The Magic of Mackinac Island: Where to stay, Things to do
My family and I have spent many summer vacations on Lake Michigan, but we’ve never made it all the way up to Mackinac Island … until now. It was so worth the wait! The island is as magical and picturesque as you’ve heard – Lake Huron views no matter where you turn, colorful flowers blooming everywhere, charming shops, beautiful Victorian houses and hotels with secret gardens nestled among them, and not a car to be seen nor heard. The only ways to get around are on foot, bike or horse. You don’t realize what no cars means until you actually get here. Peace, freedom and adventure are all words that came to mind as we biked along the road that winds around the perimeter of the island to get to our first hotel.
Mackinac Island is peaceful because it’s quiet and calm without all the noise and hurry, hurry, hurry of cars. It’s a laid-back existence here with the only agenda being where to bike that day and whether you want ice cream or fudge for your afternoon snack. The perimeter road around Mackinac is just eight miles long, so you can easily see the island in a day. But keep in mind that the perimeter road is pretty flat, while the inner island roads are VERY hilly.
As we biked from the ferry dock to our first hotel – we stayed at three different ones because I booked at the last minute! – I had such a sense of freedom from worry watching the kids bike ahead of me. No cars to worry about, no hustle and bustle – just the wind in our hair and the lake breeze on our skin. I thought about how much the kids would love having the freedom to explore the island on their own if we come back when they’re teenagers. The only thing to worry about is the horse poop – and there’s lots of it! If you bring your own bike, make sure it has a back fender on it so you don’t get completely splattered. No joke!
Getting around here is an adventure – one that had my kids squealing with delight as we navigated our way on bikes during a thunderstorm and arrived mud-splattered at The Grand Hotel, our second resort. That sense of adventure waned a bit when we were stranded in the rain at Mission Point Resort after a late dinner one night. That 30-minute walk in the pitch dark and pouring rain was not an option late at night. And while the horse carriage taxis are charming, they aren’t exactly efficient. We waited about 90 minutes for ours to arrive and got back to The Grand tired and wet at 11:30pm. However, if the weather cooperates, biking and walking everywhere is entirely doable.
Where to Stay on Mackinac Island
We stayed in three completely different areas while on Mackinac, a coincidence given I booked what I could get at the last minute. I knew I wanted to stay at The Grand Hotel at least once in my life and saw that it was available for two nights mid-week, so I booked those. Then I cobbled together what I could find around that to make up a five-night stay. We started at The Inn at Stonecliffe and finished at Hotel Iroquois, while our friends stayed at Mission Point Resort. So we have reviews on four of the top hotels on the island!
The Inn at Stonecliffe
Our first night was at The Inn at Stonecliffe, a former mansion nestled in the woods on a bluff overlooking the lake. They weren’t kidding when they said we would have to bike uphill to get there! Google Maps said Stonecliffe was 2 miles from the ferry. The ride on the lake road was lovely passing under canopies of trees with views of the lake on one side and gorgeous Victorian mansions on the other. But when it was time to turn off for Stonecliffe, we had to walk our bikes up the steep and winding dirt path. Stonecliffe has Mansion rooms with lovely lake views as well as the Summer House where we stayed, which is more cottage-like. We had a huge two-room suite with two bathrooms and a patio as big as our backyard. The rooms weren’t luxurious, but they were big and comfortable, perfect for our first night when we were tired from a day of travel and from July 3rd fireworks the night before.
We tried for an evening swim in the heated pool, but the heat wasn’t turned up enough for our taste. Instead, we had dinner at an outside table on the great lawn with gorgeous views of Mackinac Bridge and Lake Huron. After dinner, we lounged while the kids had races on the lawn. I’d like to say we stayed up to catch our second round of fireworks, but I’d be lying. Instead, the pops and booms lulled us to sleep.
The next morning, we enjoyed the free hot breakfast before rushing to pack up before the thunderstorm. All the resorts take care of your luggage to and from the ferry. Stonecliffe tagged our bags for The Grand Hotel, while we biked over in the rain. Luckily, our room was ready way ahead of schedule at The Grand, so we could dry off a bit before exploring.
The Inn at Stonecliffe pros: Beautiful grounds and view. Huge rooms and patio if you’re staying in the Summer House. Free hot breakfast with good options.
The Inn at Stonecliffe cons: Two miles from downtown and the climb to the bluff is steep, so it’s not easy to pop into town. Restaurant is okay and the only option close by. Pool is mediocre – not very warm or luxurious.
