The island is roughly 4 square miles, and although that might not seem like much, it’s home to some of the best food, hospitality, and adventures in the United States. Originally home to the Odawa Native Americans who named it “Mackinac” which means “Big Turtle”, Mackinac Island is one of the only places in the world where cars are not permitted. Instead, islanders and guests alike get around on foot, on bicycles, or on horses. The only vehicles on the island are the island’s fire truck and ambulance. The entirety of Mackinac Island has been preserved and added to the register of National Historic Landmarks. 80% of the island, or 1,854 acres of the total 2,317 acres is a state park, and the other 20%, or 463 acres, is privately owned.
The island’s history is fascinating, and Mackinac Island played large rolls in every major American war like the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and even World War II in some way or another, like by keeping the Straits of Mackinac open for trade, or as the site of actual battles. Invaded by the British who built Fort Mackinac and gave “British Landing” its name, Mackinac Island is a fantastic spot to visit if you love history.
Mackinac Island is also one of the most eco-friendly and sustainable islands in the world, due to its automobile ban, heavy use of composting and recycling, and sustainable food practices.
Shepler’s Ferry is my preferred ferry service to the island. Departing from both St. Ignace and Mackinaw City, the ferry reaches the island in under 25 minutes. Guests can go above or below deck to see incredible views of the island, the Mackinac Bridge, and other vessels traversing the Straits of Mackinac.
Check the ferry schedule in advance to enjoy one of the three “Mighty Mac” tours that depart at 9:30, 10:00, and 10:30 am daily. These unique tours take 10 minutes longer to reach the island, but they are well worth it, because part of the journey takes visitors under the Mackinac Bridge. There is no extra charge for these additional tours.
When to Visit
Most places on Mackinac Island close for the winter, and getting there can be challenging. Oftentimes during the winter the island is only accessible by snowmobiling across the ice bridge or chartering a private plane.
April – October is the best time to visit. April – June will be a bit chilly and rainy, but it’s well worth packing a few extra layers because the island’s lilacs, tulips, ferns, and other flora are in full bloom and the island is peaceful and less crowded.
The end of June to the end of September is the busy season for the island, where it is warmer, busier, and a bit more costly (it is peak season, after all). The most events and activities occur during this time of year.
The end of September to the end of October is a fantastic time to visit and see the leaves changing colors. Plus, the island isn’t as busy, so you can feel as though you’re on your own private island if you take an evening bike ride to the back of the island. It’s truly a magical experience to visit the island in the fall!
Where to Stay
As my regular readers will know, there is no place more beautiful in Northern Michigan than Grand Hotel. Home to the world’s longest porch, and nearly a dozen award winning, internationally acclaimed restaurants like Woods and Jockey Club, Grand Hotel is an experience like no other when staying on the island. I have traveled to 4 continents so far, in search of luxurry, and there are few places I’ve seen that even come close to Grand Hotel’s splendor and glamour.
The hotel does not permit tipping within the hotel, and most stays include a beautiful, full breakfast spread as well as formal dinners in the hotel’s main dining room. The hotel’s dress code goes into effect after 6pm, and requires that men and women follow a dress code after 6pm (read all about it here). During your stay, golf on The Jewel Golf Course, schedule a massage at Astor’s Salon and Spa, swim in Esther Williams Swimming Pool, which was featured in the film This Time for Keeps, and walk the hotel’s sumptuous gardens.
Take the Grand Hotel Bucket List Quiz here.
Although the island is 80% state park, camping is not permitted anywhere on the island.
What to Eat & Dink
Afternoon Tea at Grand Hotel is a beautiful tradition where guests and non-hotel guests alike can enjoy an assortment of finger sandwiches, sweets, fruits, and a glass of sherry or champagne while enjoying the view and relaxing during a day of exploring the island. Reservations recommended.
Carleton’s Tea Store inside Grand Hotel serves light lunches, pastries, tea, and drinks throughout the afternoon. It’s a great way to enjoy Grand Hotel, even if you are just visiting for the day.
Chianti at Mission Point Resort is one of the only places to find Italian food on the island, and it is delightful!
Cudahy Chophouse at Inn at Stonecliff has some of the best charcuterie anywhere in Michigan, plus they have a full menu and cocktail bar.
Cupola Bar at top of Grand Hotel has the very best view of the island anywhere on Mackinac Island. Come as you are, climb the stairs to the top of Grand Hotel, and enjoy drinks, live music, and a light menu each evening. It’s my favorite place to watch the sunset!
Fort Mackinac Tea Room is typically where we go on our last afternoon on the island. They serve up beautiful lunches overlooking the fort and marina, and the breeze off the water always feels amazing.
Gate House, located just down the hill from Grand Hotel and next to Sushi Grand has a full lunch and dinner menu, plus a full bar, amazing milkshakes, and live music most evenings.
Grand Hotel Luncheon Buffet if you’re looking for the most sumptuous all-you-can eat buffet on the island, this is it! Help yourself to everything from fish, oysters, and seafood to sandwiches, salads, soups, and an array of diving desserts that will satisfy even the most sophisticated of palates.
Jockey Club is a one of a kind dining experience. Outfitted in a festive equestrian theme, this restaurant located directly across the street from Grand Hotel is one of my favorite places in Michigan. Read my full review here, and trust me when I say you’re going to love eating here!
