Located within one of the five Great Lakes and dotted with historical sites from the revolutionary war and pre-colonial America, Mackinac Island is an intriguing and unique destination. Yet, since it’s a small island, many travelers wonder, can you drive to Mackinac Island?
It isn’t possible to drive to Mackinac Island—there are no bridges connecting to the island, and motor vehicles are prohibited on the island. However, visitors can get to Mackinac Island by ferry, private boat, or a quick 7-minute charter flight.
Due to transportation logistics, planning a trip to Mackinac Island can be daunting and stressful, but if you read on, you’ll find the best ways to get to the island without any issues along the way. The sections below illustrate that it is relatively easy to get to Mackinac Island after learning about the steps and options.
Getting to Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is located in Lake Huron between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas. Specifically, the island is in the Straight of Mackinac, a narrow strip of water that connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
The word Mackinac is derived from the Native American word, Mishimikinaak, which is an Ojibwe word meaning “big turtle.” This original name points to how the island rises out of the water like a turtle shell. The island covers 3.8 square miles—the perimeter of the island is only 8 miles. Although it’s a small island, there is no shortage of activities and sites for tourists.
Before enjoying any of the sites, visitors must decide how to get there. One of the most popular methods to get to the island is by ferry. Most visitors get to Mackinac Island via ferries. There are two main docks the ferries leave from—one leaves from the upper peninsula, and the other leaves from the lower peninsula.
In the lower peninsula, the boats depart from Mackinaw City, a city at the northern point of the lower peninsula. In the upper peninsula, the ferry leaves from docks in St. Ignace. The two companies that offer passengers ferry rides are Star Line Mackinac Island Hydro-Jet Ferry and Shepler’s Ferry.
The ferry ride from both the upper and lower peninsulas takes 15-20 minutes. During the ferry to and from the island, guests can enjoy views of the water from one of the boat’s many windows. Guests looking for more of a panoramic view can sit on the top deck and enjoy an unobstructed view.
The season for the ferries begins at the end of April and goes through October. Each company operates from both the upper and lower peninsulas during the regular season.
The Hydro-Jet Ferry also offers trips to Mackinac Island throughout the winter for an additional charge. Don’t forget to check the conditions/availability if you plan a winter trip since it’s sometimes closed due to ice. The winter service only leaves from the upper peninsula dock of St. Ignace.
A roundtrip ferry ticket costs about $30.00 for an adult and $19.00 for a child. The services typically run every 30 minutes between 8:00 am and 10:00 pm. It’s best to book tickets online before your trip to Mackinac Island, as only a certain number of slots are available. Reserving your tickets in advance will help you secure the time you want.
To get to the ferry docks from the upper peninsula, visitors can take I-75 or US 2. Similarly, the main road to get to the docks from the lower peninsula is I-75.
Those with luggage can collect it at the dock and take it to your lodging. Depending on where you stay, some places offer to take your luggage to your hotel or room for you.
After the ferry, the next most popular way to get to the island is by plane. Two companies—Great Lakes Air and Fresh Air Aviation, offer flights to the island. Plane tickets are more expensive than ferry tickets but can be an exciting way to enjoy the island from the air before exploring it on the ground.
Flights only depart from St. Ignace, so they are not as easily accessible compared to taking the ferry.
The last way to get to Mackinac Island is by private boat. There is a public harbor with 80 slips for day-use or overnight stays. These slips are big enough for boats up to 74 feet. There are amenities available at the slips like showers, grills, restrooms, and electricity, so many guests choose to sleep on their boats after enjoying Mackinac Island during the day.
Where Do You Park Your Car to Go to Mackinac Island?
There are many places to park your car no matter how you get to Mackinac Island. Both the Hydro-Jet Ferry and Shepler’s Ferry have free parking lots near the docks in both the upper and lower peninsulas. Additionally, both companies offer premium parking for a fee.
