What To Do On Mackinac Island Where Vehicles Are Banned

Mackinac Island is an island located in Lake Huron in the US state of Michigan. It is at the point where Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsula sections meet. Mackinac Island is renowned for its stunning natural beauty and history. One thing that makes this island unique is the fact that vehicles are banned from its roads.

That means that the only ways that you can get around Mackinac Island are by foot, horseback, horse-drawn carriages, and bicycles. So, if you are looking for an island destination that will take you back to a time when automobiles didn’t exist at all, then this is the island for you. If you are in search for what to do on Mackinac Island, here are some suggestions.


(Photo courtesy of Mary McGuire via Flickr)

Mackinac Island is home to a charming waterfront downtown on the southern portion of the island. This is where a concentration of restaurants, bars, and shops are located. So, there are plenty of places to go to in downtown. Main Street is the commercial drag through downtown with many of the business being located there.

You can observe the downtown streets as they are bustling with a mix of pedestrians, bicyclists, horseback riders, and horse-drawn carriages. There is one thing you won’t observe on the downtown streets and that is the cars. Remember that Mackinac Island is car-free. You can also observe the ferries as they head in and out of the docks downtown.

Mackinac Island is renowned for its fudge offerings. So, you will want to check them out. There are numerous fudge shops downtown. There are a couple of them I would like to note. They are Murdick’s Fudge and Joann’s Fudge. Murdick’s Fudge is the original fudge maker on Mackinac Island. It has been in the fudge business since 1887.

Murdick’s Fudge still uses the same recipe and old-fashioned fudge-making techniques as it did when it first opened in 1887. Fudges are offered in three-slice and five-slice boxes at this fudge shop and there are 21 flavors to choose from. Joann’s Fudge is a third generation family business owned by the Nephew family.

This fudge shop uses a recipe in which the fudge is slowly cooked in traditional copper kettles over a gas flame. Once a certain temperature is achieved, the mixture is poured onto marble stabs to allow it to cool off for a specific time. The fudge is then hand paddled into loaves. This fudge shop only uses fresh heavy cream and butter in every fudge it offers.

All of its chocolate-flavored fudges use pure ground cocoa beans. Preservatives and powered ingredients are not used in any of the fudges at Joann’s Fudge. At the fudge shop, the fudges are offered in boxes of anywhere from one to five slices. There are 29 fudge flavors to choose from at Joann’s Fudge. So, there are considerably more options there compared to Murdick’s Fudge.

Bicycle Riding

(Photo courtesy of Gsgeorge via Wikimedia)

One of the joyous ways to soak in the beauty of Mackinaw Island is to go for a bicycle ride around Mackinac Island. Even though there are numerous paths on Mackinac Island where you can ride the bicycle, the best path to ride the bicycle would be Michigan Highway 185 (M-185). M-185 is noted for being the only state highway in the US where cars are banned.

The highway travels in a circle around Mackinac Island. For the most part, the highway hugs the shore of Lake Huron. That will ensure that you will get breathtaking views of Lake Huron for most of your bicycle trip. By bicycling on M-185, you will experience a variety of compelling environments from downtown and private Victorian-era residences to lush forests and limestones.

There is one interesting natural formation I would like to point out as you will be passing this during your bicycling journey on M-185. It is called Arch Rock. It is a natural arch made of limestones. It can be found on the southeastern section of Mackinac Island. It stands about 146 feet above the waters of Lake Huron.

(Photo courtesy of Viplav Valluri via Wikimedia)

It is arguably the most iconic natural feature on the island. So, be sure to look out for it as you bicycle along on M-185. You can rent a bicycle for the journey from the Mackinac Island Bike Shop located on Main Street in downtown.

This shop offers a large selection of bicycles grouped into categories such as Island Comfort Special, Kids Mountain, Tagalong, and Burley/Weehoo. The rates varies slightly depending on which bicycle you choose, but they generally range from $8 to $14 per hour.

Fort Mackinac

(Photo courtesy of Drdpw via Wikipedia)

Fort Mackinac is located just north of downtown on limestone bluffs overlooking it. This historic site once operated as a military outpost for Britain and the US. The British built the military outpost during the American Revolutionary War in order to gain control of a strategically important position in the Great Lakes.

