So, what is there to do on Mackinac Island? Well, the short answer is a lot. But deciding which things to do depends on how you like to vacation and who you’re traveling with.
To help you get started planning, we’re putting together several sample itineraries. This time, we’re focused on things to do for families.
Here are some ideas and a sample 3-day itinerary to help you start putting the pieces together for a fantastic family getaway on Mackinac:
Board a ferry boat on the mainland at either Mackinaw City or St. Ignace and shuttle over to Mackinac Island. If your family likes to ride bikes, be sure to take them along on the ferry. Otherwise, you can rent bikes from vendors on the island. (More ferry tips here and Mackinac transportation options here.)
Once you’re on the island, let dock porters take your bags to your Mackinac lodging facility. Then, immediately look for a horse-drawn carriage tour. It is by far the most popular thing to do on the island, and a “must do” at the start of your visit. Nothing gives you a feel for the island’s history and geography more than a narrated carriage tour, and kids love the experience of being driven around the island by horse!
After you’ve gotten a tour of the island and made friends with one of Mackinac’s equine residents, then go explore on your own by bike. There are tons of bikes on Mackinac, and it’s safe even for little ones with training wheels because there are no motor vehicles allowed on the island. You can even ride your bikes all the way around the island, if you’d like. It only takes an hour or two at a leisurely pace, and it gives you a sense of the incredible natural beauty that exists in what was the country’s second national park.
If you decide to circumnavigate the island by bike on the country’s only state highway that prohibits motor vehicles, make plans to stop for a bite at the Cannonball Drive Inn. It’s one of several uniquely Mackinac places to eat (there aren’t any chain restaurants except for Starbucks) and it’s located about halfway through the 8.2-mile ride at British Landing.
Back in town, every kid (and kid at heart) will love free samples of world-famous Mackinac Island fudge. There are 13 shops where you can treat your tongue and watch fudge-making demonstrations. Just walk from one to the next in search of your favorite flavors. Downtown you can also find unique shops and toy stores, as well as zany experiences such as the Maze of Mirrors and the Haunted Theatre. Plus, make time for a fun family portrait at Mackinac Island Old Time Photos.
For dinner, you can find world-class cuisine all over Mackinac. And there’s plenty of kid-friendly fare, too. Instead of fast food chains, Mackinac offers island favorites including the Pancake House & Grille, Mighty Mac Hamburgers, Island Slice Pizzeria and Mr. B’s.
An absolute must-do for a family trip to Mackinac is a tour of historic Fort Mackinac. The fort dates to the Colonial era when the British, French and the fledgling Americans fought over control of the Great Lakes. In fact, it wasn’t until the treaty of the War of 1812 – 40 years after the United States won independence in the Revolutionary War – that the Americans took hold of Fort Mackinac for good! The historic aspects of the fort are pretty cool for adults and older kids, while everybody in the family will get a kick out of the daily reenactments of life on the fort from the 1800s, including booming cannon blasts.
After touring Fort Mackinac, you can unwind with lunch at one of Mackinac’s many waterfront restaurants or roll out a blanket and enjoy a picnic right outside the fort in Marquette Park – named by Readers’ Digest as the best picnic spot in Michigan. Kids can burn some energy running around Marquette Park or the nearby Great Turtle Park that features a full playground.
For an adventurous afternoon, families with older children can get back on the bikes and go off the beaten path to experience the interior of Mackinac. There are more than 70 miles of trails and paths on the island with extraordinary limestone rock formations, breathtaking lake views and beautiful wildflowers to discover along the way. You can also get into the heart of the island on horseback. There are liveries on Mackinac that offer guided tours for the family or saddle you up and let you explore on your own.
In addition to hiking, biking and horseback riding, you can also charter a boat for some fabulous Great Lakes fishing or rent kayaks for some surreal Great Lakes paddling.
After dinner, you can soak in the beauty of a Mackinac sunset at Windermere Point where you can skip stones into the surf or fly kits on the breeze to your heart’s content. A family round of miniature golf on the world’s most immaculate putting course, The Greens of Mackinac, is another option that comes with an incredible view. If the sky is clear, you can hike up to Fort Holmes, which is the island’s highest point, for the sunset and stargazing.
One of the coolest things about Mackinac is that more than 80 percent of the island is a state park, so many of the incredible natural attractions are free to visit. For example, you can walk right up to the iconic Arch Rock and snap a family selfie with Lake Huron in the background. Or, you can trek up to Fort Holmes, the restored military block house that sits atop the island’s highest point. The views from there are literally priceless.
Plus, don’t forget about the island’s amazing butterfly conservatories where you can immerse yourself in the incredibly peaceful surroundings and feel the playful tickle of butterfly wings on your arm.