Day Trip to Mackinac Island: How to Get There, Things to Do, and More

When my husband and I were dating, he would often tell me how much he loved taking a day trip to Mackinac Island.

I grew up in Michigan and went a handful of times as a child and young adult, but I don’t think I fully appreciated what an amazing place it is until he started talking about it.

We’ve visited Mackinac Island together since then, and I’ve looked at the place with fresh eyes.

Turquoise water like you’d find in the Caribbean, car-free, scenic roads for walking and biking, an array of sweet treats and delicious food — these are just a few of the things that make Mackinac Island so special.

This post will tell you everything you need to know to plan an unforgettable day trip to Mackinac Island.

About Mackinac Island

Mackinac (pronounced “Mackinaw”) Island is called the “Crown Jewel of the Great Lakes” and is a prime getaway destination for Michiganders and others who know it exists.

It’s a small island with a circumference of only about 8 miles, and it’s located on Lake Huron between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Cars have been banned on the island since 1898, making it a nice place to step back in time and get away from it all.

“Mackinac” comes from the original Native American name interpreted by the French as Michilimackinac, translated as “Place of the Great Turtle.” They thought the island with its limestone bluffs looked like a big turtle on the water.

If you look closely, you’ll find turtle references all over the island, like Great Turtle Park, Great Turtle Kayak Tours, and Great Turtle Toys. They even have a Great Turtle Drop on New Year’s Eve.

Mackinac Island is mainly a summer destination, with only 500-600 people living on the island year-round. During high season, the island gets close to a million visitors!

Best time to visit

Mackinac Island is open to visitors all year, but the prime tourist season is from May through October. July and August are the busiest months, so if you want to avoid crowds, you might choose to go during one of the other months instead.

I’ve never experienced Mackinac Island in the winter, but I’m sure it’s beautiful. Just note that snow is very common during this time of year, and some activities (like biking around the island) might be harder to do. Also, some stores and restaurants are only open during high season.

If I could choose, I would prefer to visit Mackinac Island in May, June, or September.

Know before you go

As you plan your day trip to Mackinac Island, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • If you want to stow your belongings during the day, there are lockers near the Shepler’s ferry dock that cost $1.
  • Dogs are welcome on Mackinac Island, and they can ride leashed or caged on the ferry, too. Just note that they may not be allowed inside certain stores and restaurants.
  • You can save money by bringing your own bike (costs only $18 for ferry transport) instead of renting a bike (costs around $50 for a half day and $80 for a full day).

How to get to Mackinac Island

There are four ways to get to Mackinac Island (five if you count swimming, but I wouldn’t recommend it ;)).


Since there are no bridges to the mainland from the island, the most common way to get to Mackinac Island is by ferry, which takes less than 20 minutes! The two ferry companies are Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry and Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry.

Where to board:

You can board the ferry either in St. Ignace in the Upper Peninsula or Mackinaw City in the Lower Peninsula.


Round-trip tickets cost around $31 for adults and $19 for children (ages 4 and under ride for free!). If you plan to bring your own bike to the island, it costs $18.

Check the ferry websites for the latest ticket rates, and note that you can save a few dollars if you reserve your tickets online. Tickets are valid for any departure time on any date during the current season.

Since boarding is on a first-come, first-served basis, it’s recommended to arrive at the dock 45-60 minutes before departure. But boats run every 15 minutes during high season, so if you can’t make a certain departure time, you can easily catch the next one.


There is parking available at the ferry docks for around $35 per day (+ additional charge if parking overnight). However, you can save money by parking in one of the free, nearby parking lots with shuttles that will transport you directly to the ferry docks.

See parking details for the Shepler’s (Mackinaw Island or St. Ignace) and Star Line ferries.


While no commercial flights go to Mackinac Island Airport, you can book a charter flight with Fresh Air Aviation in St. Ignace. Round-trip tickets are just under $100 for adults, $65 for children, and $48 for dogs, and the flight takes only 7 minutes!

If you don’t want to fly directly to Mackinac Island but are traveling from farther away, you can also fly with a commercial airline to Chippewa County International Airport (CIU), which is about 35 miles north of St. Ignace or Pellston Regional Airport (PLN), about 15 miles south of Mackinac City.

