Plan a Day Trip to the Beautiful Mackinac Island

Imagine cruising across the Straits of Mackinac on an approximate 18-minute ferry for your day trip to Mackinac Island. 

You snap photos as your ferry passes by the “Mighty Mac” suspension bridge, the longest in the Western Hemisphere. From afar, you see the morning sunlight shining down on the largest porch in the world at the Grand Hotel. The ferry continues, casually going by two lighthouses, one that is postcard-pretty. 

After the ferry docks, you excitedly make your way to Main Street, only a few steps from the pier. You see charming Queen Anne cottages, shops, and restaurants lining the street. People are leaving the shops laden with bags of decadent fudge, souvenirs, and local goods. Stopping suddenly, you briefly ponder if you stepped back in time.

You listen. There are no cars. None. All you hear is laughter, horses’ hooves walking on the streets, bike bells, and birds singing their morning songs. Excited, you walk through downtown Mackinac Island, ready for a full day of adventure!

If this sounds like a perfect day trip destination, you’ve landed in the right place. Mackinac Island’s fascinating history, unique topography, and friendly atmosphere make it one of the best islands to visit in the United States. And once you leave the island, you’ll yearn to return quickly. 

In this article, I’ve put together your guide for a day trip to Mackinac Island, including ferry information, transportation, places to eat, and suggested things to do in one day. And in case you are wondering, it is possible to see some of the main highlights of Mackinac Island in one day! 

Also, don’t forget to check out my article Visit Mackinac Island on a Budget: 10 Ways to Save.

Horses stand on Main Street in Mackinac
You’ll see many horses on Mackinac Island since cars are not permitted!

Table of Contents

The Frequently Asked Question: How Do You Pronounce “Mackinac?”

I admit I was pronouncing Mackinac Island as “Mack-i-nack,” but it is pronounced, “MACK-in-awe.” Mackinac comes from the Native American term “Mishinimakinang,” which means giant turtle. Eventually, the shorter word, Mackinac or Mackinaw, was adopted. 

Where Can You Find This Tiny Island? 

Mackinac Island might remind you of a quaint New England coastal town. But this Northern Michigan island is part of the Upper Peninsula. It is also only a few miles away from the Lower Peninsula. 

The island sits in Lake Huron near the Straits of Mackinac, which connects Lake Michigan to Lake Huron. You can find Mackinac Island on a map here:

Can You Do Mackinac Island in One Day?

To experience and enjoy the best of Mackinac Island, staying at least two or three nights is ideal. However, a day trip to Mackinac Island to see the main highlights is still possible. To make things easier, you will probably want to map out beforehand on what you want to see, how to get there, and where you want to eat. 

But if you prefer to avoid planning and to experience things on a whim, that is okay too. The good news is Mackinac Island is only about 8 miles in circumference and not too big. 

Many main highlights are easily accessible. Main Street is a few steps from where you disembark from the ferry. Plus, some tours will take you to many of the main points of interest, including the horse-drawn carriage tour, which is popular on the island. 

If you plan a day trip to Mackinac Island, you will want to prepare for the unexpected, which might limit your time or prevent you from visiting all you want to see. Long lines, many tourists, and inclement weather can thwart the best-laid-out plans. I only say this because it is easy to set expectations too high only to be disappointed.

Regardless of how plans go, you’ll have the best time on this tiny island. 

View of downtown Mackinac Island from the fort
A lovely view of downtown Mackinac on a foggy morning.

A Little Bit of History

Most of Mackinac Island is a state park, but if you look at older maps, you might see the words “National Park.” Before 1895, Mackinac Island was a national park from 1875 to 1895. In fact, it was this nation’s second national park after Yellowstone. And much of the island today looks like it did back then. 

Due to its location and prominent vantage points high up on the bluffs, Mackinac Island had military and economic importance during the American Revolution and War of 1812. Fur trade and fishing also dominated this region for decades until commercial interests switched to tourism. 

But the Native Americans were the first to visit this island before the French, British, and Americans. They would travel to Mackinac Island frequently in the warmer months. For them, Mackinac Island was a sacred place, home to the Great Spirit and important for fishing and growing crops. Their legends and beliefs regarding Mackinac Island contribute to its fascinating history. 

boats in Mackinac Island harbor
Mackinac Island Harbor

When is the Best Time to Visit for A Day Trip to Mackinac Island? 

