Want to learn how to get to Mackinac Island? You’ve heard about the charm of Mackinac Island, right? Imagine a picturesque island where motor vehicles are a no-go, where horses and bicycles rule the roads, and fudge is practically a food group. Yep, it’s as dreamy as it sounds!
Visiting Mackinac Island is something we love to do on our trips to Boyne Falls Michigan. It’s a perfect day trip from Boyne Mountain or Petoskey. Whether you’re lured by the idea of cruising around on a bicycle, exploring the historical fort, or maybe just eating your weight in world-class fudge (no judgment here!), you’re likely wondering about the best way to make this trip happen.
Let me be your trusty compass, pointing you in the right direction to get to this slice of paradise. I’ve got the inside scoop on transportation, the best times to visit, and even what to pack for your adventure. So sit back, grab a cup of tea or coffee, and let’s map out your journey to Mackinac Island.
Transportation Options for getting to Mackinac Island
The BEST way to get to Mackinac Island is on a ferry boat
The BEST way to get to Mackinac Island is via ferry. It’s also the most common, so it’s easy and convenient as the ferry companies have the trip down pat. There are two main ferries to Mackinac Island that leave from Mackinaw City and/or St. Ignace.
The Mackinac Island Ferry Company operates the Star Line Ferry which has been taking visitors to the island since 1878. The second company that has a ferry from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island is Shepler’s. Both are excellent choices so your best bet is just to look for the times and pricing that works best for you.
On our last trip to the island, we used Shepler’s and were quite happy with the service. We drove up from Boyne Mountain (which takes about an hour and a half), parked in the Shepler’s free day lot, and were on the ferry by 8:30 in the morning and on the island a quick 30 minutes later (give or take).
If you decide to spend a night (or longer) on the island, the ferry companies do have paid overnight parking.
How to get to Mackinac Island by car
Can you drive to Mackinac Island? The answer is no. There are no cars on the island, so even if you could drive there it would do you no good to have your car. Now, you will probably need to drive to the ferry in Mackinaw City which is located at the very top of the lower peninsula of Michigan.
How about flying to Mackinac Island?
How about flying to Mackinac Island? Although there is a small airport on Mackinac Island (Mackinac Island Airport), the closest airport to Mackinac Island that handles larger planes is in Traverse City, Michigan (Cherry Capital Airport) – and it’s still a regional airport.
The other options would be the Chippewa County International Airport or the Pellston Regional Airport. The Chippewa County International Airport is located in the upper Peninsula of Michigan and does have some regular flights to and from Detroit and Minneapolis. The Pellston Regional Airport is 12 miles south of Mackinaw City, so it’s the closest airport to the island that’s not ON the island.
So, although you technically CAN fly to Mackinac Island it’s going to be expensive and isn’t the recommended method.
Arrival at Mackinac Island
Once you arrive at the ferry docks, there are a few insider tips that will make your visit more pleasant.
Navigating the island – how to get around Mackinac Island
Since you don’t have a car, you need to figure out how you’ll be getting around Mackinac Island, right? There are a variety of fun options, from a horse-drawn carriage ride to riding a bicycle built for two.
On our first visit, I booked a horse-drawn carriage tour which took us to all of Mackinac Island’s highlights. We grabbed iced coffees at Starbucks before we took off and it was a fantastic and easy way to see the sights. The kids were fairly young on this trip and I think they enjoyed the carriage ride as much as the attractions we visited.
Another fun option when visiting Mackinac Island is to rent bikes – or even a bicycle built for two – and explore the island. It’s a lot quicker than walking and although there are some hills here and there, you’ll be able to get around the whole island in a day.
If you don’t want to check out everything the island has to offer but plan on concentrating your visit to the downtown area, it’s easy enough to explore by foot. You can also opt to bring your own bicycle on the ferry – just be prepared to pay extra for it, and make sure you have a bike lock to safely store it when you aren’t riding.
Where to stay when visiting Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island lodging is very expensive – definitely a vacation splurge. Due to that expense, most people opt to stay in Mackinaw City and just visit Mackinac Island for the day.
If you do want to stay overnight on the island (and it IS a pretty cool experience), a few places to consider include the famous Grand Hotel or the Lake View Hotel. The Grand Hotel is beautiful, and worth a visit even if you don’t plan on staying there – but you will have to pay a few to visit inside, so be prepared. That is going to be a someday splurge for us!
👉 Book your stay at the Lake View Hotel here!
👉 Book your stay at the Holiday Inn Express here!
Top things to do on Mackinac Island
Although there are plenty of things to do on the island, if you are only there for a day or two, a few must-see attractions include Fort Mackinac (my daughter and I could have spent all day here!), Arch Rock, Mackinac Island State Park, and of course spend some time browsing the many shops downtown (and taste-testing all the fudge).
