Taking the ferry over to Mackinac Island for the day? Here’s how to make the most of an 8-hour island escape, from afternoon tea at Grand Hotel to dinner and drinks downtown.

This article was last updated July 2023.

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Making the most of a day-long vacation to Mackinac Island requires a precise plan of action. Despite the island’s small footprint (not even 4 square miles!), the sheer concentration of 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—give visitors a fun sampling of the island’s history and natural beauty.

Here are the best things to do on Mackinac Island in one day:

See the Sights on a Bicycle or Carriage Ride

Required time: 1-2 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 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.

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 Grand Hotel.

Learn about more Mackinac Island attractions.

Photo by Mission Point Resort

Lunch and a Round of Putt-Putt at Mission Point Resort

Required time: 2 hours

Just a 10-minute walk east of downtown Mackinac Island, 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 Mediterranean-inspired menu and a view worth a thousand pictures. Then get swinging on the all-grass putting course that’s carefully manicured.

Planning on staying the night on Mackinac Island? Check out Mission Point Resort’s recent renovations that make it one of our favorite places to stay on the island.

Mission Point Resort

Photo by Mission Point Resort

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, talk with costumed interpreters and explore the 14 restored buildings on-site (each furnished with period settings).

mackinac island forts

Photo by Kelly Rewa

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, and Tranquil Bluff Trail, which starts near Arch Rock, makes for a gorgeous afternoon with Lake Huron views. 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.

Arch Rock on Mackinac Island

Photo by Mackinac Island Tourism

Afternoon Tea at 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, finger sandwiches and a spot of Earl Grey (or any other tea you could dream up).  A bit pricey at first glance ($65 per person, plus a fee for non-guests), but the experience is priceless.

Fort Mackinac

Photo by Andrejka Photography

Dinner Downtown

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 Mackinac Island charm you can handle. Check out MyNorth’s Restaurant Guide for Mackinac Island for a full listing of Mackinac Island eateries.

Pink Pony on Mackinac Island

Photo by Jacqueline Southby

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 ferry off Mackinac Island.

Tempt yourself with more Mackinac Island fudge.

Pink Pony on 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.