If you’re planning a trip to Mackinac Island, taking a ferry is one of the most popular ways to get there. But with so many options available, it can be overwhelming to know where to start.
That’s why we’ve put together this guide to help you navigate everything you need to know about taking a ferry to Mackinac Island.
From choosing the right ferry company to understanding the different types of tickets available, we’ll cover all of the important details to ensure that your journey is smooth and stress-free.
Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a seasoned traveler, our guide will provide valuable insights and tips to make the most of your trip. We’ll help you plan your journey, answer your questions, and provide all the information you need to make your trip a success.
Getting to Mackinac Island by Ferry Boat
Taking a ferry to Mackinac Island is an experience unlike any other. During your journey, you’ll enjoy stunning views of Lake Huron and the Mackinac Bridge (and maybe even Lake Michigan if you take a “Mighty Mac” ferry ride).
Not only do you get to enjoy the beautiful scenery during your journey, but you also get to step back in time to a simpler era on Mackinac Island.
Ferries to Mackinac Island
If you’re planning to visit Mackinac Island, taking a ferry is one of the three main forms of transportation to get there, and it’s the more affordable option by far (the other ways include hiring a private plane or private boat).
Fortunately, multiple passenger ferry options are available to choose from, each of which has ferry docks in St Ignace (on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) and Mackinaw City (on the Lower Peninsula) with short-term and long-term parking available.
Shepler’s & Star Line Companies
The two Mackinac Island ferry companies that transport passengers to Mackinac Island are Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry and Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry Company. Both offer a range of services, including passenger-only ferries, ferry boats for passengers and bicycles, and private charters.
Since 1978, Star Line has been a trusted and reliable option for the journey to Mackinac Island, and it’s the largest ferry service to the island. In 2023, Star Line rebranded to become the Mackinac Island Ferry Company.
Both companies offer a variety of ferry options to suit your needs, including standard round-trip tickets and packages that include admission to popular island attractions. Star Line even offers a special “Sunset Cruise” for those looking for a romantic evening on the water.
Overall, taking a ferry to Mackinac Island with Shepler’s or Star Line is a unique and unforgettable experience that you won’t want to miss. Plus, their knowledgeable and friendly staff will ensure that your journey is safe and enjoyable from start to finish.
Looking for the Arnold Transit Co. ferry to Mackinac? The Arnold ferry company was started by George Arnold in 1878. In 2016, the oldest and longest-running ferry boat company in Mackinac Island sold its passenger boats to Star Line.
At the time, the CEO of Star Line, Jerry Fetty, told the Detroit Free Press about plans to refurbish and upgrade the Arnold boats, including five passenger ferries and one freight boat, with the intention of reintroducing them as Star Line boats.
These ferries were added to Star Line’s fleet, which at the time already included six passenger hydro-jet boats and one freight boat departing from St. Ignace and Mackinaw City.
Star Line continues to operate Arnold’s Huron, a steel-hulled freight vessel that has been the only water transportation for Mackinac residents and visitors in winter months since 1955.
Mackinac Island Ferry Schedules
Both Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry and Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry Company operate on a seasonal schedule, with ferry service to Mackinac Island typically running from late April through October.
During the summer peak season, both ferry companies offer frequent departures throughout the day. During the off-season, ferry service may be more limited during non-peak months, with fewer departures and reduced hours of operation.
Be sure to visit either ferry company’s website for the most up-to-date Mackinac Island ferry schedules before your visit.
Mackinac Island Ferry Ticket Prices
The cost of a ferry ticket to Mackinac Island varies depending on the ferry company and the type of service you choose. Passenger-only ferry tickets typically range from $20 to $30 per person, while ferry tickets that transport both passengers and bicycles can cost upwards of $200 round-trip.
TIP: Both ferry companies offer discounts for children, seniors, and military personnel.
It’s important to note that ferry prices can fluctuate depending on the time of year and demand, so it’s always a good idea to check the Mackinac Island ferry companies’ websites for the most up-to-date pricing information.
Preparing for Your Mackinac Island Ferry Trip
What to Bring
When taking a ferry to Mackinac Island, it’s important to pack appropriately for the trip. Here are some items you should consider taking:
- A hat or visor
- A light jacket or sweater
- A camera to capture the beautiful views
- A reusable water bottle to stay hydrated
- Cash or credit card for any purchases on the island
What to Wear
It’s important to dress comfortably for your ferry trip, but also keep the weather conditions in mind. Here are some clothing items to consider:
- Comfortable shoes for walking on the island
- Lightweight and breathable clothing for warm weather
- A rain jacket or umbrella for potential rain showers
- Layers for cooler weather
What to Expect on the Ferry to Mackinac Island
Before boarding the ferry, it’s important to know what to expect during the trip. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- The ferry ride takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes each way.
- The ferry may be crowded during peak season, so arrive early at the ferry dock to secure a spot on your preferred boat — you may have to wait for the next boat if the line is too long.
