Located at the tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and on the southern side of the Mackinac Bridge, Mackinaw City is the last place that you drive through before crossing the Straits of Mackinac and entering the Upper Peninsula. The village is one of the top places to visit in Michigan because of its location and rich history as well as being one of the two main ferry ports for those wanting to visit Mackinac Island. There are so many things to do in Mackinaw City, and we’ve put together a collection of favorite activities, historic sites, events, restaurants, and accommodations to make planning a day out or vacation easier.
A Brief History of Mackinaw City
Northern Michigan has a long Native American history and the area that we call Mackinaw City has always been an important place for them. In 1715, the French arrived and settled in the area, building Fort Michilimackinac. They had a major military and trading presence on the Straits of Mackinac. Through transport changes from railroads to automobiles and car ferries over the years, the village became a popular vacation destination.
However, why do so many people visit here? What is there to do in Mackinaw City today?
Parks and Outdoor Things to Do in Mackinaw City
Northern Michigan is known for its love of the outdoors, and Mackinaw City has plenty of outdoor things to do.
Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park
Representing what life was like at the beginning of the industrial age in the 1700s, Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park demonstrates how the creek was used to power timber cutting. It’s one of the oldest industrial sites in the region. Across the more than 600 acres, there are 3 miles of hiking trails and opportunities to see a range of wildlife species. You can watch live programs and tours from May to September, ride a zip line through the trees, learn about archaeological artifacts, have a picnic, and more.
Headlands International Dark Sky Park
As of 2011, the Headlands International Dark Sky Park became one of 10 in existence in the world. It’s the place to go to experience the spectacular Northern Lights in Michigan. The International Dark Sky Park has a 1-mile discovery trail, which provides a dynamic cultural interpretation of the stars.
Animal Tracks is more than a miniature golf course — It’s an adventure that teaches you about wildlife in Northern Michigan as you play. You can match tracks to their respective animals to get a free game. The scenic environment features rock bridges and crashing waterfalls.
Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park isn’t the only place where you can ride a zip line in Mackinaw City. Located in downtown Mackinaw City above Starbucks, Adrenaline Falls Adventure Zipline has two lines that pass over lush scenery and waterfalls. It’s a great place for kids to get a taste of what it’s like to soar at towering heights.
Fun for all ages, Mackinaw Parasailing gives you a bird’s view of the Straits of Mackinac. It operates a customized boat that allows parasailors to launch from and land directly on the deck, which is safe and keeps you dry. Also, the company has a large boat — The Wild One — for Jet Boat Adventures that you can take with up to 20 people. These adventures feature high speeds and 360-degree spins in the Straits.
Fun and Entertaining Mackinaw City Attractions
Exploring Mackinaw City isn’t complete without visiting iconic Michigan history destinations and enjoying a historical reenactment.
As a symbol of Michigan and the connector of its two peninsulas, the Mackinac Bridge opened to traffic in 1957 and is an attraction on its own. It’s one of the most beautiful bridges in the world and one of the longest in the United States. The suspension length is 8,614 feet, but the total length is 26,372 feet (5 miles).
You might wonder which is longer: the Golden Gate Bridge or Mackinac Bridge. By comparison, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco only has a total length of 8,981 feet (1.7 miles). That means Mackinac Bridge is nearly three times as long.
Driving the bridge is already a treat — the panoramic view of the Straits of Mackinac is quite wonderful. But, did you know that you can walk the bridge too? The Mackinac Bridge Authority organizes the Annual Mackinac Bridge Walk, and those who walk to the end and back again call themselves Double Crossers. The title is well deserved — that’s 10 miles!
Jack Pine Lumberjack Shows
Highlighting the area’s logging history, Jack Pine Lumberjack Shows are very entertaining and educational. The competitive shows take you back to the late 1800s when logging was an important part of the economy. World-class lumberjacks compete in logrolling, chopping, ax throwing, sawing, and speed climbing for the “Bull of the Woods” title. There are chainsaw carving demonstrations and log boom runs as well. The fast pace of the shows keeps you involved.
Mackinaw Manor Haunted Mansion
If you need to know what is there to do in Mackinaw City in the winter or on rainy days, Mackinaw Manor Haunted Mansion is a unique attraction. Located in Mackinaw Crossings, the manor is a fully automated haunted house. It uses state-of-the-art animatronics, special effects, and sound technology to create a scary experience for all who dare to enter.
Pharaoh’s Family Fun Center
For an Egyptian-themed experience, head to Pharaoh’s Family Fun Center. The facility features a range of indoor activities — billiards/pool tables, a laser maze, a game arcade, miniature bowling, a shooting gallery, and more.
