When it comes to travel destinations in the United States, I believe the Great Lakes region is one of the most overlooked and underrated regions of the country to travel to. The states in-and-around the Great Lakes have a wide range of uniquely beautiful and amazing things to see and do. One of the most well known and frequently visited of the region’s tourist attractions is undoubtedly Mackinac Island in Lake Huron. While the island was used as a military fortification in the country’s formative years, today the island is geared more towards servicing tourists that are looking to leave their car behind and enjoy a vacation free from the hustle-and-bustle of everyday life.
Because no cars are allowed on the island, the pace of everyday life on the island is much slower than it is back on the mainland. People get around by walking, biking, or taking one of the famous horse-drawn carriage rides. Visitors relax by spending time at the beach, on one of the island’s golf courses, eating and shopping in the historic downtown area, or just getting lost on one of the island’s many walking and biking paths. If you are looking to slow things down and enjoy some family time away from all of the distractions, then Mackinac Island is a great place to plan your escape.
In this guide, I am going to give you all of the information you need to plan a successful trip to Mackinac Island. I cover the best times to visit and the best ways to get there so that you can maximize what you are able to see and do on your trip. In addition, I outline the top things to see and do while you are there and where the best places to stay and eat are. With this information in hand, you can be confident that your trip to Mackinac Island will be one that you remember for the rest of your life.
|Top Things to See|
|How to Get There|
|Best Time to Visit|
|Where to Stay|
|Where to Eat|
|Recommended Tours and Excursions|
Top Things to See and Do
If there is one thing that Mackinac Island is really good at doing for travelers it is showing you how many things you can see and do without a car. There is a seemingly endless supply of fun to be had on Mackinac Island and none of the fun sights or activities require getting into a car to go see them. To give you a better understanding of all the fun things to see and do on the island, I have included a map and list of the top things to see and do on the island for you to review below.
|Eagle Point Cave|
|Round Island Passage Light|
|Round Island Light|
|Great Turtle Park|
|Cave of the Woods|
|Wawashkamo Golf Club|
|Jewel Golf Course|
Explore Fort Mackinac
Out of all the history on Mackinac Island, and there is quite a lot, Fort Mackinac is without-a-doubt the most well-known and visited. This 18th Century French and then later British fort was used primarily as a fur trading outpost and fortification during the early explorations of the North American continent. Touring the fort will take you back in history to the early years of the United States and give you a great perspective of how early settlers and explorers lived during that era. It is an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Mackinac Island.
Check out the Beautiful Arch Rock
One of the most popular natural landmarks on Mackinac Island is Arch Rock, which sits on the eastern shore of the island. This beautiful natural arch is accessible by a moderate hike from the historic downtown region along the carriage and bike roads. From the elevated shoreline near the arch, you can see miles of the island’s coastline, which makes it a great vantage point to spot wildlife and view kayakers and boats out on the lake. Arch Rock is also one of my favorite photography subjects on the island, so make sure you bring a camera when you visit.
Take a Carriage Ride
With the absence of cars on the island, one of the more popular modes of transportation is horse-drawn carriages. You can use the carriages to transport you and your luggage from the ferry terminal to your hotel or catch a scenic carriage ride around the island. It is a great way to get a lay of the land when you first arrive and scout out places that you would like to come back and visit on foot or bicycle. No trip to Mackinac Island is complete without taking a carriage ride.
Try Some of the Infamous Murdick’s Fudge
Out of all of the things that Mackinac Island is famous for, my favorite is undoubtedly their fudge. Freshly made daily, the fudge on the island is absolutely out of this world tasty. One of the best places at making this delicious fudge is Murdicks Fudge, which has been in business on the island since 1887. If you have a sweet tooth, you will not want to miss out on trying their fudge.
Bike Around the Island
If you would like to tour the island at your own pace but aren’t really thrilled with the idea of walking, another great way to get around the island is to rent a bicycle. There are a number of different places on the island that rent bikes, most notably the vendors I have listed below:
Depending on your needs, the vendors I listed above offer a wide variety of bicycles to rent. This includes bicycles with child carriers for those of you who will be traveling with kids. In case you are interested, I have included a list of the most common types of bicycles for rent for you to review below.
- 3 Speed
- 7 Plus Speeds
- Baby Cart
- Child Carriers
Play Golf at One of the Island’s Stunning Courses
If you like to play golf, you will also be happy to know that Mackinac Island has a number of nice golf courses that you can play when you visit. They aren’t world-class golf courses, but they are well taken care of and are fairly challenging as well. If you forget to bring your clubs with you, or just don’t want to go thru the hassle of transporting them, the course also offers clubs to rent. If you are planning on bringing your clubs to play, please check out my “Top 10 Tips For Traveling With Golf Clubs”, which I have linked to below for some advice on how to transport them.
|Top 10 Tips For Traveling With Golf Clubs|
Explore the Island by Kayak
If you are up for a little adventure during your visit, one of the more popular adventure activities on Mackinac Island is to go kayaking. If you are an experienced kayaker, there is a lot of amazing coastline around the island that you can explore on your own. If you aren’t as comfortable going kayaking on a big lake by yourself, there are a number of tour operators located on the island that guide group outings. Getting out on the water is a great way of seeing the island from a different perspective and I strongly recommend it if you are able.
Visit the Butterfly House
One of the more unique attractions on Mackinac Island is the Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House and Insect World. The collection of exotic and beautiful butterflies and other insects in this indoor sanctuary is quite spectacular. This is a great activity to plan on those days where the weather isn’t as nice or you would like to get a break from the beach and other outdoor activities.
