I discovered these free things to do on Mackinac Island while staying there as part of a press trip.
I found a TON of free things to do on Mackinac Island when I visited last week – it was my first time on the island! I didn’t want to leave the island either to go back home – it was gorgeous! (the PERFECT girls getaway!) If you’re not familiar with Mackinac Island it’s a vehicle free place to be! There are NO cars, golf carts, or motorized vehicles (aside from wheelchairs) on the island. There are 3 main ways to get around the island: walking, biking, or horse and carriage taxi.
If there is ONE THING I can recommend to you while visiting Mackinac Island – LEAVE THE MAIN DOWNTOWN STRIP! If you love just sitting in touristy shops all day then I suppose you may enjoy the downtown strip. But once you walk past that area the smell of horses fade, you begin to smell the lilacs (depending on the time of year), the breeze picks up and it’s stunning. The real beauty of island life is not found right when you get off the ferry docks but as you explore Mackinac Island.
Here are some of the things you can find around the island that are free to enjoy:
Mackinac Island State Park –
Did you know that Mackinac Island was the 2nd National Park in the USA? It later became Michigan’s first state park and is now cared for by the Mackinac State Historic Parks. The visitors center is located downtown across from Marquette Park and is free to walk through. Believe it or not the park covers 80% of the island’s land! There is over 70 miles of roads and trails including 50 interpretive panels throughout the park. Pretty impressive for an island only 8 miles around!
Below are just some of the free things to see on the island in Mackinac Island State Park. You might also want to pick up a copy of 100 Things to Do on Mackinac Island Before You Die!
Arch Rock – This rock arch towers 146 feet high and is up to 50 feet wide! This was #1 on my list to see and is a short hike (about 1/2 mile) from the top of Fort Mackinac through a beautiful forest. There are restrooms, hiking trails, and a scenic overlook there as well. If you can’t make the hike you can pay for a horse and carriage taxi right up to the top. Keep an eye out for the monument to Cass Lewis, a former governor of Michigan, U.S. Secretary of Way, Secretary of State and a U.S. Senator.
Sugar Loaf– This is the largest limestone stack on Mackinac Island measuring 75 feet high.
Robinson’s Folly– Another popular natural formation, this post here shares good information on additional features you can find hiking through the north end of the island near Mission Point Resort.
Flowers– This was my first time seeing Lady Slippers (above) and they were in full display when I was visiting in late June! You can find these and many other flowers scattered throughout the island.
Wildlife Searching– Although I only saw birds (and mosquitos!) during my time on the island you can search for these animals while out hiking depending on the time of year you visit: squirrels, chipmunks, bats, white-tailed deer, snowshoe hare, red fox, raccoons, gray squirrels, muskrats, weasels, coyote, and bobcats.
Bat Boxes– I don’t know how many bat boxes are on the island but I spotted two large ones on the way to Arch Rock.
Crack-in-the-Island– This fun photo opp area can be found while hiking and appears to be a fissure in the earth!
Cave of the Woods– Another small cave on the island with an interpretive sign with its history.
Anne’s Tablet Trail– This very short but beautiful hike starts up behind Fort Mackinac and leads you to an overlook of the Mackinac Straits. You’ll find a beautiful shrine to 19th century writer Constance Fenimore Woolson. On the way to the “tablet” you’ll also pass the Somewhere in Time gazebo.
Skull Cave– One of two caves on the island, this one is named after the skulls originally discovered in this small cave. It was used as a hideout in 1763.
Devil’s Kitchen– This cool cave is a great photo spot on the island and has stories supposedly rooted in Native American folklore. Black soot can still be seen inside from supposedly trying to burn out evil spirits.
*TIP – There are gorgeous hiking trails down off the water around Mission Point which are PERFECT for stunning sunrise views!
Movies at Mission Point Resort-
I stayed at Mission Point Resort on the north end of the island one night and it won my heart in an instant! The owner is AMAZING and loves to see people enjoying the resort! It’s very kid-friendly and quite affordable when compared to the other large island resorts. (PLUS it also offers pet-friendly lodging options!)