Lucky Bean Coffee Shop offers everything a mainland café would, with Mackinac Island flair. This is a great spot to grab a cup of coffee and read a book, meet up with friends, or take a break from the sun.
Pink Pony Grille inside Chippewa Hotel has a wonderful breakfast on the water, and also serves lunch, dinner, and fantastic drinks. I love their preppy lake equestrian decor and amazing views. They often have live music as well!
Sadie’s Ice Cream Shop, located on the ground floor of Grand Hotel, is a great place to grab a cone of Michigan’s famous Hudsonville Ice Cream and enjoy a warm summer day.
Seabiscuit Café located downtown has plenty of inventive dishes and drinks to keep guests coming back time and time again.
Sushi Grand is the best and only place to find fresh sushi on Mackinac Island. The fish is brought in fresh every day, and the presentation of each dish is very creative and lovely. Check out my full guide to Sushi Grand here.
Woods is another one of my favorite places to dine on the island. Stop in after a round of golf at The Jewel’s back nine, or pop in for a light lunch, duck pin bowling, or their famous hotdogs and popcorn and enjoy stepping back in time. Read my complete guide to Woods here.
What to Do
There’s no shortage of things to do on the island. Whether you’re looking to relax at Astor’s Salon and Spa, spend a weekend hiking, biking, swimming, and golfing, enjoy fine dining, or learn about the island’s rich history and fascinating civil achievements, Mackinac Island has more to offer than just about any other island in the world. Below are a few of my “Mackinac Island Essentials”.
Hike up to Arch Rock and enjoy the beautiful lake views, hiking trails, and fresh air. It’s also an incredible spot for star gazing.
Take a bike ride around the island, and enjoy the 8.2 mile bike-friendly path of M-182, which is the world’s only highway where cars aren’t permitted. Stop along the way at Cannonball Restaurant, British Landing, and other hiking stop along the way to learn more about the island’s history, take in incredible scenery, discover ice-cold springs, and enjoy the island’s walkways.
Enjoy a round of golf at Grand Hotel’s award-winning Jewel golf course. Everything you could need from clubs, carts, balls, and lessons are available for rental or purchase, which means you can travel light and be at ease knowing they have everything golfers of any skill level could want.
Take a Sip ’n Sail Tour around the island to take in the sites from a different perspective, and enjoy the pristine, turquoise waters of our Great Lakes.
There’s also a butterfly house on Mackinac Island, which is an educational place for children and adults alike to learn about the natural world around us.
Festivals and Events
February 2nd – 4th Winter Festival
June 6th – 16th – Lilac Festival
June 28th – Arts Celebration
July 4th – Fourth of July Fireworks Celebration
August 23rd-25th – Mackinac Island Fudge Festival
August 30th – September 2nd – Labor Day Jazz Festival
Halloween Weekend Celebration
Artists Market of Mackinac Island sells handmade items from works of art to souvenirs and gifts.
Canvas & Paddle is my personal favorite place to shop on the island. Camp themed and unique, Canvas & Paddle sells just about anything you could imagine, and it can’t be found anywhere else on the island or mainland.
Doud’s Market is the country’s oldest continuously running grocery store, and sells groceries, pre-made foods, alcohol, and toiletries, so if you forget to bring anything with you to the island, head to Doud’s. Their staff are always very kind and helpful too!
Grand Hotel & Co. sells stunning fine jewelry to make your stay on the island extra special. Located on the ground floor of Grand Hotel, across from Margaret’s Garden.
Island Breeze is an art gallery that sells Kathleen Chaney Fritz’s stunning Michigan inspired watercolor paintings. I own two of her works of art and I cherish them greatly!
Jewel Pro Shop allows golfers of The Jewel golf course to stock up on anything they might need to play their best game ever from apparel to golf equipment.
Little Luxuries of Mackinac Island is a great place to stop for souvenirs.
Marlee Brown Art Gallery inside Grand Hotel is where you can purchase the very same works of art on display throughout Grand Hotel. Raised in Petoskey and educated at the University of Michigan (just like me!) Marlee Brown is an incredible artist with a breathtaking body of work inspired by island life.
Nephews sells brands like Sperry, Vineyard Vines, and Duffield Lane, making it a great place to stop in for a new Shep Shirt or pair of shoes whilst on the island.
Poppins Mackinac specializes in paper and gift items.
Day Trips from Mackinac Island
Although Mackinac Island does not allow automobiles, there are still a few safety concerns one should keep in mind during a visit to the island. While riding a bike around the island, keep in mind that horses always have the right of way, even if you’re just walking, and you should always yield to them. Do not take flash photos of horses, don’t ring bike bells when next to them, and do not yell near the horses in order not to startle them.
Even in the absence of automobiles, bike riding can still be dangerous. Take care to avoid hitting other riders, wear a helmet for safety, and know how to use hand signals to help other bicyclists and horse riders know where you’re heading.
Drones are not allowed to be flown anywhere on the island for any reason, as they can spook the horses, and because the airplanes coming and going from the island oftentimes fly very low to the island.
Swimming in the waters around the docks is never permitted for any reason, as there are very strong currents, and ships going to quickly to avoid swimmers. If you’re interested in taking a dip, head to Grand Hotel’s Esther Williams swimming pool for an afternoon to enjoy beautiful views, the sounds of crashing waves, and a world-class swimming experience for all ages.
Until next time!
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