Mackinac Island can be magical in the summertime. The island’s kown for its fudge — and there are plenty of ice cream shops, too. The views are spectacular with Lake Huron’s turquoise, crystal clear water. And there’s no other place quite like it in Michigan — the entire island is a State Park and is 100% motor-free: Meaning, no cars, no motorcycles, no electric bikes (unless the person has a mobility disability and only if the E-Bike is a Class I electric bicycle).
Travel on the island is restricted to walking, riding a bicycle or taking a horse-drawn carriage. And since no cars are allowed on the island — and no bridge connects to the mainland — the only way to the island is by boat or plane.
The most affordable (and most common) way to get to the island is by taking a ferry. There are two ferry companies with service to Mackinac Island: Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry and Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry Company.
Mackinac Island Ferry Options
Both ferries offer multiple trips a day to and from both Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. Children under 5 years of age are free. Leashed pets are also allowed and there’s no extra charge.
Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry
Beyond their standard ferry trips, Shepler’s also offers a special narrated trip that goes underneath the Mighty Mac Bridge — a cool viewpoint both kids and adults alike will enjoy. Look for the Mighty Mac trips highlighted in blue on their ferry schedule.
Want to bring your own bikes? Each bike is an additional $16 ticket.Tandem bikes are $32. Bike trailers, burleys or wagons are also an additional $16. There’s no additional charge for bringing a standard stroller.
Here are the ticket options you can purchase online:
- Single Day Adult Roundtrip: $30/person
- Single Day Child Roundtrip (Ages 5-12): $19/child
- Single Day Roundtrip for 3 adults: $80
- Single Day Roundtrip for 2 adults, 1 child: $64
There are special savings you can purchase in-person at the ticket office only. These include:
Mack and Back Unlimited:
Unlimited departures in one, two, or three day options.
- 1-day adult: $38
- 1-day child (ages 5-12): $24
- 2-day adult: $52
- 2-day child (ages 5-12): $32
- 3-day adult: $61
- 3-day child (ages 5-12): $38
2-Trip Roundtrip Ticket Combo:
Two round trips to Mackinac Island for one guest within any four-day time period. Four day window begins when the barcode is first scanned at the departure dock.
- Adult: $52
- Child (ages 5-12): $32
Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry Company
Star Line is known for their Hydro-Jet ferries — which get passengers to the island in about 18 minutes. But they also offer service in a few “classic” vessels, have a few trips per day that go under the Mighty Mac bridge, and they have a Pirate Ship Ferry! See the full schedule on their website.
Bikes, burleys and trailers require a pass for $14 each. Strollers have no additional charge.
Online ticketing includes:
- Adult FastPass (Hydro-Jet) Roundtrip: $28
- Child FastPass Roundtrip (Ages 5-12): $18
- 3 Adult FastPass Roundtrips: $75
- 2 Adults, 1 Child FastPass Roundtrips: $60
- 2 Adults, 2 Children FastPass Roundtrips: $78
- Adult Classic Roundtrip: $19.95
- Child Classic Roundtrip: $14.95
- Adult FlexPass (Classic/Hydro Roundtrip Combo): $27
- Child FlexPass: $16
- 2 Day Adult FastPass: $48
- 2 Day Child FastPass: $25
- 3 Day Adult FastPass: $55
- 3 Day Child FastPass: $29
- Adult Pirate Ship/Hydro Roundtrip Combo: $39
- Child Pirate Ship/Hydro Roundtrip Combo: $29
Where to Stay on Mackinac Island
While accommodations are available on the island, they’re typically not the most affordable option and can be pretty hard to come by at all during the summer months. However, make sure to do a quick search depending on what your preferred dates are. The island is pretty magical in the early mornings and evenings when the ferries aren’t running (and you have to factor in the extra ferry money if you’re staying multiple days as well!). The island is open until the end of October, so if your family wants a magical fall trip, many of the island’s hotels offer discounts in September and October.
