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Top 14 Things to Do on Mackinac Island, Michigan

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While growing up in Illinois, one of my favorite places to go for a family vacation was Mackinac Island. This unique Michigan destination is famous for being a car-free island where you get around on bikes or by horse-drawn carriage while indulging in homemade fudge and saltwater taffy with gorgeous natural landscapes in the background. It’s a lovely choice for both family trips and romantic getaways because it feels like taking a step back in time and embracing a bit of nostalgia, even if only for the weekend.

Here are some of the top things to do on Mackinac Island when you have an opportunity to visit.

Go on a Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride
Taking a tour of Mackinac Island on a horse and buggy

Go on a Horse-Drawn Carriage Ride

What Is It? Among the most iconic things to do on Mackinac Island is go for a horse-drawn carriage ride. Local guide companies provide tours where you can sit back and relax with a nostalgic vibe as you experience the charm of the island.

Why Do It? On a narrated carriage ride, you can learn more about Mackinac Island and get a deeper appreciation for the area. There are typically no set departure times for the rides, so you can hop on whenever is convenient for you.

Good to Know: Rides through Mackinaw Island Carriage Tours last for about one hour and 45 minutes. The rides are pet-friendly! You can hold a small dog on your lap, but a larger dog may require you to purchase a child ticket.

Indulge in Some Ice Cream
Nothing like delicious ice cream on Mackinac Island

Indulge in Some Ice Cream

What Is It? A quintessential Mackinaw Island experience is indulging in some ice cream on a hot summer’s day. There are many highly recommended ice cream shops on the island.

Why Do It? Homemade ice cream is something that Mackinaw Island is known for and a perfect treat to cool off and really feel like you are on vacation.

Good to Know: Some recommended local businesses to check out is Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor at the Grand Hotel, Sanders Chocolate & Ice Cream Shoppe, and Kilwins Mackinaw Island for specialty sweets.

Bike Around the Island
Biking is the best way to get around the island

Bike Around the Island

What Is It? Since Mackinac Island does not allow personal cars, biking is a great way to get around. There are bike rentals available on the island to make this method of transportation easy, convenient, and fun.

Why Do It? Not only is biking good exercise to counteract some of that ice cream and fudge you’ll be enjoying, but it is also a way to experience island life up close and in a personal way. There are free self-guided tours that you can follow to check out the top areas of interest on two wheels.

Good to Know: There are different kinds of bikes that you can rent on Mackinac Island, including trailers to carry kids and pets behind your bike. You can pay a per-hour, half-day, or full-day rate for your rental bike.

Sample the Local Fudge
Go ahead and sample a little homemade fudge

Sample the Local Fudge

What Is It? Fudge became famous on Mackinac Island because of its history as a summer vacation destination. Tourists started associating the island with sweet treats, and candy kitchens began to open.

Why Do It? Fudge is delicious and historic on Mackinac Island. The Original Murdick’s Fudge dates back to 1887 and uses all-natural and gluten-free ingredients, for example.

Good to Know: In addition to the Original Murdick’s Fudge, other top-rated fudge shops include Ryba’s Fudge Shop, Joann’s Fudge, and May’s Candy Shop.

Learn at Historic Fort Mackinac
Fort Mackinac and the Governor's Mansion sit above the picturesque town

Learn at Historic Fort Mackinac

What Is It? Fort Mackinac is part of the Mackinac State Historic Parks system and is made up of the oldest building in Michigan, plus 13 other structures that teach visitors about military battles, training, medical treatments, and family life.

Why Do It? The fort offers more than just insights about a military outpost but also about soldiers and family life on Mackinac Island. There are live programs, tours, and demonstrations by costumed interpreters, which are favorite activities among traveling families.

Good to Know: The park website describes events happening on various dates at the fort. There are often events taking place every hour between 9 am and 7 pm.

Dine or Stay at the Grand Hotel
Grand Hotel - Mackinac Island, Michigan

Dine or Stay at the Grand Hotel

What Is It? The Grand Hotel has been a Mackinaw Island icon since 1887. It is a hotel that offers afternoon tea in the parlor, nightly dancing to live orchestra music, and rocking chairs overlooking the Straits of Mackinac.

Why Do It? This hotel is a National Historic Landmark and one of the top hotels in the country. There are guest rooms, suites, and a cottage that you can book, plus 13 restaurants and bars onsite.

Good to Know: There is always a lot going on at the Grand Hotel, and many activities are available, such as golf and lawn games. There are also add-on experiences that you can arrange in advance, including milk and cookies at turndown for the kids or champagne and roses for a romantic touch.

Admire the Lighthouses
Beauty in and along the water to admire

Admire the Lighthouses

What Is It? Something else that Mackinaw Island is known for is its lighthouses, which are historic and interesting to learn about. There are multiple lighthouses on the island, some of which have been turned into quaint bed & breakfast inns.