Mackinaw City Historic Sites and Museums
Full of Michigan history, Mackinaw City has several historic sites and Michigan museums that you’ll want to be sure to explore. It is even home to multiple Michigan lighthouses that we recommend touring!
Colonial Michilimackinac Historic State Park
One of the most prominent things to do in Mackinaw City is visiting Colonial Michilimackinac Historic State Park. The park features a reconstructed 1700s French military outpost and fur-trading village — Fort Michilimackinac. Everything is based on historic maps and archaeological excavations.
From May to September, live programs and tours demonstrate how Native Americans, civilians, and soldiers responded to real and imagined threats as they tried to maintain the fur trade, which was their livelihood. There are several exhibits across 16 buildings, and you can fire all of the period weapons — cannon, mortar, musket, and wall gun.
Extra note: If you wonder, “what does Michilimackinac mean?”, you’ll be glad to learn that the word is derived from an Ottawa Ojibwe name for what we now refer to as Mackinac Island and Mackinac County. Early settlers used the word too, but it has since been shortened.
Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse
Located in Colonial Michilimackinac Historic State Park, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse has been a guiding light for ships navigating the Straits of Mackinac since 1889. The Keeper’s Quarters has been authentically restored to how it looked in 1910, and you can learn about the history of the lighthouse in the gallery exhibit on the second floor.
The Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum is located in the reconstructed warehouse and has artifacts and audiovisual displays. There’s also a movie that you can watch — “Shipwrecks of the Straits.” At specific times, a costumed interpreter demonstrates the fog signal whistle.
McGulpin Point Lighthouse
Opposite of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse is McGulpin Point Lighthouse. You can go on self-guided tours of the grounds, using a smartphone to learn about its historical importance. There’s a discovery trail that tells the story of the area and various stages of the property. In the McGulpin Point Lighthouse gift shop, you can grab apparel, novelties, and other souvenirs.
On the Lake Michigan shoreline of the property, you can observe McGulpin Rock, which early settlers used to gauge water levels as they navigated the tumultuous waters about 395 years ago. Additionally, you can stay in the secluded apartment at the lighthouse for truly one-of-a-kind accommodations.
Icebreaker Mackinaw Maritime Museum
Known as the Queen of the Great Lakes, the U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Mackinaw WAGB-83 was decommissioned in 2006 and is set up as a museum. The vessel was built during World War II to meet heavy material and transport demands during the winter, and some people refer to it as the Largest Icebreaker on the Great Lakes. It was also a goodwill ambassador across the region.
Now, the Icebreaker features informative displays and is open for guided tours of the bridge, captain’s quarters, engine room, mess deck, sickbay, wardroom, and more. You can even arrange group events and overnight stays. Before you leave, visit the ship’s store for military and nautical souvenirs.
Mackinaw Bridge Museum
Unlike most museums, the Mackinaw Bridge Museum is located above a restaurant — Mama Mia’s Pizza, one of the best Mackinaw City restaurants for families. It was created by ironworker J.C. Stilwell, who was on the crew that built the bridge, and many of the items in the exhibits were donated by hundreds of people. It’s free to explore the museum when the restaurant is open from spring through fall.
Tours of Mackinaw City and Michigan Lighthouses
Whether you’re more comfortable on land or water, there’s a Mackinaw City tour that’s right for you, and they’re some of the best things to do in Mackinaw City!
Mackinac Old Time Trolley
Whether you’re just starting a vacation or passing through, tours of Mackinaw City Michigan are a great way to learn about the area and discover sites to explore further. Mackinac Old Time Trolley offers a one-hour orientation and local history tour, as well as a two-hour history tour that includes passage on the Mackinac Bridge to a park on the other side. Most of the village’s hotels sell tokens for the tours.
Shepler’s Ferry Lighthouse Cruises
The best way to tour the many lighthouses in the area is via boat, and Shepler’s Ferry offers several options. The three-hour Eastbound Lighthouse Cruise passes by lighthouses on Lake Huron around Round Island, Bois Blanc Island, Poe Reef, Fourteen Foot Shoal, and Cheboygan. On the Lake Michigan side, the three-hour Westbound Lighthouse Cruise passes by lighthouses at Old Mackinac Point, White Shoal, Gray’s Reef, Waugoshance, and St. Helena. The extended versions of these cruises are four and four-and-a-half hours respectively and add a few more lighthouses.
In addition, Shepler’s Ferry offers a five-hour Les Cheneaux Lighthouse Cruise that features Lake Huron lighthouses nearby and beyond Bois Blanc Island. You can book the three-hour Evening Lighthouse Cruise to see nearby lights in action.