Due to treacherous water and weather conditions in the winter season, many businesses, restaurants, and attractions close from mid to late October to the end of April and early May. Therefore, you’ll probably want to plan your trip to Mackinac Island sometime between May and October. 

Springtime is beautiful on Mackinac Island, with flowers blooming and streets lined with vibrant tulips and lilac trees. Likewise, fall is gorgeous as the trees change color, bathing the island in gold, orange, and red hues. 

And summer is lovely for outdoor activities as the temperature gets warmer, but not too hot to where it’s uncomfortable. It was a pleasant surprise to go from 80 degrees Fahrenheit in Georgia to the low 60s in Michigan in June! This may be warm for locals, but if you are from the South, you know how unpleasant summers can be.

If you are feeling adventurous, you can go during winter, but you’ll want to remember that some places will be closed. Plus, the ferry has a limited schedule, and when the weather is rough, you may have to reach the island by plane!  

lilac bush
Attending the Lilac Festival is a popular time to visit Mackinac Island.

Other things to consider when booking a day trip to Mackinac Island

  • The island sees many visitors from the end of May until Labor Day in September. If you want to visit with fewer crowds, go when school is not out for the summer. Summer also brings higher lodging prices. 
  • Even though the festivals are entertaining, you may want to avoid them as they draw large crowds and accommodations are more expensive. Some popular festivals include the Lilac Festival, which usually runs from early to mid-June. They also have a Fourth of July celebration and a Fudge Festival around late August.
  • Rain frequently occurs on Mackinac Island, so bringing a poncho or umbrella is best. And when the fog rolls in, the island looks like something straight out of a fairytale book! You’ll have some great weather when it’s sunny, but seeing Mackinac Island in the rain is just as beautiful. 

How to Get to Mackinac Island 

There are three ways to reach Mackinac Island: boat, plane, or snowmobile for when the lake water freezes in the winter. Most people usually take the ferry because it is fast, convenient, and not too expensive.

I probably had more questions about the ferry ride than being on the island. Below, I’ve answered those questions and share our experience with the ferry.

Ferry going past Round Island Passage LIght
Ferry cruising past the Round Island Passage Light on a rainy, foggy day.

Which Ferry Should You Take?

Well, you have two options: Shepler’s or Star Line. We selected Star Line for no specific reason, but if you want to check out Shepler’s ferry schedule and prices, you can do so on their website here

The whole process went smoothly with Star Line, from buying our ferry tickets online to arriving on the island. They were professional, friendly, and answered our many questions. And the hydro-jet ferry we were on was so much fun. 

In addition to Star Line’s hydro-jet ferries, you can also opt to take a tall ship cruise to Mackinac Island or pretend you are a pirate on their pirate ship cruise. The pirate ship cruise looked fun, but we stuck with our hydro-jet ferry option in order to select the ferry time that takes you underneath the Mackinac Bridge. 

Can You Choose Your Seat on the Star Line Ferry? 

You can’t choose your seat online when booking the tickets, but you can decide when you arrive in person for your day trip to Mackinac Island. Of course, you’ll want to arrive early to get in line for the best seats, or you can book a priority boarding pass to board first. Once the boat starts moving, they prefer you to stay seated.

Caution: If you plan to sit at the very top of the ferry, which is entirely open-air, you should reconsider if midges are present. 

You might ask, what are midges? They are little black flies that get everywhere, and I mean literally everywhere: your clothes, your bags, your hair, and you might even accidentally swallow a few! I sat on these pesty things, and they stained my dress. Luckily, a little soap and water got most of the stains out.

Star Line ferry
Our Star Line ferry that we took to Mackinac Island.

How Much is the Ferry Ride with Star Line? 

Prices depend on when you go and which ferry you select. Tickets can range from $28 to $41 plus surcharges for an adult pass and $18 to $29 for a child’s pass. Children 4 and under ride the ferry for free. 

Priority boarding tickets are slightly more expensive, but it allows you to book a specific date and time online and access to the priority boarding line to board the ferry first. 

You can view all the ticket prices and options on the Star Line website here. Don’t forget to check out the family specials and add-on packages, including a horse-drawn carriage tour. 

Tip: Buy your ferry ticket before departure and online to save money! If seats are available, you can use your ticket any day of the year at any ferry departure time. It is first come, first serve, but many ferries depart for Mackinac Island during the day. 

Where Do the Ferries Depart? 