Private boat

Private boats are also welcome at Mackinac Island. There are 80 boat slips available at the public marina. It’s recommended to reserve a spot ahead of time especially during peak season.

Cruise ship

Did you know there are cruises on the Great Lakes? The Great Lakes cruise industry is gaining popularity, and Mackinac Island is a common port-of-call. Check out the various cruise options from Great Lakes Cruise Company.

How to get around on the island

There are three ways to get around on Mackinac Island: by foot, bicycle, or horse and carriage (no, really).

You can easily walk to all the main attractions near the port, but if you want to see the whole 8-mile island, it’s better to rent a bike (or bring yours along).

Renting a bike

  • Find a rental shop: When you get off the ferry on Mackinac Island, there are several bike rental shops within easy walking distance, including Mackinac Island Bike Shop and Ryba’s Bicycle Rentals.

🚲 My recommendation: Mackinac Island Bike Shop
Why it’s my favorite: You don’t pay until you return the bike, no deposit is required, and they include water, a basket, helmet, and map with your rental.

  • Choose your bike: Most rental shops offer a variety of bikes, including single-speed cruisers, mountain bikes, and tandem bikes. You can rent a bike by the hour, for a half-day (4 hours) or for a full day (8-24 hours).

    The cost varies by type of bike, but you can expect to pay around $50 for a half day and $80 for a full day for a single-person bike.

    For those with mobility limitations, motorized carts, strollers, and pull/push carts can also be rented.

  • Get fitted for your bike: A staff member will help you adjust the seat and handlebars to make sure the bike is comfortable to ride.

  • Enjoy your ride! Mackinac Island has more than 70 miles of bike trails, so you’ll have plenty of options for exploring the island’s attractions. Most rental companies should provide a map to help you navigate around, but you can also download a map online.

  • Return the bike: When you’re finished exploring, you’ll take the bike back to the rental shop and pay for the length of your rental (if not paid upfront).

Hiring a horse and carriage

Take a scenic carriage tour around the island with Mackinac Island Carriage Tours. You’ll get to see some key sights on your journey, including the Surrey Hills Museum and Arch Rock.

The tour lasts just under two hours and costs $39 for adults and $16 for children ages 5-12. The ticket office is at 7278 Main Street, and carriages are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

If YOU want to be in the driver’s seat, Jack’s Livery Stable offers “Drive Your Own Buggies” for two or four passengers. You don’t have to be an experienced driver to rent one, as the horses are well trained to follow given commands.

The Drive Your Own Buggies cost $100/hour for a two-person and $120/hour for a four-person buggy.

Top 10 things to do on Mackinac Island

Here are some of the best things to do during your day trip to Mackinac Island:

1. Bike the perimeter of the island

Lake Shore Road (Highway M-185) is an eight-mile “highway” that wraps around the entire island. One of the most popular activities on Mackinac Island is to bike this road from beginning to end, taking in the amazing scenery along the way.

This loop road starts and finishes at Main Street and takes about an hour to bike without stopping. But you’ll definitely want to stop at least a couple times to enjoy the views and see a few key sights, including Arch Rock, Sunset Rock, and Devil’s Kitchen.

Some bike rental shops offer maps to help you navigate around the island, though there are markers along the way as well. You can also download and print a map ahead of time from the Mackinac Island website.

Note: If you don’t know how to ride a bike, there are adult tricycles available to rent as well. Walking around the island is also a possibility, though it would take 2-4 hours depending on your pace.

2. See Arch Rock

Arch Rock is a natural rock formation on Mackinac Island that draws thousands of visitors each year. The rock was formed over 50,000 years ago, when ice and water erosion carved the soft limestone into a unique arch shape.

You can get to Arch Rock by foot, bike, or horse-drawn carriage. There is a paved trail leading up to the arch, as well as a viewing platform nearby. Not only is Arch Rock itself impressive to see, but the views of Lake Huron beyond are also stunning.

3. Tour Fort Mackinac

Another popular place on Mackinac Island is Fort Mackinac, a historic military fort built by the British in 1780 during the American Revolution to control the Straits of Mackinac connecting Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

The fort was captured by the Americans in 1796 and continued to be used as a military outpost for nearly 120 years.

