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Planning a trip to Mackinac Island, and don’t know where to start? Whether you’re planning a trip to Upper Michigan or looking for some much-needed travel inspiration this post will make you want to visit Mackinaw Island as soon as possible.
The island has a lot to offer including fantastic beaches, hiking opportunities, and historic sites like Fort Mackinac which is said to be haunted. Learn more about this fascinating island and its rich history by taking a guided carriage tour to visit the important sites.
Did you know there are no cars allowed on the island? This makes it an incredibly peaceful place to visit some of the untouched nature and truly appreciate the area’s beauty. Don’t miss out on spending your summer on Mackinac Island, Upper Michigan’s true hidden gem.
Mackinac Island History and Facts
Prehistoric artifacts found on Mackinac Island prove that Native American tribes lived there as early as the 10th century, around 700 years before European settlers came to the area. Its earliest known inhabitants the Anishinaabe people consider the island sacred and used it as a burial ground for their tribal chiefs.
In the late 17th century European settlers found their way to Mackinac Island. Only a few decades later the Mackinac Straits had become an important passageway for the fur trade which became prosperous in the area. After the French and Indian War, the British took control of the Straits and built the famous Fort Mackinac in 1780.
The Battle of Mackinac finally brought Mackinac Island under US control years after they had declared independence. The main battleground has been turned into a golf course, the oldest there is in Michigan.
As the fur trade slowly became less profitable tourism became the island’s main economic activity. Less than 500 people permanently live on Mackinac Island today and it’s become a popular summer getaway.
Where is Mackinac Island?
Mackinac Island is located between the Upper and Lower Michigan peninsulas on Lake Huron. The island sits just under 3 miles from the shore and is easily reachable via ferry. Mackinac has two neighboring islands; Round Island and Bois Blanc Island. Marquette Island is also close by.
Why you need to visit Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is one of Upper Michigan’s most famous tourist locations and the perfect place to visit year-round. More than 80% of the island is actually part of the Mackinac Island State Park which makes it ideal for activities like hiking, biking, and skiing in winter.
Mackinac Island is famous for its world-class fudge which is produced on-site. There are 14 fudge shops on the island which collectively produce up to 10,000 pounds of fudge per day during the main season. That’s how popular it is among tourists.
With Lake Huron at its doorstep, Mackinac Island is a great spot for water sports of all kinds. Hire a boat or take part in a guided tour, try kayaking or Stand-Up Paddle. Mackinac has it all. But even a relaxing day by the water can truly make your trip unique.
Mackinac Island is home to some incredible flora and fauna but outdoor activities are not all the island has to offer. Learn more about the fascinating local history by visiting some of the historic places of interest like the British Forts, the Art Museum, the Carriage Museum, or the old Blacksmith Shop. There is always more to see on Mackinac Island.
How to get to Mackinac Island
Most people reach Mackinac Island via ferry which runs daily from Saint Ignace and Mackinaw City. Shepler’s Ferry and Star Line offer regular services from May to October. Since there are no cars allowed on the island a convenient way of getting to Mackinac is taking your car to either Mackinaw City or Saint Ignace and parking it there. Then you can take a ferry to the island and can easily get back home at the end of your trip.
From November to April there are no ferries going to Mackinac Island and it is only reachable via air. Of course, you can also fly to Mackinac Island during the summer but flight routes are very limited. The island has a small airport that serves some regional carriers. A flight to Saint Ignace takes only about 4 minutes.
In the early months of the year, Lake Huron tends to freeze over creating the famous “Ice Bridge”. During this brief window of time (anywhere from a few days to several months) you can cross the ice and reach the mainland on foot or by snowmobile. Be aware that this can be extremely dangerous and should not be done alone or at night.
How to get around Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island has a ban on all motorized vehicles so the main way of getting around the island is on foot, by bicycle, or by horse. You can rent bikes and even horses on arrival which will make seeing all the sights a lot more convenient. Renting a bike costs around $7 per hour plus a $15 deposit.
There are also horse-drawn carriages available if you are unable to walk or bike for long distances. You can call to book these even on short notice but it’s always better to plan ahead and book in advance during popular times.
There are also a limited amount of electric carts available to rent for people with disabilities. The island has an area of just over 4 square miles so it is realistic to walk everywhere if you are up for some exercise and outdoor time. The trail around the island is approximately 8 miles long.
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When is the best time to visit Mackinac Island?
June to August is the best time to visit Mackinac Island when temperatures are high and you’ll be most likely to have good weather. Most tourist attractions will be open from May to September which gives you a broad time-frame to plan your trip. Months like October or April could be a great choice since they are slightly off the main season which means fewer tourists and cheaper prices.
Mackinac Island is a popular destination for boat races which take place in summer every year. Keep an eye out for the weekends of the races as you can almost guarantee that the island will be flooded with visitors and prices will be considerably higher.
The ferries only run from May to October which is an important thing to consider when planning your trip to the island. While you can still visit in winter you’ll have to reach Mackinac by air. February may be a great time to visit since that is when the famous “Ice Bridge” phenomenon usually occurs. Lake Huron freezes over and you can easily reach the island.
Other Michigan posts you may find interesting:
- The Best Sunflower Fields in Michigan to Visit
- Why You’ll Fall in Love With Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
- The Most Complete Guide to Escanaba, Upper Michigan
- The Best Complete Guide to Saint Ignace, Upper Michigan
- The Most Complete Guide to Ironwood, Upper Michigan
- 5 Upper Michigan Lighthouses That Are Worth The Drive