The ferries depart from Mackinaw City on the Lower Peninsula and St. Ignace. We selected the former since we stayed the night before the ferry departure, and hotels were cheaper in Mackinaw City. 

If you depart from Mackinaw Island, visit the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse for some photos. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it in time to tour the inside of the lighthouse, but the sunset is incredible here as it slips behind the Mackinac Bridge with the lighthouse in the foreground!

Tip: During the winter, the ferry may only depart from one location instead of two. You’ll want to check the ferry’s website for more information. 

Mighty Mac Bridge
The Mackinac Bridge connects the Lower Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula in Michigan. Before you head to Mackinac Island, stop near the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse for a stunning sunset view of the Mighty Mac.
Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse
Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse

Ferry Schedules for Your Day Trip to Mackinac Island

For some reason, I thought the ferry only ran during “business hours,” such as 8am to 5pm. But depending on where you depart and when you go, the ferries may run as early as 7:30am and leave Mackinac Island as late as 10pm. 

This flexible schedule is great as it will allow you to experience Mackinac Island during the day and evening. Many shops and restaurants stay open late for you to explore. 

The ferries usually post their schedules on their websites. You can select the date to visit Mackinac Island to see which ferry times are available. 

Tip: Consider choosing the ferry time that takes you under the Mackinac Bridge, as it makes a fantastic photo opportunity. The “Mighty Mac” Bridge connects the Upper Peninsula to the Lower Peninsula. We didn’t get to drive on the bridge, but the ferry took us right under it! 

Ferry on the Straits of Mackinac with Mackinac Bridge in the background
A ferry can take you near the “Mighty Mac” bridge; some ferries will even take you under it!
Mackinac Bridge
Going under the Mackinac Bridge on the Star Line Ferry!

Parking at Star Line

We had no issues with the car while we were on the island, but I still wouldn’t leave any valuables in your vehicle. I worried about parking for some reason, but my worries were for naught, as parking was a breeze. They told us exactly where to go as soon as we arrived.

Parking is free if you are okay with parking in an off-site unsecured location, but we paid to park in a secure lot ($15 per day). This lot is further from the dock, so be prepared to walk a little or take their complimentary shuttle bus. 

Also, you can pay more for their valet service or park at the dockside if space is available. You can read more about Star Line’s parking options and rates here

Can You Bring Your Bike or Dog on the Star Line Ferry? 

Yes, you can! Dogs must be on a leash at all times, however. And if you want to bring your bike, you must pay for a bikePASS ($16 round trip plus a $2 license fee). 

A Scenic Ride on the Straits of Mackinac 

Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island
The longest porch in the world is at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island.

While the ferry ride is short, it is enjoyable, and you’ll want to have your camera ready. I mentioned earlier that some of the ferries at certain times will take you right under the Mackinac Bridge. But suppose you can’t book this ferry time due to scheduling conflicts. In that case, the other rides will still give you a lovely panoramic view of the enormous suspension bridge. 

As you near Mackinac Island, you’ll see beautiful Victorian-style era cottages and mansions that dot the landscape. It’s next to impossible to miss the Grand Hotel in the far distance with its lengthy porch. 

The ferry will also take you between two lighthouses: Round Island Light and the younger Mackinac Island Light, also known as the Round Island Passage Light. 

Round Island Light looks like a red-and-white brick schoolhouse on the uninhabited Round Island. This lighthouse almost didn’t make it during a terrible storm in the early 1970s. Fortunately, it was restored by preservation efforts, ensuring the incredible view you see today from the ferry. 

After breezing by the automated Round Island Passage Light, you’ll arrive at the ferry dock, ready to start your adventure. 

Round Island Light
Round Island Light

Getting Around Mackinac Island

Except for emergency vehicles, fire trucks, or approved construction vehicles, cars are prohibited on the island. While not having a car might be inconvenient for some, having no cars on Mackinac Island makes it a unique experience. Can you think for a moment when was the last time you were in a city or large town and heard no car sounds? 

To get around the island, you must hail a horse taxi or carriage, bike, or walk. But you can’t just hail a horse taxi as you would for a regular cab in New York, for example. You must either book the horse-drawn carriage tour or call the number on their website for the taxi. Some people also opt for solo horseback riding through the town. 

