Plan at Least One Full Day for Mackinac Island Explorations
Many visitors come to Mackinac Island 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 on Mackinac Island.
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.
Important Message: Local businesses are working hard to implement procedures based on the new safety guidelines. For each of the attractions and events we mention, we include a link to the business website. Please use this link to confirm the details, hours of operation and any requirements guests must follow before visiting. Thank You!
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
The island adventure starts before you even reach the island – the ferry ride is big fun.
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.
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 BundlefastPasses, 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.
2) Watch a Reenactment or See the Cannon Fired at Fort Mackinac
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:
This historic military forttakes 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.
Re-enactments happen every 45 minutes; you can even watch them fire the cannon.
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. 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.
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
If you’re doing the carriage tour, board a “country carriage” and head out to Arch Rock.
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
After that, you can opt to end your tour at the Grand Hotel.
We have some great adviceon making the most of visiting the Grand Hotel, along with tips if you opt to spend a night or two at this iconic 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.
7) Relax on the Lawn & Playground at Marquette Park
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.
Set off to the side is a small 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.
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.
Biking the island will let you stop at attractions like Arch Rock and climb up to the overlook at your own pace.
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, 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.
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.
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.
There’s a toy store on the island and many places to find t-shirts. The magic shop on the main street is fun as well. There’s no shortage of shopping.
13) Take on the 18-Hole Putting Course at Mission Point Resort
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.
14) Tour the 7000 Square Foot Governor’s Mansion – for Free
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 Pack for Mackinac Island
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
Eating and Sleeping 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.
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
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:
The Inn at Stonecliffe| Bring your bikes! It has an outdoor pool and wonderful breakfast included with your stay. Also has suites in their Summer House building to give your family more
LakeBluff Condos & Suites| 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!