Most Mackinac Island visitors arrive by boat because cars are prohibited (and, besides, there’s no bridge to get to Mackinac Island). While many people board a commercial ferry from the mainland in either St. Ignace or Mackinaw City, it is possible to take your own personal boat to Mackinac Island.
The Mackinac Island State Harbor includes a public marina with 80 boat slips.
A few of the slips are for seasonal use, but the vast majority are available for transient use by the day or overnight, with electricity and water available as well as pump-out service. The “Clean Marina-certified” harbor can accommodate boats up to 74 feet in length. Other amenities include restrooms and showers, picnic tables, grills and Wi-Fi. It’s located right across from Marquette Park at the foot of Fort Mackinac, and a short walk from shopping, restaurants and nightlife on Mackinac Island’s Main and Market streets.
The public marina in Mackinac Island is open from mid-May through mid-October, with harbor reservations through the Michigan Department of Natural Resources strongly advised. Boat slips can be especially scarce in the summer during times that coincide with annual sailboat races to Mackinac Island from Chicago and Port Huron.
Private boat slips on Mackinac Island
Private boat slips also are available in the Mackinac Island harbor for both day dockage and overnight stays. Call the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau at (906) 847-3783 for more information on private slips.
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Mackinac Island’s harbor is a working harbor that includes ferry boats and other commercial traffic. Both the public and private boat slips and the commercial ferry docks are located in the harbor in Mackinac Island’s Haldimand Bay, which is about 6 miles from St. Ignace, 7 miles from Mackinaw City, 15 miles from Cheboygan and 50 miles from Petoskey.
Each of the two commercial ferry companies that service Mackinac Island – Star Line Mackinac Island Hydro-Jet Ferry and Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry – have docks in both Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. Mackinaw City is located at the northern tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, at the southern end of the Mackinac Bridge. St. Ignace is at the southern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, at the northern end of the Mackinac Bridge. The ferry ride to Mackinac Island from either departure point on the mainland takes about 16 minutes.
Check with the Mackinac Island ferry companies for ferry fees and ticketing information. Likewise, check with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for information on Mackinac Island boat slip reservations and fees.
Whether you take a commercial ferry or your own boat to Mackinac Island, you’ll arrive in the same harbor in Haldimand Bay. Here’s a fun bit of Mackinac Island trivia regarding how Haldimand Bay got is name. It’s one of many fascinating illustrations of Mackinac Island’s unique history:
As the story goes, the British commander of Fort Michilimackinac wanted to move the outpost from the mainland (at what is now Mackinaw City) onto the high bluffs of Mackinac Island during the Revolutionary War. In order to do so, he sought permission from the governor of Quebec, a British colonial province that at the time encompassed all of what we now know as Michigan. To gain support for the move, the fort commander offered to name the Mackinac Island harbor after the governor, Frederick Haldimand.
So, while Mackinac Island is part of the United States with a name that has both French and Native American origins, its bay is actually named after a Swiss-born British military ally who was an opponent of the American revolution.