We went on a day trip to Mackinac Island as part of a two-week vacation, or should I say experience, of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There is so much to do in the UP and we couldn’t go there without going to see Mackinac Island, that would have just have been crazy if we didn’t. So we took the ferry with our bicycles from St. Ignace.
From a budget point of view, Mackinac Island is very expensive and it wasn’t in our budget to stay on the island. Hotels are probably cost more than your major cities. Restaurants, although many to choose from, are also very costly. As we were camping an hour away, a day trip to see most of the island was what we choose to do.
Getting to Mackinac Island
Well unless you have you’re own private boat, the only way to get to Mackinac Island is by ferry. You can either take a ferry from Mackinac City (south of the Mackinac Bridge) or St. Ignace (north of the bridge)
There are two companies that offer ferry service to Mackinac Island. Both offer similar services and have good reputations. It takes between 15 to 25 minutes to get to the island from either town.
Shepler’s Ferry service operates from April 21 to October 31st. They offer numerous ferries each day, especially during peak season and weekends. They also offer cruises to several locations around the St. Ignace and Mackinac City areas. For this information, visit their website.
On several rides during the day, Shepler has a Mighty Mac Departure which is the same service to Mackinac Island but you get to ride under the Mackinac Bridge. These trips just take a little longer (about 10 minutes more and at no additional cost) to reach your destination.
Ferry fares are $25 for adults, $14 for children 5 to 12 and kids 4 and under are free. You can take your own bike for an additional $11.
Starline Ferry Service
Starline has hydro-jet ferries making the ride average 18 minutes. The real difference between the two ferries services is that Starline runs all year round. They offer limited service through the winter running several ferries each day and extra service when an event on the island is happening, such as the Christmas Tree lighting.
Ferry fares are as follows:
- Adult 13 and up is $27
- Children 5 to 12 is $15
- Children under 4 are free.
- If you wish to bring your own bikes you need a bike pass for $12
We used Starline Ferry Service on our trip to Mackinac Island from St. Ignace really just because when we arrived this ferry time schedule was the most convenient so we didn’t have to wait long however I do believe either service would have been fine.
Main Street Mackinac Island
When you get off the ferry your first stop is Main Street. I was surprised to see that although not a castle at the end of the street it reminded me of Disney with an old town charm. With all the shops and horse and carriages, it is definitely not like Main Street in any other town.
On Main Street, you can rent bicycles to get around the island. I was surprised for such a small island there were so many bike shops and rentals. However, that is really the only way to get around the island. You can also take a horse taxi for $5 a ride, which will give you an inexpensive way to get the island experience of horse and carriage without breaking the bank and will also take you to some of the attractions on the island.
Shops on Main Street included fudge stores, souvenirs, and restaurants. To my surprise, there was also a Starbucks in the center of town!
Mackinac Island is known for its fudge. Matter of fact, the Upper Peninsula is famous for fudge and you will find it wherever you go. But I surprised to see 15 fudge stores in this small Main Street area.
The fudge is delicious but also expensive at almost $30 a pound. They also make ice cream with fudge in it, so this is an affordable way to try the famous Mackinac Island fudge. We opted for vanilla ice cream with fudge and it was the best!
8-mile Bike Ride
We loved our bike ride around the outer perimeter of the island. This 8-mile ride offered beautiful views of Lake Huron and the Mackinac Bridge. We were also able to see many attractions along the way.
Since 80% of the island part of Mackinac Island State Park, the bicycle path is mostly within the state park limits. There are many attractions along the loop including Fort Mackinac, St. Anne’s Church, Arch Rock, British Landing, Devil’s Kitchen, the Grand Hotel and downtown Mackinac Island (Main Street).
We stopped to eat lunch on the rocks by Lake Huron and what a beautiful view (above) we had. This is near Mission Point along Lake Shore Drive.
Our next stop was Arch Rock. There is plenty of room to park your bikes and then take the Spring Trail up the 207 steps to the top where you can view Arch Rock.
The most visited landmark on the island, Arch Rock has interesting geological features voted as the most beautiful spot on the island. Walkthrough the arch to see beautiful views of Lake Huron, the clear blue water looks like your in the Bahamas.
You can also get to Arch Rock by taking a tour of the island as all the tours stop there. Additionally, you can also take a “carriage taxi” there which is a lot cheaper than a tour.
Note: Near the arch is restrooms for your convenience.
Mackinac Island Carriage Rides
You can take a tour and see all the main attractions of the island with a Horse and Carriage ride. Explore this beautiful place by going back in time to the way people used to get around. The tour includes stops at Arch Rock, Fort Mackinac, Avenue of Flags, Grand Hotel, Historic Market Street, Surrey Hills Museum, wings of Mackinac and Island Cemeteries.
The Mackinac Island Carriage Tours have been around for over 100 years and continue to be owned and operated by the same family. It is the oldest horse and buggy livery in the world. The operation includes over 100 carriage setups and 400 horses to operate them.
Tours run from May to October and are about 1 3/4 hours long. However, since there is so much to see along the way, you can get off and explore than just wait for the next available carriage to continue your journey.
The island is known for “The Grand Hotel” which has many different styles of accommodations, a full-service restaurant, a golf course, and shopping. Staying at the hotel will cost you at the minimum $359 per night, per person and goes up from there however includes your meals.
If you can’t afford this, you have the option to visit the hotel for $10 per person and $5 for children. Since this really didn’t interest us, we passed on this experience but got views of the hotel from being on the island.
Although we didn’t go to this attraction, I wanted to mention it so you could get a feel for the whole island.
Fort Mackinac is a big attraction on the island. It was a working military base, first for the British and then for the American’s. It operated as such from 1780 to 1895. Today you can visit this fort and see how the people lived during this timeframe. They even still have a working cannon on the fort.
During peak season, several times during the day they reenactment of the earlier days and you can watch the soldiers march, hear the rifles fire and also the cannon blasts. For $50, you yourself can set off the cannon.
We loved our day trip to Mackinac Island and were glad that we got to experience this beautiful place on our trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The two of us were able to do this for less than $100. So although many will tell you that it’s an expensive place to visit you can also enjoy it on any budget.