Plan a Day Trip to the Beautiful Mackinac Island

Imagine taking a relaxing ferry ride across the Straits of Mackinac for a day trip to Mackinac Island.

You snap photos as your ferry passes 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. Charming Queen Anne cottages, shops, and restaurants line the street. People are leaving the shops laden with bags of decadent fudge, souvenirs, and local goods. Stopping suddenly, you briefly ponder whether 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 piping 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.

To help you plan your day trip to Mackinac Island, I’ve put together this guide that includes how to get there, recommended places to eat, and suggested activities to do in one day. And if you are wondering, one day is plenty to see some of the island’s highlights. 

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

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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 derives from the Native American term “Mishinimakinang,” which means giant turtle. The shorter word, Mackinac or Mackinaw, was eventually adopted.

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

Where Can You Find This Tiny Island? 

Mackinac Island might remind you of a quaint New England coastal town. However, it is actually part of the Upper Peninsula in northern Michigan. It’s 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. Locate 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, if you’re short on time, you can still do a day trip to Mackinac Island to see the main highlights. To make things easier, you’ll want to map out beforehand what you want to see, how to get there, and where you want to eat.

However, if you prefer to avoid planning and experience things on the whim, exploring Mackinac Island is pretty simple as it is only 8 miles in circumference. Many attractions are easily accessible. Main Street is just a few steps from where you disembark from the ferry. Plus, various tours will take you to many of the main points of interest, including the horse-drawn carriage tour, which is popular on the island.

But if you plan a day trip to Mackinac Island, you’ll want to prepare for the unexpected. Long lines, many tourists, and inclement weather can thwart the best-laid-out plans. I mention this based on personal experience, and 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.” Between 1875 and 1895, Mackinac Island was a national park, making it the second national park in the United States after Yellowstone. Interestingly, much of the island’s landscape has remained unchanged since then.

Mackinac Island was strategically important during the American Revolution and War of 1812 owing to its location and high vantage points on the bluffs. The fur trade and fishing dominated the region for many years until tourism became the primary commercial interest.

Before the French, British, and Americans, the Native Americans were the first to visit Mackinac Island. They would often travel to the island in the warmer months. For them, Mackinac Island was a sacred place, home to the Great Spirit, and important for fishing and crop growth. Their legends and beliefs 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? 

During the winter, the water and weather conditions on Mackinac Island can be quite dangerous, forcing many businesses, restaurants, and attractions to shut down from mid-to-late October until the end of April and early May. To enjoy all that Mackinac Island offers, you’ll want to plan your trip between May and October. 

Spring is beautiful on Mackinac Island, with colorful tulips adorning the streets and lilac trees filling the air with their sweet fragrance. Likewise, fall is gorgeous as the trees change color, bathing the island in gold, orange, and red hues. 

Summer is lovely for outdoor activities as the temperature gets warmer but not too hot to be 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’re feeling adventurous, you can visit the island during winter. However, as mentioned, some places may be closed during this season. Additionally, the ferry has a limited schedule; if there is bad weather, you may have to take a plane to reach the island.

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 receives many visitors between the end of May and Labor Day in September. To avoid crowds, consider visiting during the school year. If you decide to stay the night, accommodation rates increase during the summer months.
  • Even though the festivals are entertaining, you may want to avoid them if you stay the night, as they draw large crowds and expensive accommodations. 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 remember to bring a poncho or umbrella! 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 and clear, but seeing Mackinac Island in the rain is magical. 

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 choose the ferry because it is fast, convenient, and affordable.

I had more questions about the ferry ride than visiting the island. Below, I answer those questions and share our experience.

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?

There are two ferry 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 tickets, visit their website here

The entire process of using Star Line went smoothly, from purchasing our ferry tickets online to arriving on the island. Their team was professional, friendly, and able to answer our numerous questions (we had so many). And the hydro-jet ferry we were on was so much fun. 

Besides 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 so we could 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.

CautionIf you plan to sit at the top of the ferry, which is entirely open-air, you should reconsider if there are midges around. You may be wondering what midges are—they are tiny black flies that get everywhere—literally everywhere: on your clothes, bags, hair, and you might even accidentally swallow a few! I sat on these pesty things, and they stained my nice 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? 

Ferry costs depend on when you go and which ferry you select. Round trip tickets can be used any day at any departure time during the 2024 summer season and range from:

  • $24 to $44 plus surcharges for an adult pass (ages 13 and over) 
  •  $18 to $34 for a child’s pass (ages 5 to 12). 
  • Children 4 and under ride the ferry for free. 