As much as I love horses, we rented bikes to bike the island’s perimeter. However, bike rentals are expensive on Mackinac Island, so you may want to bring your own. Rates can range from $40 to $55 for a 4-hour bike rental. Some places also allow you to pay by the hour, rent for 24 hours, or rent for 8 hours. We spent over $100 for two bikes for 4 hours. 

I was also worried that we wouldn’t get a bike if we didn’t go early in the day, but I worried for nothing. There are plenty of bikes and rental places on the island, so you’ll have many options, including mountain bikes, tandem bikes, and high-speed beach cruisers! 

Suggested Places to Eat If You Want More Than Just Fudge 

Many people come to Mackinac Island to eat lots of fudge, but the island has many great restaurants that satisfy more than just your sweet tooth. Below are some of my favorite restaurants that you can pop in to eat for your day trip to Mackinac Island: 

Pink Pony

Location: 7221 Main Street #103 (located in the Chippewa Hotel)

At the Pink Pony, you can enjoy live music, sip a cocktail, and eat delicious food while sitting on their outdoor patio overlooking Lake Huron. The Pink Pony has one of the best outdoor seating arrangements on Mackinac Island, so you’ll want to request outdoors if the weather is nice. 

Many people are always here because of its location on Main Street and popularity. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Since it is first come, first serve, arrive early for dinner to get a good seat and avoid waiting. 

1852 Grill Room 

Location: 6966 Main Street (located in the Island House Hotel) 

If you want to enjoy a more upscale dining experience in Mackinac Island’s oldest operating hotel, you’ll want to make a reservation for the 1852 Grill Room. 

The restaurant is on the hotel’s first floor and has stunning views of Lake Huron. They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. When making a reservation, ask for a table next to the enormous windows overlooking the Mackinac Island State Harbor (if the tables are available). And if the weather is nice, you can sit on their terrace patio. 

The dining area at 1852 Grill Room
Inside the dining room at 1852 Grill Room

Yankee Rebel Tavern

Location: 1493 Astor Street 

Head to the Yankee Rebel Tavern on Astor Street for comfort food. I had the best meal here during our stay on Mackinac Island. Their famous pot roast melts in your mouth, perfect for a cold, rainy day. The pot roast is even better if you pair it with one of their red wines. 

It’s a smaller restaurant, so you’ll definitely want to come early for lunch or dinner. You can make a reservation if your group is six or more. 

Cannonball Oasis 

Location: 7641 British Landing Road 

Cannonball Oasis is a fun little spot to eat halfway around Mackinac Island, and if you are biking around the island, this is a great spot to stop for a quick bite. You can sit at one of their picnic tables or on the beach and enjoy fried pickles, hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, ice cream, and more. 

We had tasty fried pickles, a giant salty pretzel with cheese, and two ice cream cones. I felt like a kid at a summer beach camp! 

Cannonball on Mackinac Island

Fort Mackinac Tea Room 

Location: 7127 Huron Road 

If you plan to visit Fort Mackinac on your day trip to Mackinac Island, you can stop by their tea room for lunch. The Grant Hotel operates it, and the menu provides various options such as sandwiches, salad, pizza, hot dogs, and wraps. 

They have a beautiful terrace where you can eat lunch and enjoy the stunning view of Mackinac Island State Harbor and downtown Mackinac. We were there when the outdoor patio was closed, but the interior is cozy and small.

Admission to Fort Mackinac is required to eat at the Tea Room, which is open seasonally. More information regarding hours and their menu is found here.  

Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor

Location: 1891 Cadotte Avenue

After admiring the Grand Hotel, you can get some ice cream at Sadie’s next to the hotel’s entrance. The Guernsey Farm Dairy ice cream is made in Michigan, and there are many flavors that you can choose from. They have indoor and outdoor cafe-style seating, and the dessert is a nice afternoon treat!

Guernsey Farms Dairy ice cream at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island

What Should You See or Do on Your Day Trip to Mackinac Island

Below are some suggested things you can do during your day trip to Mackinac Island. You can do most or all of them in a day, depending on how long you spend at each stop. But it might be a very long, busy day if you squeeze them all into your schedule!

You’ll probably want to map out beforehand the places or things you want to see and do the most. And this is not all you can do on Mackinac Island in a day, but these are some of my favorites:

Eat All Kinds of Mackinac Island Fudge and Shop 

If you love fudge, you might make a beeline to the nearest fudge shop once you land on the island. Mackinac Island is known as the fudge capital of the world, and even if you don’t like fudge, the decadent dessert made here might change your mind! 

