Mackinac Island, Michigan is the perfect family vacation or weekend getaway. The island is located at the northern tip of Michigan and is the gateway to Michigan’s picturesque upper peninsula. Vehicles are not allowed on the island so it is very safe to bike and walk with small children. There are so many fun things to do on Mackinac Island, all ages will love it.
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Best Things to do on Mackinac Island with Kids
Adding to the mystery and excitement to your trip, Mackinac Island is only accessible by boat or commercial ferry. It only takes about 20 minutes by ferry to arrive on the island from Mackinaw City so you can easily make the island a day trip which is beneficial if you have small children.
It is no wonder the island is such a popular spot with locals and visitors alike as it is a picturesque, adventurous and a safe vacation spot during the spring, summer and fall seasons. Mackinac Island is also a popular destination for photographers, bird watchers, kayakers and hikers due to the extreme diversity, numerous trails, clear waters and beauty of the island. It’s also one of the most romantic weekend getaways in Michigan (remember this for when the grandparents can watch the kids).
Explore Mackinac Island’s Main Street
When you first arrive on the island, begin by exploring scenic Main Street. If you bring day bags or lunches, you can store them in the blue lockers at Shepler’s Ferry docks. There is a nearby token machine where you deposit dollar bills in exchange for tokens and a key to the lockers.
Take some time to enjoy exploring all the eclectic shops along Main Street. You will find a wide variety of Michigan and Mackinac Island souvenirs, delicious taffy and boutique shops. It is fun to sit on one of the many benches along the busy street to watch horse drawn carriages filled with tourists pass while narrating tours of the island. You will also gain a better understanding of how much work goes into transporting luggage, supplies and goods (only by horse drawn carriages) to the dozens of restaurants, shops and hotels on the island.
Must See Places on Main Street
While exploring Main Street, be sure to peek inside the spooky Haunted Theater. The theater was built in 1885 by Charles Caskey who also built the famous Grand Hotel. This building began as a roller rink, was later transformed into a dance hall and finally became the Orpheum Theatre. History indicated the ground was once part of a Native American burial ground which may answer why locals report a spooky never-ending wailing at night.
Main Street also offers a great chance to sample delicious Mackinac Island Fudge. One of our favorite fudge shops is Murdick’s as many times you can watch fudge artisans mix the creamy fudge on cold slabs of granite. It is fascinating to watch the fudge transform into delicious chunks right before your eyes. Of course, it is impossible to not buy a slice to take along during your Mackinac Island adventures.
Further to the east on Main Street is the beautiful Mission Church. This picturesque church is Michigan’s oldest surviving church building. It is also the earliest surviving example of a New England Style church in the Midwest. Due to its fascinating history and beauty, this church is popular for weddings during the warm summer and early fall months.
One of the most beautiful churches on the island is Ste. Anne Catholic Church. Its pointed steeple and intricate stained-glass windows are breathtaking. This church was built in 1827 and is stunning to visit and photograph, especially during a sunny day.
Find the “Somewhere In Time” gazebo
While exploring all the nooks and crannies of Mackinac Island, we discovered several secret hidden places on Mackinac Island. One of them included the “Somewhere in Time” Gazebo that we finally found after searching for it several times. This beautiful white gazebo was featured in the 1980 movie, “Somewhere in Time” starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour.
Did you know “Somewhere in Time” was shot almost entirely on Mackinac Island? Several scenes were filmed around the island, including the Mission Point Resort and the elegant Grand Hotel.
This gazebo was used in a romantic scene between Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour in which the two shared a steamy moment together on screen. Once you find the gazebo, it feels like you are reliving a nostalgic moment of movie history!
Mackinac Island Bike Rental
The scenic paved perimeter of Mackinac Island is 8.3 miles. Due to the significant distance, biking this route is a definite must-do. Visitors to Mackinac Island can find bike rentals at several locations including Mackinac Island Bike Shop and Mackinac Bike Barn. This bike and hike trail has water views the entire way and there are lots of chances to swim or wade into the clear, yet rocky water. Another fun thing to do is to look for shells and beautiful rocks along the shoreline as a reminder of your adventures on Mackinac Island.
While hiking or biking the flat perimeter trail, keep an eye out for fantastic views of the Mackinaw Bridge. Sunset Rock, McGulpin’s Point (food and restrooms), and Arch Rock are popular destinations. Arch Rock is a geologic arch formation of natural limestone that stands on the Lake Huron shoreline. It soars 146 feet above the water! Arch Rock is a popular spot for photography as the views are outstanding; but be prepared to walk about 200 stairs to reach the top! It is definitely worth the effort.
Skull Cave, Cave in the Woods and the Crack in the Island are also popular scenic destinations in the interior of the island. Be sure to take a map with you as the interior of the island has lots of intersecting roads. Also note, the interior is very hilly and requires strenuous biking or hiking to reach many of the popular destinations.
Visit the Grand Hotel
When visiting Mackinac Island, you must visit the historic Grand Hotel. This lavish hotel was built in 1887 and Mark Twain even delivered a lecture there in 1895. Be sure to enjoy a drink and appetizer in one of their lavishly appointed lounges and relax in a rocking chair on the world’s largest porch.
The Grand Hotel’s porch is a great spot for scenic photos as it is lined with several American flags and nostalgic rocking chairs. Horse drawn carriages frequently arrive to deliver guests to the hotel, providing excellent photographic opportunities. Kids will love a scoop or two of cool, creamy ice cream from Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor.
It is also noteworthy to mention that five presidents have stayed at the Grand Hotel! While visiting the hotel, check out the scenic gardens that contain edible flowers and herbs used by the Executive Chef and his staff to prepare meals for the hotel guests.
Mackinac Island Tips (Know Before You Go):
- There are two ferry lines, Shepler’s and Starline, that leave from either Mackinaw City and St. Ignace.
- You may wish to spend time in Mackinaw City as there are ziplines, restaurants, fudge shops, boat tours and fabulous views of the Mackinaw bridge.
- There are restrooms on the ferries. Many have an upper open deck (great views!) and a lower enclosed deck for more windy or chilly days. Take note that you can get wet while riding on the upper deck, especially on windy days.
- Parking at the ferry is free. If you park in an outer lot in Mackinaw City, a covered open-air shuttle with take you from your vehicle to the ferry docks.
- Those traveling on a fixed budget or strict diet, might want to bring their own snacks, drinks and lunches. Consider bringing a bike bag that attaches to the handlebars of your bikes to carry everything. If you rent a bike, they come with baskets that are large enough to hold a small bag.