15 Best Things to Do on Mackinac Island for Families – Plus Where to Stay

Best Things to Do on Mackinac Island with kids

Fitting in All of the Things to Do on Mackinac Island Will Take at Least One Full Day

Many visitors come to Mackinac Island, a small island in northern Michigan, for just one day.

Others make their visit into a long weekend or spend a week or two soaking up all the island has to offer.

At a minimum, plan to spend at least one full day to try and fit in as many things to do on Mackinac Island as you can.

If you arrive on an early ferry and leave after dinner you will have time to see the whole island.

In this article, we’ll help you get oriented, cover the Mackinac Island Things to Do list everyone should follow and list places to stay if you’d like to spend the night on the island or in nearby Mackinaw City or St. Ignace.

mackinac island things to do
Overlooking Downtown Mackinac Island from the Fort Walkway

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Why Visit Mackinac Island?

Mackinac Island Michigan is a world unto itself. Located in the waters of Lake Huron, Mackinac Island sits between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsula.

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.

This means if you venture farther than the main street, you are apt to find yourself in a state park – rich with history – ripe for exploring.

You’ll find historical markers everywhere, offering up explanations about interesting events from the past.

mackinac island history
Exploring the History of Mackinac Island is a Visitor Favorite

Since automobiles were banned from the island in 1898, transportation includes bicycles, horses, and walking.

Visiting Mackinac Island is like stepping into an old-fashioned, horse-powered world.

There’s nothing else like it.

mackinac island horse carriage
Taking a Horse and Carriage Ride is one of the Iconic Things to Do on Mackinac Island

Emergency vehicles are the only motorized vehicles you’ll see, and those are few and far between.

Even Amazon gets delivered by bicycle here!

mackinac island history
The postal service on Mackinac Island is pedal-powered

Most summer visitors arrive on the island via a ferry (more on this later.)

When you arrive, you’ll be at the wooden ferry docks. Many people bring bikes over on the ferry.

mackinac island ferry docks
Ferry Docks at Mackinac Island, Michigan

Here is a Printable map of Mackinac Island to help you get your bearings.

Things to Do on Mackinac Island

Choose From This List of Things to do on Mackinac Island with Kids if You Only Have One Day

While Mackinac Island is accessible year-round, visitor numbers ramp up when the ferries start running in April and continue through October.

Here’s a list of things to do on Mackinac Island when you’re visiting with family.

1) Make the most of your Ferry Ride: Choose a Pirate or Bridge View Adventure

Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry
Mackinaw City Dock
801 S. Huron St, Mackinaw City, MI 49701
St. Ignace Dock
587 N. State St, St. Ignace, MI 49781

The island adventure starts before you even reach the island – the ferry ride is big fun.

Mackinac Island ferries leave from either Mackinaw City or St. Ignace, MI.

Not all ferry rides are equal. Certain departure times will take you under the Mackinac Bridge for a great view.

Other ferry rides offer a Pirate experience. And, in some cases, you can bundle your ferry ride with island attractions for added savings.

mackinac island ferry ride
Tip: Choose a Ferry Ride that Goes Under the Mackinac Bridge

On one of our trips, we chose the Star Line as our ferry because they offered a bit of savings with the Mackinac Island Package.

Included with the round trip ferry ticket is a 1.5 hour narrated carriage ride.

You can also add on admission to Fort Mackinac, the Grand Hotel, and/or the Butterfly House.

Other great options to explore with the Star Line are the Family Bundle fastPasses, which can reduce ferry prices for families. Bonus: Kids 4 and under always cruise for FREE!

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. It’s wild looking up and seeing the cars driving up above.

mackinac island ferry ride under bridge
Looking up at the Mackinac Bridge from a Mackinac Island Ferry

2) Watch a Reenactment or See the Cannon Fired at Fort Mackinac

Fort Mackinac
7127 Huron Rd. Mackinac Island, MI 49757

Climb the big hill to Fort Mackinac and pay the admission fee to get in – it’s worth it if you have kids old enough to understand Michigan history – and you want a few spectacular views like this:

view from fort mackinac

This historic military fort takes you back 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 have during the fort’s final year of occupation and you will find people dressed in period clothing acting out rituals from that time.

fort mackinac

Re-enactments happen every 45 minutes; you can even watch them fire the cannon.

