Header Notice

Winter is here! Check out the winter wonderlands at these 5 amazing winter destinations in Montana

How Much Time Is Needed For A Mackinac Island Day Trip


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Luci Mcafee



Mackinaw Island is a hidden gem nestled in the heart of Michigan. With its charming small-town atmosphere, picturesque landscapes, and rich history, it’s no surprise that this island attracts visitors from near and far. An ideal day trip destination, Mackinaw Island offers a plethora of activities to suit every interest and age group. Whether you’re a history buff, an outdoor enthusiast, or a food lover, there’s something for everyone to enjoy on this enchanting island.


Accessible only by ferry, Mackinaw Island provides a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. As you step foot onto the island, you’ll be transported back in time, as motorized vehicles are prohibited, giving way to horse-drawn carriages and bicycles as the primary modes of transportation. This unique feature adds to the island’s charm and allows visitors to truly immerse themselves in the natural beauty and historic architecture that surrounds them.


Whether you’re planning a solo adventure, a romantic getaway, or a fun-filled family outing, a day trip to Mackinaw Island is sure to create lasting memories. From exploring the historical downtown area to indulging in delicious local cuisine, there are endless opportunities to experience the best of what this island has to offer. So, hop on board and let’s embark on a journey to discover the wonders of Mackinaw Island.


Getting to Mackinaw Island

Getting to Mackinaw Island is a breeze, thanks to its convenient location in northern Michigan. The closest major city is Detroit, which is approximately a four-hour drive away. If you prefer not to drive, there are several other transportation options available.


If you’re flying in from out of state, the closest airport is Pellston Regional Airport, located just 15 miles south of Mackinaw City. From there, you can take a short taxi ride or rent a car to reach the ferry docks.


Once you reach Mackinaw City, you have two ferry options to choose from: Shepler’s Ferry and Star Line Ferry. Both ferry services offer regular departures to the island throughout the day, and the journey takes approximately 20 minutes. It’s recommended to check the ferry schedules in advance and arrive at least 30 minutes before your desired departure time, especially during peak season.


Tickets for the ferry can be purchased online or at the ticket booths located near the docks. The cost of a round-trip ticket varies depending on the ferry service and the age of the passenger, so it’s advisable to check the current rates before planning your trip. Keep in mind that parking facilities are available near the ferry docks, and some ferry services may offer free or discounted parking for their customers.


It’s important to note that in the winter months, when the Straits of Mackinac freeze over, the ferry service may be suspended. However, alternative transportation options such as snowmobiles or plane charters may be available. It’s best to check with the ferry companies or the island’s tourism office for the most up-to-date information and recommendations during the winter season.


Once you arrive on the island, you’ll be greeted with breathtaking views of the Great Lakes and the island’s unique charm. Get ready to immerse yourself in the rich history and natural beauty that Mackinaw Island has to offer.


Arriving at Mackinaw Island

As you disembark from the ferry and set foot on Mackinaw Island, you’ll immediately notice the absence of motorized vehicles. The island’s unique policy prohibits cars, trucks, and motorcycles, creating a peaceful and nostalgic atmosphere. Instead, the primary modes of transportation are bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, and on-foot exploration.


Upon arrival, you’ll find a bustling dock area with a variety of shops, restaurants, and visitor centers. Take a moment to orient yourself and gather information about the island’s attractions and activities. The island’s tourism office provides maps and brochures to help you plan your day effectively.


The downtown area of Mackinaw Island is easily accessible from the ferry docks. You can choose to explore the downtown area on foot or rent a bicycle from one of the numerous rental shops just a short walk from the dock. Bicycles are a popular mode of transportation on the island, as they allow visitors to cover more ground and venture out to the island’s scenic spots.


As you make your way through the downtown area, you’ll be captivated by the charming Victorian-era architecture that lines the streets. The Main Street is filled with quaint shops, boutiques, and novelty stores where you can browse for souvenirs, clothing, and locally made products. Be sure to indulge your sweet tooth with a visit to one of the island’s fudge shops, known for their delicious homemade fudge in a variety of mouthwatering flavors.


