Planning a trip to Mackinac Island, Michigan as a family? This motor free island thrives on summer tourism and caters to the experience-driven desires of all ages. With opportunities such as horseback riding, bike riding, foodie temptations and more – how do you decide what to do? We’ve made the trip over to the island several times with our kids and these are their top six favorite things.
The Adventure Begins at the Docks
Mackinac Island is a fun place to visit with kids because the adventure begins the moment you arrive at the docks. The only way over to the island is by ferry which can either be taken from Mackinaw City or St. Ignace. Both ports make great hop off destinations because they both give you a closer look at the regions crowning jewel: the Mackinac Bridge.
To get to the St. Ignace port, which is on the upper peninsula side, most people will have to drive across this robust 5-mile long suspension bridge. It is the longest suspension bridge in North America and not always for the faint of heart. In fact, it closes periodically for high winds or low vision. However, a pass across the Mighty Mac is an experience not easily forgotten.
Another choice for getting to the island is to first drive to Mackinaw City. This lower peninsula port not only has its own bustling downtown area with hotels, restaurants, and shopping but it also offers ferries directly to the island. I always choose to ride to the Island from Mackinaw City with Shepler’s Ferries because they offer an up close view of the underbelly of the bridge as they pass beneath.
Once on the island, the excitement only continues with amazing sights, tasty treats, and energetic activities to participate in. So what does my family run to first? We always make sure to make the time for these six things.
6 “Must Do” Experiences to Have on Mackinac Island
1 . Take a carriage ride.
We’ve taken the carriage ride around the island several times and each time it’s been a slightly new adventure. Not only is the carriage ride a great way to get to the best sights and attractions (remember no motor vehicles allowed), but it is also a great way to learn a lot of weird facts about the island.
For instance, did you know that Mackinac Island has a 125-year-old Lilac tree? It didn’t look that old to me but what do I know about Lilac trees?
Did you know that on the island there is only one doctor but three veterinarians? There’s probably more horses living on the island than people too.
Did you know that you can actually get a ticket on your bicycle for speeding? It’s said to be a $25 fine! That’s some pretty fast bike riding!
Also, did you know that Mackinac Island has a haunted heritage? Taking the carriage ride around the island is a great way to hear these stories and see places you might have missed otherwise – like Skull Cave and Arch Rock.
2. Look out over Arch Rock.
Arch Rock is one of my favorite landmark scenes on Mackinac Island. I never miss getting a chance to see it! This is because it is beautiful and has a wonderful picturesque platform to look out over the Straights of Mackinac. I also never miss this chance because it is said that Arch Rock won’t be around for long – scientists suggest that it may soon collapse under its own weight.
You can get to Arch rock either by hiking, by bike, or my favorite – by carriage ride. If you choose to take the carriage tour around the island, Arch Rock is one of their stops. The only issue I’ve ever encountered while taking the carriage ride to Arch Rock is that you want to stay longer than the tour allows.
3. Explore Fort Mackinac.
Fort Mackinac has tons of interesting nooks and crannies to explore. They also offer guided tours and historic demonstrations such as the firing of the cannon.
While exploring Fort Mackinac, be sure to stop by the children’s zone. Here my kids love to dress up in vintage clothing, listen to historic instruments, and have the freedom to touch anything they want. Plus, they have fun photo opportunity spots in this area.
4. Have lunch at the Tea Room.
If you’re looking for somewhere to grab a bite to eat, my suggestion is the Tea Room inside Fort Mackinac. If you’re able to score an outdoor table at this highly sought after spot, the elevated views of the island are amazing. They also have a kids menu.
The Tea Room does have limited hours so be sure to check their open times before purchasing a ticket to the Fort if you’re only going for lunch. A fort ticket is required to access this restaurant.
5. Taste real island fudge.
There isn’t anything quite like true Mackinac Island fudge. From the moment you arrive on the island, the smell of fresh fudge carries through the streets. Stop by any of the several streetside shops and watch them make the fudge fresh in front of your eyes. You can also taste test the many different creations – some of which get pretty artistic! Our favorite is the one made with chocolate sandwich cookies mixed in.
6. Bike ride the island.
Since there aren’t any motor vehicles on the island, bike riding is one of the main forms of transportation. For this reason, the streets are full of bikes and bike rental stations. Both adult and kids bikes can be rented, as well as carriages for the younger non-riders.
While riding around downtown is fun, our best times were had when we left the main street to explore the rest of the island. Read more about the in’s and out’s of bike riding Mackinac Island.