Why Do It? Lighthouses provided guiding light during storms for sailors dating back to the 1800s. Today, you can see exhibits in lighthouses, such as the keepers’ quarters, where lighthouse keepers and their families lived and worked.

Good to Know: One iconic lighthouse is the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, which has a museum, fog signal whistle demonstration, and tours available. Adult admission to this lighthouse is $9.75.

Sit and Relax at the Beach
Relax and soak up the sounds and colors

Sit and Relax at the Beach

What Is It? There are beaches along M-185 and the east side of the island where you can relax and enjoy a lovely sunrise or sunset. The beaches here are rocky, rugged, and secluded, which is something that might surprise you as a first-time visitor.

Why Do It? Although Mackinaw Island beaches aren’t quite like ocean beaches you may have been to – they are still beautiful and nice to sit along on a bench or Adirondack chair as you admire the views.

Good to Know: Some beach areas to check out include Windermere Point at Main Street’s west end, British Landing on the island’s outer rim, and the boardwalk west of Main Street. Bring sandals or water shoes because the beaches are rocky and tough on the feet.

See Art at the Richard and Jane Manoogian Art Museum
Add a dose of art and culture to your trip

See Art at the Richard and Jane Manoogian Art Museum

What Is It? The Richard and Jane Manoogian Art Museum is worth visiting on the island because it features the fine and decorative arts created on and inspired by the island over time. It is a diverse museum that features Native American garments, historic maps, Victorian-era pieces, and original photographs.

Why Do It? There are exhibits at the museum and also live programs that take place in the summer. You can join a program for kids’ crafts, gallery tours, contemporary art shows, and more.

Good to Know: There is also an artist-in-residence program at the museum.

Take a Sunset Cruise
The sunsets are incredible here

Take a Sunset Cruise

What Is It? One of the best ways to appreciate the natural beauty of Mackinaw Island is to take a sunset cruise. You can set sail on Lake Michigan and soak up the sunset views as you relax and learn about the area from a knowledgeable guide.

Why Do It? There are various cruise options available on Mackinaw Island, but the sunset time of day is particularly stunning. Guests can cruise under Mackinac Bridge and see historic lighthouses, the historic fort, and other local sites for an hour-long ride.

Good to Know: Many sunset cruises have food and alcoholic beverages available for purchase, but they are not included in the standard cruise cost.

Explore Mackinac Island Butterfly House and Insect World
Butterflies are natural wonders for visitors of any age

Explore Mackinac Island Butterfly House and Insect World

What Is It? For family fun, make a point to check out the Mackinac Island Butterfly House and Insect World, a 1,800-square-foot tropical garden with hundreds of butterflies. It is the third-oldest butterfly exhibit in the U.S. and has butterflies from four continents.

Why Do It? Adults and kids of all ages are delighted by the beauty of butterflies and seeing them flutter around in magical ways. It is a relaxing and educational place to visit when you are on Mackinac Island.

Good to Know: It is open between 10 am and 6 pm or 7 pm, depending on the season.

Play a Game of Golf
A public golf course filled with history

Play a Game of Golf

What Is It? Mackinac Island is also known for its golfing, and one recommended option is the Wawashkamo Golf Club. The club is also a public charity and open to the public. Wawashkamo is a par 72 course and non-metal spike facility.

Why Do It? Wawashkamo is more than just a place to play golf; it is also a piece of Mackinac Island history. It is one of the oldest active courses in Michigan and part of the Mackinac State Historic Parks system. You can learn about nineteenth-century history and where a British cannon blasted back in 1814 during a day on the course.

Good to Know: The rates to golf vary based on the season, whether you want to play nine or 18 holes, and whether you will walk or rent a golf cart. Golf lessons are available here as well.

Soar Up High with a Parasailing Experience
Get a whole new perspective on island life

Soar Up High with a Parasailing Experience

What Is It? Parasailing is a type of water sport where a person is pulled behind a boat with a parachute attached to them and then lifted into the sky above the water. There are parasailing opportunities around Mackinac Island and in the Straits Area.

Why Do It? On a parasailing tour, you can see Mackinac Island from up above and get epic views of the famous bridge while spending time on beautiful Lake Huron.

Good to Know: You don’t need to have any special training to go parasailing because the sport is supervised by professionals who will give you all the instruction and equipment you need. Some parasailing adventures start from the Hook Lakeside Grill, which is convenient for grabbing a drink and a bite to eat after your flight.

Photograph Arch Rock
Landscape view of Arch Rock looking out over Lake Huron on Mackinac Island

Photograph Arch Rock

What Is It? Arch Rock is a famous rock formation on Mackinac Island that is over 50 feet wide and towers high above the water. It is visually impressive and accessible by bike, foot, or carriage.

Why Do It? This geological formation formed approximately 7,500 years ago and is believed to be a place of spiritual power filled with legends and history.

Good to Know: Arch Rock is on the southeastern part of the island, and there are paved roads and trails that lead to it. The Grand Hotel is less than two miles away from this natural feature.

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