Chocolate Cherry, Chocolate Mint, Butter Pecan, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Cherry, Turtle, Vanilla, Pumpkin Spice, and Maple Bourbon Pecan are just some of the many flavors of fudge made on the island. My favorite is the German Chocolate from The Original Murdick’s Fudge shop. They advertise it as better than the cake, and it really is!

Other fudge stores that you must check out include Joann’s Fudge and Ryba’s Fudge Shop. And if you don’t like fudge, these stores have other yummy desserts to try. 

If you rather shop than eat, Mackinac Island has many cute small stores lined up on Main Street. These stores include local goods, handmade items, and gifts you can bring home. Many of these stores are on Main Street, but you’ll also find more shopping places on the side streets that intersect with Main Street. 

Flagship on Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island has many local stores to shop from, including this cute garden and gift shop called Flagship.

Soak in History at Fort Mackinac 

Location: 7127 Huron Road 

It’s hard to miss Fort Mackinac atop the steep bluff above the green lawn in Marquette Park. Don’t worry – you do not necessarily have to walk up that steep hill to get to the fort, but you can if you want to! The horse-drawn carriage tour or a horse taxi will take you to the entrance on the other side at the top of the hill. 

Construction of the fort began in 1780 by the British, who took control of the island from the French a few decades earlier. It was until 1796 that Americans would take control of the fort. 

Its thick walls and being 130 high on top of a bluff gave the fort an advantage if attacked, but luckily it did not have many skirmishes other than the Battle of Mackinac Island in 1814. 

Mackinac Island Fort
Fort Mackinac is high on top of the bluff above Marquette Park.

Fort Mackinac had fallen to the British soldiers during the War of 1812. Given the island’s prominence in the fur trade, Americans tried to win the Fort back in 1814. The Americans were unsuccessful in reclaiming the fort during the Battle of Mackinac Island, but eventually, it passed back into the Americans’ hands at the end of the War of 1812. 

The fort remained open until 1895 when the last of the departing soldiers and their families left. Today, Fort Mackinac is part of the Mackinac Island State Park. They give tours and cannon and rifle firing demonstrations. You can even fire the cannon yourself for an additional fee and during certain times of the year!

We spent a few hours here when buckets of rain were pouring, but you can see most of the fort indoors. However, you do have to walk outdoors to reach each of the 14 buildings, but it is a short distance between them. Plan to spend at least 1 to 3 hours here, depending on how much you want to see and experience. 

Visit their website here to read more about Fort Mackinac’s hours, admission and combo ticket rates, tours, and general information. 

Visiting Tip: Don’t forget that your Fort Mackinac admission ticket includes a visit to the Benjamin Blacksmith Shop, The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, and the Biddle House, which is a Native American Museum. 

A woman and a boy walking around at Fort Mackinac on a rainy day

Bike Around the Island Perimeter on Lake Shore Drive

Biking around the perimeter of the island is one of my favorite bike rides I’ve done. You’ll follow the 8.3-mile two-lane bikeway that hugs the gorgeous rocky shoreline of Lake Huron. And what I like the most: it is a pretty easy ride! It might be long, but the terrain is mostly flat around the perimeter. 

You can start your biking trek on Main Street after renting a bike or arriving on the ferry with your own. Arch Rock is a popular destination to reach by biking the perimeter, but you can also see the ominously named Devil’s Kitchen, a small limestone sea cave in Mackinac Island State Park. 

You might wonder how it got its creepy name. Legends have it that evil spirits, also cannibals, cooked their unfortunate victims in this location, forever leaving the rocks charred. The stones do have soot, but it’s likely due to the fires created as people used this location for refuge during storms. 

Lake Shore Drive on Mackinac Island
Cruising on a bike on Lake Shore Drive

If you want to bike only part of the perimeter, you can cut through the middle of the island. But be forewarned: this path is a bit more tedious as there are small and large hills. I had to hop off my bike a few times to walk it uphill as I didn’t have the strength to ride it up. 

However, the more strenuous ride is worth seeing the Fort Mackinac Post Cemetery, where Fort Mackinac soldiers and their families are buried, Fort Holmes, and Skull Cave. Skull Cave is a small cave that was once a Native American burial ground. Today you can view the opening of the shallow cave from a distance. 