And, if you sign up (call 906-847-3328 to reserve your spot at least three days in advance) visitors ages 13 & up can fire the Fort Mackinac Cannon. Is this one of the most cool things to do on Mackinac Island?! It might be!

fort mackinac cannon
Cannon Demonstration at Fort Mackinac

Typically, the historic buildings are open, allowing you to explore different aspects of fort life.

There is even a Kids’ Quarters with hands-on displays and interactive games. 

Kids Quarters Will Be Newly Renovated for Visitors Starting in 2021!

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, operated by the Grand Hotel.

Fort Mackinac Tea Room
7127 Huron Road, Mackinac Island
(906) 847-6327

A lot of people skip Fort Mackinac. If you have the time, I definitely recommend it one of the great things to do on Mackinac Island with your family.

fort mackinac cannon and tea room
Cannon at Fort Mackinac with the Tea Room in the Background

 

3) Take a Mackinac Island Carriage Tour

Mackinac Island Carriage Tours
7278 Main St, Mackinac Island 

This 1.5-hour tour comes in two parts: city and country.

mackinac island carriage tour
You can hire a private horse and buggy or do a group carriage tour around Mackinac Island

Departing from downtown, you’ll hear all about the history of the places you pass and see old landmarks, including cemeteries.

mackinac island cemeteries

One of the stops along the way is Surrey Hills Museum.

Surrey Hills Carriage Museum
7528 Carriage Rd, Mackinac Island, MI 49757

This is where you exit your first carriage and have time to look at antique carriages and do a little snacking/shopping.

This stop features a working blacksmith shop as well as concessions and a picnic area.

mackinac island Surrey Hills Museum

4) Visit the Butterfly House and Insects World

Butterfly House and Insects World
6750 McGulpin Street, Mackinac Island, MI 49757

You can also tour the Butterfly House and Insects World at this stop on the carriage tour (This is seasonally open from mid-May through the first week of October).

The 1800 square foot tropical garden is filled with hundreds of live butterflies from around the world. Insects World showcases giant insects (mounted specimens) from the tropics, including the Goliath Beetle. They also have a turtle pond and some live reptiles.

5) Visit Arch Rock

Arch Rock
6131 Arch Rock Rd, Mackinac Island, MI 49757

If you’re doing the carriage tour, board a “country carriage” and head out to Arch Rock.

Arch Rock does not charge an entrance fee.

mackinac island things to do Arch Rock
Arch Rock on Mackinac Island is a Common Stop on Carriage Tours

Almost everyone that visits Mackinac Island has a slew of photos of Arch Rock.

This limestone geologic formation towers 146 feet above Lake Huron and is over 50 feet wide. There are stairs down to the base of the formation if you’re looking for exercise and a different view.

6) Visit the Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel
286 Grand Avenue, Mackinac Island, MI 49757

After that, you can opt to end your tour at the Grand Hotel.

We have some great advice on making the most of visiting the Grand Hotel, along with tips if you opt to spend a night or two at this iconic hotel.

Chess Grand Hotel Mackinac Island Scripps
Play the Giant Chess Game at the Grand Hotel

If you simply 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.

Afternoon Tea is served daily from 3:30 to 5:00 pm.

Mackinac Island Grand Hotel feature image

7) Relax on the Lawn & Playground at Marquette Park

Marquette Park
7200 Huron St, Mackinac Island, MI 49757

The flat area below the fort, used as a vegetable garden by soldiers long ago, is now a giant lawn that serves as an open space for concerts and picnics.

mackinac island marquette park
Marquette Park sits below the Fort on Mackinac Island

Set off to the side is a small playground that parents will be happy to know about.

mackinac island playground marquette park
Small Playground Located at Marquette Park on Mackinac Island

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.

8) Bike Around the Island

Typically, you can ride a bicycle on state highway M-185, which takes you the 8 miles around the perimeter of Mackinac Island.