Priority boarding tickets are available for a slightly higher price and allow you to book a specific date and time online. Passengers with priority boarding tickets can also board the ferry first. 

You can view all the ticket prices and options on the Star Line website here

$$$ Saving TipTo save money, purchase your ferry tickets online before departure. You can use your ticket for any ferry departure on any day of the year as long as seats are available. The seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis, but many ferries depart for Mackinac Island during the day. Also, don’t forget to check out the frequent family specials, getaway packages, and add-on options when available. 

Where Do the Ferries Depart? 

The ferries depart from Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. We chose Mackinaw City because we stayed there the night before, and hotels were less expensive there than in St. Ignace. 

If you depart from Mackinaw Island, visit the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse for 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. 

Know Before You GoIf you visit during the winter, the ferry may depart from only one location instead of two. For more information, check the ferry’s website. 

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 visit, the ferries may run as early as 7:15am and leave Mackinac Island as late as 10pm. 

This flexible schedule is great because it allows you to experience Mackinac Island during the day and evening. Many shops and restaurants stay open late, allowing you to explore or try new things. 

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

Click here to view the schedules for Star Line (Mackinac Island Ferry Company). The 2024 schedule for Shepler’s is here

Ferry and Photography TipWhen planning your ferry ride in Michigan, consider choosing the one that takes you under the iconic Mackinac Bridge. This allows for a fantastic photo opportunity of the “Mighty Mac” Bridge, which connects the Upper Peninsula to the Lower Peninsula. While we did not get to drive on the bridge, taking the ferry underneath it was a memorable experience.

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 did not experience any problems with the car during our visit to Mackinac Island. However, I still recommend not leaving any valuables in your vehicle while you are away. Despite my initial concerns about parking, it turned out to be very easy. Upon our arrival, we were given clear instructions on where to park, and it took us only a short time to get there.

You can park free in an unsecured off-site location at Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. But if you prefer a secure lot, you can pay $20 per day (at Mackinaw City only). Both lots are a little further from the dock, so be prepared to walk or take the complimentary shuttle bus. Additionally, you can pay more for the valet service, or if parking space is available, you can park at the dockside for premium parking. 

Find more information 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. 

A bikePASS is required to bring your bike (non-electric) on the Star Line ferry. It costs $16 for a round trip plus a $2 license fee. A pass for electric bikes is slightly more expensive, but electric bikes are only allowed on Mackinac Island if you have a mobility disability, so it’s important to read their policies beforehand. Read about these policies here

To learn about bringing your bicycle onto the Star Line ferry, visit their website here

The round-trip cost is $21 for standard bikes and $42 for tandem bikes to bring your bike on Shepler’s ferry. Additional information about taking your bike on the Shepler’s ferry is here

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.

Although the ferry ride is brief (about 18 minutes), it is a pleasant experience, and you’ll want to have your camera ready! As mentioned, some ferries allow you to pass under the Mackinac Bridge at specific times. However, if you cannot book this particular ferry due to scheduling conflicts, other rides still offer an amazing panoramic view of the massive suspension bridge.

As you near Mackinac Island, you’ll see beautiful Victorian-style era cottages and mansions that dot the landscape. It’s nearly impossible to miss the Grand Hotel in the far distance because of its vast porch. The ferry also takes you between two lighthouses: Round Island Light and the younger Mackinac Island Light, also known as the Round Island Passage Light.

The Round Island Light is a red-and-white brick lighthouse on the uninhabited Round Island. It was almost destroyed during a terrible storm in the early 1970s, but preservation efforts thankfully restored it. Today, visitors can enjoy a fantastic view of the lighthouse from the ferry.

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

Round Island Light
Round Island Light

Getting Around Mackinac Island

Cars are prohibited on the island except for emergency vehicles, fire trucks, or approved construction vehicles. Although it may be inconvenient for some, the absence of cars on the island creates an unforgettable experience. Can you think for a moment the last time you were in a city or large town and heard no car sounds? It’s blissful.

So, how do you get around the island without cars? You have a few options: hail a horse taxi or carriage, bike, or walk. But you can’t just hail a horse taxi like a regular cab in New York. You must either book the horse-drawn carriage tour or call the taxi number on their website. Some people also prefer to go solo horseback riding through town. 

As much as I love horses, we decided to rent bikes to go around the perimeter of Mackinac Island. However, bike rentals are expensive on Mackinac Island, so you may want to bring your own.

The rates for a half-day bike rental typically range from $40 to $60, depending on the bike you rent. 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 (costly, but we thought it was worth it).  

