Did you know that Mackinac Island is considered to be one of the top places to vacation in Michigan? It’s a place where the whole family can go for a few days and feel refreshed and relaxed. It’s a beautiful and unique place to visit all year round.

Mackinac Island (pronounced Mackinaw) is a place where tour groups, school groups, wedding parties, and families flock during the warm summer Michigan weather. It is located just East of the Mackinac Bridge, which connects Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas.

Known for its luxury hotels and world-famous fudge, Mackinac Island was recently voted the #1 Island in the Continental USA. This unique destination offers something for all ages and all budgets.

If you are looking for a cost-effective way to enjoy this unique destination, we have collected insider tips on ways to experience the island on a budget.

Planning a trip to the island during the off-season is usually the way you can save the most money, but if you want to take a trip while the kids are on summer vacation, there are still some ways you can save during the peak season as well.

You will find that the hotel rates are less expensive in the Fall (September/October) and Spring (May) seasons. Not only will you be able to save money on hotels, but you will be able to get around the island without wading through the huge crowds that summer brings. You can find current room rates and if there are any specials going on at the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau website.

Call and ask about special rates at the island hotels instead of going through travel websites. They may be running some deals that you would not know about. Also, it’s a great idea to sign up for their newsletter so that you don’t miss out on the 50% off deals they send out during the winter months for the upcoming summer season.

If you can’t get a good deal at a hotel on the Island, consider staying in Mackinaw City or St. Ignace. You could get multi-day ferry tickets if you wanted to plan a weekend on the island but want to book a hotel on the mainland.

Check Groupon.com for Mackinac Island deals. A lot of times you can book discounted hotels before the busy season starts. You may see a few deals during the busy season, and more for September or October.

For those that are risk-takers, you can walk up to an island hotel late in the day to see if they have any rooms available. If they do ask if they have a manager special. You’ll most likely have better luck during the weekday.

The famous Grand Hotel has weekend and one-night deals throughout the season, so be sure to sign up for their newsletter. Even if you aren’t staying the night, you can go there for brunch, high tea, or a nightcap at the Cupola Bar, to get a taste of the “grand” experience.

GRAND HOTEL HACK: You will not be charged to enter the hotel in the evenings.

Alternative Lodging idea:

A lot of people choose to camp in St. Ignace or Mackinaw City and go to the island during the day. Not only will you find reasonable rates, but Star Line Mackinac Ferry company offers free shuttle pickups at the campgrounds, so you don’t have to worry about parking your vehicle at the docks.

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Mackinac Island is one of the few places you will find that doesn’t mind if you bring your own food. Even though dining out is part of the vacation experience, it’s not always practical, especially if you have a big group. For a family of 5, you can easily spend $75-$150 for one meal. Packing a lunch and snacks can be a cost-effective way to cut some spending on the Island. You can find a nice spot to picnic with a view of the lighthouse, endless water, or beautiful lilac trees. If you set up your picnic near the water, most kids love wading and hanging out at the beach after they eat.

We need to talk about fudge! Mackinac island is famous for its fudge, and you can smell the sweet sugary aroma being fanned out to the sidewalk as you stroll along the main street. You can watch fudge being made from the window and ask for free samples! Fudge is an item you want to make sure you budget for because it’s difficult to pick just one flavor to take home.

The only means of transportation that can take you to Mackinac Island in the summertime are a ferry boat, a charter flight, or your own (or private) boat. Once Lake Superior freezes completely, you can take a snowmobile over the ice bridge. Most spring, summer, and fall visitors catch a ride to Mackinac Island on ferry boats that depart from Mackinaw City (at the southern end of the Mackinac Bridge) and from St. Ignace (at the northern end of the bridge).

There are two ferry boat companies to choose from – Shepler’s and Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry Company. It’s best to purchase your ferry tickets online since both ferry companies offer cheaper online prices and packages. Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry Company has the famous hydro-jet rooster tails and consistently has tickets that are less expensive.

STAR LINE MACKINAC ISLAND FERRY HACK: When you purchase your tickets online, you can save up to $3.

Carriage Tour/Ferry/Other Attractions Combo
If you plan to take a carriage ride while on the Island, be sure to look at the combo packages for Ferry Rides and Carriage Tours. You can also save time and get attraction tickets along with your ferry tickets to many places on the island and the mainland. If you want to visit places like Mystery Town USA, the Original Butterfly House, Grand Hotel Luncheon, Jack Pine Lumberjack Show, or the Forts then it’s way easier to buy those tickets right along with your ferry tickets at www.mackpass.com.



Biking Around the Island
Biking around the island can be budget-friendly and fun for the whole family. Bringing your own bike is very cost-effective if you have a large group and plan to explore the island all day. It is only about $15 to ferry each bike (and island license) over on the ferry boat. Renting a bike on the island is around $10 an hour or $50 for all-day rentals. Biking around the island takes the average adult about an hour (8 miles), but it can take longer if you make a lot of stops. If you really don’t want to spend money and have a lot of time, then you might enjoy walking.