While strolling along the downtown streets, keep an eye out for the iconic Grand Hotel. This historic landmark, known for its sprawling white facade and wraparound porch, has been a symbol of elegance and luxury since 1887. Even if you’re not a guest at the hotel, you can still explore its beautiful grounds, enjoy a meal at one of its restaurants, or treat yourself to a traditional afternoon tea.


As you continue your exploration, you’ll discover several historical sites and museums that offer glimpses into the island’s intriguing past. Visit the Mackinac Island State Park Visitor’s Center to learn about the island’s rich history, including its strategic significance during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Be sure to pick up a pass for admission to Fort Mackinac, a remarkably preserved fort that showcases military life during the 19th century.


Overall, arriving at Mackinaw Island is a pleasant and exciting experience. With its charming downtown area, historic landmarks, and variety of transportation options, the island sets the stage for a memorable day of exploration and adventure.


Exploring the Historical Downtown

Mackinaw Island’s historical downtown area is a treasure trove of charm, history, and unique experiences. As you wander through the streets lined with Victorian-style buildings, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time to a bygone era.


The downtown area is compact and easily walkable, allowing you to leisurely explore its many attractions. Start your adventure by taking a stroll down Main Street, the heart of the downtown area. This bustling street is lined with a vibrant mix of shops, boutiques, restaurants, and ice cream parlors. Be sure to stop by the famous fudge shops that Mackinaw Island is known for, and indulge in a sweet treat or two.


As you meander through the downtown streets, you’ll come across several historic sites and landmarks. The Island House Museum offers visitors a glimpse into the island’s past with its collection of artifacts, photographs, and exhibits. Step inside and learn about the island’s Native American heritage, the early European settlers, and the rise of tourism on Mackinaw Island.


For a deeper dive into the island’s unique history, make your way to the Mackinac Island State Park Visitor’s Center. Here, you can explore interactive exhibits, watch informative videos, and delve into the island’s role during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The Visitor’s Center also offers guided walking tours that take you through the downtown area, sharing fascinating stories and insights along the way.


Architecture enthusiasts will marvel at the variety of historical buildings in downtown Mackinaw Island. The Grand Hotel, a magnificent Victorian-era hotel, is a sight not to be missed. Its grand façade, picturesque gardens, and iconic porch make it a true architectural gem. Take a leisurely walk around the hotel grounds, enjoy the stunning views of the Straits of Mackinac, and perhaps even treat yourself to a meal at one of its elegant restaurants.


As you wander through the downtown area, take the time to explore the side streets and alleyways. You’ll uncover hidden gems such as art galleries, antique shops, and quaint cafes tucked away from the main thoroughfares. These hidden spots provide a glimpse into the local flavors and creative talents that make Mackinaw Island so special.


Overall, exploring the historical downtown area of Mackinaw Island is a delightful and immersive experience. From strolling down Main Street to discovering hidden treasures, you’ll feel the rich history and unique charm of this enchanting destination.


Visiting Fort Mackinac

Perched high on a bluff overlooking the Straits of Mackinac, Fort Mackinac stands as a testament to the island’s military history. Built during the American Revolution, this well-preserved fort offers visitors a fascinating glimpse into the lives of soldiers and civilians during the 19th century.


As you enter the fort through its grand gates, you’ll step back in time to an era of cannons, muskets, and military strategy. Take a guided tour or explore at your own pace as you explore the numerous buildings and exhibits within the fort’s walls.


The Commanding Officer’s Quarters is a highlight of the fort, showcasing the elegant living quarters of the commanding officer and his family. Step inside and marvel at the period furnishings, decorative touches, and breathtaking views of the Straits of Mackinac.


Make your way to the Soldier’s Barracks to get a sense of the living conditions for the enlisted soldiers. Discover the challenges they faced and the daily routines they followed while stationed at the fort. The barracks also feature exhibits that highlight the diverse roles and responsibilities of the soldiers, from infantrymen to musicians and craftsmen.


For an immersive experience, don’t miss the demonstrations and reenactments that take place throughout the day. Witness soldiers in period uniforms drill, fire cannons, and engage in mock battles. These interactive presentations bring the history of Fort Mackinac to life and offer a deeper understanding of the fort’s military significance.


