Motor vehicles aren't allowed on Mackinac Island, Michigan, and the community wears the title “Fudge Capital of the World” with pride. The island exudes a nostalgic charm that's a throwback to the past. More than a million visitors a year can't get enough of it.
The 3.8-square-mile island is a hot spot for tourists, primarily from May through October when businesses and hotels are open to visitors. Never mind that tourists take a 16-minute ferry ride to get there, and the only modes of transportation on the island are bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, or feet. That's what makes this town unique.
“Mackinac Island offers a step back in time that you won't find anywhere else,” says Tim Hygh, Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau Director. “Our horse-drawn, fudge-filled haven offers a glimpse into a bygone era where life is more relaxed, the preservation of history is a top priority, and the natural beauty is unmatched. It's a place where visitors can truly disconnect and reconnect with a simpler, timeless experience.”
Dubbed the “Crown Jewel of the Great Lakes,” Mackinac Island is Michigan's treasured summertime retreat, and has attracted visitors for more than a century.
It's a Family Affair
One explanation for the area's booming tourism is that Mackinac Island resonates deeply with families, offering an atmosphere that fosters bonding and making memories.
Liz Ware, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Mission Point Resort, says the island's allure is so captivating that a third of the resort's annual visitors are returning guests — a testament to the island's enduring appeal and heartwarming experiences.
Ware says, “Mackinac Island ticks off so many boxes travelers are looking for!” As a haven for families, even a global pandemic couldn't dampen its attraction. “We surpassed 2019 occupancy in 2021 and maintained this in 2022 and this year as well.”
Many families not only return year after year but also generation after generation, instilling a love for Mackinac Island in their children that continues even after they're adults.
“I love visiting Mackinac Island because, even though I have been there many times over the years, my family and I always find a new adventure to take part in. It makes every trip feel new and different,” says Alexandria Drzazgowski with The Foreign Fork. “My children have already said they want to come back with their own kids some day!”
The family atmosphere extends to the island’s businesses. Of the 229 businesses on the Island, all but two are family-owned, and some have second (or more) generations actively running the establishments.
Ware, a second-generation proprietor at Mission Point Resort, says, “Next year will be the tenth anniversary of our family's owner and stewardship of Mission Point. While we have not been here for generations, we have three generations working the daily operations of the resort, including my father, brothers, and two of my children. The connection between a family-owned business and families coming to the island lends to the character and charm of Mackinac.”
Some businesses, like JoAnn's Fudge and Doud's Market, are fourth-generation vendors committed to preserving the family legacy on Mackinac Island.
What To Do on Mackinac Island
The Mackinac Island State Park owns 82% of the island, and there are plenty of activities to engage in, from horseback riding and hiking trails to exploring historic sites and indulging in local delicacies.
“I'm always surprised when I meet fellow Michiganders who have never boarded a ferry and visited Mackinac Island. It's one of the most iconic must-visit places in the state, and there are so many great things to do, whether you're on a romantic getaway or bringing the whole family!” says Ashley Pichea, an avid traveler and founder of the blog Awesome Mitten.
Horse-drawn carriages are as symbolic as the island's beautiful landscape. Visitors can opt for a leisurely ride from their hotel to the main street for shopping or dining, or they can hire these carriages for an engaging hour and 45-minute narrated tour, sharing the island's fascinating stories.
Famous for the Fudge
Mackinac Island's fudge is more than just a sweet treat; it's a storied tradition that has delighted visitors since the Victorian era. There are now 13 fudge shops on the island, and together, they import 10 tons of sugar per week. Although chocolate remains the favorite flavor, sampling fudge to discover new tastes remains a favorite activity among tourists.
Stay, Eat, and Play
While some visitors make it a day trip, others stay at one of the island's hotels or luxury resorts like Mission Point Resort or The Grand Hotel. The iconic Grand Hotel boasts the longest porch in the world, complete with more than 100 rocking chairs for visitors to sit and enjoy a view of the Straits of Mackinac.
Travelers won't find any chain stores or restaurants on the island. However, there are plenty of restaurants boasting internationally acclaimed chefs and charming bistros brimming with character.
Many visitors shop on Main Street, while others rent bikes to pedal around the island.
Closed for the Season
Most businesses on Mackinac Island close for the winter, with only a few staying open year-round. The nearly 5,000 seasonal employees typically leave the island, finding work in other locations until the new season begins. Come May, Michigan's most famous island will again be a bustling community for families looking to create fresh memories.
Karee Blunt is the founder of OurWovenJourney.com, a travel blog focused on inspiring others to create memory-making adventures with their loved ones. Karee is passionate about encouraging others to step out of their comfort zone and live the life they dream of. She is the mother of six kids, including four through adoption, and lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. You can learn more about Karee on her about me page.