Mackinac Island is a favorite Northern Michigan vacation destination, with visitors traveling from all over the world to stay at the quaint isle. This automobile-free, history-laden haven is home to dozens of hotels and B&B’s, a downtown full of sweet shops and taverns and small streets filled with happy horses and smiling cyclists. But, beyond the hustle and bustle of the island’s Main Street, Mackinac Island is home to many hidden treasures waiting to be rediscovered by wide-eyed island-goers. Read on to discover travel ideas, attractions and activities to make your Mackinac Island vacation great.
First Things First: Getting to the Island
Sorry folks, you can’t just drive to the island—and even if you could they’d turn you around, as cars are strictly forbidden. Mackinac Island is accessible by boat or by plane.
As a crossroads between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, the Straits of Mackinac was once of great strategic importance for the French, British and American forces that fought in the Midwest during the 18th and 19th centuries. Fort Mackinac, located on Mackinac Island, was a stronghold for both the British and Americans, while Fort Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City was first a French trading post, and then a British fort. Both forts are now operated as museums open to the public. A third fort, Fort Holmes, was built by the British during the War of 1812 at the highest point on the island (just one mile north of Main Street). Fort Holmes was recently renovated and is now open to the public.
- More about Fort Mackinac and Fort Holmes on Mackinac Island
- More about Fort Michilimackinac in Mackinaw City
Enjoying the Fudge
Fudge is the fuel of Mackinac Island. The sweet smell of cocoa and butter wafts through Main Street, and no Mackinac Island vacation is complete without a stop inside one of the island’s many candy stores.
Experiencing the Grand Hotel
The Grand Hotel stands on Mackinac Island like a marble monument. The stately façade is as beautiful as each of the 386 individually decorated rooms, and even if you choose not to lodge at the Grand Hotel during your stay (find other lodging options at MyNorth’s Mackinac Island Hotel Directory), a visit to this historic hotel is not to be missed.
Take a video tour of the Grand Hotel in this MyNorth video.
Biking Mackinac Island
Aside from the smell of fudge and the clopping of horses, one of the first things you’ll notice about Mackinac Island upon your arrival is the multitude of bikes streaming along Main Street. Biking is the most popular and convenient means of navigating the island—not only the streets of downtown but also the miles of trails that lie in the interior of the island in the Mackinac Island State Park, which covers about 75 percent of the island’s land mass.
- Learn where to rent and where to ride
- Mountain biking on Mackinac Island
- Read about Mackinac Island biking from Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine
Celebrating the Festivals & Events
There’s a lot to celebrate about the Mackinac Island lifestyle, and there’s a festival for three of the most prominent features of the island: horses, fudge and lilacs. Beyond the annual festivals, boat races, special events and island-circling runs fill the summer weekends.
Getting Around by Horse
Mackinac Island is powered by a 500 horsepower engine—that is, the 500 horses that call the island home in the summer. Since the late 19th century, horses have been an integral part of Mackinac Island. A word of caution to visitors: watch your step …
Already headed to Mackinac, but don’t know what to do? Find out the best things to do in one day on a Mackinac Island vacation.
Staff contributors: Evan Perry
Originally published on June 11, 2014
Cornerstone: Mackinac Island