Do Some Shopping in Historic Downtown
Not visit to Mackinac Island is complete without spending some time in the historic downtown area doing some shopping and eating. In addition to the many wonderful restaurants and fudge and sweets shops, there is a wide array of shops that sell unique gift items in the downtown area as well. If you love shopping for souvenirs while you are on vacation, then you will definitely want to spend some time perusing the shops in historic downtown Mackinac Island.
Admire the Beautiful Round Island Lighthouse
Last, but certainly not least, is one of the most popular and recognizable landmarks around Mackinac Island. The Round Island Lighthouse on the nearby Round Island, which is located just off the coast of Mackinac Island, is one of the more beautiful lighthouses that you will find on the American Great Lakes. You will get a good view of this lighthouse as you take a ferry onto Mackinac Island, but the lighthouse is also quite visible from shore. If you have a camera with a zoom lens, you can get some great shots of this lighthouse from Biddle Point.
How to Get There
Located near the divide between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan and between the mainland of the state of Michigan and the state’s Upper Penninsula, Mackinac Island is one of the most famous islands in the American Great Lakes. If you are traveling to see Mackinac Island from out of state or outside the United States, there are a number of large American cities with airports that are within driving distance of the island. The closest city to the island is Detroit, but Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Chicago are all relatively close to Mackinac Island as well.
You can’t drive onto the island, so the only ways to get there are by small plane or by ferry. Unless you can afford the expensive flight, your best bet is to drive to either St. Ignace on Michigan’s Upper Penninsula or Mackinaw City, which is in mainland Michigan. From either of these cities, you can catch a ferry ride onto Mackinac Island. There are two major ferry companies that you can book your ferry ride with, which I have outlined for you below. If you plan on visiting during the peak season, I would strongly recommend that you make a reservation ahead of your trip. The ferry ride to Mackinac Island is a short one, with ride times ranging between 15-25 minutes (depending on the route).
Mackinac Island Ferry Companies
Best Time to Visit
When planning your trip to Mackinac Island, one of the most important decisions that you will have to make is when you plan on visiting. Because much of what is available to see and do on Mackinac Island is outdoors, you will want to make sure you give yourself the best chance of having good weather when you visit. That is why I have included charts below that outline the average temperature and average levels of precipitation on Mackinac Island throughout the year. Armed with this information, you can make the best choice on when to visit for you and your family.
Average Temperature (°F)
Because Mackinac Island is located in the Great Lakes region of the United States, which sits in the Northern Midwest, the summers are typically humid and the winters can be bitterly cold. During the months of late autumn thru early spring (November thru March), many of the establishments on Mackinac Island are closed. Unless you plan on visiting to do some snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or other winter activities, I would avoid visiting during these months.
The temperatures are typically warm and humid during the summer months of June thru August, but these are also typically the most popular tourist months on the island. If you plan on visiting during this time of year, you will likely pay higher hotel rates and have to deal with more crowds than you would during other times of the year.
Average Precipitation (Inches)
Because of its location in Lake Huron, Mackinac Island gets its fair share of precipitation throughout the year. Much of this precipitation comes in the form of lake effect rain or snow. The wettest months of the year tend to be in the autumn (September thru November), while the dryest months of the year are usually during the winter months (December thru February).
If it works for your schedule, I think the best time of year to visit Mackinac Island is during the late Spring (late April thru early June). During these months the weather is much dryer than it is during the autumn. The temperatures are also nice, but not too humid, and the big summer crowds have yet to arrive.
Where to Stay
Finding a place to stay on Mackinac Island during the busy summer months can be a challenge, so I would recommend planning ahead and making reservations months ahead of time if you would like to stay on the island. The accommodations on the island also tend to be a bit more expensive than accommodations on the mainland, so if you are trying to save some money you can always stay on the mainland and commute to the island by ferry. In order to assist you in finding the right accommodations for your budget, I have included a list of recommended hotels and different price points for you to review below.
Where to Eat
One thing that Mackinac Island doesn’t have a shortage of is amazing places to eat. There are many wonderful restaurants on the island that serve a wide array of foods. Whether you are looking for a burger at a pub, some fresh seafood, or an upscale dinner, there is a restaurant waiting to serve you. I know picking restaurants can be a challenging and stressful situation for some, so to assist you in finding some good restaurants for you to try I have included a list of some recommendations below.
|Chuck Wagon of Mackinac||American, Diner, Veggie||$|
|The Yankee Rebel Tavern||American, Bar, Veggie||$$-$$$|
|Pink Pony||American, Seafood, Pub||$$-$$$|
|Millie’s on Main||American, Bar, Soups||$$-$$$|
|Carriage House||American, Seafood, Veggie||$$$$|
|1852 Grill Room||American, Veggie||$$$$|
Recommended Tours and Excursions
There are so many unique adventures waiting for you on Mackinac Island and I encourage you to try some out. Whether it be horseback riding, kayaking, a wildlife tour, or just a simple sightseeing tour, these tours can really add depth to your visit. In order to assist you in choosing the tours that are right for you, I have included links to some recommendations for you to review below.
|Historical & Heritage Tours|
|Nature & Wildlife Tours|
|Kayaking & Canoeing|
I hadn’t been to Mackinac Island since I was a young kid, so my recent trip back to the island was an absolute pleasure. It was so fun to photograph some of the places that I had explored and seen thru younger eyes. Below is a gallery of just some of the many beautiful pictures I was able to capture during my visit to Mackinac Island.
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