Michigan’s Mackinac Island is one of the most popular summer vacation destinations in America. It isn’t surprising that, with so many things to do on Mackinac Island, it’s impossible to do them all in one visit. It may just become your go-to place to get away from the 21st century and enjoy a slower pace of life.
Take a horse-drawn taxi, eat decadent Mackinac fudge, hike, shop, breathe the crisp fresh air, and indulge in some family time. Rent a bike and circle the island, visit historic forts, and savor some delicious food. The options are almost endless!
Free Things to Do on Mackinac Island
Explore Mackinac Island State Park
Mackinac Island State Park makes up most of Mackinac Island. Only 20% of the island isn’t in the park. No matter what you like — history, natural wonders, or hiking — you’ll find it in abundance.
Combining all three is probably the way to go to get the most out of your visit. One option is to hike from town to visit Fort Mackinac, and then head to Arch Rock. But the combinations are numerous.
If you hike to Arch Rock on the lower trail (M-185), you’ll be climbing 207 steps to get to the top and see the spectacular views. These are actually nice wooden steps, so if you’re in reasonably good shape, it shouldn’t be too much of a hardship.
Luckily, for those who don’t have the legs or knees for stair climbing, you can visit Arch Rock from above without climbing any steps!
Skip Rocks on Lake Huron
Who doesn’t enjoy skipping rocks? Half the fun is finding just the right stone and practicing flicking your wrist. Of course, you have to find the perfect spot on Lake Huron to do it.
When you’re visiting Mackinac Island, the beach is never far away. Some people think that skipping rocks at sunrise or sunset is ideal. But when you’re on vacation, sunrise may just be a bit too early.
Hike to Sugar Loaf Rock
Depending on the type of terrain you prefer when you hike, and how long you want your hike to be, you have several options to hike to Sugar Loaf.
The most direct route from Main Street is to take Bogan Lane to Huron Road, and walk east until you come to Winnebago Trail. This connects to Sugar Loaf Road, which takes you to Sugar Loaf for great views from Lookout Point. Climb down the stairs if you want to get up close.
Visit the Little Stone Church
This small church, more of a chapel really, is a popular spot for couples wanting to get married on Mackinac Island. Constructed from local fieldstone with cut granite, Union Congregational Church is more than 100 years old.
The stained glass windows depict historical events in the island’s history. If you stop in for a tour or a service, you’ll get a warm welcome.
Explore Mackinac Island Library
Bibliophiles take note, this pretty little library is a quiet haven in a crowded and hectic place. While you won’t be able to check out a book, you can take one onto the back porch.
You can sit in one of the Adirondack chairs and read to your heart’s content while enjoying the stunning views of the waterfront. The library sells used books too, so you may find one to take home.
See Skull Cave
Skull Cave has the unique distinction of being named for the pile of skulls and bones discovered by fur trader Alexander Henry. You can’t enter the cave, but a sign gives you information.
The best way to see the cave is on a horse-drawn wagon tour. Your driver will have stories that make the cave come to life.
Take a Hike on Over 70 Miles of Trails
No matter the level of hiking that you enjoy, you’ll find a trail on the island. You can pick up a map at the Tourist Information Center.
If you forget, chances are the Mackinac Island hotel or bed and breakfast where you’re staying will have one. With all the things to see, you may want to design your hike so that you can combine a few of them into one.
Surrey Hills Carriage Museum
If you take a carriage tour, this will be your first stop. You can just walk here from downtown if you aren’t taking a carriage tour.
The museum celebrates the evolution of the carriage on Mackinac Island and includes a horse-drawn fire engine. One of the most popular vehicles is the horse-drawn hearse, which is still used. While you’re here, you can shop and have a snack before heading back out on your carriage tour.
Located in Surrey Hills near the Wings of Mackinac Butterfly Conservatory, this is the perfect place to take any of your horse-loving family members. The horses are beautiful and so are the antique carriages and sleighs that are on display.
Twelve horses live here, and there are 30 carriages and sleighs. If you’re in Surrey Hill, this self-guided tour is worth a stop.