I was concerned that we might be unable to rent a bike if we didn’t go early in the day. However, I needn’t have worried, as there are numerous rental places on the island and plenty of bikes to choose from. You will have a variety of options, including mountain bikes, tandem bikes, and high-speed beach cruisers!

Check out a list of bike rental locations here

Suggested Places to Eat If You Want More Than Just Fudge 

Many people come to Mackinac Island to eat rich, delicious fudge, but the island has many great restaurants that satisfy more than just your sweet tooth. Here are some of my favorite restaurants that you can visit during 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 indulge in scrumptious food while sitting on the 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 to sit on the patio if the weather is nice. 

Due to its prime location on Main Street and its popularity, many people frequent this place for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Arriving early for dinner is recommended to secure a good seat and avoid waiting, as it operates on a first-come, first-served basis.

1852 Grill Room 

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

If you want a more upscale dining experience at Mackinac Island’s oldest operating hotel, make a reservation at the 1852 Grill Room.

The hotel restaurant is on the first floor and offers breathtaking views of Lake Huron. If you plan to make a reservation, be sure to request a table next to the enormous windows overlooking the Mackinac Island State Harbor, provided they are available. If the weather is favorable, you can enjoy your meal on the terrace patio. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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

Yankee Rebel Tavern

Location1493 Astor Street 

Head to the Yankee Rebel Tavern on Astor Street for some good, old comfort food. I had the best meal here during our stay on Mackinac Island. Their famous pot roast melts in your mouth and is perfect for a cold, rainy day. It’s even better paired with one of their bold red wines. 

It’s a smaller restaurant, so you’ll want to come early for lunch or dinner. Groups of six or more can reserve a table.

Cannonball Oasis 

Location: 7641 British Landing Road 

Cannonball Oasis is a fun little eatery halfway around Mackinac Island. If you’re cycling around the island, it’s an excellent place to stop for a quick bite. You can sit at one of their picnic tables or on the beach and savor traditional American fare, including 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 the tea room and offers a variety of food options, including sandwiches, salad, pizza, hot dogs, and wraps.

The tea room has a beautiful terrace that provides an excellent view of Mackinac Island State Harbor and downtown Mackinac. If you visit when the outdoor patio is closed, don’t worry; the interior is just as cozy and inviting.

Admission to Fort Mackinac is required to eat at the Tea Room, which is open seasonally. You can find more information about their menu and hours here.

Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor

Location1891 Cadotte Avenue

After admiring the Grand Hotel, you can treat yourself to delicious, creamy ice cream at Sadie’s, beside the hotel’s entrance. Guernsey Farm Dairy in Michigan makes the ice cream, which comes in various flavors. Sadie’s has indoor and outdoor cafe-style seating, making it the perfect spot for a refreshing 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 activities for your day trip to Mackinac Island. Depending on how long you spend at each stop, you can complete most or all of them in a day. However, trying to fit in all the activities may make it a very long and busy day!

Planning ahead and determining the places or activities you’d like to prioritize is a good idea to make the most of your day on Mackinac Island. Keep in mind that there are many things to do on the island, but here are a few of my personal 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. This island is known as the fudge capital of the world, and even if you’re not a fan of fudge, the divine dessert made here might win you over!

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. Even if you don’t like fudge, they have other decadent desserts to try.

If you would rather shop than eat, Mackinac Island has many cute, small stores on Main Street. These places sell local goods, handmade items, and gifts you can take back home. Many of these stores are on Main Street, but you’ll find more shopping options on the side streets that cross Main Street.

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

Immerse Yourself in History at Fort Mackinac 

Location7127 Huron Road 
Cost to VisitAn adult ticket is $16.25. A child’s ticket (ages 5-12) is $9.75.  
Operating HoursHours are seasonal depending on which month you visit. See their website here for operating hours. 
How Long Should You Plan to VisitPlan to spend at least 1 to 3 hours here, depending on how much you want to see and experience. 

It’s hard to miss Fort Mackinac, which is on a steep bluff above the green lawn in Marquette Park. While you can walk up the bluff to reach the fort, you can skip the climb by taking a horse-drawn carriage tour or a horse taxi to the entrance on the other side at the top of the hill.

Just how old is the fort? The British began constructing the fort in 1780, a few decades after taking control of the island from the French. The fort was later taken over by Americans in 1796.

With its thick walls and location 130 feet high on the bluff, the fort had a strategic advantage in the event of an attack. Fortunately, it did not have many skirmishes other than the Battle of Mackinac Island in 1814. 

