Getting up close to the iconic Arch Rock: Free.
Stunning views of the Mackinac Bridge: Free.
Walking along the water, chatting in a chair, hanging in a hammock: Free. Free. Free.
Let’s face it. You can spend a lot of money on vacation between transportation, lodging, food and entertainment. But, as they say, the best things in life are free. And there’s a whole lot of free things to do on Mackinac Island.
For one, almost all of the island is a state park that’s free for you to explore. Here are eight more things to do on Mackinac that won’t cost you a penny:
Hiking – Mackinac has more than 70 miles of paved and natural paths crisscrossing the interior of the island. Priceless views like this one are a dime a dozen on Mackinac. Just lace up your shoes, open your eyes and soak in the extraordinary beauty.
Skipping stones – Some of the world’s best professional stone-skippers come to Mackinac Island each Fourth of July for the annual W.T. Rabe Stone Skipping Tournament, held at Windermere Point. But all season long there are spots all over the island where you can make your heart sing by zinging rocks into the surf. Get tips from Mackinac’s resident stone-skipping champ here and let it fly. And if you’re on the island July 4, keep in mind that the tournament is open to amateurs, too. Maybe you can show up world record-holder Kurt “Mountain Man” Steiner or dethrone the 2018 champ, Dave “Lefty” Kolar.
Playing in a park – The expanse of green grass in Marquette Park, right at the foot of Fort Mackinac, is a popular place to hang out on the island. You can even take a load off and have a seat right at the foot of Father Jacques Marquette (above left)! Marquette Park was named by Readers’ Digest as the Best Picnic Spot in Michigan. (By the way, another great spot for a picnic is Fort Holmes, which features beautiful panoramic views from the island’s highest point.) You can make a meal on the cheap by picking up ingredients from Doud’s Market, America’s oldest family-owned grocery store.
In addition to Marquette Park, there also are several playgrounds on Mackinac including Great Turtle Park where there’s a soccer field, sand volleyball court, basketball court, softball field, disc golf course and a pavilion with a fireplace and seasonal bathrooms.
Stargazing – Not only is Mackinac an island, but more than 80 percent of it is wilderness. Outside of downtown, there’s not a lot of light pollution. And that makes the night sky brilliant. You can see the majesty of the heavens most anywhere around the island, but perhaps the most awe-inspiring spot for stargazing is at Fort Holmes on the island’s highest point.
Swimming – Although there’s not a lot of sandy beach on Mackinac, the whole island is surrounded by the clear, blue waters of the Great Lakes. British Landing, about halfway around the island from downtown, is a great place to wade along the shore or go out for a swim.
Visiting old cemeteries – Seriously. Part of the allure of Mackinac is that it seems like time stands still when you’re here. The island’s three cemeteries offer perhaps the most tangible experience of that. You can take a respectful, solemn stroll back in time and see the island’s oldest identified grave, which dates to 1833, and military burial sites that go all the way back to the War of 1812.
Sightseeing – The 50-foot wide Arch Rock is the most famous rock formation on Mackinac, yet it’s only one of many one-of-a-kind selfie spots on the island. Sugarloaf rises 75 feet out of the ground, Fort Holmes sits 320 feet above lake level and Crack-in-the-Island is literally a crack in the island. Go ahead and try to wiggle right into it!
Relaxing – Go ahead and put your feet up. It is a vacation, after all. Whether you like hanging from a hammock out in the woods (a reminder, overnight hammocking is not allowed on Mackinac Island) or snoozing in an Adirondack chair on the porch of your hotel, caressed by the island breeze, it is totally free – and perfectly acceptable – to laze the day away on Mackinac. Take a deep breath, exhale and relax.
Well, that’s eight things you can do for free on Mackinac. You can find dozens more here.
When you’re planning a Mackinac Island vacation, you can also find budget-friendly deals on places to stay. Plus, some ferry packages include discounts on island attractions such as horse-drawn carriage tours, Fort Mackinac and the Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House.