If your family is planning the full “Mackinac Experience” — bike rentals, Fort Mackinac, Butterfly House, golf putting course, etc. — it’s worth checking out the package deal from Mission Point Resort. This package requires a two-night minimum stay, but includes lodging, tickets to all of the mentioned attractions, food and beverage credits, ferry tickets and more.
Since the ferries depart from both St. Ignace and Mackinaw City, either of those locations are filled with affordable, family-friendly hotels. You can view all Mackinaw City hotels and compare rates for your preferred dates on this website, and check out the various St.Ignace hotels here.
Depending on which month you’re planning to visit, both Mackinaw City and St. Ignace also have firework shows that can make the evenings extra exciting! Mackinaw City has fireworks every Tuesday and Friday night beginning on May 27 and running through September 30. St. Ignace has fireworks every Saturday night after the 4th of July through September 3. In both cities, the fireworks can be viewed anywhere along the waterfront (if you’re lucky enough to find an affordable, waterfront hotel room you can even view them from your balcony!).
Make sure you ask your hotel if they offer coupons or discounts for the ferries or any of the island’s activities. Some will also offer discounts for local restaurants. You can also check the ticket offices of both ferry companies for discounts on Mackinac Island carriage tours, military discounts and more.
Kid-Friendly Things to do on Mackinac Island
There’s so much fun to be had on Mackinac Island! From riding bikes to checking out the island’s unique landmarks to eating all of the fudge and ice cream little tummies can handle, there’s nothing quite like Mackinac Island to a Michigan kid.
Ride bikes around Mackinac Island
Bike rides are certainly a favorite during the summer months. M-185 (or Lake Shore Road) is the state’s only car-free highway — and it encircles the entirety of Mackinac Island, giving bicyclists picturesque views of Lake Huron and the perfect way to explore the island.
If you don’t have your own bike to bring, there are plenty of rentals available on the island. Most of the island’s bike rental companies offer several different options for both kids and adults — including tandem bikes, tagalongs, baby carts, child carriers, and more. Just take a walk down Main Street to find a rental! You can also view all of the rental companies here.
Along the way, you can check out Arch Rock, Sugar Loaf, some of the island’s historic churches, the Grand Hotel, British Landing, and more!
To tour the Grand Hotel and its grounds, there is an additional admission fee of $10/person. However, the hotel is still a pretty cool site from the outside; you can peek at its grounds without entering them and then get ice cream at Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor — located outside the hotel’s east entrance near Cadotte Avenue and is open to all visitors, with no hotel admission fee.
Visit Arch Rock on Mackinac Island
Arch Rock is a must-see on Mackinac Island — whether you stop during a bicycle journey, take a carriage ride or hike to it (about 2 miles each way from Main Street, closer to a mile from Mission Point Resort and The Grand Hotel).
This unique rock formation is a rare limestone arch that stands nearly 150 feet above Lake Huron. From its viewpoint, you get gorgeous views of the lake and can marvel at the archway itself — which has a ton of legends and stories around it, including it being viewed as a spiritual bridge to another realm to Native Americans. Read more about its unique history and how to reach it from Awesome Mitten.
Take a dip into Lake Huron
The water is so clear you’ll just want to jump in on those hot summer days — or at least dip your feet in. The water does stay pretty chilly, and the beaches are rocky instead of sandy, so at least bring water shoes and a towel! It wouldn’t hurt to pack swimsuits/extra clothes in a backpack just in case.
Check out Fort Mackinac, Fort Holmes and British Landing
If your family likes learning about local history, you should definitely check out Fort Holmes, Fort Mackinac and British Landing.
Fort Holmes is located at the highest point of Mackinac Island. Not only can you go inside this small outpost and learn about its history (it was built during the War of 1812), but you can also enjoy a picnic outside with breathtaking views.
Fort Mackinac is the larger fort on the island and it’s packed full of exhibits, live demonstrations, daily reenactments, and more. You can tour the 14 original buildings, including the post hospital, guardhouse, blockhouse, barracks, etc. There are admission fees of $15.50 per adult and $9.25 per child (ages 5-12). Children under 5 are free. Learn more about Fort Mackinac here.
