Yes, it is possible to visit Mackinac Island for a day trip. And if that’s all the time you have during a visit elsewhere in northern Michigan, then definitely you should hop on a ferry and spend the day in one of the world’s most unique places.
But a day trip doesn’t really do Mackinac Island justice. It’s more like whetting your appetite for more. There’s just so much to see and do on Mackinac Island. Plus, when you don’t spend the night, you’re missing out on some of the best things about the Mackinac Island experience:
- Mackinac Island Sunsets!
Watching that big orange ball slip beneath the water at the edge of the horizon does something special to your soul. And the rich palette of colors produced by a Mackinac Island sunset makes for some pretty special photo ops, too!
- Mackinac Island Nightlife!
Mackinac Island is home to dozens of bars and restaurants each with its own unique vibe, and all within walking distance of each other.
- Mackinac Island’s One-of-a-kind Places to Stay!
Just like you won’t find any chain hotels on Mackinac Island, you won’t find any of the hotels, resorts, B&Bs, condos or cottages on Mackinac Island anywhere else. Spending the night on Mackinac Island makes for a truly unique experience.
- Mackinac Island Sunrises!
There’s only one place to enjoy your early morning coffee while hearing the extraordinary harmony of foghorns, bicycle bells and the clip-clop of horse hooves.
While many day-trippers have a great time on Mackinac Island, you’ll make more memories by staying overnight. But even one night might not really be long enough to enjoy everything about Mackinac Island without being in a rush. And rushing around really isn’t how things are done on Mackinac Island. After all, one of the big attractions of Mackinac Island is the laid-back, stress-free pace of life!
For a relaxed visit that gives you time to really get to know Mackinac Island, you may want to consider spending an entire weekend, or even an entire week. Of course, some visitors spend an entire week on Mackinac Island and don’t do much of anything other than enjoy a few bites of world-famous Mackinac Island fudge and soak in all the natural beauty. Other people like to check things off a to-do list while they’re here.
The right amount of time for your visit to Mackinac Island depends on your own personal vacation pace and on how many things you’d like to see and do while you’re here. Here’s just a sampling of things to keep in mind for your itinerary:
- Perhaps the most popular thing to do is going on a narrated, horse-drawn carriage tour of Mackinac Island. The tour gives a great overview of Mackinac Island and takes you past some of the biggest attractions and most iconic natural features. You should plan to set aside two hours for the tour. If you prefer, you can even take hold of the reins yourself with a drive-it-yourself carriage experience on Mackinac Island.
- While a horse-drawn carriage tour shows you many of the most well-known sights and sounds of Mackinac Island, a bike ride can take you to some of the less-traveled areas. One popular thing to do is to pedal a bicycle all the way around the outer rim of Mackinac Island. The 8-mile journey takes about 60 to 90 minutes at a leisurely pace and features a constant stream of incredible waterfront views. You should plan to set aside two hours to pedal around Mackinac Island, but you might just want to rent the bike for four hours or even a full day.
- Historic Fort Mackinac has loomed atop the bluffs of Mackinac Island since 1780. Many original features remain, including the oldest building in all of Michigan. Whether you love history or just get a kick out of costumed interpreters re-enacting life from the 1800s, a visit to Fort Mackinac is fun for all ages. You should plan to set aside about two hours for a visit.
- Theoretically, you could spend all day sampling world-famous Mackinac Island fudge…if your body could handle it! But even if you just want to grab a quick bite, you should make time to visit a fudge shop or two while on Mackinac Island. You might even want to stay for a while and watch Mackinac Island fudge-making in action!
- Along with literally tons of Mackinac Island fudge, downtown is also home to many one-of-a-kind shops and art galleries where you can easily spend an entire day discovering unique northern Michigan gifts. As for the tasty variety of Mackinac Island bars and restaurants, well, you could spend the whole season on the island and not order the same dish twice!
- It’s a hike up to Fort Holmes, at the highest point of Mackinac Island. But the view is definitely worth it. While on the way, you might want to do some sight-seeing and stop by interesting Mackinac Island landmarks including Anne’s Tablet, the eerie Skull Cave and the legendary Sugar Loaf. If you’re physically able to hike the trails of Mackinac Island, be sure to set aside at least a couple hours – but with 70-miles of trails crisscrossing Mackinac Island State Park, you could spend much more time if you want.
There’s a wide variety of places to stay on Mackinac Island, from hotels right in the middle of downtown to resorts away from the crowds. You can find Mackinac Island overnight accommodations sorted by type and location here.
Once you choose a place to stay, then take a look at these itineraries for more things to do on Mackinac Island so you can get an even better sense of how many days to plan your visit:
- Things to do on Mackinac Island for history buffs
- How to show grandparents a good time on Mackinac Island
- 5 things to do the first time you visit Mackinac Island
- The guide to family travel on Mackinac Island
- 10 things to do on a rainy day on Mackinac Island
- Multigenerational Travel: Mackinac Island for extended families
- Enjoy a romantic getaway on Mackinac Island
- Things to do on Mackinac Island for outdoor adventurers
- Running on Mackinac Island: 4 of the most scenic routes
- 8 things to do on Mackinac Island that are totally free