Interestingly, this highway is not open to cars – you’ll only see bikes, horses, and rollerbladers. It is relatively flat.

You can choose to bring your own bikes or rent bikes on the island. Bike locks are recommended.

mackinac island biking
M-185 is a Michigan State Highway Open to Bicycles and Horses

Biking the island will let you stop at attractions like Arch Rock and climb up to the overlook at your own pace.

mackinac island biking
Stairs Leading to Arch Rock from M-185

2019’s high lake levels and strong wave action damaged sections of the road, however.

The road was completely washed away in sections. These sections were closed in early summer 2020.

As of late July 2020, all of M-185 has reopened but park officials note that “riders should be aware that portions of the road, especially on the north and east side of the island, may only be gravel.” Also, some areas of the road are down to one lane.

If you choose to explore the island’s interior, know that a lot of steep hill climbs are involved. The island also has a good network of mountain biking trails for visitors to explore.

Bike route maps can be found here.

9) Skip Rocks or Look for Beach Glass

If you’re looking for free things to do on Mackinac Island, this is one of them.

The island shore is rocky in most places.

It’s an excellent place to skip rocks and look for beach glass. (Mackinac Island beach glass is formed when bits of old bottles are tumbled and polished in the waves of Lake Huron.)

mackinac island rock skipping

10) Ride a Horse or Drive a Carriage

Another of the typical Mackinaw Island things to do is horseback riding.

mackinac island things to do horseback riding
Horseback Riding Tours are one of the Favorite Things to Do on Mackinac Island

Horseback riding guided trips are available by the hour.

You can also rent a horse & carriage and drive the buggy yourself! Carriages are rented by the hour.

11) Get Some Fudge

To the islanders, non-residents are known as “fudgies,” and for good reason. The island is home to a swath of confectioneries producing gigantic amounts of fudge every day.

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. This is by far one of the more popular things to do on Mackinac Island.

mackinac island making fudge
Watch Fudge Being Made in Downtown on Mackinac Island

12) Shop for Souvenirs

If you’re not into fudge, there are also many different places to get ice cream and other sweet treats. Or, get yourself a sweatshirt, t-shirt, or trinket to take home.

downtown mackinac island
Downtown Mackinac Island in the Summertime

There’s a toy store on the island and many places to find t-shirts.

There’s no shortage of shopping.

13) Take on the 18-Hole Putting Course at Mission Point Resort

Mission Point Resort
One Lake Shore Dr, Mackinac Island, MI 49757

Mission Point Resort, on Main Street Mackinac Island, has an amazing waterside 18-hole putting course called the Greens of Mackinac.

For a fee, visitors and hotel guests can play the course – with a to-go cocktail in hand, if desired.

This is one of those hidden gem things to do on Mackinac Island – we hope you get a chance to give it a try!

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Mission Point’s 18-hole putting course is one of the fun things to do on Mackinac Island with kids

14) Tour the 7000 Square Foot Governor’s Mansion – for Free

11 bedrooms, 9.5 baths, and over 7,000 square feet. Those are the stats of the Michigan Governor’s Residence on Mackinac Island.

Typically, free tours of the 1902 building are offered every Wednesday during the summer.

Check the schedule for the most up-to-date information.

15) Go to Horse Camp

For island visitors that are staying for a week or longer, consider signing up for Horse Camp at the Mackinac Horsemen’s Association.

Camps are for kids ages 5 – 15 and are tailored to ability. Examples include: Back to basics, fundamentals of riding, paint a pony, and horse games.

Mackinac Island Packing List: What to Bring

Mackinac Island weather varies greatly from month to month and morning to night.

While days in August can get up into the 80s, 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 visitors expect.

If you’re visiting for just the day, consider packing your lunch and bringing a backpack. Water bottles 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 overnight.

If you bring bikes, bring a bike lock as well.

Sunscreen and insect repellent are also helpful, as you will likely be exploring outdoors during most of your trip.

Where to Stay on Mackinac Island: Kid-Friendly Mackinac Island Hotels

Want to spend more than a single day exploring this “Up North” gem?