Mackinaw City Cruises on Ugly Anne
The Straits Area Tour Company offers two Mackinaw City Cruise options on its famed Ugly Anne charter boat. The Mackinaw City/Mackinac Bridge tour is a history cruise where you’ll learn the history of shipwrecks as you travel over them, local Native American Lore, learn about living in the north country, and the maritime history of the area while cruising under the “Mighty” Mackinac Bridge. The Mackinaw City Sunset cruise will take you under the magnificent Mackinac Bridge before giving you the best seat in the house to see one of the most beautiful sunsets in North America.
Events to See in Mackinaw City
Like many other Michigan cities, events in Mackinaw City are festive and can’t-miss occasions.
Memorial Weekend Pageant
At the end of May, Mackinaw City comes alive with the Memorial Weekend Pageant, the longest-running historical performance in the country. It involves a re-enactment of the events that occurred between the Native Americans, French, and British in the 1700s. You’ll have the chance to meet famous Native American chiefs from various tribes for free!
July 4th Fireworks
One of the prettiest things to do in Mackinaw City is to watch the July 4th Fireworks at dusk. This Independence Day celebration features the biggest display of exploding color in Northern Michigan. During the day, families can enjoy fun games on the Mackinaw City Municipal Marina lawn.
International Ironworker Festival
Every August, ironworkers from the United States and Canada gather to compete in the International Ironworker Festival. The event is free for the public to observe, and there are free activities for kids — such as a bouncy house — and free aerial lifts.
Mackinaw City Beer & Wine Festival
During September, Conkling Heritage Park hosts the Mackinaw City Beer & Wine Festival. For just a few dollars, you can get a tasting glass and three tickets for tastings of award-winning Michigan microbrews and wines. The event usually has live music too.
Mackinaw City Shopping
Although it’s not as prominent as the fort and historical sites, downtown Mackinaw City is known for its shopping. There are more than 50 specialty shops, and most of them are located within Mackinaw Crossings. This outdoor mall even has live music and concerts, a children’s play center, and a five-plex cinema. At dusk every night during the summer, you can see a free laser light show. It’s the perfect place for entertainment while you look for souvenirs or gifts.
Where to Eat in Mackinaw City
If you’re spending more than a couple of hours in Mackinaw City (and we highly recommend that you do!), you’ll need somewhere to eat. We recommend skipping the national chains and trying one of these local Mackinaw City restaurants.
Scalawags Whitefish & Chips
With a nautical atmosphere and name, you don’t have to guess what you’ll get at Scalawags Whitefish & Chips. The casual restaurant serves fresh fish baskets and sandwiches, and the service is fast. For those in your party who prefer chicken or turkey, there are baskets and sandwiches for them also.
Voted as the Best All-Around Restaurant by patrons, Audie’s Restaurant offers casual and fine dining in Mackinaw City Michigan. The comfortable Family Room menu features home-cooked meals all day, while The Chippewa Room menu features specialties and a huge wine selection. On top of that, Audie’s has a Welcome Lounge where adults can have a craft beer, glass of fine wine, or glass of scotch with friends or significant others.
For the best Italian meals in the village, go to Nonna Lisa’s. The restaurant specializes in outstanding pasta dishes and wood-fired pizza. Also on the menu are salads, soups, traditional entrees, and great wine pairings.
Biere De Mac Brew Works
At Bière de Mac Brew Works, you can get upscale comfort food. This gastro-bistro pub has more than a dozen hard cider and craft beers on tap all the time. The goal, though, is to serve every style of beer that has been classified by the Brewers Association as of 2016. While you drink, you can order burgers, sandwiches, salads, and soups.
The Hook Lakeside Grill
Featuring balcony dining with a view of Lake Huron, The Hook Lakeside Grill offers a more upscale experience. The menu includes a range of beef and brisket burgers, prime rib, fresh walleye and whitefish, and specialties. However, the star of this restaurant is the bar, which makes amazing cocktails and has 34 microbrews and beers on tap.
The Lighthouse Restaurant
If you want everything that a fine dining experience has to offer, The Lighthouse Restaurant can make it happen. All of the seafood is handpicked from local fisheries every day, and you can choose fresh lobster from its tank. There are salads, eggplant parmigiana, prime rib, steak, and other entrees on the menu as well.
Mackinaw City Hotels and Other Lodging
There are many hotels in Mackinaw City, as well as Mackinaw City vacation rentals and camping in Mackinaw City, giving you plenty of options for lodging in Mackinaw City when you visit.
Baymont Inn & Suites
Within walking distance of downtown, the Baymont Inn & Suites is near Mackinaw Crossing, attractions, and restaurants. It offers a free breakfast in the Baymont Breakfast Corner, a whirlpool spa, and an indoor heated pool. All of the rooms feature coffee makers, but some have microwaves and minifridges too.
