Visiting Mackinac Island with kids is a fun trip for the whole family. Check out these tips to make your trip to Mackinac Island, Michigan memorable and fun.
Every summer my two kids and their cousin head out of the Las Vegas heat to visit their aunt, my sister, in upper Michigan. One of their favorite places to visit is Mackinac Island. Here she gives her tips for visiting Mackinac Island with kids (since she's done it several times!). Make sure to check out her newest novel – Summer Plans and Other Disasters – set in Traverse City, Michigan.
There’s no shortage of fun places to visit in Michigan – festivals, hiking trails, the beach. When my niece and nephews visit each summer, we do all of those things, but we also take a trip to Mackinac Island.
Located in Lake Huron off the northern tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula, Mackinac Island is unlike other islands. Discovered by the earliest European settlers in the 17th century, this island embraces its rich history.
I’ve taken the kids for three summers now (since they were 7- and 9-years-old), so I’ve learned a few things about how to “do the island” well with that age. Here are my top tips for a day trip to Mackinac Island with kids:
9 Tips For Enjoying Mackinac Island with Kids
1. Go mid-week. Mackinac is busy in the summer. It is a major tourist attraction in Michigan. So if you can get the time off, do it. The crowds are smaller and it’s easier to navigate the ferry docks and island traffic.
2. Buy online in advance. At the very least, you will need to purchase ferry tickets to get to Mackinac Island from the mainland (either Mackinaw City or St. Ignace). The lines to get tickets for the ferry can get long. Save time and get ferry tickets online before you go. You can also rent bikes, and even buy package deals (ferry ticket and carriage ride) online before you arrive. Buy ahead of time so you can skip the lines (and sometimes you’ll save a few bucks).
3. Bring backpacks. Temperatures from the mainland to the island can vary up to 15 degrees, so I recommend light layers. If you’re there for the day, you never know where you’ll be when the kids get hangry. And if you stop by any of the numerous gift or t-shirt shops, you’ll have bags to carry. Instead of loading yourself down, give each kid a back pack for jackets, snacks, and souvenirs. You can even buy a backpack on the island as one of the kids' souvenirs.
4. Bike the island. Mackinac Island doesn’t allow cars. M-185 is the only highway in the US where the primary mode of transportation is bikes! As if that’s not cool enough, it’s an eight mile ride full of spectacular water views.
For active kids, biking is a fantastic way to see the island while also burning some energy!
There are plenty of places to stop for pictures and snacks; there’s even a restaurant on the far side of the island if you want to take a longer break. You can bring your own bikes or rent them when you get there.
5. Ride the carriage (and check in early!). If you don't want to bike the island, then a carriage ride may be more your style. A guided, historical tour unlike any other, the open-air horse-drawn-carriage tours take you down main street, past the Grand Hotel, through the national park, and to several off-the-path spots that you won’t want to miss, like the horse stables, butterfly house, and arch rock.
You can stay on for the full tour or get off early to explore the fort and other sites. Just make sure to check-in as soon as you arrive; they schedule on a first come, first served basis. If you check-in at 1 p.m., the earliest available tour might not be until 4 p.m.
6. Visit the fort. Fort Mackinac has it all – historic displays, live shows, an interactive children’s museum, and lots of space to stretch your legs or relax. Plus, a ticket for the fort will get you into other historic buildings on the island.
7. Sample the fudge! Every fudge shop gives away free samples. Make sure to pop in for your free taste and find out which shop has your favorite (Ryba’s mint fudge isn’t the same as Murdick’s mint fudge!).
8. Skip the Grand Hotel. This is going to be controversial, I know, but hear me out. Unless your kids are history buffs, they won’t appreciate the Grand Hotel. There’s a lot to see, and it costs to see it all. My niece and nephews were happy enough to ride by the hotel on the carriage.
Now that my niece is a teenager, I might consider taking her to the Grand Hotel for tea, but I would not take 7-10 year old boys. If you only have one chance to visit the island, go for it, otherwise, wait until the kids are older, enjoy sitting a bit and can truly enjoy the magnificence of this beautiful hotel.
9. Charge your devices. After a day of biking, touring, exploring, and fudge sampling, everyone’s beat. It’s still a two-hour drive from Mackinaw City to my house, so I let the kids bring their devices to use in the car on the ride home. They unwind and I get to drive in peace!
Mackinac Island really does have something for all ages and interests. If you have a chance to take the kids, go for it!
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