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. (And first things first: here’s a guide to getting to the island.)
See the Sights on a Bicycle or Carriage Ride
Required time: 2 hours
Without cars cramming the roadways of Mackinac Island—autos were banned in the late 1800s—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 ($8 to $10 a bike) or rent from one of the many bike shops on Main Street—large groups may be able to negotiate a discount. 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 and Arch Rock.
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 Mackinac Island Carriage Tours ticket stall and hop on their 2-hour, horse-drawn tour of the island, which visits several stops including a butterfly house, Arch Rock (150-foot tall limestone arch) and the Grand Hotel.
Lunch and a Round of Putt-Putt at Mission Point Resort
Required time: 2 hours
Mission Point Resort’s 18-hole putting course and the adjacent Bistro on the Greens make for a relaxing post-bike ride break. Enjoy a tapas-inspired menu and a view worth a thousand pictures. Then get swinging on the all-grass putting course that’s carefully manicured. Mission Point Resort, which is a 10-minute walk east of downtown Mackinac Island, also offers scenic game rentals (think lawn bowling and croquet) as well as kite-flying.
Plug Your Ears at Fort Mackinac
Required time: 1 hour
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 to learn about the fort’s role in the War of 1812.
Hike the Island’s Interior
Required time: 1 hour to 3 hours
With more than 80 percent of the island protected as a state park (Michigan’s first!), Mackinac offers some spectacular vistas. Explore the island’s more rugged trails for off-the-beaten path beauty. By going inland by foot, you’ll be in the woods with some steep climbs—Fort Holmes offers amazing views and is a quiet spot for a picnic. For a detailed map of hiking trails, stop at the island’s visitor’s center across from Marquette Park between the marina and the Chippewa Hotel on Main Street.
Afternoon Tea at the Grand Hotel
Required time: 1 hour
Mackinac Island’s landmark hotel hosts afternoon tea from 3:30 to 5 p.m. 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.
Required time: 1 to 2 hours
The historic restaurants in downtown Mackinac Island are bustling at suppertime. Between Yankee Rebel Tavern, Pink Pony and 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
Required time: 15 minutes
Fudge and Mackinac Island are virtually synonymous; you can’t really have one without the other. The Daily Meal even voted a Mackinac Island fudge shop the best in America. Stock up at one of the downtown sweet shops before boarding the last boat off Mackinac Island.
Get a Glimpse of the Governor’s Summer Home
Required time: 30 minutes to 1 hour
Originally built as a private summer cottage, this pristine Victorian mansion was sold to the state in the 1940s and converted to be used as the governor’s summer residence. The mansion is the only summer residence provided by a state for its governor, putting Michigan’s governor in a club all to his or her own. The home is open for free public tours every Wednesday throughout the summer.