More Historic Things to Do on Mackinac Island
The history of Mackinac Island begins with the Native Americans and includes the French, the British, and finally the Americans. History lovers won’t be disappointed with all of the historic sites!
Mackinac State Historic Parks
Mackinac State Historic Parks includes many of the sites that visitors consider a must-see on the island. They include:
- Fort Mackinac
- The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum
- The Biddle House
- Benjamin Blacksmith Shop
- American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum
Other sites that are part of the Mackinac State Historic Parks (like Fort Michilimackinac) are located in Mackinaw City.
This former British fort dates from the American Revolution. Fourteen restored buildings can be visited, and the exhibits include interactive ones to engage the attention of children and adults.
Costumed interpreters make you a part of the experience. You can watch soldiers marching in formation, try on costumes, listen to period musical performances, and watch muskets and cannons being fired. For something unique, plan to enjoy tea at the tea shop.
Located on the highest point on Mackinac Island, Fort Homes is constructed from wood and earth. The current version is a 2015 reconstruction. The original British fort was built in 1814 and named Fort George.
You can walk inside the stockade and up into the blockhouse for stellar views. If you plan enough time, you can read all the markers for more information about the fort. No entrance fee is charged.
Though it isn’t the original location of Benjamin’s Blacksmith Shop, the contents of the shop are original. This is a fun stop because you can watch a blacksmith perform blacksmithing tasks.
He happily explains what he’s doing and answers any questions you or your children have. You can even buy some of the things he makes. Entrance into the shop is included with entrance into the Biddle House.
The early history of Mackinac Island includes a connection to the fur trade. Voyageurs were the French Canadian fur traders who came down into the area as adventurers around the late 17th century.
John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company had a strong presence here by the early 1800s. This building was the company store where it sold its surplus to the locals and people who lived at Fort Mackinac. It’s an interesting place to learn about early island history.
Visit Historic Homes
The Biddle House is a living history museum, bringing to life the period around 1830. It was the home of Edward and Agatha Biddle.
The house offers cooking demonstrations throughout the day, and at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. daily, special programs are offered. The history lesson takes place inside and outside the house.
Also located at the Biddle House, the Mackinac Island Native American Museum is a tribute to the Anishnaabek heritage of Agatha de LaVigne Biddle. An archaeological dig in a privy from 1820 produced some amazing results that are on display here.
You’ll see what well-to-do merchants on the island used in their homes in the 1820s with the unique addition of native birchbark items.
The McGulpin House is a piece of Mackinac Island and Michigan history. It was moved from the mainland and is built in the French Canadian style.
It’s a working-class family home and not to be compared with the many homes of the wealthy in the area. The house has been left in a way that shows the interior construction details. It dates from before 1780, possibly making it the oldest surviving house in Michigan.
Take a Ghost Tour
Taking a ghost tour is always lots of fun. We recommend that you dress in comfortable shoes because you’ll be walking around in the dark.
Your cloaked guide from Haunts of Mackinac will share historical facts and some that might not be included on other tours. It isn’t a scary tour, but Mission Point Resort is known to have a ghost named Harvey who you’ll learn about.
Explore Historic Cemeteries
Visiting the historic cemeteries on Mackinac Island is pretty simple. They’re all located near each other on Garrison Road.
St. Anne’s Catholic Church has its own cemetery, which features the oldest known grave. It’s the resting place of Marry, the daughter of Edward and Agatha Biddle.
Then, there’s the Post Cemetery. British and American soldiers from the War of 1812 are buried here, but the markers have long since deteriorated, so the names and locations aren’t known.
Finally, there’s the Mackinac Island Cemetery. As one of the civilian cemeteries, it’s only reserved for Mackinac Island residents.
Unusual Things to Do on Mackinac Island
After you’ve done the first tier of must-do things, it’s time to look for unique things to do on Mackinac Island. You can fill the rest of your visit and future visits with several attractions that you can’t find anywhere else.
Visit a Fudge Shop
You can’t walk down Main Street without the enticing smell of fudge distracting you. You might as well give in because Mackinac Island fudge is legendary and irresistible!
