How to have an amazing family vacation on Mackinac Island


By Cheryl Eugenio

Member of the Chicago Parent Blog Network

Just imagine an island full of bicycles and carriages, an island that is 85 percent state park, where the clip-clop of horses is the norm. That destination does exist -- and it’s just seven hours away from Chicago. The magical island of Mackinac Island is truly a step back in time. Life slows down and it makes for an amazing family vacation. We’ve been twice in the past three years to experience the magic. Here are things to do with the family on this idyllic island.

Take a stroll down Main Street

The sweet smell of fudge beckons you once you step off your ferry. It’s okay to give in to those cravings. After all, you are at the Fudge Capital of America! Looking for a unique Mackinac Island souvenir? Little Luxuries of Mackinac is a cute boutique shop with unique Mackinac Island goodies such as handmade candles, cute artwork, kids clothing and even souvenirs for your favorite pooch. Visit Doud’s Market, Michigan’s oldest family-owned grocery store, for necessities, a picnic lunch or even regional wines and beers.

Explore the island by bike

Since no cars are allowed on the island, bicycles are the main mode of transportation. Most visitors prefer riding the 8-mile perimeter of the island, but if you’re up for a challenge you can bike the island’s hilly interior paths. Since most of the island is covered by Mackinac Island State Park, the entire island is waiting to be explored. Just watch out for the poison ivy! Bring your own bikes or rent them at several locations. Some hotels, like Grand Hotel, also rent them out.

Visit Grand Hotel

A visit to Mackinac Island is not complete with stopping by America’s Summer Place, Grand Hotel. Even if you can’t stay here, the next best thing is visiting. With an entrance fee of $10, you’ll see the hotel’s fabulous interior and have access to explore the grounds. Grab a scoop of ice cream from the on-site ice cream parlor, Sadie’s (named after the original owner’s dog), then make your way to the hotel’s porch, deemed the longest in the world at 660 feet long. Sit back on the rocking chair, relax and watch as the horses drop off guests or enjoy gorgeous views of the Straits of Mackinac or the Mackinac Bridge. If you happen to be in the area during lunch, the lavish Grand Luncheon Buffet is not to be missed.

Relive history at Fort Mackinac

Visitors can relive history and witness live cannon blasts, soldiers performing demonstrations of rifle firing, or a musical concert. Families can spend the day exploring historical structures to learn about military training and family life within the fort. The highlight for littles will be the kids section with hands-on displays and interactive games.

Take a horse-drawn carriage tour

Another great way to get acquainted with the island is to take a horse-drawn carriage tour. In under two hours, the Mackinac Island Carriage Tours hits all the highlights of the island like the natural wonder Arch Rock, gorgeous Victorian houses and the magnificent Grand Hotel. The carriage makes a few stops which may be a blessing in disguise for antsy babies and toddlers.

Watch butterflies flutter around

Wings of Mackinac is truly a special place. Watch butterflies fly around and maybe even land on you.

Let the kids be kids

One of the best things about Mackinac Island is the ability to just lounge around. Grab yourself a picnic blanket and sit on Marquette Park‘s hilly lawn, located in front of Fort Mackinac and east of the busy downtown area. The quiet oasis is the perfect place to watch bicyclists and horses pass by while enjoying an ice cream cone or fudge. Kids can then burn off their sugar high at the park’s playground, throw around the frisbee or run to their heart’s content. Another great place to relax is at Windermere Point located right by the shores which provides ideal kite-flying conditions. There are also a couple playgrounds located around town.

Take a hike

If you’re a hiking family, you’ll be glad to hear that there are over 61 miles of roads and trails in Mackinac Island.

Where to stay

Grand Hotel, 286 Grand Avenue, Mackinac Island, Michigan


To truly understand the magic and charm of the island, you must stay on the island. As one of the best family-friendliest hotels around, the Grand Hotel is nothing short of amazing. Dining is an experience in itself. Dating back since 1887, the family-owned hotel stays true to their traditions by offering a mouth-watering breakfast and a five-course dinner to all guests. Each of the 393 rooms in this National Historic Hotel and are uniquely decorated by interior designer,Carleton Varney. Fun afternoon and dinner children’s programs are offered and hospitality is top-notch. It’s easy to see why past presidents have stayed here to enjoy “America’s Summer Place.” Your family will fall in love with this hotel.


Read more details about our stay here


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