Check out a real cannon, see views of the Mighty Mac and learn about the history of the island at British Landing.
Take a carriage tour of Mackinac Island
If you want to soak in the most views and truly experience the island the Mackinac way, book a family carriage tour!
These narrated tours will explain the history of the island while you ride in a horse-drawn carriage. The kids will love it!
The hour and 45-minute sightseeing tour costs $36 per adult and $15 per child, but you can combine tickets with the Wings of Mackinac butterfly house for a discounted price.
Save about $0.50 per adult & child by purchasing your Fort Mackinac tickets along with your ferry tickets. Both ferry companies offer this discount. You can do the same with carriage tour tickets and butterfly house tickets.
Walk along Main Street to check out the shops
Your whole family will be drooling over the smell of fudge as soon as you step off the ferry. Downtown shops make 10,000 pounds of fudge each day in season; so you can imagine what Main Street smells like! The fudge shops are definitely #1 on our list of kid-friendly shops to visit on the island. The whole family can get free samples of fudge and watch the fudge-making process in action. Check out all of the fudge shops here.
Some other shops your kids will enjoy include: Great Turtle Toys, Mackinac Kids, Mackinac Island Butterfly House Gift Shop (you can save money on admission to the butterfly house here, too) and The Island Bookstore.
Family-Friendly Dining on Mackinac Island
If you want to pack a lunch or snacks, there are a ton of gorgeous places to sit down and enjoy a family picnic on the island! (And it’s a great way to both enjoy nice weather and save some money).
Otherwise, here are some great family-friendly and affordable restaurants on the island:
- Windermere Doghouse — This little hot dog stand is located outside of the Windermere Hotel with gorgeous views of Lake Huron. Enjoy hot dogs and ice cream on shaded picnic tables while looking out at the water.
- Kids eat free at Mission Point Resort’s restaurants off of the kids’ menus.
- Mighty Mac Hamburgers — Located on Main Street, this is the most affordable (and tastiest!) burger joint on Mackinac Island. They also have veggie burgers, chicken sandwiches and chicken nuggets, pulled pork sandwiches, cod sandwiches, hot dogs, chili dogs, corn dogs and more. Kids meals (hamburger, hot dog or chicken nuggets plus a pop and small fries) are less than $6.
- The Chuckwagon — if you take an early ferry and want an affordable breakfast, check out The Chuckwagon before 11 a.m. It has all of the breakfast classics to fill you up for your adventure and not break the bank.
- Smoky Jose’s — Craving BBQ? Grab a BBQ sandwich or wrap for $12, split some sky-high brisket nachos for $13, or get some pulled pork tacos for $12. Kids meals are $9 (chicken tenders, cheese quesadilla or mini corn dogs; all served with waffle fries).
- Island Slice Pizzeria — Grab a yummy pizza (or just a slice) at this Main Street eatery! They also have subs, salads, pasta and wings — plus chicken nuggets and mac ‘n cheese for the little ones.
- Amigo Burrito — Who doesn’t love a giant burrito? This build-your-own burrito joint located at the Murray Hotel is great for a quick bite. Burritos start at $11.99.
Final tips + where to find coupons and other deals
There are a ton of places to find deals and discounts for Mackinac Island. First, keep an eye on the official Mackinac Island tourism’s deals and packages page.This is where you can find the best deals for the on-island hotels.
If you’re staying in a hotel, make sure to ask about coupons. Most of Mackinaw City’s hotels give you a coupon book for the island upon check-in. Visitors Centers usually also have guide books filled with coupons.
And make sure you always check the hotel websites and ferry websites as well! A lot of times they will have special “book direct” deals and packages.
Finally: Timing matters. If you can plan your trip for “non-peak” season, you can find a ton of extra savings — especially on your hotel. This includes most of May and September and October. The most expensive time to visit is during the island’s two festivals: The Lilac Festival (June 3-12) and The Fudge Festival (August 26-28). And, of course, summer holidays also come with an extra price tag — esp. July 4th.