Outside the main fort complex, explore the Fort Mackinac Post Cemetery, where soldiers, their families, and civilians who lived on the island were laid to rest. This peaceful and solemn area provides a reflective space to contemplate the sacrifices made during this pivotal time in history.


As you explore Fort Mackinac, take advantage of the breathtaking views it offers. Look out over the crystal-clear waters of the Straits of Mackinac and the picturesque Mackinac Bridge in the distance. Enjoy the sweeping panoramas of the island’s natural beauty, providing a striking backdrop to the fort’s historical significance.


Visiting Fort Mackinac is a truly enriching experience. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a fan of military architecture, or simply curious about the island’s past, this well-preserved fort offers a captivating journey back in time.


Taking a Scenic Bike Ride

Exploring Mackinaw Island by bike is one of the most popular and enjoyable ways to experience the island’s natural beauty and charm. With over 70 miles of paved and unpaved trails, biking enthusiasts of all levels can embark on a scenic adventure that offers breathtaking views and memorable experiences.


Before setting off on your bike ride, visit one of the many rental shops near the ferry docks to secure a bicycle. You’ll find a variety of options, including traditional bikes, tandem bikes for two, and even electric bikes for those seeking a little extra assistance.


Once you’re equipped with a bike, it’s time to hit the trails. One of the most scenic routes is the Mackinac Island Eight Mile Loop. Starting from the downtown area, the loop takes you along the island’s coastline, offering stunning vistas of the Straits of Mackinac, rocky shores, and lush forested areas. Don’t forget to bring your camera to capture the picturesque landscapes and perhaps even catch a glimpse of freighters passing through the nearby shipping channel.


For a longer ride, consider the Mackinac Island State Park Bike Tour, which covers approximately 8.2 miles of trails and includes stops at notable landmarks and natural points of interest. This guided tour provides informative commentary along the way, offering insights into the island’s history and unique ecological features.


One of the must-visit locations during your bike ride is Arch Rock. Located along the Mackinac Island Eight Mile Loop, this natural limestone arch stands 146 feet tall and offers spectacular views of Lake Huron. It’s a perfect spot to take a break, soak in the beauty of nature, and snap some memorable photos.


In addition to the designated routes, feel free to venture off the beaten path and explore the island’s interior. You’ll discover secluded trails that wind through lush forests, tranquil meadows, and vibrant wildflower displays—allowing you to connect with the island’s natural surroundings in a peaceful and serene setting.


As you pedal along, keep an eye out for wildlife that calls the island home. You might spot deer grazing in meadows, squirrels scurrying around, or even the endangered Michigan Karner blue butterfly fluttering among the wildflowers.


Remember to take breaks and explore the quaint picnic spots dotting the island. Pack a lunch or grab some takeout from one of the island’s many eateries and enjoy a leisurely meal surrounded by nature’s beauty.


Whether you’re an experienced cyclist or simply enjoy a leisurely bike ride, exploring Mackinaw Island by bike is an unforgettable experience. Soak in the fresh air, marvel at the scenic landscapes, and create cherished memories as you pedal your way through this captivating destination.


Enjoying Water Activities

With its picturesque location on the Straits of Mackinac, Mackinaw Island offers a variety of water activities that allow visitors to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the surrounding lakes and enjoy some fun in the sun. Whether you prefer a leisurely cruise, a thrilling adventure, or a relaxing beach day, there is something for everyone to enjoy on the water.


One of the most popular water activities on the island is taking a scenic boat tour. Several companies offer narrated tours that take you around the island, providing breathtaking views of the rugged shoreline, historic lighthouses, and the majestic Mackinac Bridge. Learn about the fascinating history and geology of the area while enjoying the cool breeze and panoramic vistas.


If you’re seeking more excitement, consider renting a kayak or a paddleboard and exploring the island’s pristine waters at your own pace. Paddle along the shoreline, taking in the stunning rock formations, hidden coves, and tranquil bays. Keep an eye out for wildlife such as eagles, herons, and even the occasional playful seal.


