5 things to do the first (or next) time you visit Mackinac Island

Published on May 15th, 2019

Last updated on August 3rd, 2021

So, you’re going to Mackinac Island for the first time! Whatever you do during your stay, you’ll enjoy being here – even if your idea of the perfect vacation is just to sit on the porch and breathe in the fresh, island air.

But if you’re looking for activity on Mackinac, there’s so much to do that it can be overwhelming trying to figure out where to start. Or deciding which of the island’s sites and attractions are must-see, must-do on your first trip.Woman Riding Bike – Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

Well, here you go, ya first-time “fudgie.” Let this be your guide. Start with these five things to do and then add to the list or pare it back based on the vacation pace you prefer. And if you’ve been to Mackinac before and didn’t do all of these, then come on back because you’re missing out!

Bike around the island – How many people can say they’ve biked ALL THE WAY around an island? Mackinac offers exactly that opportunity. You can rent a bike from one of the many vendors in town – or bring your own on the ferry – and pedal safely around the outer rim of Mackinac on M-185, which is the only state highway in the country that doesn’t allow motor vehicles. The distance is eight miles. If that sounds like a lot, keep in mind that the typical speed of a leisurely bike ride is about 8 miles per hour. So, you can make it all the way around Mackinac in about 60 minutes. And if you want, you can take breaks along the way for breathtaking views and even grab a bite to eat halfway ‘round the island.

Been to Mackinac before? If you’ve already biked around the island, try heading into Mackinac’s interior where there are more than 70 miles of paved and dirt trails to explore. You can find many cool sites in the heart of the island, away from town. Pedal to Sugarloaf, Anne’s Tablet, Crack-in-the-Island and more.

Sundaes from Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor – Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau Visit the Grand Hotel – Looming large atop Mackinac’s limestone bluffs as you approach the island on a ferry boat is historic Grand Hotel. Built in 1887, the iconic hotel has nearly 400 rooms that are virtually 100-percent occupied May through October. But even if you’re not staying there, Grand Hotel is still worth a visit. For $10 you can walk through the hotel and grounds including the world’s longest porch. At 660 feet from end to end, it’s more than two football fields across! The porch includes 147 planting boxes with 12 yards of potting soil and nearly 1,500 geraniums, the hotel’s trademark flower. While you’re near the hotel, stop by Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor for a sweet Mackinac treat such as the famous Grand Hotel Pecan Balls.

Been to Mackinac before? There’s quite a lot more for non-hotel guests to do at Grand Hotel (fees apply). Enjoy lunch or dinner in the hotel’s beautiful Main Dining Room, afternoon tea in the parlor or a cocktail in the Cupola Bar on the top floor where there are panoramic views of the island. Plus, the hotel features several one-of-a-kind boutique shops with clothing, jewelry, fine art, toys, souvenirs and more.

Sample fudge – Where else in the world can you visit 13 fudge shops – yes, 13! – all within a short walk of each other? Nowhere. Mackinac fudge makers churn out five tons of the tasty treat each day during peak tourism season. And it’s not just the fudge that’s a draw. Watching the actual fudge-making has been ingrained in the Mackinac experience for generations. Shops put the process – marble slabs, wooden paddles and all – on display for all to see. Plus, the shops all offer free samples to help you settle on your favorite.

Been to Mackinac Island before? Sample more fudge. It’s still delicious!

Fort Mackinac – With the clip-clop of horse hooves rather than the roar of motor vehicles, Mackinac naturally takes on a historic charm. But the island really is full of history. Fort Mackinac dates to 1780 when the British moved it across the ice from the mainland, where it was originally built by the French. The redcoats still held the fort as late as 1815, nearly 40 years after the Americans declared independence. The fort has been restored to how it looked in the late 1800s, and you can tour it and see demonstrations of life as it was on Mackinac back then.

View from Horse-Drawn Carriage – Mackinac Island Tourism BureauBeen to Mackinac Island before? In addition to the fort, there are many other historic attractions on Mackinac including an old blacksmith shop, the early 19th-century Biddle and McGulpin houses, an antique carriage museum, historic fur company store and a museum that tells the story of Dr. William Beaumont, a Fort Mackinac surgeon who became known as the “father of gastric physiology” for his experiments on a man with a window to his stomach.

Carriage ride – See the island from the comfort of a horse-drawn carriage by going on a narrated tour that stops by notable sites such as Arch Rock, Fort Mackinac and Grand Hotel. Public tours depart throughout the day, or you can reserve an intimate, private tour as well.

Been to Mackinac Island before? Get behind the wheel, er, reins, of your own horse-drawn carriage and drive one yourself! You can rent a buggy by the hour and tour Mackinac on your own. Or, ditch the carriage and ride horseback into the middle of the island on a guided or unguided trail ride.

So, there’s five things to do on your first trip to Mackinac. And we haven’t even mentioned having lunch at Michigan’s Best Picnic Spot, stargazing from Mackinac’s highest point, taking a selfie at Arch Rock, surviving the Haunted Theater, playing golf on a course where a war was fought or browsing downtown’s unique shops. And, of course, you’ll want to find a favorite Mackinac restaurant, too.

For more help, sort through all there is to eat, see and do on Mackinac and start getting even more excited for your trip.