Michigan’s Mackinac Island is a summer destination like no other. It’s where you move around on horse carriages or horseback, see buildings of another century, and feel like you live in a bygone era. Here are the top 10 things to do on Mackinac Island to get the full experience of this unique place.
1. Tour the charming town
A stroll or a bike ride through the downtown area is a must-do when on Mackinac Island which will be like a journey into another age. The multi-story buildings here will take you right back to a small town back in the early 20th century or earlier, with its period construction & motor-vehicle-free streets. You’ll see some horse-drawn carriages instead!
Main Street is one of the most happening parts of the island. Go here for all of the hotels, restaurants, and souvenir stores of Mackinac Island & to find the action after dark. There are numerous restaurants offering dining options here on Main Street. The bars here will also give you a feel of the nightlife of Mackinac Island. Another thing you might want to do here is go for a night stroll.
2. Bike around the island
Mackinac Island is just around 4 square miles in area. There’s a road that runs the perimeter of the island giving you a reason to bike or walk around the island and enjoy the sights & the pollution-free environment of the area. You can also opt to do this on horseback.
It’s an 8-mile trip through Shoreline Drive, also known as Michigan 185. It comes with views of the waters of Lake Huron & the Straits of Mackinac that surround the island.
It also passes through many of the island’s attractions such as the Mackinac Fort, Arch Rock, Devil’s Kitchen, St. Anne’s Catholic Church, & Mission Church, among others.
3. Take in the grandeur of Grand Hotel
Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel is one of the most well-known and most-photographed buildings on the island. This palatial building dates back to 1887 when the island began to carve out a place for itself as a summer destination. The ambiance takes you back a couple of centuries.
The old-world grandeur of the hotel can be experienced by paying an entrance fee if you’re not an overnight guest there. Visitors can walk around the property, have a meal in its grand dining rooms, afternoon tea in its tea garden, have a drink at the bar, or see for themselves the world’s longest front porch. From there, one can enjoy views of the Straits of Mackinac too.
4. Photograph Arch Rock
One of the most photographed natural structures on the island is a limestone formation called Arch Rock. Located on the southeastern part of the island, this arch is around 50 ft. in length and 145 ft. above the water. It was sculpted by water erosion.
This formation that acts as a window into Lake Huron is now protected by Mackinac Island State Park. It’s one of the biggest attractions of the park and there are several paved & unpaved trails that lead up to it.
5. Visit Mackinac Island State Park
Arch Rock is not the only sight to see at Mackinac Island State Park. Mackinac Island’s oldest State Park is also home to other rock formations like Sugar Loaf, Devil’s Kitchen, & Skull Cave to name a few.
There are some forts & other historical buildings to be seen at this park. There’s also a sculptural installation called Anne’s Tablet, which is dedicated to the author of a book by the name of Anne. Why this particular book? The story was set in Mackinac Island.
This state park that started off as a National Park also has several trails running its length & width.
6. See the houses on the island
Mackinac Island has numerous buildings that have come to add to the character of the island. When the island started becoming a popular getaway, it saw many houses & vacation homes come up, each aspiring to look bigger & better than the other. As such, the island has a lot of mansions, many of them Victorian.
Walk along Market Street & you’ll see the island’s oldest homes. You might also want to step into Biddle House, which is said to be among the oldest homes in the state of Michigan. The oldest surviving church building of the state, Historic Mission Church can also be seen on Mackinac. It’s on Lake Shore Drive.
7. Sample some Fudge
Mackinac Island is also known for its fudge. Walk around town and you’ll spot a whole lot of stores selling fudge. These stores also allow you to watch the process of making the fudge as they stir and mix the delectable ingredients on marble slabs.
It was in the 1880s that the island saw its first few fudge places. The fudge-making is said to have gone through a slump in the first half of the 20th century, however, it was revived after the World Wars.
Those vacationing here are often referred to as Fudgies because of how associated it is with Mackinac Island!
8. Revisit history at the island’s forts
This island in Michigan has two forts upon it. Mackinac Fort, the better known of the two, goes back to over 200 years. Built in the late 19th century, this fort came into being under the British and was the site of a couple of wars: the American Revolutionary War & the War of 1812. Mackinac Fort was in operation for 115 years.
It’s now a museum within the boundaries of Mackinac Island State Park. People in soldiers’ costumes give you a feel of wartime on the island complete with gunfire and blasts of the cannon!
The other fort here is Fort Holmes. This one was used as a lookout spot for Fort Mackinac. However, the building that now stands on the site is not the original one, but a reconstructed one.
9. Admire the butterflies
A trip to Mackinac Island also means a chance to see & admire some butterflies that now live here. Mackinac Island Butterfly House & Butterfly Garden have a large collection of butterflies of different sizes & colors and from different parts of the world.
If that’s not enough, there is an Insect World that has on show a number of insects normally found in tropical areas.
If you’ve not had enough of butterflies at Butterfly House, you can also visit Wing of Mackinac, a conservatory of butterflies, situated on Surrey Hill.
10. Tour the Governor’s House
On Mackinac Island is also the Michigan Governor’s Summer Residence, where the sitting governor of the state can vacation in.
You can walk around the Victorian Mansion and take a look at it. If you happen to be there on a Wednesday in the summer months, you can even do the official Governor’s Summer Residence Tour, where you’ll be guided through a part of the mansion.