Fort Mackinac sits on a bluff overlooking downtown Mackinac Island and is easily accessible by foot, bike, or horse-drawn carriage. You can choose to take either a self-guided tour or a guided tour with an interpreter wearing a period costume.

You’ll also be able to see demonstrations of cannon and rifle firings, military drills, and other historic reenactments.

Hours of operation vary throughout the year, but during peak season from June to September, the fort is open from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets cost $15.50 for adults and $9.25 for children ages 5-12.

4. Grab some Mackinac Island Fudge

Mackinac Island is known as the “Fudge Capital of the World,” with its fudge bringing in more than $10 million in annual revenue.

Fudge has been made on Mackinac Island since the late 1800s, when it was first introduced by European immigrants, and it’s become an important part of the island’s history and culture.

The fudge comes in a variety of flavors, including chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter, maple, and salted caramel.

Two of the most popular fudge shops are Original Murdick’s Fudge (est. 1887) and Ryba’s Fudge Shops (est. 1936). They offer free samples and demonstrations, where you can learn about the fudge-making process and taste the different flavors.

5. Shop along Main Street

Mackinac Island is known for its charming Main Street, which is lined with shops, restaurants, and historic buildings. Here are some of the most popular shops on Main Street:

  • Little Luxuries of Mackinac Island: A boutique shop that specializes in unique and handmade gifts, including jewelry, pottery, and candles.
  • Caddywampus: A gift shop that offers a variety of quirky items, including toys, games, and clothing.
  • Island Bookstore: A locally owned and operated bookstore with a wide selection of books, including bestsellers, children’s books, and books about Mackinac Island and Michigan.
  • Doud’s Market: A historic grocery store that has been serving Mackinac Island residents and visitors since 1884. The store sells a variety of groceries, as well as souvenirs and gifts.
  • Mackinac Outfitter: A store that specializes in outdoor gear and clothing, including hiking boots, backpacks, and jackets.

And of course, don’t forget about the ice cream and fudge shops dotted along Main Street! There are plenty of options to satisfy your sweet tooth.

6. Go on a carriage ride

What better way to see some of the major sights on Mackinac Island than via a horse-drawn carriage? As mentioned in the “How to get around the island” section above, you can choose to either ride in a carriage driven by an experienced tour guide or drive a buggy yourself.

A ride with Mackinac Island Carriage Tours will include the following stops along the way:

  • Surrey Hills Museum
  • Wings of Mackinac Butterfly Conservatory
  • Arch Rock
  • Fort Mackinac
  • Grand Hotel

To drive your own buggy, go to Jack’s Livery Stable. You can reserve a buggy the day before or rent one on the spot. Note that the drive-it-yourself buggies should not be driven on Main Street—they are meant for non-high traffic areas.

(Personally, the thought of inexperienced horse drivers being on those buggies makes me nervous, but I suppose the company knows what they are doing. :))

7. Get ice cream in the Grand Hotel

Sandy’s Ice Cream is a popular ice cream shop located on the lower level of the famous Grand Hotel, near the swimming pool and hot tub.

Sandy’s includes a wide variety of ice cream flavors, including classic favorites like chocolate and vanilla, as well as specialty flavors like Mackinac Island Fudge and Mackinac Island Lilac.

My favorite part about Sandy’s is the fun, vintage interior. You’ll feel like you walked inside a 1960s ice cream shop, which is when Sandy’s was first started.

Of course, when you’re at at the Grand Hotel, it’s worth walking around the grounds to take in the impressive building as well. You can even purchase a $10 admission ticket to tour the inside of the hotel if you aren’t a guest.

8. Take a neighborhood stroll

A fun and free activity to do on Mackinac Island is walk through one or more of the neighborhoods to admire the beautiful homes, many which are quite historic and have a lot of character.

The homes usually have lovely gardens and landscaping as well — plenty of curb appeal to enjoy.

I’m personally a sucker for Victorian-style homes with large wrap-around porches like the one below!

9. Visit the governor’s summer home

The Governor’s Mansion on Mackinac Island is a historic building that served as the official summer residence of the governor of Michigan from 1945 to 1990. The mansion is located on Market Street, not far from the Grand Hotel and downtown.

The mansion has 11 bedrooms, 9.5 baths, more than 7,000 square-feet, and a porch with beautiful views of the Jewel Golf Course, Grand Hotel, Mackinac Bridge and the Mackinac Island Harbor.

