UPDATE: For questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, go here.
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. (If that’s the case, the last “c” is pronounced “aw,” FYI. We’ll explain later.)
Whatever your relationship to the 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, one of Expedia’s Most Tourist-Friendly Cities in America.
If you can picture Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, it looks like a mitten. Mackinac is right at the tip of the mitten. The 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. On the island, automobiles have been banned for more than 100 years. Most visitors travel to Mackinac 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 or charter a flight into the island’s airport.
The nearest airport served by commercial airlines is the Pellston Regional Airport, about 15 miles south of the Mackinaw City ferry docks. From there you can charter a flight to the island or take a shuttle to the ferry dock. Chippewa County International Airport, 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 the 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.
Q: When does the island open?
Mackinac 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 the island any time of year. Ferry service continues on a limited basis from November through April – unless the winter is cold enough for the Straits to freeze over.
It doesn’t close. (See above.) About 500 people live on Mackinac year-round, and a handful of lodging facilities remain open during the winter.
Q: What is there to do on Mackinac?
More than you can experience in a single trip! Many visitors enjoy renting bikes and pedaling around the island, sampling the world-famous fudge or just relaxing on a hotel porch and taking in the breathtaking views. Going on a horse-drawn carriage ride and seeing historic sites like Fort Mackinac also are popular things to do. And because more than 80 percent of Mackinac is a state park, the island is ideal for outdoor activities such as kayaking, biking, hiking and horseback riding. The island is home to two unique golf courses, two amazing butterfly conservatories, scores of distinctive shops, many extraordinary bars and restaurants and no fewer than 13 fudge shops.
Q: What’s the deal with Mackinac Island Fudge?
It’s the best in the world, and here’s why. So many people come to Mackinac to sample the variety of flavors that visitors are commonly called “fudgies.” Fudge has been a Mackinac attraction for over 100 years, with the captivating fudge-making process on display in storefronts for all to see.
Q: What else in Mackinac Island known for?
Mackinac Island is home to some of the world’s largest lilacs. The island celebrates the flowers each year with a festival in June. Mackinac also hosts the country’s most prestigious stone-skipping competition every Fourth of July, great Halloween parties in October and an old-fashioned tree-lighting and Christmas bazaar in December. The island is also one of Expedia’s Most Tourist-Friendly Cities.
Q: How big is Mackinac Island?
The island encompasses about 3.8 square-miles. The road that runs around the edge of the island, M-185, is just over 8 miles and takes about an hour or so to travel on bike at a leisurely pace. It’s the only state highway in the country that prohibits automobiles.
Q: Why is the last “c” pronounced “aw” in Mackinac?
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 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 decided to spell the name of the city like it sounds.
Q: Where can I stay on Mackinac?
There are more than 1,500 unique lodging rooms on the island. Find a Mackinac Island hotel, resort, bed-and-breakfast, condo or cottage that suits your needs.