For those who enjoy fishing, Mackinaw Island offers excellent opportunities to cast a line and reel in a catch. Freshwater fish such as perch, bass, and pike are abundant in the surrounding lakes. You can either bring your own fishing gear or join a guided fishing excursion to increase your chances of success.


If swimming is more your style, head to one of the island’s public beaches, such as British Landing Beach or Great Turtle Park Beach. These sandy stretches of shoreline provide a perfect spot to relax, sunbathe, and cool off in the refreshing waters of Lake Huron. Be sure to pack sunscreen, towels, and beach essentials for a day of fun in the sun.


No visit to Mackinaw Island is complete without experiencing the joy of a horse-drawn carriage ride along the coast. Sit back, relax, and let the rhythmic clip-clop of hooves guide you along the scenic roads, offering views of the sparkling waters and lush landscapes. It’s a delightful way to enjoy the island’s beauty, both on land and by the water’s edge.


Lastly, if you’re looking for a unique water activity, consider taking a guided scuba diving or snorkeling adventure. Discover the underwater world of the Straits of Mackinac, with its pristine shipwrecks, vibrant marine life, and clear visibility. Whether you’re a seasoned diver or a curious beginner, these underwater explorations offer a truly unforgettable experience.


From leisurely boat tours to thrilling water sports, Mackinaw Island provides endless opportunities to enjoy the natural wonders of the water. So, grab your swimsuit, pack your sense of adventure, and dive into the exciting water activities that await on this captivating island.


Trying Local Cuisine

Exploring the culinary scene is an essential part of any trip, and Mackinaw Island offers a delightful array of local delicacies that will tantalize your taste buds. From traditional favorites to unique island-inspired dishes, there’s no shortage of delicious eats to sample during your visit.


A visit to Mackinaw Island is incomplete without trying its famous fudge. The island is renowned for its delectable homemade fudge, crafted with the finest ingredients and made in small batches. Take a stroll down Main Street, and you’ll be greeted by the mouthwatering aroma wafting from the numerous fudge shops lining the street. Indulge in flavors like chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter, and even unique combinations like chocolate mint or cherry walnut.


Aside from fudge, Mackinaw Island is also known for its fresh whitefish. This locally caught delicacy can be prepared in a variety of ways, such as grilled, smoked, or pan-fried. Enjoy a leisurely meal at one of the island’s waterfront restaurants, where you can savor the flavors of perfectly cooked whitefish while overlooking the stunning views of the water.


For a quick bite or a casual meal, head to one of the island’s charming cafes or diners. They offer a range of options, from hearty sandwiches and burgers to comforting soups and salads. Be sure to try a Michigan favorite, the pasty. This savory meat pie, traditionally filled with beef, potatoes, onions, and rutabaga, is a delicious and filling meal option.


Mackinaw Island is also home to a number of fine dining establishments, where you can indulge in a memorable culinary experience. These restaurants showcase the island’s bounty through dishes made with locally sourced ingredients. From fresh salads topped with local fruits and cheeses to succulent steaks and seafood, these establishments offer a taste of luxury amidst the island’s natural beauty.


To satisfy your sweet tooth, don’t miss out on trying the island’s other desserts. Treat yourself to a slice of blueberry pie, made with the island’s juicy and flavorful blueberries. Or indulge in a scoop (or two!) of Mackinaw Island’s homemade ice cream, featuring unique flavors like Mackinac Island Fudge and Maple Walnut.


And let’s not forget the island’s refreshing beverages. Quench your thirst with a glass of locally made craft beer or cider, or try a fruit-infused cocktail made with Michigan-grown berries and cherries.


Whether you’re a food enthusiast eager to explore new tastes or simply enjoy good eats, Mackinaw Island’s local cuisine will leave you satisfied and craving for more. So, venture out and savor the flavors of this charming island.


Shopping for Souvenirs

No visit to Mackinaw Island is complete without picking up a few souvenirs to commemorate your time on this enchanting island. From unique handcrafted items to traditional mementos, there are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to shopping for souvenirs.