Remember to also stop by the geological formation known as Sugar Loaf, a giant monolith standing around 75 feet. What used to be a popular rock climbing spot, this rocky monolith used to stand around 100 feet, but time and erosion have decreased its height. 

Hike to Take in the Beauty of Arch Rock 

The most frequently visited geological formation on Mackinac Island is Arch Rock, located on the island’s southeast side. Sitting approximately 146 feet above the lake, this limestone formation has greeted many visitors to the island for over a century. 

Decades ago, people would pose for photos sitting or standing on the arch, something I would never dream of doing! You can’t do this today, but a viewing platform is next to it. 

How do you get to this unique feature? You can bike, hike, take a horse taxi, or a horse-drawn carriage tour. Or, you can see the arch from the ground level near the shore. 

Since we were already biking the perimeter, we decided to hike up to the arch. After parking your bike in the racks on Lake Shore Road (you’ll see a sign for Arch Rock), you’ll take the 207 steps up the Stairway to Arch Rock

Once you’ve completed the 207 steps to the top, the most challenging part of the hike is over! You’ll then take the Manitou trail to Arch Rock. There are also picnic tables, bathrooms, and water fountains nearby. 

Tip: Before leaving your bike to hike, note the number or identifier most rentals have. When many people rent bikes, there is bound to be some confusion about which one is yours! 

Arch Rock on Mackinac Island
Arch Rock

Walk Down the Longest Porch in the World at the Grand Hotel 

Location: 286 Grand Avenue 

Many people journey to Mackinac Island to see the famous Hollywood location that greeted stars such as Jane Seymour, Christopher Reeve, and Christopher Plummer. Admittedly I’ve not seen the movie Somewhere in Time. We tried to watch it in our hotel on Mackinac Island, but we were unsuccessful at streaming it. But if you saw the movie, you might recognize some of its scenes at the magnificent Grand Hotel. 

Constructed in 1887, this hotel has welcomed guests for over a century. The interior makes you feel like you stepped back in time with its unique decor and vibrant colors. 

But the 660-foot-long porch is what draws the eye with its white rocking chairs and wicker furniture beneath its haint blue ceiling. You can easily spend a whole day on this porch rocking in a chair, sipping a beverage while enjoying the view of the pretty red geraniums and the deep blue Lake Huron. 

They don’t let just anyone on the porch, however. You must pay a small admission fee ($10 per person) to relax on the porch, see the hotel, and walk the grounds.

Considering it was too expensive for us to stay the night, paying the admission fee was worth it to see this historic hotel. 

After Viewing the Longest Porch, Have Some Fancy Tea and Explore the Grand Hotel

Location: 286 Grand Avenue 

After walking down the longest porch in the world, head inside to the Grand Hotel’s Parlor to experience their 100-year-plus tradition of serving afternoon tea along with champagne, pastries, scones, and finger sandwiches. It is an expensive experience but worth it if you love to drink tea in a fancy, classical setting. 

For more information about this tea-time experience, visit the Grand Hotel’s website here

Your admission ticket to the hotel also includes seeing historic rooms, including the pink and white-stripped theater and the long entrance hallway with adjoining rooms containing artifacts from when Hollywood filmed there.

Grand Hotel Parlor
The Parlor at the Grand Hotel

Enjoy a Scenic Ride on a Horse-Drawn Carriage 

Ticket Office Location: 7278 Main Street 

The horse-drawn carriage tour is one of the most popular tours, with people waiting in lines down Main Street. If you want to avoid crowds, you’ll definitely want to arrive early in the day or evening, as you cannot reserve a spot for the public tour. 

This tour gives you the opportunity to stop and see some of the major highlights on Mackinac Island, including Wings of Mackinac Butterfly Conservatory, Arch Rock, Fort Mackinac, Grand Hotel, and the Surrey Hills Museum. And since the carriages stop at Arch Rock, it eliminates the need to hike or bike to see the famous arch. 

There are no set departure times, and you can hop on the next available carriage after buying your ticket at the admission office on 7278 Main Street. For information about ticket prices and operating hours, visit their website here

The horse-drawn carriage tour is popular on the island.

Take in Panoramic Views at the Top of Fort Holmes

Location: 2234 Fort Holmes Road 

Fort Holmes sits at the highest point of Mackinac Island at 320 feet above lake level. At the top, you’ll see incredible views of the island and the surrounding blue waters of Lake Huron. You can even see the Mighty Mac, giving you an idea of the enormous length of this bridge! 