There are several options for spending the night on the island and these were recommended by our reader family:

Bicycle Street Inn & Suites
7416 Main Street, Mackinac Island, MI 49757
– Kids (and parents too) enjoy opening the wide French doors to watch the happenings along Main Street.
Chippewa Hotel Waterfront
7221 Main Street #103, Mackinac Island, MI 49757
– 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.
Grand Hotel
286 Grand Avenue P.O. Box 286, Mackinac Island, MI 49757
– Don’t be intimidated by the formality associated with the Grand Hotel, it truly is a family-friendly accommodation.
Hotel Iroquois
7485 Main Street PO Box 456, Mackinac Island, MI 49757
– This is a great boutique-style hotel often enjoyed by adult couples.
The Inn at Stonecliffe
8593 Cudahy Cir, Mackinac Island, MI 49757-5130
– Bring your bikes! It has an outdoor pool and a wonderful breakfast included with your stay.
– Also has suites in their Summer House building to give your family more room to spread out.
LakeBluff Condos & Suites
3561 Eckel Dr, Mackinac Island, MI 49757
– Parents like separate bedrooms with a kitchen and living space. It is very quiet and relaxing, away from all of the downtown ‘traffic.’
– There is plenty of green space on that side of the island for kids to play outside. It is a hike from the downtown area; bikes recommended!
Lake View Hotel
7452 Main Street, Mackinac Island, MI 49757
– Prime downtown location.
– Has the only indoor, heated pool on the island.
– Breakfast included.
Main Street Inn & Suites
7408 Main Street, Mackinac Island, MI 49757
– Vibe: B&B meets modern hotel
– Nightly complimentary fudge samples
– Balcony rooms are a treat
Mission Point Resort
1 Lakeshore Drive, Mackinac Island, MI 49757
– Offers great deals that include ferry tickets, rooms with hot tubs, bike rentals, as well as admission to all the museums, the Fort, and mini-golf. PLUS kids eat free.
Harbour View Inn
6860 Main Street PO Box 1207, Mackinac Island, MI 49757
– Off the beaten path on a quiet end of town
– Breakfast provided
– Spacious rooms great for families

Or, consider a private vacation rental on or near Mackinac Island.

Where to Stay in Mackinaw City

Staying in Mackinaw City, Michigan is a great option if you’re looking for more space to spread out, a lakefront accommodations, or lower rates.

Clearwater Lakeshore Motel
11380 US Hwy 23, Mackinaw City, MI 49701
– Hotel is on the lake with 300 feet of sandy beach
– Indoor heated pool and hot tub
– Lakefront rooms have private balconies
– Complimentary continental breakfast
Thunderbird Inn
146 Old US 31, Mackinaw City, MI 49701
– Clean and affordable
– Complimentary breakfast
– Indoor Pool

Eating & Dining on Mackinac Island

Many prime restaurants are very busy during summer months. Reservations are recommended.

If you’re looking for something quick, 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 since we were only on the island for one day.

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 in Mackinaw City. But staying on Mackinac Island is quite the experience and it’s a great way to extend your visit.

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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5 thoughts on “15 Best Things to Do on Mackinac Island for Families – Plus Where to Stay”

  1. The ice cream shop on the corner of the Grand Hotel is open to the public, with no dress code being enforced.
    Also, look for great deals on hotels in the fall months.
    A taxi ride is a great way to experience a horse and buggy ride without going on an entire tour.
    Biking to Stonecliffe is a great way to see more of the island. It looks like a castle, and stop by the Woods bar for some Sherley Temples. A walk to their back yard has beautiful views.

  2. Definitely consider biking the perimeter of the island! Fantastic, breath-taking views all around with many opportunities to stop along the way. (We packed a picnic with us and ate our lunch while sitting on rocks along the water.) Fort Mackinac was a lot of fun as well. Water bottles are a MUST to stay hydrated. Enjoy!

  3. This is exactly what I was hoping to find somewhere. We are headed to Mackinac Island for one day with our two kids and this gives me a great idea of how to structure our time there. Thank you!

  4. We were able to find a fantastic deal for an overnight weekend ON the island for only $89 a night on Groupon. Check there frequently for Macinaw deals 🙂

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