The home is open to the public on Wednesdays from June 1 to August 31 from 9:30-11:30 a.m. If you happen to be visiting the island on a Wednesday, you’ll definitely want to include this in your itinerary.

But even if you aren’t able to step inside, it’s still worth walking up to see the house from the outside.

10. Watch the sunrise or sunset

One of the best ways to begin or end your day at Mackinac Island is by enjoying a stunning sunrise or sunset (or both).

Best sunrise location: Arch Rock

Best sunset locations:

  • Fort Holmes (highest elevation point on the island)
  • British Landing
  • Anne’s Tablet
  • Mission Point
  • West Bluff

But really, if you’re anywhere on the island with a clear view of the horizon, you’re bound to see a beautiful sunrise or sunset. You can’t go wrong!

Where to eat

There are lots of restaurants along Main Street, but here are a few favorites:

  • Pink Pony: This is one of the most popular restaurants on the island, known for its pink nautical theme, live music, harbor views, and delicious American fare.
  • Seabiscuit Cafe: Enjoy this horse-themed restaurant inside a former bank, serving a variety of burgers and sandwiches.
  • The Chuckwagon: Their olive burger is amazing. I still think about it to this day.

For a fine dining experience, you can also eat in the Main Dining Room at the Grand Hotel. Note that formal attire is expected.

Where to stay

If you’re thinking you might want to extend your day trip to a one or two-night stay (I wouldn’t blame you), here are some of the best accommodation options:

Grand Hotel

The most famous and luxurious hotel on Mackinac Island is the historic Grand Hotel, built in 1887. The hotel has become a symbol of elegance and is known for its Victorian architecture, beautiful gardens, and sweeping views of Lake Huron.

There are more than 390 guest rooms and suites, each decorated with both period furnishings and modern amenities.

🛏 Check room availability for the Grand Hotel

Harbour View Inn

Harbour View Inn was an iconic summer cottage on the island from 1820 until the 1990s. Now it is a fashionable hotel nestled among other beautiful cottages and mansions. It’s within easy walking distance from downtown and other island attractions.

🛏 Check room availability for Harbour View Inn

Pine Cottage Bed & Breakfast

This cozy B&B is only a six-minute walk from Fort Mackinac and not much farther from downtown Mackinac Island. The inn is perched at the top of a hill with pretty views of Lake Huron in the distance.

🛏 Check room availability for Pine Cottage

Getting your luggage to your hotel

All three of the hotels mentioned above (and several others on the island) use a complimentary “dockporter” service. Make sure your bags are tagged with your hotel name at the ferry. Once you arrive on Mackinac Island, a dockporter will meet you and transport your luggage to the hotel on a bicycle.

It’s not uncommon to see dockporters juggling five or more suitcases on their bikes as they ride along Main Street to their destination!

Note that gratuities are expected for this service; $1 to $5 per bag is customary.

Did you know? Dockporters have become an iconic part of Mackinac Island tourism. There’s even a book about this unique job, The Dockporter: A Mackinac Island Novel.


Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about Mackinac Island:

is it pronounced “Mackinaw” or “Mackinac”?

Oddly enough, Mackinac is pronounced “Mackinaw,” just like Mackinaw City. The French transliterated it from the Native American name for the island, which was Michilimackinac.

In French, the “c” is silent, giving it the “aw” sound at the end instead of “ac.” The British later shortened the name to “Mackinac” but the pronunciation still stuck.

While Mackinaw City is spelled in alignment with the English pronunciation, for some reason the spelling of Mackinac Island was never changed. Not confusing at all, right?

Why should you visit Mackinac Island?

Because it’s awesome! No, really. I think it’s one of the best places to visit in Michigan. You’ll feel like you escaped back in time on the car-free island with its many historic sights.

For me, the highlight of Mackinac Island is the freedom of riding a bike around the island, going at my own pace, and enjoying the stunning views of Lake Huron. Mackinac is a beautiful place that you should definitely add to your Michigan itinerary.

Can you go to Mackinac Island for a day?

Yes, you can! This post is especially meant for people who are only planning to visit Mackinac Island for a day. I have been to the island numerous times and have never stayed overnight (though I would love to one day).

