick grab ‘n’ go picks such as sandwiches, pizza, and salads.
If you want to go to where the party is: The Pink Pony – a trendy spot to grab a bite or drink on the island. Known for its location, whitefish dip, and burgers. It features patio dining on the lake.
If you want to experience where the locals go: Mustang Lounge – a watering hole that is open year-round and is known to be a favorite place of locals for decades. They feature hamburgers, chicken, and brews!
Now go enjoy your trip to the island!
I’m always available to help you with planning a trip to the island. For more on my trip planning services, feel free to contact me!