Holiday Inn Express
Situated next to Interstate 75, the Holiday Inn Express is quite comfortable whether you’re staying for a day or seven days. All of the rooms have coffee makers, microwaves, and mini-fridges while some of the suites feature balconies and fireplaces. The hotel amenities include an indoor heated pool, hot tub, sauna, and fitness center. Plus, it only takes about five minutes to walk to Colonial Michilimackinac Historic State Park and about 7 minutes to walk to Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse.
Mackinaw Beach & Bay Inn & Suites
Connected to the Mackinaw Convention Center, this beachfront hotel in Mackinaw City has a free water park for its guests to enjoy. Just a short walk to the Mackinaw City Ferry Terminal and downtown Mackinaw City, it’s not only conveniently located, but it includes all of the amenities you’d expect in a family-friendly Mackinaw City hotel. Over 500 reviews on Hotels.com ranks Mackinaw Beach & Bay Inn & Suites as one of the best places to stay in Mackinaw City!
If you’re looking for affordable accommodations with a view, Beachcomber Motel is a great choice for short getaways. The lakefront rooms have king and queen beds and minifridges, and you can request a room with a Jacuzzi tub. The motel’s family suite has connecting rooms and a microwave. In addition to a porch, there’s a picnic area and barbecue grill.
Deer Head Inn Bed & Breakfast
Offering a more personalized stay, Deer Head Inn Bed & Breakfast is surrounded by shops and restaurants. It’s located in an Arts and Crafts Style home that was built in 1913. The restored house has five rooms, each with its own theme, fireplace, Jacuzzi tub, and separate sitting area. The guest living room features original furnishings from the early 1900s, and you’re certain to enjoy the daily breakfast and special meals.
Mackinaw City Airbnb Vacation Rentals
For an alternative to hotels and B&Bs, there are many Airbnb vacation rentals in Mackinaw City. In some ways, they can make romantic getaways more intimate and make family vacations more comfortable. You can choose from apartments, condos, cabins, cottages, and homes of various sizes.
Camping in Mackinaw City
Whether you’re from Northern Michigan or some other part of the state, you might enjoy sleeping closer to nature than in a hotel or apartment. If that’s the case, Mackinaw City has a few places where you can go camping. Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping and Mackinaw City KOA are our favorites.
Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping
You can find all kinds of campsites at Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping, including tent and RV sites with full hookups. The campground even has cabin rentals. You won’t see concrete or asphalt on its sites either. Instead, the entire camp is surrounded and covered with indigenous plants and wildlife.
Also, Mackinaw Mill Creek Camping has 1 mile of waterfront on Lake Huron with beautiful views and natural beaches. During your stay, you have access to a range of amenities — biking and hiking trails, miniature golf, heated pool, arcade and game room, discounts at Mackinaw Club Golf Course, and free shuttle service to Mackinac Island ferries.
Mackinaw City KOA
Part of the Kampgrounds of America system of privately held campgrounds, Mackinaw City KOA has a variety of wooded campsites for tents and RVs. It rents cabins as well. There’s a Lake Michigan beach less than 2 miles away, or you can use the on-site heated pool.
You can bike or walk the campground’s nature trail to Colonial Michilimackinac, or explore the North Western State Trail, which is ideal for biking and hiking. Additionally, the camp offers free shuttle services to the Mackinac Island ferry docks.
Mackinac Island Day Trip
While the many things to do in Mackinaw City are a big draw to Northern Michigan, many people also visit the area to see Mackinac Island. It’s located to the northeast of the village and can be seen from the city’s Lake Huron beaches.
Shepler’s Ferry and Star Line Ferry operate transport to the island and have several options for tickets. How much the ferry from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island costs depends on the ticket that you choose. You could save money, though, with combination tickets and by purchasing online. In general, the boat ride takes about 20 minutes.
Like in Mackinaw City, there are tons of things to do on Mackinac Island. Best of all, many of the best attractions are free because the majority of the island consists of Mackinac Island and Fort Mackinac Historic Park, which is a state park. It’s possible to bike, walk, or ride a horse-drawn carriage everywhere, and there are awesome shops and restaurants downtown Mackinac Island. You could even extend your day trip into an overnight stay in an Airbnb Mackinac Island vacation rental or Mackinac Island hotel!
More Things to Do Near Mackinac Bridge
If you’re looking for more things to do near Mackinac Bridge, you won’t want to miss our article on the best things to do in St. Ignace – just the other side of the Mackinac Bridge on the Upper Peninsula’s southern shore.