There are certainly enough things to do on the island to justify staying for two or more days, but you can cover a lot of ground in one day if you have limited time.

How long is the ferry ride to Mackinac Island?

The ferry ride to Mackinac Island only lasts about 20 minutes.

How long does it take to walk around Mackinac Island?

The perimeter of Mackinac Island is about 8 miles. Depending on your walking pace, it would take 2-4 hours to walk around the entire island without stopping.

However, it’s likely you will want to stop at the various attractions along the way, so it could easily take you most of the day to do this. Personally, I think biking around the island is much better!

How long does it take to bike around Mackinac Island?

It takes about an hour to bike around the island without stopping. The road is fairly flat most of the way, with only a few minor hills here and there.

Can I bring my own bike to Mackinac Island?

Yes, you can! It costs $18 to bring your bike on the Star Line ferry and $21 to bring it on Shepler’s Ferry. This is significantly cheaper than renting a bike.

How much does it cost to rent a bike on Mackinac Island?

Prices vary slightly depending on where you rent, but you can expect to pay around $50 for a half day (4 hours) and $80 for a full day (8-24 hours).

How do you get to Mackinac Island?

You can get to Mackinac Island by ferry (most common), airplane, private boat, or cruise ship. See the “How to Get to Mackinac Island” section above for more details on each of these options.

Where can you catch a ferry to Mackinac Island?

Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry and Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry both operate from Mackinaw City on Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and St. Ignace in the Upper Peninsula.

How much is the ferry from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island?

As of the last season, round-trip ticket costs $31 for adults and $19 for children (ages 4 and under ride for free!). If you plan to bring your own bike to the island, it costs $18.

Check the websites for the Star Line or Shepler’s ferry companies for the latest ticket rates, and note that you can save a few dollars if you reserve your tickets online.

Can you bring pets to Mackinac Island?

Yes, leashed or caged pets are allowed on board Mackinac Island ferries at no additional charge.

Is Mackinac Island open to tourists year-round?

Yes, Mackinac Island is accessible year-round, but note that during the off season from October through April, only the Star Line ferry from the St. Ignace port is in operation.

The island is much quieter and less crowded during the off season, but the weather can also be harsh and many businesses and attractions may be closed or have limited operating schedules.

If you’re thinking of visiting Mackinac Island during the off season, you may want to check that all the things you want to see and do are available.

Can I bring my car onto Mackinac Island?

No, Mackinac Island is a car-free island. There is no bridge to the island, and no cars are allowed on the ferries. But the island isn’t very large and you can get around pretty easily by foot, bicycle, or horse-drawn carriage.

Are there any Mackinac Island day trip packages?

The Mackinac Island Tourism Board offers several trip packages, but most are for overnight stays. You can find all the latest package offerings on their website.

What can I do in Mackinac Island on a budget?

Some of the best things to do on Mackinac Island are free or don’t cost much money:

  • Walk or bike around the island, stopping at key sites like Arch Rock or Devil’s Kitchen.
    Note: If you want to save money on biking, you can bring your own bike instead of renting one on the island. It only costs around $18 to bring your bike on the ferry compared to $80 to rent a bike for a day.
  • Watch the sunrise or sunset from somewhere like Fort Holmes or British Landing.
  • Stroll through the historic neighborhoods to admire the well-kept homes and gardens.
  • Visit the Governor’s Mansion, which is open to the public on Wednesday mornings during peak season.
  • Tour the Grand Hotel. You can walk up to the hotel and see some of the grounds for free, and if you want to walk inside, you can purchase an admission ticket for only $10.
  • Have a picnic lunch in front of Fort Mackinac. There is a large green space that overlooks the water, making it a perfect place to eat while taking in the views.
  • Walk one of the many trails on the island. Check out some trail options on the Mackinac Island website.

Aside from paying for your ferry ticket ($31 for adults, $19 for kids), there is plenty to do on Mackinac Island without spending much money.

Wrap-up: Day trip to Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island is a great place for a day trip in northern Michigan, especially during the warmer months of May through October. The island offers the perfect mixture of excitement and tranquility, and you can tailor your day around the types of activities you prefer.

Whether you like to browse through local shops and try different restaurants, explore historic sights and learn about their past, or bike and hike in nature, you won’t run out of things to do on this iconic Michigan island.

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