You can bring your own food to the island for a picnic, but since you’ll have to carry it around all day, personally I’d prefer to enjoy a meal at one of the popular restaurants downtown – there are plenty to choose from.
Tips for a smooth journey getting to Mackinac Island
If you haven’t been on a ferry ride before, here are a few tips to help you enjoy a smoother journey to the island.
Best time to travel
Although Mackinac Island is open year-round, it is a very seasonal spot. In the late fall through early spring, many businesses are closed as the Mackinac Island tourism dries up. And, since it’s pretty far north, the winter can be long, cold, and snowy – not an easy place to get around.
Late summer is a fabulous time to visit Mackinac Island. Everything is open, the weather is gorgeous and there is plenty to do. However, on the flip side, it can be quite busy and expensive – so keep that in mind.
Another fun time to visit is during the annual Mackinac Island Lilac Festival. It’s held in mid-June and as you can imagine Mackinac Island is stunning during the festival weekend.
Although stores and restaurants are starting to close and the weather is getting colder, fall can be a lovely time to visit Mackinac Island. Even just taking a Mackinac Island ferry in October and enjoying the vibrant fall foliage is exciting. The last weekend where most of the island is still open tends to be Halloween weekend – so anything after that is going to be a quieter visit.
What to pack
If you want a full day at Mackinac Island you’ll need to get on the ferry boat early in the morning. It can be a little bit chilly and quite windy (and will probably be chilly at night on your return trip too), so be sure to pack a lightweight jacket or sweatshirt.
Make sure you bring a bag that is large enough but also lightweight enough to carry all day – you won’t have a car to leave stuff in, so whatever you bring you’ll have to keep with you.
A good pair of walking shoes is important. Mackinac Island is pretty casual so good-looking but uncomfortable shoes aren’t a smart choice. I typically wear one of my favorite amusement park shoes – both options are comfortable and I can walk all day in them! Plus they look cute with a dress or shorts – depending upon my mood (and if we plan on biking or not!)
Getting your Mackinac Island ferry tickets
Make your life easier and order your Mackinac Island ferry tickets ahead of time. You’ll save precious time in the morning, and you’ll get the best price available. I’d suggest checking the schedules of the ferry companies, deciding which one works best for you, and then going ahead and purchasing your tickets online.
If you want to take a direct ferry ride to Mackinac Island from St. Ignace or Mackinaw City, it will take you about 16 minutes. However, you can opt to take a scenic ferry ride that takes you under Mackinac Bridge and that ride will take about 25 minutes.
FAQs: How do you get to Mackinac Island
What is Mackinac Island known for?
Mackinac Island is known for having no cars. The only transportation on the island is via bike, horse, and buggy or walking.
What is the best way to get to Mackinac Island?
A Mackinac Island ferry company is the best way to get to Mackinac Island from either Mackinaw City or St. Ignace.
How much does it cost to ride the ferry to Mackinac Island?
You can expect to pay $20 to $35 per person.
How long is the ferry ride to Mackinac Island?
The ferry ride takes about 16 – 25 minutes.
What food is Mackinac Island known for?
Mackinac Island is famous for its homemade fudge. There are fudge shops all over downtown – and they all offer a free taste!
How big is Mackinac Island?
The island is about 4 square miles. However, there are lots of walking and hiking trails, so you will easily get your steps in during a day trip to Mackinac Island.
What famous movie was filmed on Mackinac Island?
The movie Somewhere in Time starring Christopher Reeves and Jane Seymour was filmed on the island.
What happens if you miss the last boat off Mackinac Island?
If you miss the last ferry ride, you’ll be spending the night on the island – so unless you have a room reservation, don’t miss that boat!
Are there two butterfly houses on Mackinac Island?
Yes, there are two butterfly conservatories on Mackinac Island.
Can you drink on Mackinac Island?
Yes, there are plenty of bars and restaurants on the island that serve liquor.
Conclusion: How to Get to Mackinac Island
We’ve explored the ferry options, considered nearby airports (who knew you could technically fly there?!), and even given a nod to the local fudge scene (seriously, try it!). Whether you’re planning a romantic getaway, a family vacation, or a solo adventure, you’re now armed with the essential know-how to make it a trip to remember.
Don’t forget those ferry tickets—book in advance to save some bucks and beat the crowds. That’s what we always do and it makes for an easy adventure.
P.S. If you miss the last boat off Mackinac Island… well, let’s just call it an unexpected extension of your adventure. Cheers to spontaneous overnights and more fudge-tasting opportunities!