The Grand Hotel
The Grand Hotel is as grand and as beautiful as you’d expect. I highly recommend splurging for at least a night here! I had a smile on my face our first day just walking around soaking up all the charm – the front porch with breathtaking views, the fancy lobby and posh shops, and our canopied room that looked like Christmas! The weather was iffy when we arrived, so we went to lunch at The Jockey Club at the Grand golf course – very, very yummy but incredibly overpriced. The skies cleared, so we walked downtown for a little shopping and ice cream. Ice cream every day was our goal, and we were successful! Ava and I could have spent hours in all the cute shops, but the boys pried us away for some pool time before the storms came in again.
The Grand’s Esther Williams Swimming Pool is recently renovated and as gorgeous as the Hotel. We spent the better part of two days lounging and playing here. We planned to rent a pool cabana (for $350!), but we were able to snag free canopied chaise lounges where I could write and read and the kids could play on their ipads in between dips in the pool. The waterslide is fun, the pool is big, and the hot tub is hot and bubbly. Hubs and I checked out the adult infinity pool on day two and ended up ditching the kids once we felt how warm it was. Brady would text us when the food arrived or when they wanted to play. Food and drink service at the pool was luxurious even though service was not stellar.
Everyone said we had to dine at the The Grand’s main dining room, so while we didn't purchase the meal plan when we booked (and I don’t think it’s worth the $), we did plan on one fancy dinner. Because of the dress code (men in coat and tie), I had to buy Brady a whole outfit given all he wears is athletic gear. The kids were such good sports about dressing up and eating late – warmed my heart that they did it without complaint because they knew I wanted to. And look at how cute they were!
As expected, the price was high ($95/adult fixed menu + extra for alcohol, $50/kid for a kids buffet). The adult menu was interesting – your choice of appetizer, soup or salad, entree and dessert. However, we weren't terribly excited about any of the choices, but we ate most of what we ordered. Dessert was our favorite course. I kept telling myself we were paying for the experience. Service was very inconsistent – strong start and VERY weak finish. But the worst part was the kids buffet. My son said it was worse than elementary school cafeteria food. The “meat” option was a gray, flat, breaded patty that Brady couldn’t choke down. However, Ava had no problem finishing her plate. But my husband tried the patty and couldn’t eat it either, so I think Ava’s standards aren’t super high. :) The mac ‘n cheese looked good, but the fries went untouched. Brady ate some fruit, bread and mac ‘n cheese that I forced on him - for $50. He is picky for sure, but those choices were appalling. As we were finishing up dinner, a manager did come around and ask how things were and I was honest. She was very nice and apologized – and recognized that the meat patty was not a great choice. After dinner, we redeemed the night with a sunset stroll and photos on the porch, then dancing at The Terrace Room. We felt like we were at a wedding - except we had to pay for our medicore meal. The band was fantastic and we kept the kids dancing as long as we could. Hubs and I planned to drop the kids and head up to the Cupola Bar, but getting in our jammies was far too enticing.
DINING UPDATE: I filled out an online guest survey while we were there and shared my feedback on the food and service at both the main dining room and the pool. A manager called me within minutes and told me to ask for him at the front desk so we could talk about my issues. When I went down for coffee, I spoke with him while he took notes. He had already sent my comments to the VP of Food and Beverage, but he wanted more details. He was extremely nice and apologetic. The Grand Hotel wants every guest’s experience to be grand, so they don’t take issues lightly. I explained that I understood that service issues were to be expected given the labor shortages, especially on an island. He would not accept that excuse and said that if the hotel is open, they need to be open with exemplary service. He refunded us the cost of both kids meals. A couple days later, I received an email from the Pool Food & Beverage manager because I had commented about service issues there. She offered us a free lunch at the pool, and had we not been leaving for home the following day, we would have happily taken advantage of another day at the Grand Pool. So while our experience was not 100% grand, the hotel certainly did try to make up for our issues and definitely listened to our concerns.
The Grand Hotel pros: It’s an experience I believe every Mackinac visitor should have! While you can visit The Grand even if you’re not a guest, I think you need to stay there to truly feel how grand it all is. The setting is just breathtaking – the porch, the pool, the views, the lobby, all of it. We loved our food at The Gate House (part of The Grand but technically off property) and The Jockey Room. If you have concerns or issues, talk to a manager and they will rectify!
