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  • Writer's pictureSam Hageman

Michigan State Parks: Mackinac Island

Updated: Jul 31, 2021

Mackinac Island was established as Michigan's first state park in 1895 after being a U.S. National Park for twenty years. Although most people may know Mackinac Island for the Grand Hotel, the little downtown, & having the only highway (M-185) that does not allow cars, over 80% of Mackinac Island is actually state owned land thats been primarily left in its natural state.

In order to get to the Island you can take a ferry through Starline or Sheplers or you can charter a boat or use your own private boat built for the Great Lakes & rent a slip at the Mackinac Island State Harbor. We take the ferries & prefer Starline, especially since they purchased the catamarans (more stable & faster boats) from the Arnold Transit Company (a former longstanding ferry service, but now only involved in freight).

The benefit with any of these options is that they are all dog friendly for pet owners, because the ferries allow dogs ride for free & the State Harbor has a dog run. You can find pricing & information if you click each of their names: Starline; Sheplers; & Mackinac Island State Harbor.

You also can get to the Island by chartering a plane to the Mackinac Island Airport. Two spots to charter a plane in St Ignace are Great Lakes Air or Fresh Air Aviation. Mackinac Island is accessible all year round, however there is usually a small timeframe where the lake is too frozen for the ferries to cross so you will have to seek either a plane or expert advise from local tour guides to visit the Island.

To get around the Island you have all options but any motor vehicles. The most popular way is biking. Although you can rent bikes on the Island from many locations, it is far cheaper to bring your own & bring your own repair supplies (like a tire pump, spare tubes, & a small tool kit). Both ferry companies require you to pay a small fee to transport each bikes over, however it is minimal compared to the limitations & costs on renting a bike. For those with kids or dogs, you can rent little trailers or bring your own. Another option is for larger dogs your dog can run next to your bike, although I highly recommend using a harness, shoes, & walky dog for your dogs safety & train your dog so they are prepared. This is what we do with Dexter & he loves it.

Other popular transportation options include horse drawn carriage taxis you can take (which are pet friendly, free for small dogs & you have to buy a child's seat for larger dogs) or horse back riding. Otherwise you are stuck walking or running every where.

There are plenty of places to stay on Mackinac Island. The most well known hotel on Mackinac Island is the Grand Hotel. However, it is very expensive, overrated (as it requires a "dress code" after 6:30PM & very "old school" in its thinking), & overall outdated. There are plenty of other small places, bed & breakfasts, & larger hotels.

A few places we have stayed & enjoyed include the Pontiac Lodge, Mission Point Resort, & Park Place Suites. Pet Friendly hotels can be hard to come by on the Island, however Mission Point Resort & Park Place Suites are pet friendly. Also the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau can let you know all about pet friendly locations on the Island, you can call them at 906-847-3783. To find more places to stay on the Island click here.

Mackinac Island holds a very special place for our family. Garrett's family are decedents of Islanders & his Grandmother was a Mackinac Island native. We have gone up to the Island every other year since we started dating almost ten years ago. We always visit the graveyard on the island to visit his grandparents & other family members who are buried there. The Island also means a lot because Garrett is a member of a Mackinac Island band of natives that joined the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

Mackinac Island was a burial ground for the local tribes who called the Island "Michilimackinac" aka "great turtle." This means the Island has significant spiritual & cultural importance to descendants of the Anishinaabek. Recently to recognize the rich tribal history on Mackinac Island six interpretive stations with stories of tribes in the Straits of Mackinac were put along M-185, aka the road around Mackinac Island.

Mackinac Island also has a lot of colonial history. There are two forts on the Island: (1) Fort Holmes, which was recently rebuilt to recreate the original 1780 British Fort; and (2) Fort Mackinac, which was originally a British Fort until the U.S. won it in the War of 1796, but the British won it back during the War of 1812 until the war was over, then the British abandoned the Fort. Both Forts offer some history about the British colonization of the island, history of the wars on the Island, & more. Fort Holmes is free to visit, while Fort Mackinac cost $0 for kids under 4 & dogs; $8 for kids 5-12, & $13.50 for everyone else.

Mackinac Island has over 70 miles of trails to explore. The most popular activity on the Island is biking around the 8.2 mile M-185's paved trail, not only because it is beautiful, but it is also easy & has very little elevation change.

Michigan State Highway M-185 follows along the shores of Lake Huron to lap the full Island & features some popular sites, such as Mackinac Island's downtown, the stairs to Arch Rock (or you can get to it through the middle of the Island easier), British Landing, Chimney Rock, Pontiac's Lookout, Mackinac Bridge views, & more.

Outside of the main trail, there are a lot of biking & hiking/horse trails throughout the inland of the Island. However, you have to be prepared for a lot of elevation changes & be prepared for some dirt trails as well. To find more information on things to do click here & to find a downloadable map click here.

Although biking & hiking are our favorite activities on the island, Mackinac Island is full of other tourist attractions including; Great Turtle Park Playground/Disc Golf/Athletic Fields/Skate Park, Carriage Tours, Kayaking Tours, The Original Mackinac Island Butterfly House & Insect World, Wings of Mackinac of Butterfly Conservatory, The Haunted Theatre, The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, The Grand Hotel, & lots of fun shops & restaurants in the little downtown.

Mackinac Island also offers quite a few food options, with a few having pet friendly seating options as well. Our favorite spots for food are: Chuckwagon for breakfast, Island Slice Pizzeria is my favorite food on the Island, Mighty Mac is Garrett's favorite food on the Island, Mays is the best Fudge on the Island, & Good Day Cafe (Moomers) is our favorite place for Ice Cream. You can find a list of places to eat on the Island here.

Mackinac Island is one of our favorite places to travel due to its significance to our family & the amazing state park. We spend most of our time on the Island in the forest or biking around. We actually spent our Bachelor/Bachelorette party on Mackinac Island in September of 2019 & it was such a fun time. We hope you will go check out more than just the touristy attractions on the Island. More information about Mackinac Island State Park can be found here & here.


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