Plan Your Dream Family Trip to Stunning Mackinac Island

Our road trip guide makes it easy for you to plan your trip to gorgeous Mackinac Island. All you need to do is pack up the family and hit the road.

Named No. 1 on Travel + Leisure’s list of The 15 Best Islands in the Continental U.S. in 2022,  Mackinac Island is a quick getaway where metro Detroit families can have an experience that’s totally unique and great for parents and kids alike.

Mackinac Island is often referred to as the “Crown Jewel of the Great Lakes.” The island is surrounded by water with no bridge to the mainland. Even though you’re still relatively close to home, you feel like you’ve escaped to a secluded island.

Drone Downtown at Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is situated on Lake Huron between Michigan’s two peninsulas. There are no bridges to the island, so it’s only accessible by ferry, private boat or plane. Photo Credit: Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau.

Home to a centuries-old military outpost and Mackinac Island State Park, the island is perfect for a fun and educational getaway that feels like a trip back in time. 

The island has been car-free for over 100 years, so the best way to get around is by horse-drawn carriage, bicycle or on foot. Consider renting tandem bikes or a family-sized carriage for a unique family experience.

Over 80% of the five-square-mile island belongs to the state park, meaning most of the island’s rock formations, forests and nature trails remain in their natural condition to be enjoyed by all who visit. Kids will love hiking the trails and discovering rock formations that are unique to Mackinac Island.

So whether your family is looking for a relaxing evening by the water, a day full of wartime reenactments or a hike to the bluffs, Mackinac Island offers it all — capped off with a box of famous Mackinac Island Fudge. Don’t miss hands-on fudge-making demonstrations at local shops — a treat for the whole family. And be sure to visit a few local historical sites to make your vacation fun and memorable for the whole family

How to get to Mackinac Island

The trip up to Mackinaw City from metro Detroit comes in just under 4.5 hours, but it’s an easy drive straight up I-75N. Your Ford SUV’s SYNC provides navigation support to help you avoid any construction delays on your way — keeping both driver and kids moving and happy.

Mackinac Island Pit Stop Map

Yes, there is a Mackinac Bridge. No, it does not take you to the island — instead the bridge connects Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. 

Part of the adventure of visiting Mackinac Island is getting there. No cars are permitted on the island, so the standard way to arrive is by ferry. Ferry docks are located in Mackinaw City and St. Ignace, the two cities at either end of the bridge. 

Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry
Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry and Mackinac Island Ferry Company are the two main ferries that run between the island and Mackinaw City. Photo Credit: Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau.

Plan some fun stops to break up the drive. Your kids will appreciate the chance to explore and stretch their legs. Here are some attractions worth checking out: 

Once you arrive in Mackinaw City, hop on a ferry to take you the rest of the way to the island. Watch the excitement build as your family approaches the island by ferry. This is a scenic and fun start to your trip.

What to expect when taking your ferry

Two companies operate during the primary tourist season from late April to October, Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry and the Mackinac Island Ferry Company

Boats for each service leave around every 30 minutes, with the ride taking about 15 minutes. Travelers can also board one of the ferries that goes under the Mackinac Bridge, which takes 25 minutes. Consider taking a ferry that goes under the Mackinac Bridge for a unique view and photo opportunity.

  • Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry
    • Tickets: Tickets can be purchased advanced online at sheplersferry.com but reservations are not required. Round trip tickets are $34 for adults and $23 for kids, with packages and add-ons available.
    • Schedule: Find the ferry schedule at sheplersferry.com.
    • Parking and experiences: The company also offers a variety of day and overnight parking options and special cruises to enhance your ferry experience.
  • Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry Company
    • Tickets: Tickets can be purchased advanced online at mackinacferry.com but reservations are not required. Round trip tickets are $31 for adults and $21 for kids, with packages and add-ons available. 
    • Schedule: Find the ferry schedule at mackinacferry.com.
    • Parking and experiences: The company also offers a variety of day and overnight parking options and a Pirate Ship experience the whole family can enjoy.
    • Kids will love the special cruises, especially the pirate adventures.

When you book a trip to Mackinac Island, the saying rings true — part of the enjoyment is in the journey, not just the destination. Consider making the most of your ferry ride into the past by booking a Pirate Ship experience the entire family is sure to love, or checking out the variety of special cruises available.