These parking lots can be used for day or overnight parking. The free parking lots are unsecured, while the premium parking is in a secured lot. The premium parking is $10-20 per vehicle per night. For the premium parking, space is limited and is first-come, first-serve.
Star Line Mackinac Island Hydro-Jet Ferry also offers valet parking for a fee.
Road Trip Answers Fun Fact: In the 1920s, engineers proposed a system of bridges stretching 25 miles, which would connect Mackinac Island to other islands in the area and the main landmasses of Michigan. Many people believed this would have fundamentally changed the culture and landscape of Mackinac Island, where cars have been prohibited for decades.
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Do You Have to Cross the Mackinac Bridge to Get to Mackinac Island?
Because of its name, the Mackinac Bridge sounds like it would connect to Mackinac Island; however, Mackinac Bridge connects the upper peninsula to Michigan’s lower peninsula. Mackinac Island lies to the east of the Mackinac Bridge, but the bridge does not go to the island.
Points of Interest on Mackinac Island
There are many historical points of interest on the island:
- Historic downtown is open during the summer months. Many buildings and businesses in this area help visitors experience what life was like in the 1820s and 30s. This experience is complete with people dressed in 1800s clothes and demonstrations in places like the American Fur Company Retail Store and Benjamin Blacksmith House.
- Beaumont Museum: has exhibits about Dr. Beaumont’s discoveries about the digestive system.
- Fort Mackinac is where visitors can experience the living history of this restored military post from the Revolutionary War.
Over 80 percent of the island is Mackinac Island State Park, which was Michigan’s first state park, established in 1895. In addition to the many historical landmarks of Mackinac Island, there are many beautiful natural formations. There are rock formations throughout the island that show off the natural beauty of Michigan. Some of these formations include:
- Arch Rock: A natural limestone arch on the shore of Lake Huron. This formation rises to 146 feet above the surface of the lake. Beautiful green trees and bushes adorn the arch.
- Sugar Loaf Rock: A formation of bare rock that stands 75 feet off the ground and stands in stark contrast to the lush forest around it. This rock is also a historically sacred place for Native Americans.
These are just a few of the numerous activities all around the island for visitors to discover.
Why are Cars not Allowed on Mackinac Island?
Automobiles have been banned on Mackinac Island since 1896. This ban came from the emerging automobile industry that began to bring loud cars to the island. Horse-drawn carriages had been the primary mode of transport before cars, so the village leaders on Mackinac Island enacted the ban because the vehicles were disturbing their horses.
Ever since the ban was enacted, there have been no cars on the island. The only exception to this is emergency vehicles, which are available to ensure the health and safety of residents and visitors.
What Transportation is Allowed on Mackinac Island?
The main types of transportation are horse and carriage, bicycling, or walking. Tourists can bring their bikes or rent them on the island. With so many cyclists, it’s essential to practice good bicycle safety.
Horses have long been the primary mode of transportation on Mackinac Island. There are even opportunities to tour the island in a horse-drawn carriage. You are sure to hear the trot of horses down the road as you’re out and about.
Lastly, walking is another popular and healthy form of transportation around the island.
How Long is the Bike Ride Around Mackinac Island?
Many travelers look forward to completing the 8.2-mile bike ride around the island. The path follows M-185, the only highway in the country where cars aren’t allowed.
On the road, cyclists can expect to see places like the Native American Cultural History Trail, Arch Rock, the vast Lake Huron, Devil’s Kitchen rock formation, and the Pontiac Trail. There are signs along the road marking these various points of interest.
If you work up an appetite on the road, you can stop at the Cannonball Inn for hotdogs, ice cream, fried pickles, and more.
What is the Best Time of Year to Visit Mackinac Island?
The ideal time to visit Mackinac Island is in spring, early summer, or fall. This time is when the weather is perfect for enjoying much of the outdoor activities without getting too hot or too cold.
Step Into Another Time
A visit to Mackinac Island can be much more than a typical trip. It can be an escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life—a time when visitors can focus on the beauty around them and escape the world’s noise.