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My Mackinac Island Bucket List

Mackinac Island has been on my wish list to visit for about a decade now, ever since I read “Best of the Midwest: Rediscovering America’s Heartland.” There’s something about an island that doesn’t allow motorized vehicles that draws me to it. It sounds like a throwback to yesteryear. This summer, I’m finally going to Mackinac Island! The visit inspired an entire Michigan road trip, actually (here’s my bucket list for ALL of Michigan).

Side note: I learned it’s pronounced mack-in-naw.

Mackinac Island sits in Lake Huron, between Michigan’s Upper and Lower peninsulas. Most motorized vehicles are not allowed except for emergency vehicles.
Photo courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

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Mackinac Island was the vacation destination of 2018, by the way. According to TripAdvisor, it was the No. 1 vacation destination that year, beating out Martha’s Vineyard and Jackson HoleI’ve been dreaming up all the things to do on Mackinac Island, if time and money were not an issue. So go ahead and make your own Mackinac Island bucket list!

Why Mackinac Island? Imagine arriving by ferry, then taking a horse-drawn carriage to your hotel. Your main mode of transportation during your stay will involve a horse or two wheels, or if you’re motivated, your own two feet. To me, it’s unlike any place I’ve ever been to.

Here’s everything I wish I could do during our very brief, 24-hour stay there this summer:

Take a hike on the island

There are trails throughout Mackinaw State Historic Park, which covers 80% of the island. Arch Rock looks like a particularly beautiful sight to see, and is accessible by foot, bike or horse-drawn carriage.

Things to see on Mackinac Island - Arch Rock is one of the most iconic natural wonders on Mackinac Island.
Photo courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

Have a “Grand” vacation

The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island looks majestic – and no two guest rooms are alike. You probably recognize it if you’ve seen the movie “Somewhere in Time.” It’s also remarkably family-friendly. It’s one of the Top 10 kid-friendliest resorts in the U.S. and Canada according to Travel + Leisure Family magazine. I’ve got plans to stay night; those without accommodations can visit for a day fee.

Places to stay on Mackinac Island - The most famous hotel on the Michigan island is the Grand Hotel. Grand Hotel has been open since 1887. The Mackinac Island hotel is a National Historic Landmark.
Photo courtesy Don Johnston

UPDATE: We stayed at the Grand Hotel! Read about our experience in this post, Family Guide To Staying At The Grand Hotel.

Eat all the food

It wouldn’t be an Oh My! Omaha bucket list without a lengthy list of food I want to eat. For a small island, I’ve found a good list of restaurants to visit.

I started with this list of 10 Foods To Try On Mackinac Island, from which I’ve decided I’ve got to try the famous smoked whitefish dip from Round Island Bar and Grill; breakfast at The Chuckwagon; and High Tea at The Grand Hotel. These three restaurants are also included in Midwest Explored’s list of the 15 best restaurants in Mackinac Island, Michigan.

For drinks, I hear a rumrunner hits the spot The Thrillist’s designated as the Most Iconic Bar in Michigan: The Pink Pony.

Try the famous fudge

Mackinac Island is known for its fudge shops, as I’m discovering while planning for this trip. Which is the best? Who knows? It might be my job to find out.

Side note: I found out the islanders call tourists “fudgies.” I will be one of them. 

Beyond fudge, I’ve read on a couple blogs that the dessert of choice (after fudge) on the island is the famous pecan balls at the Grand Hotel. But then, reading Deb’s Mackinac Island tips on her blog Just Short of Crazy, I learned there was one more to add to my snack list: Popcorn balls at Stonecliff Hotel. Duly noted.

Food to try on Mackinac Island - The island is known for fudge.
Photo courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

Kayak around the island

If the kids were a little older, I think it would be fun to take them kayaking through the Straits of Mackinac. You can get a pretty unique view of Arch Rock from the water. Maybe on a future visit, we could hit the water with the kids. 

Kayaking near Arch Rock on Mackinac Island.
Photo courtesy Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

History up-close

My son is a big history buff, so we like indulging him on vacation. The National Historic Landmark Fort Mackinac would be great for him. There are people in period costumes and the kids (and, let’s be honest, I) could dress up as soldiers and learn marching drills.