Where to stay 

Guests have options for lodging either on the island or back across the water in Mackinaw City. Which is the better place to stay? It depends on what experience you’re looking for. 

The Island has no chain hotels — instead, guests are treated to more than 1,600 rooms in one of the island’s variety of hotels, resorts, bed and breakfasts, condominiums, cottages and homes. 

Options are typically a bit pricier, but you’ll save money and time on ferrying back and forth to the island.

Here’s what else you need to know when making your choice:

  • Staying in Mackinaw City typically offers more affordable lodging and still plenty of things to do, but guests will need to ferry back and forth to the island. One big benefit? You’ll have a place to keep the car.
  • Staying on Mackinac Island offers its advantages too, with plenty of unique lodging options located both in the heart of the action and on remote resorts. 

When you stay on Mackinac Island

Those interested in history and truly embracing the full Mackinac Island experience will enjoy staying at the Grand Hotel, with its charm and picturesque views where each guest room is individually decorated to bring a different theme to life. 

Guests can also enjoy 13 restaurants and bars on-site. The Grand Hotel’s Woodlands Activity Center offers plenty of fun for kids, including mini-golf, bike rentals and a lot more.

The Grand Hotel at Mackinac Island
The Grand Hotel, located at 286 Grand Ave., is one of the most iconic places to stay on Mackinac Island. Photo Credit: Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau.

Rated No. 1 on Tripadvisor by travelers, Mission Point Resort also has it all. The resort is located just outside of downtown on 18 acres of tranquility and is the largest family-owned resort with 241 guest rooms and suites. The grounds are also home to three restaurants with outdoor dining, two coffee shops, on-site bike rentals, a putt-putt golf course, a spa and salon and a Great Lawn. Mission Point Resort’s putt-putt golf and bike rentals are perfect for family fun.

Main Street At Night From Lakeview
Downtown Main Street is the liveliest part of the island, with tons of shops, restaurants, attractions and more. Photo Credit: Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau.

Families looking for a place to stay in the middle of it all will enjoy Main Street Inn and Suites and Bicycle Street Inn & Suites, both located in the downtown area near restaurants and shops.

When you stay in nearby Mackinaw City

Another option to consider is staying off the island in Mackinaw City, where you will find the consistency of chain hotels and some more affordable options that still come with great views. Choosing a hotel in Mackinaw City can be more budget-friendly and still provide easy access to island activities.

Some of the highest rated places to stay in the city include the Clearwater Lakeshore Motel, the Holiday Inn Express, Baymont By Wyndham and the Rainbow Motel

Where to eat on Mackinac Island

Unfortunately, you can’t just eat Mackinac Island’s famous fudge your entire trip — as much as your kids might try to convince you otherwise. Luckily, the island is full of family-friendly restaurants.

Here are some great options to try:

  • For a quick bite to eat between activities, consider checking out Chuckwagon and Mighty Mac Hamburgers. Kids will love the casual, fun atmosphere and classic American menu at these spots. Or, for a full dining experience, enjoy waterfront views at Hotel Iroquois’ Carriage House
  • But it’s not all burgers. The variety of restaurants includes Mexican flavors at Amigo Burrito, Jamaican influences at Kingston Kitchen and Patrick Doud’s Irish Pub
  • The Fort Mackinac Tea Room at the Grand Hotel offers not only a delicious meal, but guests can enjoy tours of the historic site and views of downtown. Or, if you need a break from eating out, visit Doud’s Market & Deli, America’s Oldest Grocery Store. Pack a picnic from Doud’s Market and enjoy a family lunch in the state park.

Arch Rock at Mackinac Island State Park
Arch Rock is one of the most popular natural attractions on the island, towering 146 feet above Lake Huron and totaling over 50 feet wide. Guests can see Arch Rock and more natural formations at Mackinac Island State Park. Photo Credit: Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

Continue making your road trip plan for Mackinac Island with our help! Check out our guides for:

Content brought to you by Southeast Michigan Ford Dealers. Visit buyfordnow.com. Find more articles like this at Metro Parent’s Ultimate Family Road Trip Guide

Tara Jones
Tara Jones
Tara Jones is a nationally award-winning digital journalist with experience working in audience development and growth. She specializes in branded content creation and strategy, SEO and newsletter strategies. Throughout her career, Tara has helped launch a digital news website from scratch and has led several newsrooms in various capacities.

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