Nestled between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas, surrounded by the crystal clear waters of Lake Huron, lies Mackinac Island, one of the prettiest and most charming islands in the U.S. Known for its breathtaking scenery, car-free streets, historic sights and fudge, Mackinac island is quite simply a little piece of paradise.
Mackinac Island is a short ferry ride from Mackinac City on the mainland. Take your pick from the three ferry boat operators in the main port: departures run every half hour in peak season and every hour during the early spring and late fall. In the winter, the only way to cross the straits of Mackinac is by snowmobile. Our family flew to Pellston Airport from Chicago’s Midway Airport with Lakeshore Express, whittling down the seven hour road trip to a one hour flight.
The island is just 8 miles in circumference, and cars are not allowed, so your best transportation option while on the island is by bicycle. Most hotels offer bicycle rentals, as do several outfitters in the downtown area, and you’re certain to find kid-sized bikes as well as tandems and trailers. The Grand Hotel offers horse and carriage transport from the downtown port to the Grand Hotel, fitting with the rich equestrian tradition of the island.
A night at the Grand Hotel is a once-in-a-lifetime experience worth savoring. For over 125 years, the Grand Hotel has welcomed visitors with its Victorian splendor and magnificent “front porch” – the largest in the world. Even children will appreciate donning their fanciest duds for a lavish, yet kid-friendly meal, in the dining hall, and they won’t soon forget riding up to the hotel itself on a traditional horse and buggy carriage. Other kid-friendly elements include all-you-can-eat snow cones on the decks of the Esther Williams swimming pool and kiddie cocktails in the cupola overlooking Lake Huron.
The best way to discover the island is by biking its 8-mile perimeter. Along the way around, stop to hike Arch Rock, which rises 150 feet and frames Lake Huron within its natural limestone arch. Wear your swimsuit and cool off with a dip in Lake Huron.
Fort Mackinac, built by the British during the American Revolution and the oldest building in the state of Michigan, will take you back in time via its interactive displays and costumed interpreters. Check out the fort’s website before you go for fun and educational activities.
Mackinac Island Carriage Tours offers expertly guided horse and buggy tours of the island. One of the drop-off points is the Wings of Mackinac Butterfly Conservatory, where you’ll be greeted by hundreds of butterflies dancing around to soothing instrumental music in a lush garden.
- Save room for fudge! Mackinac Island is famous for its fudge and you’ll find tens of fudge shops in the downtown area. Our family loves Ryba’s – their double fudge chocolate sauce makes a great souvenir.
- Try to visit the island in June, during the Lilac Festival, when the entire island is covered in purple blooms and perfumed with their sweet scent.
- The Grand Hotel has expert photographers available on the grand front porch every evening, ready to capture your family at its finest.