The Grand Hotel cons: Our room was very small with no outside space. As soon as I woke up, I was ready to get out on the Grand porch because the room was too cramped and dark. Prices are grand and not always worth the $, especially the Main Dining Room.
Our last two nights were spent at Hotel Iroquois nestled between Main Street and the lake. We absolutely LOVED our room and this hotel! The hotel is in an ideal location – close to everything but away from all the noise and crowds at the heart of downtown. And the views are AMAZING! We had the Mackinac Suite – a light-filled, spacious suite with a huge bedroom and separate sitting room where the kids slept on a foldout couch. Compared to our tiny and somewhat dark room at The Grand, we fell in love the moment we walked in. Service was outstanding as well. We had a free half bottle of Prosecco (my favorite!) in our room along with complimentary waters and sodas in the fridge. Housekeeping noticed what we used and replenished it for us, including ice. And they were so very kind anytime we passed by them in the hallway. I often forget to tip housekeeping, but we did not forget here!
While Hotel Iroquois is quite small relative to the others we visited, its offerings are lovely. Every side of the hotel offers amazing views and beautiful porches and patios. The Carriage House restaurant on the backside of the hotel provides complimentary breakfast and panoramic views. After breakfast, the kids would look for sea glass while we lounged with our coffee. We dined at Carriage House one evening, and it was one of our favorite meals (although not an inexpensive one!). The service was best on the island.
Hotel Iroquois pros: Perfect location with the water on 2 sides and main street on the other. It's at the end of Main Street, so you’re away from the noise and crowds. All rooms are light-filled with beautiful views. We loved the décor and spaciousness of our suite. The patios and restaurant were vacation favorites.
Hotel Iroquois cons: The only thing Hotel Iroquois is missing is a pool. For that reason, I think we would again split our stay between Iroquois and The Grand for our next visit. We’d just have to time it right to ensure the weather cooperated while at The Grand. Our 2 nights in a suite at Hotel Iroquois cost almost as much as 2 nights in a room at The Grand. So Hotel Iroquois is not cheap, but we thought it was worth it!
Mission Point Resort
My Chicago BFF joined us last minute in Mackinac, and she and her daughter had to take whatever accommodations they could find, which was Mission Point Resort. I had tried to get us into Mission Point but they didn’t have anything available last minute for four people. The resort looks amazing on the website, so I was jealous that Debbie got in and we didn’t. But while the grounds are incredibly beautiful, I don’t think I would recommend this resort given it’s a quite a bit out-of-the-way. Debbie and her daughter got tired of the walk back and forth to Mission Point and ended up hanging out in our room at Hotel Iroquois when we had downtime in between activities. Plus, the resort and rooms aren’t updated, and the pool is quite small for a resort that size. I know many people love Mission Point, but none of us were big fans, including Debbie who stayed there.
We ate at Round Island Kitchen at Mission Point one evening. If the weather had cooperated and we had been able to sit outside on the patio, I think we would have had a different opinion about the restaurant. But the food was just okay and dining inside was nothing special. It didn't help that we got stranded there in a thunderstorm and had to wait for a LONG time for a carriage taxi to take us back downtown. Again, that's one of the disadvantages of being outside of town.
Mission Point Pros: Beautiful lawn and panoramic views of Lake Huron. Unique family activities including lawn games, 18-hole putting course, arcade, garden tours, and flower pressing activity.
Mission Point Cons: Long walk to town with no easy transportation other than biking. While Google Maps says it's less than a mile to Mission Point, there's actually a long walk once you get on property. If the weather cooperates and everyone is okay biking everywhere, then the distance is not a problem. But the walk is long and not an option at night or in poor weather. In addition, the room we saw wasn't updated and the lobby is very dark.
Things To Do on Mackinac Island
The best part about Mackinac is having no real agenda. Nobody is in a hurry to get anywhere, which is refreshing. And given the island is only 8 miles around, if you're there for a few days, you can definitely see it all and still have plenty of time for relaxing. So sit back and enjoy the view. And watch out for horse poop! Here's my top picks for things to do on Mackinac Island!
1. Bike the island
You can bring your own bike to save money like we did, but make sure your back tire has a fender to prevent all the splatters. We used our bikes almost every day for both transportation as well as sightseeing, so it's definitely more cost-efficient to bring your own. Or you can rent a bike at the many different bike shops on the island.
