How to show grandparents a good time on Mackinac Island

Published on November 11th, 2020

Life has changed a lot since the old days. Many routine aspects of today’s world, like getting information from all across the globe instantly delivered to a phone in the palm of your hand, were only figments of the imagination a couple generations ago.

In fact, life is so much different for kids these days that it can be hard for parents, let alone grandparents, to stay up to speed with what’s going on!

Mackinac Island is perfect for grandparents and grandkids to vacation together and find things to do that everybody enjoys.Some changes have been for the better, for sure, but the jury’s still out on others. Either way, it’s easy to yearn for the way things used to be. Because in a lot of ways the way things used to be was pretty good, too.

Remember taking trips to the toy store?

Mackinac Island is one of the rare places today where there’s still an authentic toy store. Where it’s okay to slow down and appreciate the simple pleasures of life: a bike ride by the water, a casual stroll along the boardwalk, free samples of fudge!

Mackinac Island is the rare place where family members of different generations can find things to do that everybody enjoys.

Where grandparents can introduce their grandkids to something special from the past, and where the grandkids can teach a thing or two to grandma and grandpa, too.

The funny thing is much of the historic charm of Mackinac Island pre-dates even the grandparents! Nobody was around when Fort Mackinac was an active military base. Or when Mackinac Island decided not to allow “horseless carriages” on the streets. Or, certainly, when the incredible natural wonders such as Arch Rock were carved out of the limestone by the surrounding waters.

There’s a lot on Mackinac Island from the really old days, and it’s the perfect place for grandparents and grandkids to learn about those things together.

Here are 10 activities to build a Mackinac Island vacation around when you’re looking to show the grandparents and the grandkids a good time:

  • Horse-drawn carriage tour

    Perhaps nothing illustrates the old-world charm of Mackinac Island so much as the clip-clop of horses. Because “horseless carriages,” or automobiles, aren’t allowed on the island, people get around on horse, bike or foot. One of the most popular activities for all ages is a narrated horse-drawn carriage tour that passes many of the best-known Mackinac Island attractions. For a more personal tour, get behind the reins of your own private carriage and drive the horses yourself!

  • Fort Mackinac

    Although Fort Mackinac was built on the bluffs of Mackinac Island in 1780 by the British, the historic buildings have been restored to how they looked during the second half of the 19th century when American troops manned the post and doubled as rangers in Mackinac National Park. In addition to history exhibits, Fort Mackinac hosts daily re-enactments featuring costumed interpreters to give visitors a taste of life as a soldier back in the 1800s.

  • Arch Rock is one of many Mackinac Island landmarks offering a lesson in natural history and an incredible photo op.Arch Rock

    What once was known as Mackinac National Park has been called Mackinac Island State Park for the past 125 years. Among the many natural landmarks in the state park is Arch Rock, a picturesque limestone arch high above Lake Huron on the east side of Mackinac Island. Arch Rock offers an interesting lesson in natural history and an incredible photo op at the same time. And it’s just one of many sights to see in the park including Eagle Point Cave, Crack in the Island, Sugar Loaf and Skull Cave.

  • Bike rides

    When not getting around by horse or on foot, Mackinac Island visitors hop on bikes and pedal to their destinations. Circumnavigating the island is a popular route that’s about 8.2 miles long and takes 60 to 90 minutes at a leisurely pace. There are many bike trails throughout Mackinac Island State Park, too, some more rugged than others. Mackinac Island visitors are welcome to take their own bicycles on the ferry boat or rent a bike when they arrive.

  • Have fun downtown

    In addition to stunning natural beauty, Mackinac Island is home to lots of good, ole man-made family fun, too. The whole family can head downtown and have a blast navigating through the iconic 3D Maze of Mirrors or enjoy the zany experience of meeting 3D monsters from Mackinac Island’s legendary past at the Haunted Theatre. An especially fun way to bridge the generation gap is to dress your family in period costume and pose for a portrait at Mackinac Old Time Photography. You can also let your imaginations run wild at Great Turtle Toys or browse shelves full of unique books for all ages at The Island Bookstore.

  • Sip ‘n Sail Cruise

    Biking around Mackinac Island presents spectacular scenery with water always off to your side. Of course, boating around Mackinac Island puts water all around. A Sip ‘n Sail Cruise on the Isle Royale Queen III gives passengers a different perspective of Mackinac Island as you see it from the water. Plus, you can cruise under the mighty Mackinac Bridge!

  • Flying a kite

    Speaking of Mackinac Island’s authentic toy store, Great Turtle Toys will make you feel like a kid in a candy store with unique items for kids of all ages and kids at heart, too. It’s also a great place to pick up a kite for some aerial adventures at Windermere Point. The park near the Iroquois and Windermere hotels gets lake breezes off the Straits of Mackinac that are ideal for flying kites.

Mackinac Island offers fun things to do for all ages including a dip in the Esther Williams Swimming Pool at Grand Hotel.

The Esther Williams Swimming Pool at Grand Hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island

  • Butterfly conservatories

    Just as colorful as the kites at Windermere Point, the butterfly conservatories on Mackinac Island feature fluttering insects from around the world. The Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House & Insect World is the third-oldest live butterfly exhibit in the country!

  • Play catch

    There’s no Major League baseball team on Mackinac Island. Not even the high school has a team. But Mackinac Island is home to the oldest ballfield in all of Michigan! Soldiers first started playing “base ball” on the parade grounds outside Fort Mackinac 150 years ago. Be sure to pack a glove and ball in your luggage and you can carry on the tradition by having a game of catch with grandpa.

  • Mackinac Island Fudge

    Remember when a trip to the candy store was a big deal? It still is on Mackinac Island. There are more than a dozen shops downtown making and selling world-famous Mackinac Island fudge. The whole family will enjoy free samples while watching the art of fudge making.

Now that you have the makings of an itinerary for your multi-generational family vacation to Mackinac Island, find a place to stay. Mackinac Island is full of unique hotels, B&Bs, resorts, condos and cottages that feature all of the modern amenities along with the incredible character of past generations.


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