Okay, maybe you were just a kid the last time you visited Mackinac Island. Or maybe you’ve never been here before. Or maybe this is the first you’ve ever even heard of Mackinac Island. (If that’s the case, the last “c” in Mackinac is pronounced “aw,” FYI. We’ll explain later.)
Whatever your connection to Mackinac Island, you probably have some questions. It’s good you’ve landed here, because we have answers.
Let’s go over the basics and get you introduced to, or reacquainted with, Mackinac Island, the No. 1 Best Island in the Continental U.S.
If you can picture Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, it looks like a mitten. Mackinac Island is right at the tip of the mitten. Mackinac Island sits in the Straits of Mackinac, just east of the Mackinac Bridge that connects Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas.
Not by car! You’d think the Mackinac Bridge connects to Mackinac Island, but it actually runs between the Upper and Lower peninsulas. Mackinac Island has been car-free for more than 125 years. Most visitors travel to Mackinac Island on ferries that depart from St. Ignace (at the north end of the bridge) or Mackinaw City (at the south end of the bridge). You also can take a private boat to Mackinac Island or charter a plane and fly into Mackinac Island Airport.
- Where do you catch the ferry to Mackinac Island?
- What to do with your car when you go to Mackinac Island
Yes, you can fly to Mackinac Island, but it’s not what you think. Flights directly to the Island are by private aircraft or a small, 7-minute, air taxi from St. Ignace airport.
The nearest airport served by commercial airlines is the Pellston Regional Airport (PLN), about 15 miles south of the Mackinaw City ferry docks. From there you can charter a flight to Mackinac Island or take a shuttle to the ferry dock. Chippewa County International Airport (CIU), about 30 minutes north of the St. Ignace ferry docks, has non-stop service from Minneapolis and Detroit. Major airports within a few hours’ drive of Mackinac Island include the Cherry Capitol Airport (TVC) in Traverse City, the Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GRR) in Grand Rapids, the Capital Region International Airport (LAN) in Lansing and the Detroit Metro Airport (DTW) in Detroit.
- 5 ways of getting to Mackinac Island from Minneapolis
- 6 ways of getting to Mackinac Island from Chicago
- How to get to Mackinac Island from Tampa
- 5 ways of getting to Mackinac Island from Pittsburgh
- How to get to Mackinac Island from Canada
Because Mackinac Island is car-free, most people get around on foot, bicycle, horse-drawn taxi, wheelchairs, or electric mobility scooters. The whole island only covers 3.8 square-miles, and many of the most popular restaurants and attractions are in close proximity right downtown. Visitors who venture into Mackinac Island State Park, which covers 80% of the island, typically travel by bicycle or horse.
- Bringing your own bike vs. renting one on Mackinac Island
- What to expect on the 8.2-mile bike ride around Mackinac Island
- Everything to know about Mackinac Island taxis
- 7 sights to see on a horse-drawn carriage tour of Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is always open! The peak season for visitors runs from late April through the end of October, when ferry companies offer daily service with several trips back and forth. But you can visit Mackinac Island any time of year. Ferry service continues on a limited basis through the winter from November through April – unless it’s cold enough for the Straits of Mackinac to freeze over.
It doesn’t close. (See above.) About 500 people live on Mackinac Island year-round, and a handful of places to stay, shops and restaurants remain open during the winter. Mackinac Island State Park also is open year-round.
- What it’s like to go to school on Mackinac Island
- 10 ‘supernatural’ sights to see in Mackinac Island State Park
More than you can experience in a single trip! Many visitors enjoy renting bikes and pedaling around Mackinac Island, sampling world-famous Mackinac Island fudge or just relaxing on a Mackinac Island porch and taking in the breathtaking views. Going on a horse-drawn carriage tour of Mackinac Island and seeing historic sites like Fort Mackinac also are popular things to do. And because more than 80% of Mackinac Island is a state park, it’s ideal for outdoor activities such as kayaking, biking, hiking and horseback riding. Mackinac Island is home to three unique golf courses, two amazing butterfly conservatories, scores of distinctive shops, many extraordinary bars and restaurants and no fewer than 13 fudge shops.
Mackinac Island fudge is the best in the world. So many people come to Mackinac Island to sample the variety of flavors that visitors are commonly called “fudgies.” Fudge has been a Mackinac Island attraction for over 100 years, with the captivating fudge-making process on display in storefronts for all to see.
Mackinac Island is home to some of the world’s largest lilacs, which are celebrated each year with a festival in June. Mackinac Island also hosts the country’s most prestigious stone-skipping competition every Fourth of July, a great Mackinac Island Halloween Weekend in October and an old-fashioned Mackinac Island tree-lighting and Christmas bazaar in December. Mackinac Island also is one of Expedia’s Most Tourist-Friendly Cities and was named the No. 1 Best Island in the Continental U.S. by Travel + Leisure.
There are more than 1,500 unique lodging rooms on Mackinac Island. Find a Mackinac Island hotel, resort, bed-and-breakfast, condo or cottage that suits your needs.
- Cottage and condo rentals on Mackinac Island
- Mackinac Island B&Bs a quaint and personal experience
- Choosing where to stay on Mackinac Island
- What is the dress code at Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel?
Native Americans used a word meaning “great turtle” to name the area around Mackinac Island, which looks perhaps a bit like a turtle shell rising out of the water. When the French built a fort along the Straits of Mackinac they adopted the Native American word, spelling it “Michilimackinac” and pronouncing it with an “aw” at the end. Over the years, Michilimackinac was shortened to Mackinac, but the pronunciation has remained “Mackinaw.” (Mackinaw City, at the foot of the Mackinac Bridge, is spelled with a “w” because the British who controlled the area in the late 18th and early 19th centuries built the city and decided to name it like it sounds in English.)