Tip: You can also sign up early to fire a cannon, which I am definitely going to do when we’re there.

Related post: 5 Things To Do With Kids At Fort Mackinac State Park

Living history on Mackinac Island is found at Fort Mackinac. Mackinac State Historic Parks includes the historic Fort Mackinac, where people are dressed in period costumes and there are a variety of interactions. One visitor each day can sign up to shoot the cannon at the fort, too.
Photo courtesy Mackinac State Historic Parks

Take a carriage ride

Since cars aren’t allowed on the island, there only a few ways to get around. My kids aren’t the steadiest on bikes yet, so carriage rides will suit us nicely. You can do a tour by carriage, or use it to go from Point A to Point B.

Mackinac Island transportation, the horse-drawn carriage. Transportation on Mackinac Island is limited to horse (or horse-drawn carriage), bike or foot.
Photo courtesy Pure Michigan

It’s interesting that since no motorized vehicles are allowed on the island, even the UPS guy has to deliver by horse-drawn carriage. Check out this photo Tim from The Walking Tourists shared with me from their visit to Mackinac Island. Yep, that’s the delivery guy.

Deliveries on Mackinac Island are made by horse-drawn carriages. Since most motorized vehicles are allowed on the island, even deliveries are made by carriage.
Photo courtesy Tim Trudell

Dinner at Woods Restaurant

Speaking of carriage rides, my ideal ride would be in the evening to Woods Restaurant, which is styled to look like a Bavarian mansion in the woods (and happens to have a duck pin bowling alley). Read about it here.

The Woods Restaurant bowling alley. The Woods Restaurant on Mackinac Island is designed to look like a Bavarian lodge, and has a duckpin bowling alley.
Photo courtesy Grand Hotel

Ride around the island by bike

I’d love to see this whole island by bike – which is super manageable since there are no cars to contend with (though I guess there are carriages to watch out for). We might attempt a ride with the kids since they are now fairly steady on bikes.

Wish us luck. Here are some of the things we might encounter on a ride around the island.

See the Butterfly House

This beauty keeps popping up on bloggers’ reviews of Mackinac Island, so I’m beginning to think I ought to have it on this list. I have nothing against butterflies, it’s just that we have an exceptional one at Omaha’s zoo. Anyone have any strong opinions in favor of The Butterfly House?

What Should Be Add To This Mackinac Island Bucket List?

What’s missing from this list? Where should we dine when we’re there? What should we skip, what should we not skip? Leave me a comment with your tips!

Whether you spend a day or a weekend on Michigan's Mackinac Island, you'll never be bored. Here's a bucket list of amazing things to do, things to see, and yummy food to try on this unique island. Why is it unique? It's one of the only car-free islands in the U.S.

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Monica T.

Sunday 2nd of June 2019

My family and I have visited the island many times. I highly, highly recommend that you take the carriage tour around the island every time you visit. We have always learned something new and you have a different take on the history of the island. As for visiting places or the hidden attractions on the island, as a local. The best way to visit places in and on the island is to have a local tell you where on the map to go. Last year, we were able to see Sugar Loaf Rock, Crack in the Island, Eagle Point Cave ( I would wait until the kids were older for that one, the cliffs are pretty steep there but views are amazing), Fort Holmes, and much, much more. The shops are nice to walk around and enjoy but riding around even walking around through the island is the way to make the most of your trip.


Monday 3rd of June 2019

Thank you for the tips! I bet each driver has their own favorites hidden gems that they share while giving the tour, so your recommendation of makes a lot of sense.


Thursday 16th of August 2018

Thanks very helpful! We are thinking of going and this definitely helped!


Friday 17th of August 2018

I'm glad this could help plan things! I love these kinds of list because I always find something random I didn't know I wanted to do. :)


Thursday 17th of May 2018

I guess I don't understand the question because a "Bucket List" is literally the opposite of what you would do if you had unlimited time and money. It's the few things you want to prioritize getting done before you die.


Thursday 17th of May 2018

I see what you're saying. The way I see a bucket list, it's a list of things I wish to do. I don't have a lot of time on the island, so I won't be able to check everything off this list in one shot, but I included everything on the list that I did because I would like to someday. Hope that clarifies how I define a bucket list.

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