As you stroll through downtown Mackinaw Island, you’ll find a myriad of shops and boutiques that offer a wide selection of souvenirs. Browse through the charming storefronts that line Main Street, where you’ll discover a treasure trove of items, including clothing, jewelry, home decor, and more.


One of the island’s specialties is its handcrafted goods. From beautifully woven baskets to intricate woodwork, these artisanal pieces give you a chance to bring a piece of Mackinaw Island’s craftsmanship home with you. Look for local art galleries and shops that showcase the talent of local artists and artisans, allowing you to find a unique and meaningful keepsake.


Mackinaw Island is also known for its iconic and timeless fashion piece – the Mackinaw Island plaid. This distinctive pattern is often seen on clothing items, accessories, and even home decor. Consider picking up a cozy blanket, a stylish scarf, or a fashionable shirt adorned with the Mackinaw plaid to remember your time on the island.


Fudge, a staple of Mackinaw Island, goes beyond being a delectable treat—it can also make for a great souvenir. Many fudge shops offer beautifully packaged boxes that allow you to take the island’s famous fudge home with you. These delicious treats make thoughtful gifts for family and friends or a sweet reminder of your visit to Mackinaw Island.


For a taste of the island’s wild side, consider purchasing local products made from the island’s vibrant berries. From jams and jellies to salsas and chocolates, you’ll find a variety of berry-infused goodies. These flavorsome treats not only make for tasty souvenirs but also support local businesses and sustainable farming practices.


If you’re a fan of outdoor adventures, look for stores that cater to outdoor enthusiasts. Find a wide range of gear and apparel that can equip you for your next hiking, camping, or fishing trip. From sturdy backpacks to durable outerwear, these shops provide functional and stylish souvenirs that remind you of your love for the great outdoors.


As you shop for souvenirs, don’t forget to explore the boutiques and stores that focus on capturing the essence of Mackinaw Island. Look for items that feature iconic images of the island, such as the Grand Hotel, Arch Rock, or the Mackinac Bridge. These keepsakes will transport you back to your time on the island and spark fond memories.


Whether you’re searching for unique handcrafted items, edible delights, or clothing and accessories, shopping for souvenirs on Mackinaw Island offers a delightful experience. Take your time, explore the shops, and find the perfect memento to forever cherish your visit to this magical place.


Departing from Mackinaw Island

As your time on Mackinaw Island comes to an end, there are a few things to keep in mind when departing. It’s important to plan ahead and ensure a smooth transition from the island back to the mainland.


First, check the ferry schedules to determine the departure time that best suits your needs. Ferry services, such as Shepler’s Ferry and Star Line Ferry, offer regular trips back to Mackinaw City throughout the day. Consider booking your return ticket in advance to secure your spot on the desired departure.


Arrive at the ferry dock at least 30 minutes before your scheduled departure to avoid any last-minute rushes. Give yourself enough time to return any rented bicycles and gather your belongings.


Before boarding the ferry, take a moment to soak in the final views of Mackinaw Island. Admire the captivating beauty of the island’s coastline, the clear blue waters, and the historic landmarks that have made your visit memorable.


Once aboard the ferry, find a comfortable seat and enjoy the scenic journey back to Mackinaw City. Capture photos or simply relish the tranquility of the Great Lakes as you bid farewell to the island.


Upon arrival in Mackinaw City, disembark from the ferry and collect any belongings you may have left behind. If you drove to the ferry docks, retrieve your vehicle from the nearby parking facilities and prepare for the next leg of your journey.


If you have spare time before leaving the area, consider exploring Mackinaw City, which offers its own attractions and amenities. From visiting historic sites like Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse to enjoying a meal at a waterfront restaurant, there are various ways to extend your stay and make the most of your time in the area.


Before departing Mackinaw City, take a moment to reflect on your time on Mackinaw Island. Keep the memories close to your heart and the experiences you’ve had as a reminder of the enchanting beauty and rich history of the island.


As you leave Mackinaw City behind and embark on your onward journey, hold onto the feeling of tranquility and charm that Mackinaw Island imparted. Take with you the photographs, souvenirs, and stories to share, and perhaps start planning your return visit to this magical destination.