5 Things To Do on Mackinac Island if You Only Have One Day

Summer on Mackinac Island

Oh, Mackinac Island. Is it wrong if I call you a step back in time? I’m sure many travel writers would cringe at that phrase, but seriously, where else do you see Clydesdales clopping down the street, not a car in sight?

Like many Michiganders, I have fond memories of visiting Mackinac Island as a child. It’s a special little island where you feel like you’ve time-traveled back to 1910. Somehow the island doesn’t feel kitsch, but rather nostalgic and chock-full of Americana.

And flags. So many flags.

America's Summerplace- Mackinac Island
A Horse-drawn Carriage on Mackinac Island

I had a lovely time visiting with my family in August. While on most of visits we stay at least two or three days, on this visit we stayed just one. Which honestly, was plenty- the island’s tiny after all.

But I did want to share the five things I really, really hope you do while visiting Mackinac if you only have one day.

 1. Ride in a horse taxi

A Horse-drawn Carriage on Mackinac Island

I always love seeing the horse carriages jingle by on Main Street.

If you’re a serious horse lover, you can ride at several stables around the island. But for everyone else, I’d recommend hopping in a horse taxi at least once to get the full Mackinac experience.

2. Stay at (or visit) The Grand Hotel

One of the must-do activities on Mackinac Island- Stopping by the Grand Hotel!

The Grand Hotel is an enormous, historic hotel with the longest porch in America. You may remember it from Somewhere in Time, a mediocre 80’s movie I was forced to watch in my youth.

Like the rest of Mackinac Island, The Grand Hotel is a time warp. I stayed there several times as a kid and remember the dining room feeling like Titanic with a dizzying amount of silverware.

If you have time, I’d highly recommend staying at the Grand Hotel. It’s a unique experience unlike any other hotel I’ve stayed in.

If you just want to visit the hotel, it costs $10 to enter and has a dress code. But walking the grounds is free and provides beautiful views of the façade.

3. Try Mackinac Island fudge

Delicious Fudge on Mackinac Island

I’m not sure if Mackinac Island fudge is well-known throughout the country, but I’ll tell you one thing- it’s beloved in Michigan. As far as I know, every ice cream shop in Michigan carries Mackinac Island fudge ice cream, which is my FAVORITE ice cream flavor in the world. (Sadly, I’ve never found it anywhere else.)

And there’s a reason everyone loves Mackinac Island fudge- it’s delicious. On Mackinac Island, you can’t throw a stone without hitting a fudge shop, but my favorite is Ryba’s. And my favorite flavors at Ryba’s are peanut butter and maple nut.

4. Rent a bike and ride around the whole island

If you’ve over-indulged on fudge (no judgment whatsoever), go for a bike ride around the island! The trail is pancake-flat- we’re in Michigan, remember- and water is shockingly blue.

The trail that circles the island is eight miles long and very easy for riders of any age. One thing to note- bike rentals on Mackinac are expensive, so try not to dawdle.

5. Hike up to Arch Rock

Arch Rock, a natural limestone arch on Mackinac Island

While you’re biking around the island, make sure to stop at Arch Rock! A natural limestone arch Native Americans believed to have divine power, it really highlights the absolutely beautiful Michigan water. (What can I say? I’m proud of my home state.)

The staircase to the arch is steep, but take breaks for photos if you need a breather.

Mackinac Island Water- So Blue!

When it was time to leave the island, I didn’t feel sad- more-so grateful to feel such fondness for a place. And grateful to be from Michigan- I really had forgotten how naturally beautiful my state is. Thanks, Mackinac, for reminding me.

Mackinac Island
Taking the Ferry to Mackinac Island
Beautiful Mackinac Island
The Magnificent Mackinac Bridge
The Magnificent Mackinac Bridge

Important info: 

If you’ve never been to Mackinac Island before, I’d recommend staying at least two nights. Definitely visit in summer; the population is 492 in the off-season so there’s not much to do!

Most people get to the island by taking the Star Line Hydro Jet Ferry. It costs $24 for adults and $13 for children (round-trip).

If you have the budget, I’d highly recommend staying at the Grand Hotel. If you want to save on accommodation, see other hotels on Mackinac island here.

Airbnb is also available – This will give you a $40 Airbnb coupon code for your next stay.

Have you heard of Mackinac Island? Ever been there? Have you ever felt like you were stepping back in time while traveling?

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

24 thoughts on “5 Things To Do on Mackinac Island if You Only Have One Day”

  1. Mackinac Island is high at the top of my US bucket list. And as an avid history nerd, I love the whole “step back in time” feeling. From the pictures I’ve seen of it, it also reminds me so much of Anne of Green Gables which I love. I can’t get over how gorgeous the water looks in your photos from Arch Rock-more Mediterranean-esque :) Hopefully one day (soon) I’ll make it there!

  2. So I’ve never heard of Mackinac (just looked it up on Google Maps though). The Great Lakes are so intriguing to me – I guess since I’m so used to the beach and because the lakes we have here in North Carolina are, um, not so clear and definitely not this beautiful. And I hear Lake Michigan is so big it has waves sometimes?! I do love a good bike ride though, and the longest porch? I’d like to sit there and have a cocktail.

    • Yes, all of the Great Lakes have waves! I almost think calling them lakes is misleading- they’re really inland freshwater seas. And I do imagine that porch would be the perfect place for a cocktail :)

  3. One of my most favorite places in the entire world. I have such fond memories of visiting Mackinac Island as a little girl. I can proudly say I’ve done everything you’ve mentioned so far! ha

  4. I bet you wished you had more than one day to spend in Mackinac Island. It’s just absolutely awe-inspiring and the fact that not a lot of people know about this precious tourist destination really baffles me.

  5. Gorgeous pics and straight-talk-informative post! Thank you so much Ashley! You just gave myself and my family a clear 1 day itinerary this coming weekend – this is exactly what we need after driving all the way from Toronto! Kudos to you girl! Keep it up. :)

  6. Many people don’t know they can rent an apartment for a week or more and BRING YOUR OWN BIKE and groceries. If you bring your bike, even if it is for only a day, register it at the Police Station. The permit makes for a nice, inexpensive souvenir. Registering your bike will help the police in case it gets stolen. (TIP: Always lock your bike whenever you get off, no matter for how long, because they DO get stolen often!)) Bringing your own bike is the best way to save a lot of money and venture onto the inner most roads and seeing the rest of the Island AND British Landing. Plus, you can get away from the crowds of downtown and see the natural beauty of this most enchanting place. Pick up an “Indian Lore Book” and visit some of the places mentioned in the book AND it’s a great way to see the Island. A Mackinac Island vacation stay should be on everyone’s Bucket List!

  7. Soooo….. going for a day the opening weekend of the lilac fest, how likely am I to want to ride a bike? We check in Friday night after 9h drive and leaving Sunday morning. Curious

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