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By Delaney Krause

Just 8.2 miles in diameter, Mackinac Island offers visitors a step back in time with its Victorian charm and preserved natural beauty. Most Michiganders are familiar with the Island’s unique no cars allowed policy, its breathtaking trails, and the famous front porch at The Grand Hotel, but this hardly scratches the surface of its rich history and extensive catalog of activities.

The typical Mackinac Island tourist may find themselves taking the official carriage tour, shopping in the adorable boutiques on Main St, eating at the Pink Pony, or buying a year’s supply of fudge; but Mackinac Island offers countless activities that are lesser known, and that cover a broad age range as well as range of interests.

Mackinac Island Butterfly Houses

butterflies gathered in a greenhouse

The Original Butterfly House & Insect World. Photo by Delaney Krause.

There are two butterfly conservatories on Mackinac Island: The Original Butterfly House & Insect World, located closer to Main St, and Wings of Mackinac, located at Surrey Hill (up past the Grand Hotel). Each offers an incredible up close and personal experience with these ethereal creatures. Upon purchasing a ticket, patrons are escorted behind curtains into an explosion of vibrant colors and fleeting butterflies. Be warned, the butterflies are not afraid to take a rest on visitors’ shoulders, or noses! Guests are allowed to spend as much time as they’d like in the conservatory, and there’s plenty more than butterflies to explore.

The Original Butterfly House & Insect World is $8 for children, and $13 for adults, and Wings of Mackinac is $9 for children, and $14 for adults. Additionally, there is a combination ticket option for the official carriage tour that grants admittance to Wings of Mackinac. Visit the carriage tour website for more information on these packages.

https://www.mict.com/carriage-tours/

Surrey Hill Carriage Museum

The Surrey Hill Carriage Museum is a remarkable time capsule of Mackinac Island’s unique history of transportation. It is another stop on the official carriage tour, and it does not receive enough praise. The museum garners a collection of carriages and sleighs that have been donated by (mostly) local families throughout the years. Each carriage boasts its own informational plaque detailing its lineage, usage, and unique characteristics.

Admission to the museum is free, and it is located in very close proximity to Wings of Mackinac as well as a working blacksmith shop. To get to the museum, it is about a mile walk from Main St (with a slight incline); if the walk does not sound appealing, the official carriage tour’s first stop is Surrey Hill, or visitors can call a horse drawn taxi.

The Grand Hotel’s “Secret Garden”

In recent years, the Grand Hotel’s “Secret Garden” has been increasingly popularized by social media. Although its secretive qualities have dwindled, it remains a pillar of the Island’s beauty and fantastical ambience. It is tucked inconspicuously in front of the Grand Hotel between tennis courts and what appears to be a heavily wooded area. Behind a line of pine trees lies a narrow path that ushers visitors into a breathtaking display of botany. It is the perfect photo-op, and a fun adventure. The only cost of the Secret Garden is finding it– good luck!

path in park with trail marker

Hint #1 for Secret Garden (the tennis courts are just left of the path). Photo by Delaney Krause.

two track pathway in park

Hint #2 for Secret Garden (look right). Photo by Delaney Krause.

blue flowers bordered by white flowers

The Secret Garden! Photo by Delaney Krause.

Watercolor Cafe Art Classes

Watercolor Cafe is a unique and versatile business. It is situated right on the water, garnering serene views of the Straits of Mackinac and the Mackinac Island State Harbor. During the day, the cafe offers a walk-up, short-order experience serving breakfast, lunch, homemade baked goods, and delicious coffee. Tables are on a first come basis, but the cafe offers both outdoor and indoor seating as well as a dog friendly patio. Whilst sipping your coffee and enjoying a break from the hustle and bustle of Main St., the cafe also offers coloring sheets and supplies– the perfect brain break for kids and adults!

After the cafe closes its doors for food service at 3:00pm, it becomes its very own art studio. In the late afternoon/evening, the cafe offers novice art classes for both children and adults. Each class is designed around a specific medium and concept, and in the end, guests walk away with a lovely homemade memento from the Island. Some of the classes being offered are watercolor painting and creating polymer jewelry.