- Restrooms are available on the ferry.
- You’ll have the choice to sit on top (being exposed to the weather but enjoying amazing views) or below deck (less weather exposure but hampered views), so arrive early if you want your choice of seating.
- The ferry may experience choppy waters, especially if crossing through the wake of freight ships moving through the Straits of Mackinac, so those prone to motion sickness should take precautions.
Exploring Mackinac Island
Once you arrive on the island, you’ll be transported to a world without cars — horses and bicycles are the primary modes of transportation. You can explore the island’s historic architecture, visit the famous Grand Hotel, and indulge in some delicious Michigan fudge from one of the island’s many shops.
Can’t Miss Attractions
Mackinac Island’s a charming destination that offers a variety of attractions for visitors. Here are some of the top things to do on Mackinac Island.
Fort Mackinac is a well-preserved 18th-century fort on this Michigan island. Visitors can explore the fort’s many exhibits, including the soldiers’ barracks, the officer’s quarters, and the restored hospital. Don’t miss the daily cannon firing and the interactive exhibits that bring the fort’s history to life.
The Grand Hotel
The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island is a stunning Victorian-era hotel with a rich history. Visitors can take a guided tour of the hotel and learn about its famous guests, including five U.S. presidents. Don’t miss the beautiful gardens, the world’s longest porch, and delicious dining options (including an ice cream shop).
Mackinac Island State Park
Mackinac Island State Park is a natural paradise. Visitors can explore the park’s many hiking and biking trails, take a carriage ride, and enjoy stunning views of Lake Huron. Don’t miss the historic landmarks, including Arch Rock and Fort Holmes.
Arch Rock is a natural limestone arch formation. Visitors can take a short hike to the overlook and enjoy stunning views of Lake Huron and the surrounding nature. It’s a great photo spot and a must-see attraction on the island.
Island Activities & Tours
There are plenty of activities and tours available on Mackinac Island too. Here are some options:
- Biking around the island
- Horse-drawn carriage tours
- Kayaking or paddleboarding on Lake Huron
- Ghost tours of the island’s haunted spots
If you’re interested in learning more about the island’s history and attractions, consider taking a guided tour, taking a horse-drawn taxi, or visiting one of the many museums on Mackinac Island.
The Pink Pony is a popular restaurant and bar. Visitors can enjoy delicious food and drinks while taking in stunning views of Lake Huron. Don’t miss the live music and the famous Pink Pony burger. It’s a fun and lively spot on the island.
The Gate House
Another popular restaurant option, The Gate House serves American cuisine and drinks in a cozy atmosphere. Don’t miss the outdoor patio and live music. It’s a great spot for a casual meal with friends and family.
The Inn at Stonecliffe
The Inn at Stonecliffe is a beautiful historic mansion turned hotel. Visitors can enjoy luxurious rooms, stunning views of Lake Huron, and a peaceful atmosphere. Don’t miss the beautiful gardens and delicious breakfast. It’s a perfect getaway on the island.
The Cottage Inn is a charming bed and breakfast where visitors can enjoy cozy rooms, a delicious breakfast, and a friendly atmosphere. Don’t miss the beautiful gardens and convenient location. It’s a perfect spot for a romantic getaway or a family vacation.
Mackinac Island Ferry FAQs
How much does it cost to ferry to Mackinac Island?
While both ferry companies offer a variety of discounts and specials, most passenger-only tickets to Mackinac Island are $20-$30.
What cities have ferries to Mackinac Island?
Both Mackinaw City and St. Ignace have ferry docks for the two Mackinac Island ferry companies, allowing people to access the island from the Lower Peninsula and Upper Peninsula without needing to drive across the Mackinac Bridge.
Do you need a reservation to ride the ferry to Mackinac Island?
No, while tickets can be purchased in advance online, the ferries offer first-come-first-served tickets at the docks.
How long is the ferry ride from the mainland to Mackinac Island?
The ferry ride from the mainland to Mackinac Island ranges from 16 to 26 minutes, depending on the route you choose and the water conditions. Most departures take approximately 16 minutes.
Who has the fastest ferry to Mackinac Island?
Shepler’s Ferry is known for having the fastest ferry to Mackinac Island, but most ferry rides on Mackinac Island ferries are only about 16 minutes long.
Planning Your Ride on a Ferry to Mackinac Island
Now, you should have a better understanding of what to expect when taking a ferry to Mackinac Island. Remember to plan ahead and book your tickets in advance to ensure availability, especially during peak season.
The two ferry companies that offer rides to Mackinac Island provide reliable services with stunning views of the Mackinac Bridge from the water, as well as the surrounding natural beauty of the area.
Check their Mackinac Island ferry schedules to plan your itinerary accordingly. And, don’t forget to pack for the weather and bring comfortable shoes for walking around the island.
Whether you take a ferry with Shepler’s or Star Line, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience on the water as you journey to this unique and historic island. So, start planning your trip today, and get ready to explore this charming and picturesque destination.