11 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Mackinac Island

Wading In Big Shoes: 11 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Mackinac Island
Disclosure: I received complimentary tickets for various attractions on Mackinac Island to assist in writing this article. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Ah, Mackinac Island. It’s a place of beauty and old-time charm, where fairytale weddings take place and summer memories are made. Because I never felt like I had the proper amount of time to devote to a Mackinac Island trip, it took me a few years to make this excursion a reality. As it turns out, yes—there are more than enough sites and activities to enjoy Mackinac Island for days upon end. Mackinac Island, however, is also a great place to spend a long weekend or—if you’re already in the area—a one-day outing!

While there are several great resources out there for planning your first Mackinac Island vacation, I remember having several questions about what the trip would actually be like once I arrived. After all, you’ll never truly understand a place until you experience it in person! Fortunately, I’ve converted all those first-time impressions and lessons learned into this handy guide. If you’re visiting Mackinac Island for the first time (or first time in a while), read on to learn what you can expect, how to sort through all the planning advice you’ve been given, and get some tips for making the most of your trip!

1.  Where You Stay Could Greatly Impact Your Overall Experience

Wading In Big Shoes: 11 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Mackinac Island
One of the biggest questions Brad and I had while planning our Mackinac Island trip was where to stay. This didn’t result from a lack of options (there were tons available), but rather because there were so many places to choose from! We received mixed suggestions from veteran travelers: stay on the island for the full experience, stay in nearby Mackinaw City or St. Ignace for lower rates, find a nearby campsite off the island . . . the list went on and on.

In the end, we ended up lodging in nearby Mackinaw City, which was great in allowing us to see more of northern Michigan. If I had the chance to plan the trip again, however, I think I would spend at least one night on the island. That way, I’d have two (or more) full days to explore the sites and still have time to take it easy. Brad and I packed a lot into one day and while we had an amazing time, I’m not gonna lie—we were pretty beat by the end! Having a hotel within walking distance would have given us more opportunities to take breaks throughout the day, grab a change of clothes for dinner, and catch a little shuteye after a long day of biking (without rushing back to catch the last ferry of the evening).

If you do decide to find a place off the island, make sure you are up to speed with the local ferry schedules and consider purchasing multi-day ferry tickets, which can save you some cash if you decide to visit Mackinac Island multiple times during your stay!

2.  When In Doubt, Choose Comfort Over Cuteness

When I packed my suitcase for our Mackinac Island trip, my imagination wandered a spectrum of possibilities. Should I go for “European Audrey Hepburn,” clothed in cute, checked shorts and understated sandals? Or since I’d be riding a bike, maybe I should bring something sportier? Turns out, a lightweight, light-colored outfit with tennis shoes best suited our 90-plus degree day on the island. Fancier places like the Grand Hotel will require a stricter dress code, but for our day of running around, comfort was key. And let’s face it, my dreams of dressing like European Audrey Hepburn would have quickly been dashed once my feet started throbbing in my “understated” sandals.

If you’re staying on the island overnight and have access to a nearby hotel room, dressing in nice clothes for dinner, photos, or shopping trips is a great idea—just make sure you’re prepared for whatever the weather and your itinerary may have in store!

3.  One Lightweight Bag Could Drastically Improve Your Day

One of THE best things we planned ahead of time ended up being the bags we carried with us throughout the day. Because a lot of Mackinac Island’s sites are spread out and away from downtown, you may find yourself with blocks of time where you’re miles away from any stores (and incidentals). What we found particularly useful: sunscreen, water, Band-Aids, snacks, hand sanitizer, and ibuprofen.

Of course, you can use your imagination to add things that would be specifically useful to you (if you have long hair, make sure you bring extra hair ties!!), but keep in mind that too many “essentials” could weigh you down and be difficult to carry while riding a bike. I found that a lightweight, cotton bag (like this one) with a messenger strap was easy to carry and kept my hands free for steering, while Brad carried some extra items in our camera bag (we use a canvas backpack like this one).

4.  Bringing A Bike Isn’t Just A Good Idea – It’s Essential

Wading In Big Shoes: 11 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Mackinac Island
If you own a bike and have even the slightest of riding skills, bring that wheeled contraption with you! There are no cars allowed on Mackinac Island, so biking is a lifesaver when you want to get from point A to point B quickly. Plus, there are so many gorgeous views to take in on Mackinac Island’s self-guided bike tour (click here to learn more and see photos)!

Keep In Mind:
Ferries charge an additional fee for you to bring your bike with you (about $9.00 per bike when we went), so be sure to factor that into your planning. Another option? There are several places on the island where you can rent bikes (single or tandem) by the hour or day, so depending on your needs, you can pick one up when you get there!