Samples are provided to help you decide which of the decadent flavors is your favorite. You can watch the fudge being made in a time-honored way in most of the shops. You may be able to get some tips for making your own. If not, you can have Mackinac Island fudge shipped to you.
See Anne’s Tablet
Anne’s Tablet is a lovely sculpture honoring the heroine of Constance Fenimore Woolson’s novel “Anne,” which takes place, in part, on Mackinac Island. Constance spent summers on Mackinac Island as a child and was the great-niece of James Fenimore Cooper.
The tablet was commissioned by Woolson’s nephew on one of the most scenic overlooks on the island. Some people suggest that the location is no coincidence since he wanted to preserve the view for cottage owners at the time, being one of them himself.
Visit the “Somewhere in Time” Movie Locations
“Somewhere in Time” starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour was filmed on Mackinac Island. You’ll recognize the Grand Hotel in the film, but some other places may not be as familiar.
Luckily, all of them are just a short walk from the Grand Hotel. For example, you can visit the famous gazebo and tree. Even better, you could attend the Somewhere in Time Weekend at the Grand Hotel.
Find Sunset Rock
Sunset Rock is considered the most beautiful place on Mackinac Island to view a sunset. Located near The Woods Restaurant, it combines well with dinner reservations there.
On the western shore of the island, directly below Heriot Point, the easiest route goes to the Inn at Stonecliffe and heads through the apple orchard toward Lake Huron. Follow the trail until you reach the bluff. After a short walk, you’ll see the stone stairs to Sunset Rock.
More Outdoor Mackinac Island Attractions
Mackinac Island is an outdoor lovers’ paradise, and enjoying the outdoors when the weather is sunny and warm is the ideal way to spend your days on the island. There are so many things to do on Mackinac Island that you’ll need to spread them over multiple visits.
Mackinac Island Beach
Mackinac Island is surrounded by water. It’s an island after all. But if you’re looking for a sandy beach to lounge on, you might be slightly disappointed.
The beaches here are rocky, but the water on a hot day is just as refreshing. You can dip your feet in the water at sunset, and take advantage of cooling off with a spectacular view. If you have sensitive feet, water shoes will help.
Take a Bike Ride
Since cars aren’t allowed, biking on Mackinac Island is a primary form of transportation, and bike rental options are everywhere. You won’t have trouble finding one, and your accommodation may even rent them.
You can rent the type of bike that you’re comfortable with — one-speed, multispeed, tandem, mountain bike, adult tricycle, or motorized. Rentals are usually by the hour with discounts for half or whole days. The trail around the island is 8.2 miles, so you get to decide how long you need your bike.
The most popular route is the perimeter route along the shore of the island. If you just ride, it can be done in about two hours.
However, if you enjoy being distracted by the scenery, historic sites, and food along the way, it can take a lot longer. The wonderful thing about biking on Mackinac Island is that you get to decide what you want to do.
Mackinac Island Carriage Tours
If you aren’t up to hiking and biking, you’re not without a way to see all the great Mackinac Island attractions. You can take a horse-drawn carriage ride or tour either with a group or privately.
The carriage drivers share stories about life on the island and its history. Even if you can hike and bike, the enjoyment of the carriage rides makes them a must-do experience. It’s all part of the island’s charm.
Golf Courses on Mackinac Island
Wawashkamo Golf Club is historic for two reasons. First, it was the location of the Battle of Mackinac Island during the War of 1812. More than that, this golf course dates from 1898, and it’s pretty much original.
What makes it special are the natural hazards, not ones that had to be created. It only has nine holes, but they’re challenging enough to provide a great round of golf.
Imagine taking a 30-minute horse-drawn carriage ride from the front nine to the back nine. That’s what happens at Jewel Golf Course at the Grand Hotel.
This historic course was designed in 1901 and re-imagined in 1987. The views of the Straights of Mackinac and Mackinac Bridge are stunning. Playing here is a great way to get the Grand Hotel experience even if you’re not staying there.
Take Gardens Tours
One of the best Mackinac Island things to do is to take garden tours. Two resorts offer tours of exceptionally beautiful gardens — Grand Hotel and Mission Point Resort.