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

Fort Mackinac fell to 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 but were unsuccessful in reclaiming it during the Battle of Mackinac Island. Eventually, it passed back into 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 Mackinac Island State Park. It offers tours, including cannon and rifle-firing demonstrations. Visitors can fire the cannon themselves for an extra fee during specific periods of the year! Read more about firing the cannon here

Seeing the fort is a great activity on a rainy day. We took shelter there during a heavy downpour and spent a few hours soaking in the history. Most of the fort’s attractions are indoors, but you must walk outdoors to visit each of the 14 buildings. Thankfully, the distance between them is short. 

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

Visiting TipDon’t forget that your Fort Mackinac admission ticket includes admission 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 island’s perimeter is one of my favorite bike rides. You follow the 8.3-mile two-lane bikeway that hugs Lake Huron’s gorgeous rocky shoreline. What I like the most about it is that it is a pretty easy ride! Although it might be long, the terrain is mostly flat around the perimeter.

To begin your biking adventure, rent a bike or bring your own and start at Main Street. While biking the perimeter, you can visit two famous destinations: the iconic Arch Rock and the ominously named Devil’s Kitchen, a small limestone sea cave in Mackinac Island State Park.

You might wonder how Devil’s Kitchen got its creepy name. According to legends, evil spirits who were also cannibals cooked their unfortunate victims in this location, leaving the rocks forever charred. While the stones have soot on them, it’s likely due to fires created by people seeking refuge here during tumultuous storms.

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

You can take a shortcut through the middle if you want to bike only a section of the island’s perimeter. However, this route is a bit more challenging as it includes hilly terrain. I had to get off my bike and walk a few times to make it up the hills, as I didn’t have the leg strength and endurance to ride up them.

Although the ride might be physically demanding, it is worth seeing the Fort Mackinac Post Cemetery, where the soldiers and their families stationed at Fort Mackinac are buried. You can also visit Fort Holmes and Skull Cave, which used to be a Native American burial ground. Nowadays, you can observe the entrance of the shallow cave from a distance.

Remember to also stop by the geological formation called Sugar Loaf, a giant monolith that stands around 75 feet tall. This rocky monolith was once a popular spot for rock climbers, but erosion has reduced its original height of 100 feet.

Hike to Take in the Beauty of Arch Rock 

The limestone formation known as Arch Rock sits on Mackinac Island’s southeast side, approximately 146 feet above the lake. It has been welcoming visitors for over a century.

Decades ago, people posed 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 nearby. 

There are several ways to reach this unique feature, including biking, hiking, taking a horse taxi or a horse-drawn carriage tour, or viewing the arch from the ground level near the shore.

Since we were already biking the perimeter, we decided to hike up to the arch. If you want to do the same, park your bike in the racks on Lake Shore Road (you’ll see a sign for Arch Rock) and 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.

Visiting TipBefore setting off on your hike, note the bike rental number or identifier you 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 
Cost to Visit: If you don’t stay the night here, there is an admission fee to enter the hotel and walk the grounds. The fee is $12 for individuals ages ten and above and $6 for individuals ages 6-9. Children aged five and below do not have an admission fee. 

Many people journey to Mackinac Island to see the famous Hollywood location that welcomed stars like Jane Seymour, Christopher Reeve, and Christopher Plummer. Regrettably, I haven’t watched the movie Somewhere in Time yet. We tried to stream it during our stay on Mackinac Island but were unsuccessful. However, if you have seen the film, you might recognize some of the scenes at the magnificent Grand Hotel.

Constructed in 1887, this hotel has welcomed guests for over a hundred years. With its unique decor and vibrant colors, the interior design makes you feel like you stepped back in time. But the 660-foot-long porch 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. 

Your hotel admission ticket also includes access to several historic rooms, including the pink and white-striped theater and the long entrance hallway, which has adjoining rooms containing artifacts from when Hollywood filmed there. 

Even though we couldn’t afford to stay overnight, paying the admission fee was worth it to see this historic hotel. 

After Admiring the View on the Long Porch, Have Some Fancy Tea 

Location: 286 Grand Avenue 
Cost: The afternoon tea experience costs $65 plus tax for an adult and $32.50 plus tax for children ages 6-17. If you are not a guest for the night at the hotel, you must also pay the hotel admission fee ($12 for individuals ages ten and above and $6 for individuals ages 6-9. Children ages five and below do not have an admission fee). 

Once you walk down the longest porch in the world, enter the Grand Hotel’s Parlor to indulge in its more than 100-year-old tradition of serving afternoon tea. Along with tea and champagne, you can enjoy an assortment of pastries, scones, and finger sandwiches. It is a pricey experience but worth it if you adore drinking tea in a fancy and classical ambiance.