Patrons are allowed to bring their own food and drinks to the cafe, and alcoholic beverages are permitted as long as the guest is of age. Tickets for classes can be purchased online– prices vary based on which class is selected; for children, the starting price is $15, and for adults, it is $48. (https://www.watercolormackinac.com/art-classes)

shop with watercolor artwork

The Watercolor Cafe. Photo by Delaney Krause.

Sip n’ Sail Cruises

For an evening activity, and an opportunity to appreciate the Mighty Mac during golden hour, try one of Mackinac’s Sip n’ Sail Cruises. The cruise comprises an hour and a half journey through the Straits of Mackinac with live music and drinks for purchase– personal food and beverages are prohibited. Setting sail at 8:00pm (earlier on Sundays) from the Coal Dock, the Sip n’ Sail cruise is perfect for date night, girls’ night, or just to enjoy time with loved ones. There is no age restriction, and the cost is $55 for both children and adults. https://www.sipnsailcruises.com/

Haunts of Mackinac– The Downtown Haunted History Tour

Mackinac’s rich and extensive history is unsurprisingly accompanied by its fair share of ghost lore. The Haunted History Tour is a unique way to immerse oneself with the Island’s lesser known and spookier sides of history. In the tour, a personal guide takes patrons on a 90-minute journey through historic downtown Mackinac highlighting homes and areas that boast supernatural characteristics and stories. This is another family-friendly nighttime activity that paints visitors a unique picture of Mackinac’s comprehensive past. Tickets can be reserved online (http://hauntsofmackinac.com/)– an adult ticket costs $25, and a youth ticket (age range 8-12) costs $15; children under 7 get in free, and guests under the age of 15 must be accompanied by an adult.

Go dancing at The Grand Hotel and visit the Cupola Bar

dimly lit dining room with dance floor

The Terrace Room. Photo by Delaney Krause.

Non-guests of the Grand Hotel must pay admittance between 9:00am and 6:00pm: $10 for adults and $5 for children. If the admittance fee is a deterrent, visiting the Grand in the evening may be more appealing. Each night from 9:30-11:00pm, The Grand Hotel’s Terrace Room comes to life with live music and ballroom dancing. The Grand Hotel likes to keep it classy, and enforces a formal dress code after 6:00pm– no crop tops, sweatpants, or cut-off shorts. So, put on a fancy dress or a nice jacket and tie, and enter through the main hotel door; the Terrace Room should be just up ahead welcoming a night of drinks, dancing, and cultural nostalgia.

For an extra bit of adventure, take the elevator to the fourth floor and follow the stairs up to the Cupola Bar. There are two levels of seating, and the top garners wall-to-wall windows (pictured below) and an amazing view of the Mackinac Bridge. The Cupola Bar also provides live music, a comprehensive cocktail menu, and some light food options—the perfect pre- or post-dancing destination. 

dining room with a view

The Cupola Bar. Photo by Delaney Krause.

Music in the Park at Marquette Park

Marquette Park lies just at the foot of Fort Mackinac and overlooks the Straits. It is an expansive park that offers an ideal spot for picnicking, relaxing between activities, and during mid-June when they are at their peak, taking in the sweet scent of lilacs. Thanks to the Mackinac Arts Council, Marquette Park is also the perfect spot to enjoy free live music every Thursday evening starting at 6:30 pm. The park is situated just past the Island’s only grocery store, Doud’s Market, so stop in, grab some drinks and snacks, and enjoy a relaxing evening surrounded by history and good vibes. Don’t forget to pack a blanket or some lawn chairs!

view of water with land in the distance

Marquette Park (left) pictured from Fort Mackinac. Photo by Delaney Krause.

Whether you are a nature lover, foodie, history buff, adventurist, scholar, art lover or just looking for a fun family weekend, Mackinac Island will tick off every box. Its diverse activities and unique charm are memorable and enjoyable for all ages. Upon visiting, consider this list of less traditional activities, but do not dismiss the more well-known ones: the official carriage tour, watching fudge being made (and of course tasting it), visiting the Fort, and renting bikes to name a few. Finally, don’t forget comfortable walking shoes!

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