The British used the military outpost until after the War of 1812 when they surrendered the military post to the Americans upon their loss during the second war between Britain and the US. The US then continued to operate the military outpost until 1895 when the operation ended for good. Today, Fort Mackinac is one of the few American Revolutionary War forts in the US that are still intact.

At the historic site, there are 14 original buildings in total such as Commissary Building, Post Headquarters, Soldiers Barracks, and Post Hospital. There are a variety of performances designed to resemble what it was like to be there when it operated as a military outpost. These include cannon blasts, rifle firings, and marching soldiers.

There are exhibits throughout all the 14 original buildings that explain everything from military training and battles to medical treatments to family life within the military outpost. The historic site will open for the 2020 season on May 1st and continue until October 25th. The admission prices for 2020 are $13.50 for adults and $8 for children aged 5 to 12.

Those under the age of 5 get free admission. You can buy your tickets here. But, the tickets for the 2020 season aren’t available yet. So, you can check back there as the 2020 season draws near.

The Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House & Insect World

If you are into butterflies and insects, then this conservatory is for you. It is located to the east of downtown. This conservatory houses 1,800 square foot of tropical garden that is filled with hundreds of live butterflies from four continents. The insect world section of the conservatory is home to large numbers of insects from the tropical regions of the world.

The types of insects you can observe include 14″ walking sticks, 6″ centipedes, spiders, and giant beetles. One famous insect you should keep an eye out is Goliath Beetle which currently holds the record for the world’s heaviest insect. The admission prices as of 2019 are $12 for adults and $8 for children aged 5 to 11. Those aged under 4 will get free admission. A gift shop is also onsite.

These are some suggestions for what to do on Mackinac Island. You can reach the island via a ferry. Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry will provide the ferry service. You can leave from either Mackinaw City or St. Ignace depending on which peninsula of Michigan you are coming from. The prices for the fastPASS ticket are $25 for adults and $14 for children aged 5 to 12.

The ticket is free for those aged under 5. You can purchase your tickets here. If you are an auto enthusiast, I would suggest that you also pay a visit to Detroit as there are a few attractions that involve the automobile.

The Hotel

If you are looking for a hotel to stay overnight at on car-free Mackinac Island, I have got your back. Here is a hotel that I would suggest you to stay overnight at.

Grand Hotel

(Photo courtesy of Vyn Raskopf via Flickr)

This hotel is located on Grand Avenue on Mackinac Island. This is arguably the most iconic building on the island. The hotel is famous for its porch which is the largest porch in the world. Many American flags are perched on the porch during the daytime. The hotel is built in the Glided Age architectural style. It sits on top of a sloping hill filled with beautiful gardens.

There are multiple onsite restaurants to choose from. A restaurant of note is Main Dining Room. This is the restaurant that overlooks the hotel’s famed porch. Depending on when you dine there, you may witness the bellmen perform the ceremony of taking down the flags for the day.

For these of you seeking out cocktails, there are plenty of onsite bars to choose including Cupola Bar, Geranium Bar, and The Gate House just to name a few. There are numerous stores onsite selling a variety of products ranging from jewelry to clothing to toys. The hotel is home to the Esther Williams Swimming Pool. The swimming pool is 220 foot long and shaped like a serpentine.

The pool is located outdoors and is positioned so that you can get a breathtaking view of Lake Huron. There are also two hot tubs and a sauna at the pool area. For those of you looking for a workout, you can do so at the onsite fitness center. There are clay courts for playing tennis and pickleball on the hotel’s grounds. Other onsite activities include golf and lawn games like croquet and bocce ball.

Each of the hotel’s rooms and suites are beautifully decorated individually with its own thematic design, furnishings, and ambiance. They are all designed by famed interior designer Carleton Varney. As a result, no two rooms or suites are the same at this hotel. Out of the hotel’s nearly 400 rooms and suites, more than 40 of them are given their names.

Some of the room and suite names reflect the lives of several American presidents and first ladies while others reflect various historic time periods, decorating styles, and prominent historic figures and events. All of the rooms and suites at the hotel have colorful wallpaper. They all come with breathtaking views of either the lake or the island’s interior.

All of the hotel rooms and suites come with WiFi, minibars, and coffee makers. The average rate for a standard room range from $475 to $1,084. You can go here to book your stay and/or check out some additional photos.

What are your thoughts? Are you planning on traveling back in time by going to Mackinac Island? Feel free to leave a comment here.

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