Making the most of a day-long vacation on Mackinac Island requires a precise plan of action. Despite the island’s small footprint (not even 4 square miles!), the sheer concentration of unique attractions and activities means that thoughtful prioritization is in order. The following travel ideas—all of which can fit into one whirlwind day on Mackinac Island—will give visitors a fun and educational sampling of the island’s history, cuisine and natural beauty. The following are among the best things to do on Mackinac Island in one day:
See the Sights on a Bicycle or Carriage Ride — Required time: 2 hrs. to all day
Without cars cramming the roadways of Mackinac Island—autos were banned in the late 1800’s—the preferred modes of transportation are bicycles and horses. For an active family of four, bikes are the best way to explore the entirety of the island. Bring your bikes on the ferry for an additional fee (about 10 bucks a bike) or rent from a Main St. bike shop—large groups may be able to negotiate a discount. From you disembarkment onward, you’ll be navigating the island quickly and enjoyable. At a good clip, a ride around the 8-mile perimeter of the island takes about an hour—but tack on a few minutes to enjoy the views of the Mackinac Bridge.
See What It’s Like to Bike Mackinac Island:
While a bike offers freedom to move about the island at will, a carriage ride is a relaxing and efficient way to see Mackinac Island’s most iconic landmarks. After landing at the docks, cross the street to Mackinaw Island Carriage Tours ticket stall and hop on their 2-hour horse-drawn tour of the island, which visits several stops that are indispensable destinations for families visiting Mackinac Island, including a butterfly house, Arch Rock (150-foot tall limestone arch) and the Grand Hotel.
Lunch and a Round of Putt-Putt at the Mission Point Resort — Required Time: 2 hrs.
The Mission Point Resort’s 18-hole putting course and the adjacent Bistro on the Greens make for a great break post-bike ride break. Enjoy a tapas-inspired menu and a view worth a thousand pictures, and get swinging on the all-grass putting course that’s carefully manicured. Mission Point Resort is a ten-minute walk east of downtown Mackinac Island.
Plug Your Ears at Fort Mackinac — Required time: 1 hr.
With cannon and rifle firing demonstrations just about every half hour, Fort Mackinac is not a place for the faint of heart. This Revolutionary War era fort is a beautiful white bastion above downtown Mackinac Island. Take the walking tour at 11 am, 2, 3 or 4 pm to learn about the fort’s role in the War of 1812.
Afternoon Tea at the Grand Hotel — Required time: 1 hr.
Mackinac Island’s landmark hotel hosts afternoon tea from 3:30 to 5 pm, where guests enjoy freshly-baked pastries, champagne and sherry, finger sandwiches and a spot of Earl Grey (or any other tea you could dream up). A bit pricey at first glance ($30 per person, plus a fee for non-guests), but the experience is priceless.
Dinner Downtown — Required time: 1–2 hrs.
The historic restaurants in downtown Mackinac Island are bustling at suppertime. Between the Yankee Rebel Tavern, the Pick Pony and the Seabiscuit Cafe, you’ll get all the historic Mackinac Island charm you can handle. Check out MyNorth’s Restaurant Guide for Mackinac Island for a full listing of Mackinac Island eateries.
Raid the Fudge Shops before Sailing Home — Required time: 15 min.
Fudge and Mackinac Island are virtually synonymous; you can’t really have one without the other. Stock up at one of the downtown sweet shops before boarding the last boat off Mackinac Island, which typically leaves at about 9 pm (but during peak Saturdays and Sundays leaves at 11 pm to midnight).