Bike Prep Tip:
There are tons of bikes scattered downtown and across the island, so it could be easy to grab the wrong bike when you (or someone else) is in a hurry. A great way to keep tabs is to decorate your bike with unique stickers, tape, markings, or something else that will stand out and help you identify your bike from a distance.

5.  Ferry Rides Are A Lot Of Fun

Wading In Big Shoes: 11 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Mackinac Island
It’s no secret that for most Mackinac Island visitors, the ferry is a necessary means of transportation to and from the island. What most people don’t emphasize, however, is that the ferry itself is a form of entertainment! Our 20-ish minute ride with Shepler’s provided incredible views of Lake Huron, the Mackinac Bridge, light houses, sailboats, and Mackinac Island mansions. Grab a spot on the upper deck on your way over, and listen as the ship’s crew provides information about the ferry and Mackinac Island. If you find yourself riding the ferry back at night, I recommend sitting inside the lower cabin—this will help you stay warm when the ferry moves a little faster and the air becomes chillier! The ferry companies also offer lighthouse and sunset cruises, so you can catch some amazing evening views (and snap tons of awesome photos).

6.  No, The Whole Island Does Not Smell Like Horse Poop

Wading In Big Shoes: 11 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Mackinac Island
Okay, I’m going to be real about this: there are lots of horses on Mackinac Island and yes, they do often relieve themselves (horses gotta do what horses gotta do!). In fact, you will probably smell a bit of horse “aroma” as soon as you leave the ferry and step out onto main street. Mackinac Island, however, has an amazing staff that’s dedicated to cleaning horse droppings from the streets. The result? You may notice a bit of “farm freshness” from time to time, but the smell is typically incidental (i.e., you may notice when you pass by a new “delivery”). Fair warning, however: you'll still want to watch your step (or bike wheels) as you navigate the streets.

7.  The Tours Are Totally Worth It

Yes, you can navigate Mackinac Island on your own terms, but how would you know where to start? Mackinac Island Carriage Tours offers a comprehensive tour of the island, complete with a trip through downtown, past the Grand Hotel, carriage houses, Arch Rock, and more! At the end of the tour, you’ll have the option of being dropped off downtown or at Fort Mackinac, where you can tour the landmark, learn more about its history, and enjoy a magnificent view. These sites can easily entertain your group for an entire afternoon, and are just the beginning of all the island has to offer!

8.  You May Run Into Someone You Know

Mackinac Island is VERY popular in the summertime, especially among Michigan residents. Therefore, it would make sense that you might see a familiar face every now and then. Case in point: when Brad and I visited, we ran into two different families we knew, plus learned that several other friends were in the area that same day! Among all of us, there was a mix of day trips, weekend trips, and extended summer vacations—more proof that Mackinac Island can cater to all types of getaways.

9.  You Should Consider Making A Meal Plan

Wading In Big Shoes: 11 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Mackinac Island
There are several great restaurants to choose from on Mackinac Island, with cuisine that ranges from hamburgers to high-end dinners. Make sure to get to your favorite dinner restaurant early to beat crowds, or consider switching things up with a picnic by the water. There’s so much to see on the island, you won’t even miss the table and chairs!

10.  You Can Find Some Really Nice Souvenirs

Wading In Big Shoes: 11 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Mackinac Island
I LOVE souvenir shopping. The problem with souvenirs, however, is that they can sometimes be a little tacky. Never fear! Mackinac Island has plenty of little boutiques and galleries where you can find something that’s both useful and out of the norm. My favorite is Little Luxuries of Mackinac Island, where pretty pillows, stationery, and kitchen products set the scene. A lot of the items in this store are made by local artists, so you can shop small and support local business at the same time!

11.  There’s A Reason Tourists Are Called “Fudgies”

Wading In Big Shoes: 11 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Mackinac Island
I’m really not sure if the term “fudgie” is meant to be generic or derogatory, but nevertheless, it’s how Mackinac Island residents refer to tourists. I can’t say I blame them, because who in their right mind could make a trip to Mackinac without picking up some delicious fudge?! Try walking by any of the well-known shops—Ryba’s, Murdick’s, Joann’s—and breathing in that sweet, buttery smell without letting your mouth water. It’s a delicious treat that Mackinac is known for, and undoubtedly a great gift to take back to family and friends (if you can keep from eating it all on the car ride home!).

Have you visited Mackinac Island? What advice would you give a newcomer? Share in the comments!

11 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Mackinac Island - tips to help you plan your Mackinac Island vacation! // [via Wading in Big Shoes]