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

Grand Hotel Parlor
The Parlor at the Grand Hotel

Enjoy a Scenic Ride on a Horse-Drawn Carriage 

Ticket Office Location7278 Main Street (across the street from the Star Line Dock #1) 
Cost: A sightseeing tour costs $41 per adult, $16 per child(ages 5-12), and $16 per dog (35 pounds or greater). Children 4 and under can ride free if they sit on your lap. 
Hours of Operation: Hours vary seasonally and depend on the month you arrive. Visit their website here for information. 

The horse-drawn carriage tour is a highly sought-after activity, with long lines waiting on Main Street. It’s best to arrive early, as a spot cannot be reserved in advance for the regular public tour. 

This tour offers the chance to admire some of Mackinac Island’s most remarkable sights, such as the Wings of Mackinac Butterfly Conservatory, Arch Rock, Fort Mackinac, Grand Hotel, and the Surrey Hills Museum. Additionally, since the carriages stop at Arch Rock, hiking or biking to see the famous arch is unnecessary (unless you really want to do so!). 

After purchasing your ticket at the admission office on 7278 Main Street, you can board the next available carriage, as there are no set departure times.

Visit their website here for information about combo ticket prices (which include admission to the Wings of Mackinac), accessibility, and operating hours. 

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

Take in Panoramic Views at the Top of Fort Holmes

Location2234 Fort Holmes Road 
Cost to Visit: Free! 

Fort Holmes is at the highest point of Mackinac Island, 320 feet above lake level. From 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 a sense of the bridge’s immense length! 

But to see this scenery, it’s quite a climb to reach the highest point, and it’s only accessible by foot or bike. You may be able to catch a horse taxi, but you’ll want to confirm with the driver whether the horses are capable of climbing to the top.

You can also step inside this small one-room fort and learn about its history, which dates back to 1814. Initially known as Fort George, the wooden fort was reconstructed in 2014-2015 to replicate the original design. It was later renamed Fort Holmes. Due to its strategic location and elevation, the British and Americans understood how vital Fort Holmes was to the military defense of Mackinac Island. 

Fort Holmes
Fort Holmes
Bikes in front of Fort Holmes

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

Location6750 McGulpin Street 
Cost to Visit: An adult ticket costs $14, a child’s ticket (ages 5-11) is $9, and children four and under get in free.
Operating Hours: Hours are seasonal and depend on which month you visit. Visit their website here (under Visit Us) for operating hours. 

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 like 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 come at the right time (usually at 10:30am and 4:30pm), you might see their butterfly release, when many butterflies are released into their tropical garden.

Adjacent to the butterfly house are insects that might make your skin crawl. If you do not like insects (I’m definitely not okay with all insects), you can skip this part, but they’re still fascinating to see!

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 is home to four lovely historical churches: Little Stone Church, Mission Church, St. Anne’s Catholic Church, and Trinity Episcopal Church. These churches are popular for weddings and offer insight into the island’s culture. When events or services are not taking place, you can explore their interiors.

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

Trinity Episcopal Church has a rustic charm, with its wooden pews and walnut altar. When we visited, the church was dimly lit; the only light that entered was through the multicolored stained glass windows. We sat on the back bench for a while, and it was peaceful to pause and reflect on our busy day.

These places of worship have mostly remained unchanged since their construction, providing insight into the island’s history and community.

From a Day Trip to Mackinac Island to an Overnight Stay 

Falling in love with Mackinac Island is easy, and a day trip may not be enough to truly experience its appeal. If you decide to extend your stay, Mackinac Island has many beautiful historic bed and breakfasts, inns, and boutique hotels. However, keep in mind that accommodation on the island is usually expensive. Avoid peak seasons and popular festivals and events to save money. For additional ideas on ways to save in Mackinac Island, visit my article here

Although I would have loved to stay at the Grand Hotel, it was beyond my budget. Instead, we opted for a smaller boutique hotel called Mackinac House near Fort Mackinac. This newer hotel is conveniently near Star Line’s ferry dock and Main Street. The hotel staff was welcoming, and we had a great experience. I can’t wait to stay here again! 

The Mackinac House Boutique Hotel
The Mackinac House Boutique Hotel

Craving for More After Your Day Trip to Mackinac Island?

If you’re interested in learning more about Mackinac Island’s history, including its haunted past, take a look at 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. This fictional story is about a dockporter who is determined to break a record by carrying the largest load of luggage on a bike. The novel captures the essence of the quaint island and leaves readers with a warm, nostalgic feeling.

Did the dockporter break the record? You’ll have to read to find out!

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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