On site is a historic theater which runs FREE movies (including Somewhere in Time which was largely filmed on its stage) several times each week. In fact when I walked through there was a film playing – just walk right in and sit down! (you do not have to be a guest of the resort to enjoy this!)
They also have free movies on the lawn certain days throughout the summer that anyone on the island, not just resort guests, can come and enjoy!
Carriage Museum Self-Guided Tour –
By far the most ornate Carriage Museum I’ve been to and it’s free to tour on Mackinac Island! The Grand Hotel stables is roughly 8700 square feet. It’s a working stables dedicated to their 12 horses and a walk through self guided museum housing up to 20 vintage carriages.
If you’ve never walked into horse stables with enormous chandeliers hanging from the middle of the barn – you’ll want to make a stop here. In fact one of the vintage carriages have seated 5 different US presidents! It’s free to walk through any time the doors are open (roughly 8 am-5 pm).
Sit in adirondack chairs behind the public library-
I discovered these by accident while exploring the island! Behind the Mackinac Island Public Library is a row of adirondack chairs on their deck that you can sit in and curl up with a good book while watching the ferries and freighters pass by the island in Lake Michigan. It’s a great spot right in the downtown area to walk down the shoreline and enjoy the view.
Free Fudge –
When you say Mackinac Island many people immediately think of fudge, and for good reason. There are 16 fudge shops on the island! And many of these stores have FREE fudge samples! One of my favorites is Ryba’s Fudge Shop which is located near the ferry docks on the main strip. They are a family owned fudge shop, opened in 1936, and simply delish! (They are also part of the 906 Rewards Club.)
Somewhere in Time Film Locations –
The entire movie, Somewhere in Time, was filmed on Mackinac Island! Sadly there is no “pilgrimage trail” that tours you around the island but you can easily find a ton of spots to stop just with a quick search on Google. I noticed quite a few official “film stop” signs around the island. On the short hike to Anne’s Tablet Trail behind Fort Mackinac you’ll also pass by the gazebo made famous in the movie. The movie is shown free every week at the Mission Point Resort theater – open to the public! If you love this film free these spots are just some of the many free things to do on Mackinac Island!
Free Festivals, Concerts & Events-
The Mackinac Island Lilac Festival was going on when I visited Mackinac Island which was a real treat. Just walking throughout the island I constantly smelled the lilac fragrance as the flowers were in bloom. The Dog & Pony parade and grand parade were both fun to see! There are many many other festivals such as the Mackinac Island Fudge Festival, Vintage Bike Ride & Show and Macktoberfest.
Free concerts in Marquette Park are also popular throughout the summer! Keep an eye on the Mackinac Island calendar to see what’s coming up!
Free Governor’s Summer Residence tours –
On Wednesday mornings 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.
Follow the Native American Cultural History Trail-
Read 6 interpretive panels discussing the history and impact of Native Americans on the Great Lakes as you bike (or hike) around the 8 miles of the island. Print out this map of the Native American Cultural History Trail before you go!
FREE Tulip Bulbs –
If you love gardening as much as I do – here’s a little known TIP! If you are staying at Mission Point Resort (Voted “Best Place to Stay” in Michigan by Conde Nast Traveler!) they have a garden cart parked outside the entrance to the resort where they let you take home as many FREE tulip bulbs as you want! They replant tens of thousands of tulips each year and offer their old
Playgrounds, Stone Skipping & Kite Flying-
If you’ve got kids then keeping then giving them some down time from all the walking on Mackinac Island is important! There are several playgrounds on Mackinac Island including one right in Marquette Park downtown in front of Fort Mackinac near the ferry docks.
Stone skipping off shore, kite flying, and nature scavenger hunts are also all popular kid’s activities on Mackinac Island that are free for families! You’re really only limited by your creativity. You’ll of course need to bring your own kite to fly or buy a kite.
Stuart House City Museum-
The Stuart House City Museum is free to enter but donations are appreciated. Located on 7342 Market Street this location was built in 1817 housed the resident agent of the American Fur Company.
Buy these books on Mackinac Island: