Mackinac Island, Part 2: Getting Around & Lodging

Time for a boat ride!

Time for a boat ride!

For an island that prides itself on being mostly motor vehicle-free, it’ll take a big motor to get you over from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island.

There are three big players in town that offer ferry service from Mackinaw City to the island: Arnold, Star Line and Shepler’s. During our recent trip to Mackinac, we chose the latter for its convenience both in buying tickets online and dock location.

A standard adult ferry ticket these days goes for $18 round-trip for Arnold and $23 for Star Line and Shepler’s. You can’t buy tickets online from Arnold and Shepler’s offers a special deal where you can buy a three-pack of adult tickets for $62 (savings of $2 per ticket off the standard price). Expect the ride to last about 25-30 minutes and all three docks funnel traffic into the heart of Main Street.

One of only two times we could get (most) everyone together for a group photo.

One of only two times we could get (most) everyone together for a group photo.

Here’s what tripped us up: When you buy a three-pack, like we did (we actually bought three three-packs), you get one voucher representing all three tickets. That voucher is redeemed at the “Online Ticket” window at the dock for three real, individual tickets.

You can leave any or all of these tickets there at will call if your guests are arriving separately, but, to be able to park in the free lot (which is a four-block walk away – surprise!), you still need to get in the line with the schleps who are buying their tickets at the dock. In other words, you get to stand in two lines. You can already feel the magic of Mackinac.

The good news is that there is temporary parking at the dock or, if you want to pay for it, you can pay in advance online to park at the dock. Caitlyn and I would rather use that money on fudge, so we hoofed it the four short blocks through Mackinaw City, resisting the urge to laugh outside the hot dog joint “Weinerlicious” or stop into one of the ubiquitous fudge shops in the city as well.


Tandem bikes are for lovers ... and people who can forgive.

Tandem bikes are for lovers … and people who can forgive.

Biking the island

Bike kiosks are EVERYWHERE on the island. Lots of them are in cahoots with one another, so it doesn’t matter too much where you rent your bike from, unless you’re looking for something specific, because the rates are all pretty similar. Our hotel did offer a coupon for its bike rental kiosk, but we never wound up using it due to its restrictions.

At eight mostly flat miles around, Mackinac is well suited to biking. Just beware that it gets very busy with cyclists as the day goes on and that venturing off the coastal highway into the heart of the island will boost your heart rate, as the terrain gets hilly.

Required viewing: Arch Rock.

Required viewing: Arch Rock.

Make sure you stop at Arch Rock, along the east end of the island, even though it is a tourist hot spot, because it won’t be around for too much longer! The arch was formed from waves crashing into a rock over the years, which eroded its innards. The arch is now so eroded that crews have installed concrete blocks at the base to keep it up. It’s expected in the next 20-30 years that further erosion will wipe out the landmark.

If time’s no issue, pack a blanket and picnic and stop at one of the many open areas along the coast, taking in the lake or Mackinac Bridge.

Caitlyn and I first went biking with her family on separate beach cruiser bikes and then again together on a tandem. For those who haven’t been on a tandem before – it takes some getting used to. While I almost made us crash eight times in the first 100 feet, I eventually got my “tandem legs” under me, but keep in mind these bikes aren’t made for inclines, as we found out the hard way when we meandering into the heart of the island. Make sure whoever is in front has good balance.


Our home away from home for two nights.

Our home away from home for two nights.


Not gonna’ lie: We scored an incredible deal on Expedia last fall for this summer’s trip. Room rates at the Island House Hotel were half off and included a hot breakfast buffet each morning.

Located a little east of downtown, the Island House overlooks the straits and offers evening s’mores by the outdoor fireplaces, an indoor pool and adjacent restaurant, huge veranda for reading or hanging out and a fancy restaurant for breakfast and dinner that overlooks the water, too.

The Victorian hotel is a bit of a maze to newcomers, with stairs in several spots and some floors having rooms numbered starting with a “3” to the right and “4” to the left, but you’ll get the hang of it after a while.

Nothing fancy, but got the job done.

Nothing fancy, but got the job done.

The rooms themselves aren’t overly spacious, but adequate. Each room has an A/C unit, but you can also open the windows if you prefer a natural breeze. The décor is a little dated, but still has that country charm you would expect of Mackinac (frilly, flower-patterned quilts, old-timey wood bed frame and TV stand, and so on).

Breakfast, on the whole, was good and featured French toast one day and pancakes another. An assortment of fruits and beverages, plus biscuits, bacon and other goodies ensured diners left with full bellies.

Check out the wallpaper!

Check out the wallpaper!

The hotel works with the local ferry lines to get you bags to/from Mackinaw City, so remember that when checking luggage at the dock in town and at the hotel’s front desk. Just make sure to drop off your luggage a good 90 or so minutes before your scheduled ferry departure, or you might make it back in town before your luggage.

And if you accidentally leave your ferry tickets in your luggage like we did (oops!), just give the ferry crew your IDs and then exchange your tickets for the IDs once you retrieve them from your bag back in Mackinaw City.


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