Mackinac Island With Kids in One Day
Mackinac Island is a world unto itself. Many people do not realize that over 80% of Mackinac Island is a Michigan State Park. In fact, it is Michigan’s oldest state park, established in 1895.
That means if you venture farther than main street, you are apt to find yourself in a state park ripe for exploring.
You’ll also find historical markers everywhere, offering up explanations about interesting events from the past.
Since automobiles were banned from the island in 1898, transportation includes bicycles, horses, and walking. Emergency vehicles are the only motorized vehicles you’ll see, and those are few and far between.
While Mackinac Island is accessible year round, visitor numbers ramp up when the ferries start running in April and continue through October.
We chose the Star Line as our ferry because they offered a bit of savings with the Mackinac Island Package at $49.49 /adult and $23.00/child (2019 season prices). Included with the round trip ferry ticket is a 105 minute, narrated carriage ride through Mackinac Island Carriage Tours. You can also add on entry tickets to Fort Mackinac into your package at $13.00 per adult and $7.50/child.
Other great options to explore with the Star Line are the Family Bundle fastPasses, which can reduce ferry prices to only $17.00/family member. Bonus: Kids 4 and under always cruise for FREE!
If you choose a ferry ride that has the “Under the Bridge” option, you’ll be treated to spectacular Mackinac Bridge views. Have your camera ready when you pull into the dock.
Here is a Printable map of Mackinac Island to help you get your bearings.
Fort Mackinac With Kids
This fort takes you back to the war of 1812 when the British were fighting the Americans. The fort was active until 1895.
Some parts of the fort are over 225 years old. Buildings on the site look as they would have during the fort’s final year of occupation and you will find people dressed in period clothing acting out rituals from that time.
Re-enactments happen every 45 minutes; you can even watch them fire the cannon.
Buildings are open, allowing you explore different aspects of fort life. There’s even a Kids’ Quarters with hands-on displays and interactive games. Other exhibits show how vaccines were given to island residents as well as take you through the history of the island.
We spent at least two hours in the fort. You might spend more if you decide to have a meal at the Tea Room, operated by the Grand Hotel.
Mackinac Island Carriage Tour
This 105 minute tour comes in two parts: city and country. Departing from downtown, you’ll get the all the fun history on the places you pass.
One stop along the way is Surrey Hills Museum, where you exit your first carriage and have time to look at antique carriages and do a little snacking/shopping.
You can also tour the butterfly conservatory (this is seasonal open from mid-May through the first week of October). When you’re ready, you board a second carriage and head out to Arch Rock.
After that, you can opt to end your tour at the Grand Hotel. We have some great advice on making the most of visiting the Grand Hotel, along with tips if you opt to spend a night or two at this iconic hotel.
If you simply want to visit the Grand Hotel, keep in mind that there is a $10 entrance fee for non-hotel patrons and a dress code for certain areas of the hotel.
Marquette Park – Mackinac Island
The flats below the fort, used as a vegetable garden by soldiers long ago, now serve as an open space for concerts and picnicking.
Set off to the side is a modern playground that parents will be happy to know about. We packed a lunch and ate it at the park – it was a great place to rest and recharge for the rest of our day.
Fudge, Shopping, and Candy
To the islanders, non-residents are known as “fudgies,” and for good reason. The island is home to a swath of confectioneries producing gigantic amounts of fudge.
It’s your tourist duty to sample and purchase your favorite flavors to take home with you as a souvenir. Plus, it’s a lot of fun to watch the fudge being made.
If you’re not into fudge, there are also many different places to get ice cream and other sweet treats. There’s a toy store on the island and many places to find t-shirts. The magic shop on main street was a great find as well.
Biking and Horseback Riding on the Island
Sadly, we didn’t have enough time to try bicycling or horseback riding. To bike around the perimeter of the island, you’ll pedal eight relatively flat miles. There are great stops along the way and it takes about 90 minutes.
Visitors can rent bikes or bring their own along on the ferry (fees apply). Kid bikes and trailers are also available to rent. I recommend bringing a bike lock along if you’re bringing your own bikes.
Horseback riding trips are also available.
What to Pack for Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island weather varies greatly from month to month and morning to night.
While days in August can get up into the 80s, evenings tend to be cool and breezy. Dress in layers, and be prepared for occasional rain. Tourist shops sell a lot of sweatshirts because summer on the island is a lot cooler than visitors expect.
If you’re visiting for just the day, consider packing your lunch and bringing a backpack. Water bottles are helpful, as are bikes.
Whatever you bring, you’ll need to be able to carry for the whole day if you are not staying overnight.
If you bring bikes, bring a bike lock as well.
Sunscreen and insect repellent are also helpful, as you will likely be exploring outdoors during most of your trip.
Eating and Sleeping on Mackinac Island
Many prime restaurants are very busy during summer months. Reservations are recommended. If you’re looking for something quick, there are places you can get pizza to take out.
You can even visit the local grocery store and put a meal together with their wide assortment of offerings. We opted to pack a lunch so we’d have more time for exploring.
If you’d like to spend the night on Mackinac Island, plan ahead. Hotel rooms are often booked months in advance for high season (July and August) and rates are much higher than on the mainland. But staying on Mackinac Island is quite the experience and it’s a great way to extend your visit.
Kid-friendly Hotels on Mackinac Island
Want to spend more than a single day exploring this “Up North” gem? There are several options for spending the night on the island and these were recommended by our reader family:
Bicycle Street Inn & Suites | Kids (and parents too) enjoy opening the wide French doors to watch the happenings along Main Street.
Chippewa Hotel Waterfront | Huge rooms offer plenty of room for kids. It has a pool, is right on the lake, and is a 5 minute walk from the ferry.
The Inn at Stonecliffe | Bring your bikes! It has an outdoor pool and wonderful breakfast included with your stay. Also has suites in their Summer House building to give your family more
LakeBluff Condos & Suites | Parents like separate bedrooms with a kitchen and living space. It is very quiet and relaxing, away from the all of the downtown ‘traffic.’ There is plenty of greenspace on that side of island for kids to play outside. It is a hike from the downtown area; bikes recommended!
Lake View Hotel | Indoor pool and breakfast included.
Mission Point Resort | Offers great deals that include ferry tickets, rooms with a hot tubs, bike rentals, as well as admission to all the museums, the Fort and mini golf. PLUS kids eat free.
Share Your Mackinac Island Tips
Have you visited Mackinac Island with kids? What tips do you have to share? Where did you stay, if you stayed overnight?
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