*BIKE TIP: Be sure to bring a bike lock to avoid losing your bike to someone that mistakes yours for theirs.

FREE Concerts

On Thursday nights during peak season, you can catch a free concert in Marquette Park. It’s a great spot to relax, have a date night, or have a picnic on the grass while enjoying the music. If it rains, the free concert is held in the Mission Point theater.

FREE Movies

Movies are shown during the summer months every Sunday and Tuesday (plus some special showings) at the Mission Point Theater. On rainy days movies are shown continuously throughout the afternoon. All movies are free to attend unless otherwise noted.

*BONUS MOVIE: Somewhere in Time was filmed on Mackinac Island and is shown every Tuesday at 7:30 pm for free.

FREE Kids Club/Activities

Depending on which hotel you and the family are staying at while vacationing on the Island, many offer free activities to guests. While you may pay more per night, the free activities could make up the difference.

FREE Fireworks

You’ll have plenty of fireworks to watch throughout the summer, that you can view from the island. Mackinaw City shoots off fireworks every Tuesday and Friday night over Lake Huron. St Ignace offers great fireworks display every Saturday night during the summer, as well.

Arch Rock Mackinac Island

Arch Rock Mackinac Island

FREE Scenic Views | Arch Rock

The most famous of the rock formations on the island is Arch Rock. This arch towers above the water and is more than fifty feet wide. It attracts the vast majority of people to the island, and can be reached by foot, taxi, carriage, or bike. It can also be viewed from below, on the perimeter tour of the island.

FREE Garden Tours | Lilac Festival

Along with the scenic views, you can tour the gardens at the Grand Hotel for free. Century-old lilacs, white cedar, and maple trees provide dramatic structure, while perennials and annuals by the tens of thousands contribute bursts of color throughout the season, thanks to the ideal climate of a Mackinac summer. See over 150 varieties of flowers during a single visit, including geraniums, roses, peonies, coleus, garden heliotropes, cosmos, lilies, daisies, and begonias.

Providing a new experience each season, the Grand Hotel’s Secret Garden is also a favorite spot for people (especially for those who can find it). Located in a large area in the middle of the gardens, but still very much hidden, it features two distinct sections: one full of perennials and the other dedicated to a spring flower bulb display.

If you can’t find the Secret Garden, not to worry. There are a couple of established paths on the hotel grounds that run right through it.

If you’re traveling in June, the Lilac Festival is one you don’t want to miss because the entire island smells and looks amazing!

Visit Skull Cave

Another free activity that you can easily walk or bike to is Skull Cave. It was once believed to be the burial ground for Native Americans.

FREE Governor’s Tour

On Wednesday mornings from mid-June to mid-August, you can tour the Michigan Governor’s summer residence for free! Listed on the Michigan Register of Historic Places in 1975, it has since been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The tour takes about 15 minutes. The three-story mansion was built in 1902 for a Chicago meat-packing baron and has served nine governors and their families since then. Tours start at the corner of Fort Street and Huron Road.

Marquette Park

Marquette Park, located in front of the fort, is a popular place for families to relax and have a picnic. Your kids will have fun just playing with other kids on the playground located in the upper corner. Plus, you can go down to the beach areas, or check out the boats in the Marina for a little fun on the water.

Mackinac Island Library

The library is a great place to spend the afternoon reading a book with a beautiful view of the Mackinac Bridge in front of you.


A favorite for many is Fort Mackinac. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Straits of Mackinac was a strategic landmark for the American, British, and French forces. You can buy your tickets online to save a few dollars. However, if you are planning to come back more than once, or plan to explore Fort Mackinac, Fort Homles (on the island), and Colonial Michilimackinac (in Mackinaw City), it would be worth it to buy the combo pass. The seasonal Family Heritage pass is cost-effective if you frequent the area throughout the year. This pass is good for the entire season for ALL parks, plus a membership to Mackinac Associates. This pass includes two adults and all dependent children (or grandchildren).

FORTS HACK: Buying the Heritage Pass also gets you into the Mackinac Art Museum, also part of the Mackinac State Historic Parks!


Another favorite thing for families to do on the Island is the Butterfly House. If you are staying overnight on the Island, check to see if your hotel package includes admission to the Butterfly House.


The Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau does a great job at keeping an updated list of island deals & packages on its website. They also have a pulse on events and things to do on the island if you need some travel planning tips.

It’s also a good idea to like Facebook pages and sign up for newsletters to get last-minute free tickets or coupons. For example, Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry Company just had a facebook photo contest and the winner won 4 free round-trip tickets!

We hope you find these tips useful and that they enable you to have a magical time on the island. Just being there feels like you are stepping back in time, and you’ll instantly feel like all of your worries are a million miles away. Enjoy!

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