The garden at the Grand Hotel has thousands of flowers and is famous for its lilacs, which are in full bloom for the Lilac Festival. For $10, you can take a self-guided tour.
A free guided tour by the horticulturalists at Mission Point Resort is offered on Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 10:30 a.m.
Paddle the Straits
For a Mackinac Island adventure, consider paddling the Straights of Mackinac with Great Turtle Kayak Tours. You can rent a single or double kayak for a private adventure, or take a tour. You can also rent a paddleboard if that’s more your speed.
The water surrounding Mackinac Island is crystal clear, and spending time enjoying it is invigorating. On a tour, you’ll have an expert guide with you, which is a good option for amateurs. Sunset and sunrise tours are offered.
More Mackinac Island Things to Do Indoors
Tour the Grand Hotel
If you’re not an overnight guest of the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, you’ll need to pay $10 to enjoy touring the hotel and grounds. But it’s a fee well spent. All the glory of a bygone age will be around you. For the fee, you’ll receive a map of the hotel and the gardens to get the full experience.
If you’ve ever dreamed of having afternoon tea in a historic hotel, this is your chance. Every afternoon between 3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., you can indulge in fresh-baked scones, little tea sandwiches, and delectable pastries while sipping tea.
If you prefer, you can have coffee, sherry, or Champagne instead.
Visit Butterfly Houses
There’s something so peaceful about butterflies. You can get up close and personal with some gorgeous specimens at the Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House. Watching the butterflies escape from their chrysalides and take their first flight is a popular attraction here.
Bring your camera, because you’ll have the chance to take stunning pictures everywhere. It just takes a little patience. Butterflies seem to know when you have them in focus and then fly away.
Can there ever be too many butterflies? Not likely. Nothing is quite as awe-inspiring as sitting quietly and having a butterfly land on you. It takes your breath away, so have someone nearby with a camera to catch the moment for you.
At the Mackinac Butterfly Conservatory, you can visit hundreds of unusual butterflies and stunning plants. It’s a very peaceful place to enjoy some downtime.
The focus of this art museum is Mackinac Island. Art, photography, Native American beadwork, and more are on display.
The exhibits cover hundreds of years of local history in art and decorative arts. It’s a good place to spend a leisurely hour away from the heat of summer and the hustle and bustle of Main Street.
Play at Admiral Dave’s Arcade at Mission Point Resort
Is your pocket full of quarters? If not, there’s no need to worry. The arcade at Mission Point Resort has a machine to change dollar bills into the necessary change.
This attraction is the perfect way to let your kids wind down when they have energy left after a day of sightseeing. The selection includes classic arcade and video games.
Visit the Island Bookstore
Open seasonally from May through October, the Island Book Store specializes in all things Mackinac Island. If you want a book, calendar, or DVD about the area, this is the perfect place to visit.
Are you looking for a good book to read? Stop in to browse. There’s an excellent selection of bestsellers, children’s books, and, of course, travel books.
Things to Do on the Way to Mackinac Island
From the Lower Peninsula
If you’re coming to Mackinac Island from the south, consider making Mackinaw City a vacation stop of its own instead of just passing through. Whether your interest is history, nature, or just family fun, you’ll find lots of things to do in Mackinaw City.
You can visit Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, Colonial Michilimackinac, Headlands International Dark Sky Park, and Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park. Or, play a round of mini-golf at Animal Tracks, and enjoy the haunted attractions downtown.
From the Upper Peninsula
If you’re coming to Mackinac Island from the north, there are plenty of things to do in St. Ignace. For instance, you can get a great view of the Mackinac Bridge from Bridge View Park, and stop at Bessie’s Homemade Pasties to pick up one of the favorite grab-and-go foods in the Upper Peninsula.
Native American culture has an important place in St Ignace. So you could visit the Museum of Ojibwa Culture, Fort de Baude, and Father Marquette National Memorial.
Discover Even More Things to Do on Mackinac Island
This list is just a taste of the many things to do on Mackinac Island. A lot of activities are open between May and October, but stunning sunsets and Lake Huron views are there year-round.