The perimeter road is pretty flat with beautiful lake views the whole way. Heading east past downtown, you'll hit Arch Rock and the State Park. Hike up to Arch Rock through the woods for the best views - there's stairs. The water here looks like the Caribbean!
The road was closed past Arch Rock, so we weren't able to keep going. We turned around and biked the other way several miles to British Landing, stopping along the way to skip rocks. At British Landing, there's a pretty beach plus restrooms and a snack shop. We tried to go to Point Aux Pins but the road was closed, so we backtracked and took British Landing Road (which bisects the island) back downtown. Because we had biked the perimeter road several times, we were happy to have a change of scenery - shady forest trails, old cemeteries, and the Grand Hotel. Keep in mind that the inside roads are hilly! Our return trip was a WORKOUT! I saw many bikers who had to walk their bikes up the hills. And the way home was not always obvious, but it's a small island so you can't really get lost.
2. Get out on Lake Huron on a kayak or sailboat
I wanted to go sailing, but the only charter I could find was all booked up. Next time, we'll plan ahead! There is a Sip 'n Sail excursion, but it's not a sailboat, so I didn't think it sounded like it was worth the money. Instead, we kayaked, which is always a hit with our family! Great Turtle Kayak Tours seems to be the only game in town, and it was perfect! They also offer paddleboard tours, too.
The weather was iffy the day we booked, so we pushed our tour back twice in hopes of kayaking in sun and not rain. And we timed it just right! Luckily, Great Turtle was able to accommodate our changes. We expected to be freezing out on the water, but the sun came out just as we started, and we ended up being a little hot with all our layers on. Getting away from the marina is a little treacherous given all the ferry boats going in and out, but once you're away from it all, the lake is wide open and gorgeous. We got to see Arch Rock from the water and had the best time riding the waves. Our guide made sure we were safe and told funny Mackinac stories to keep us entertained. His pictures were definitely the best ones of the day!
3. Shop, stroll and eat
We spent every afternoon in an ice cream shop; however, fudge is the official treat of Mackinac. It's just not our cup of tea, so we chose ice cream to tide us over until our late dinners. Us girls spent many hours in the unique shops on Main Street and found plenty of souvenirs worth our money. Make sure you walk some of the side streets and stop and smell the flowers. I think you're required to have a green thumb if you have a house on Mackinac, which means the gardens are breathtaking! We even found a secret garden with items hidden within for the kids to find!
Aside from ice cream and fudge, Mackinac is known for its whitefish and the Pink Pony. We had amazing fish 'n chips at The Gate House and loved our dinner and souvenirs from the Pink Pony. The Pink Pony is inside The Chippewa Hotel right on the marina. I had considered that hotel when I was scrambling for a place to stay. However, I'm glad I didn't book it, as the noise from the Pink Pony would last into the wee hours given how popular it is and how late it's open.
4. Learn about the island on a horse carriage tour
Everyone suggested we take a horse carriage tour, and my husband wanted to, but after our hour and a half wait for a carriage taxi ride home at 11pm in the pouring rain, I had had enough of a carriage ride. Maybe next time!
5. Experience The Grand Hotel
Even if you don't stay at The Grand, you can still experience it. They do charge $10 for visitors, but it's worth it to sit on the porch, stroll the shops and grounds, and check out the view. You can also book Afternoon Tea or a meal in the Grand dining room. Aside from the Grand porch and views, our favorite part was the Esther Williams Swimming Pool, and you do have to be a guest to partake in that.
6. Explore the Forts
Mackinac Island is home to two historic forts: Fort Mackinac and Fort Holmes. While we rode up to Fort Mackinac, we didn't visit either as we didn't want to wait in line. But I hear the military drill and rifle firing are well worth the admission.
Many people visit Mackinac Island just for the day, but I highly recommend staying over for several nights if you can, so you can truly experience the laid-back life of Mackinac versus trying to jam it all in in a day and fighting the day crowds on the ferries. The beauty of Mackinac lies in its picturesque views and its car-free calm. You need more than a day to enjoy it all and have time to just be one with the island.
Heather Vergara is a former Pepsico marketing executive who left the corporate world to be a Mom and never went back. In addition to travel and adventure, Heather is passionate about kindness, community, whole food, and sweating every day. Her travel business, Show Them the World, is bigger and more fun than she ever imagined! Heather has an MBA in Marketing from Indiana University, a Digital Marketing Executive Education certificate from Columbia University, and a BA in Journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She lives with her husband, two kids and two furry dogs in Zionsville, Indiana.