Mackinac Island With Kids in One Day
Mackinac Island is a world unto itself. Many people do not realize that over 80% of Mackinac Island is a Michigan State Park. In fact, it is Michigan’s oldest state park, established in 1895. That means if you venture further than main street, you are apt to find yourself in a state park ripe for exploring.
You’ll also find historical markers everywhere, offering up explanations about interesting events from the past.
Since automobiles were banned from the island in 1898, primary modes of transportation include bicycles, horses, and walking. Emergency vehicles are the only motorized vehicles you’ll see, and those are few and far between.
While Mackinac Island is accessible year round, visitor numbers ramp up when the ferries start running in April and continue through October. We chose the Star Line as our ferry because they offered a bit of savings with the Mackinac Island Package at $58 per adult and $30 per child (2016 prices):
- round trip ferry ticket (regular price: $24 adults and $13 for kids)
- 1.5 hour narrated carriage tour ($28.50 per adult and $11 per child)
- entrance to historic Fort Mackinac ($12 per adult and $7 per child)
If you choose a ferry ride that has the “Under the Bridge” option, you’ll be treated to spectacular Mackinac Bridge views.
Have your camera ready when you pull into the dock. Spectacular.
Here’s a Printable map of Mackinac Island to help you get your bearings.
Fort Mackinac With Kids
This fort takes you back in time to the war of 1812 when the British were fighting the Americans. The fort was active until 1895. Some parts of the fort are over 225 years old. Buildings on the site look as they would’ve during the fort’s final year of occupation and you’ll see people dressed in period clothing acting out rituals from that time. You’ll even get to watch them fire the cannon.
Buildings are open, allowing you explore different aspects of fort life. There’s even a Kids’ Quarters with hands-on displays and interactive games.
Other exhibits show how vaccines were given to island residents as well as take you through the history of the island.
We spent at least two hours in the fort. You might spend more if you decide to have a meal at the Tea Room, which is operated by the Grand Hotel.
Mackinac Island Carriage Tour
This 105 minute tour comes in two parts: city and country. Departing from downtown, you’ll get the backstory on the places you pass.
One stop along the way is Surrey Hills Museum, where you exit your first carriage and have time to look at antique carriages and do a little snacking/shopping.
You can also tour the butterfly conservatory. When you’re ready, you board a second carriage and head out to Arch Rock.
After that, you can opt to end your tour at the Grand Hotel. If you want to visit the Grand Hotel, keep in mind that there is a $10 entrance fee for non-hotel patrons and a dress code for certain areas of the hotel, but there is nothing like it anywhere else.
Marquette Park – Mackinac Island
The flats below the fort, used as a vegetable garden by soldiers long ago, now serves as an open space for concerts and picnicking.
Set off to the side is a modern playground that parents will be happy to know about. We packed a lunch and ate it at the park – it was a great place to rest and recharge for the rest of our day.
Fudge, Shopping, and Candy
Visiting Mackinac Island? To the islanders, you’re known as a “fudgie,” and for good reason. The island is home to a swath of confectioneries producing gigantic amounts of fudge. It’s your tourist duty to sample and purchase your favorite flavors to take home with you as a souvenir. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to watch the fudge being made.
If you’re not into fudge, you’ll find many different places to get ice cream and other sweet treats, too. There’s a toy store on the island and many places to find t-shirts. The magic shop on main street was a great find as well.
Biking and Horseback Riding on the Island
If we had more time on the island, bike riding and horseback riding were two things the kids wanted to try out. To bike around the perimeter of the island, you’ll pedal eight relatively flat miles. There are great stops along the way and it takes about 90 minutes.
Visitors can rent bikes or bring their own along on the ferry (fees apply). Kid bikes and trailers are also available to rent. I recommend bringing a bike lock along if you’re bringing your own bikes.
Horseback riding trips are also available.
Eating and Sleeping on Mackinac Island
Many prime restaurants are very busy during summer months. Reservations are recommended. If you’re looking for something quicker, there are places you can get pizza to take out. You can even visit the local grocery store and put a meal together with their wide assortment of offerings. We opted to pack a lunch so we’d have more time for exploring.
If you’d like to spend the night on Mackinac Island, plan ahead. Hotel rooms are often booked months in advance for high season (July and August) and rates are much higher than on the mainland. But staying on Mackinac Island is quite the experience and it’s a great way to extend your visit.
Kid-friendly Hotels on Mackinac Island
These hotels were recommended by our reader family.
Huge rooms offer plenty of room for kids. It has a pool, is right on the lake, and is a 5 minute walk from the ferry.
Parents like separate bedrooms with a kitchen and living space. It is very quiet and relaxing, away from the all of the downtown ‘traffic.’ There is plenty of greenspace on that side of island for kids to play outside. It is a hike from the downtown area; bikes recommended!
Bring your bikes! It has an outdoor pool and wonderful breakfast included with your stay.
They have had great deals that included ferry tickets, a room with a hot tub, bike rentals, admission to all the museums, the Fort and mini golf. PLUS kids eat free.
Indoor pool and breakfast included.
Kids like being able to open the French doors and watch the happenings on Main Street.
What to Pack for Mackinac Island
The weather on Mackinac Island varies greatly from month to month and day to day.
While days in August can get up into the 80’s, evenings tend to be cool and breezy. Dress in layers, and be prepared for occasional rain. Tourist shops sell a lot of sweatshirts because summer on the island is a lot cooler than the places visitors originate from.
If you’re visiting for just the day, consider packing your lunch and bringing a backpack. Waterbottles are helpful, as are bikes.
Whatever you bring, you’ll need to be able to carry for the whole day if you are not staying over night.
If you bring bikes, bring a bike lock as well.
Sunscreen and insect repellent are also helpful, as you will likely plan on exploring outdoors during most of your trip.
Share Your Mackinac Island Tips
Have you visited Mackinac Island with kids? What tips do you have to share? Where did you stay, if you stayed overnight?
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