Horse-drawn carriage options: Public tour vs. private tour

One of the first things you’ll notice about Mackinac Island when you step off the ferry boat is that there are horse-drawn carriages everywhere. It’s a big part of the charm of visiting a car-free destination!

Some of the carriages are shuttles that take visitors to a particular place to stay, such as Grand Hotel, Mission Point Resort or the Inn at Stonecliffe. Others are Mackinac Island taxis that transport people from here to there. Some are not really carriages at all, but drays that workers use to haul items and tools.

There are so many horses and carts going every which way that it can be difficult to know which rides are the right ones for you!

Rest assured, there are lots of ways to spend time with horses during your visit to Mackinac Island. One activity you will definitely want to do is take a horse-drawn carriage tour. And there, too, you have options: Would you prefer a public carriage tour or a private one?

Here’s a closer look at the differences between a public tour of Mackinac Island by horse-drawn carriage and a private tour:

A series of public horse-drawn carriage tours move down a Mackinac Island street lined with green trees

Public Horse-Drawn Carriage Tours of Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island Carriage Tours operates the official horse-drawn carriage tour of Mackinac Island State Park. The narrated public tours depart throughout the day from a convenient downtown location and are perhaps the most popular visitor attraction on the island.

The tours have room for large groups and are pet-friendly, too! They last about 1 hour and 45 minutes and follow a route that gives you a good overview of Mackinac Island, passing by several prominent landmarks and stopping at Surrey Hill, Arch Rock, Fort Mackinac and Grand Hotel.

The public carriage tours operate daily from early May through October, departing on a rolling schedule until mid- or late-afternoon, depending on the season. No reservations are needed. Just buy a ticket right downtown on Main Street across from the Mackinac Island Ferry Dock #1 and wait for the next carriage. Keep in mind that no tours leave after 5 p.m. in the summer or after 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. at other times of the year.

A private horse-drawn carriage passes in front of Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel lined with flowers and American flags

Private Horse-Drawn Carriage Tours of Mackinac Island

Private carriage tours of Mackinac Island offer a similar guided experience in a more intimate setting. Carriages through Mackinac Island Carriage Tours have room for up to 8 people and are rented by the hour, with customized routes available so you can go places and see sights that aren’t part of the public tour. Same-day reservations are accepted.

Gough Carriages also provides private carriage tours with room for up to 6 adults and personalized routes and starting points. You could go past the gorgeous cottages up on the bluffs, for example, through Harrisonville where many year-round residents live and all the way up to Fort Holmes, the highest point on the island – all while getting one-on-one interaction with a knowledgeable guide. Reservations can be made in advance or on the same day as you plan to ride.

A drive-it-yourself horse carriage on Mackinac Island passes by Grand Hotel as it makes its way up the hill

Other Horse-Drawn Carriage Opportunities on Mackinac Island

In addition to guided carriage tours, Mackinac Island also offers the incredible opportunity to drive a horse-drawn carriage yourself! No experience needed.

Jack’s Livery Stable will give you a primer on horse handling and then set you off on your very own exploration at a lower price point than guided tours. Reservations are accepted one day in advance, and same-day rentals are welcome.

Of course, if you’d prefer to skip the carriage and spend time together just you and a horse, horseback riding is another Mackinac Island pastime. Both Jack’s Livery Stable and Cindy’s Riding Stable offer guided and unguided trail riding with rates by the hour.

Infographic with details on the differences between public and private carriage tours of Mackinac Island including photo of horse-drawn buggy


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