But it’s a big climb to see the highest point and is only reachable by foot and bike. You might be able to hail a horse taxi, but you’ll want to ask if the horses can do the climb to the top. 

Today, you can walk inside this small one-room fort and read its history dating back to 1814. Due to its strategic location and elevation, the British and Americans understood how vital Fort Holmes was to the military defense of Mackinac Island. The wooden fort was recently reconstructed in 2014-2015 to resemble the original fort, initially known as Fort George, later renamed Fort Holmes. 

Fort Holmes
Fort Holmes
Bikes in front of Fort Holmes

See Colorful Butterflies at the Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House and Insect World 

Location: 6750 McGulpin Street 

It will probably take an hour or less to see the Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House and Insect World. Still, it makes for a fun stop for a day trip to Mackinac Island if you have children, it’s rainy, or if you love butterflies as I do.

They have hundreds of beautiful butterflies from around the world, including these gorgeous bright green butterflies I’ve never seen before. And if you are lucky to come at the right time (usually at 10:30am and 4:30pm), you might see their butterfly release, where they release many butterflies into their small tropical garden. 

Next to the butterfly house, they have insects that might make your skin crawl. If you do not like insects, you can skip this part, but they were still fascinating to see! 

Their hours of operation and admission rates are found on their website here

Butterfly sitting on a pink flower

Black and green butterfly on a yellow flower

Visit One (or all 4) of Mackinac Island’s Beautiful Churches 

Mackinac Island has four beautiful historical churches that are popular for weddings and gives you an insight into the culture on Mackinac Island: Little Stone Church, Mission Church, St. Anne’s Catholic Church, and Trinity Episcopal Church. You can visit the interior of these churches when events and services are not being held. 

We didn’t go into all four but walked into Trinity Episcopal Church when no one was there. The architecture of this church is stunning, with its bell tower and the large cross that reaches to the blue sky.

Trinity Episcopal Church has a rustic feel with its wooden pews and walnut altar. It was dimly lit, the only light coming in through the stained glass windows. We sat on the back bench for some time, and it was peaceful to take a break from our busy day and reflect.

Today, these places of worship are pretty much how they were when constructed. Visiting them allows you to see their history and gives you an idea of the community on the island today. 

Enjoy Some Rum at the Mackinac Island Rum Co. Tasting Room 

Location: 7395 Main Street 

The best way to end a day trip to Mackinac Island is to drink rum in Mackinac Island Rum Company’s tasting room on Main Street. It’s a small place, but it’s fun to sample the three kinds of available rum. 

Their distillation occurs in Petoskey, Michigan, and bottles are sent for your tasting pleasure to Mackinac Island. If you don’t want to sample the rum, you can always order a craft cocktail – their piña coladas are amazing. 

From a Day Trip to Mackinac Island to an Overnight Stay 

It is easy to fall in love with this little island, and a day trip to Mackinac Island might not be enough. Consider staying a few nights if you have extra time and room in the budget, as staying at Mackinac Island can be pricey. 

Mackinac Island has many beautiful historic bed and breakfasts, inns, and boutique hotels. But you can get more affordable rates if you don’t visit during peak seasonal times or go during popular festivals.

And as much as I wanted to stay at the Grand Hotel, it was way out of my budget, so we found a smaller boutique hotel called the Mackinac House near Fort Mackinac. It is a newer hotel conveniently located near Star Line’s ferry dock and Main Street. They gave me a warm welcome, and I will definitely stay there again! 

The Mackinac House Boutique Hotel
The Mackinac House Boutique Hotel

Can’t Get Enough After Your Day Trip to Mackinac Island? 

If you want to soak up more Mackinac Island history, including its haunted past, check out these two books:

Images of America: Mackinac Island by Tom North

Haunts of Mackinac: Ghost Stories, Legends, & Tragic Tales of Mackinac Island by Todd Clements

I also enjoyed The Dockporter: A Mackinac Island Novel by Dave McVeigh and Jim Bolone. It is a fictional story based on a dockporter’s determination to break a record by carrying the largest load of luggage on a bike. And it gives you all the warm, nostalgic feels of the quaint island you just left behind! 

Have you taken a day trip to Mackinac Island before? Please comment and share below!

A woman taking a self-portrait in a mirror at the Grand Hotel
Taking a self-portrait inside the Grand Hotel

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