I would strongly argue that taking the ferry to Mackinac Island is one of the highlights of visiting! Simply arriving to the island by ferry is gorgeous. Taking the ferry and seeing the homes that line the island, the Grand Hotel and all the boats along Main street is one of life’s many pleasures. Taking the ferry is also the start of a grand adventure!
Fortunately, taking the ferry to Mackinac is really easy. It may seem complicated, but I promise, it is extremely easy. I can remember being 18 years old and taking the ferry to Mackinac Island alone to work for the summer by myself with way too much luggage. I had never even been to the island and I was moving on to it.
Similarly, first time visitors have the same questions about using the ferry, so I put together this guide so you know exactly what to expect and how to get to Mackinac Island smoothly.
Ferry To Mackinac Island: Which One To Take
Currently there are two operators taking passengers via ferry to Mackinac Island: Shepler’s and Star Line. If you have been to the island before and are wondering what happened to Arnold, they were acquired by Star Line.
The speed time to the island currently: Shepler’s can get you by Ferry to Mackinac Island in 16 minutes and Star Line in 15-30/40 minutes. There is about a 1 minute difference in arrival times if you take the Star Line Hydro-jet in season, which isn’t huge. If you take the Might Mac Ferry with Shepler’s, it takes 10 minutes longer but you get to go under the Mackinac Bridge.
Let’s look at what they offer their passengers.
- Free Parking and Shuttle Service is available from area hotels and campgrounds
- ADA compliant
- Save Time and Money by ordering online
- Free daily and overnight parking
- Departures from both Mackinaw City and St. Ignace
- Only Hydro-Jet Ferry Service on the Great Lakes
- Minimum wait time & frequent departures
- Pet Friendly
- The most under the Mackinac Bridge departures
- Bikes allowed
- Fast, clean, comfortable boats
- ADA compliant
- Pet friendly
- Bikes allowed
- Free daily parking available
- Free secured luggage handling
- Departs Mackinaw City & St. Ignace
- Free mainland hotel & campground shuttle service
Getting To The Terminal For The Ferry To Mackinac Island
First you need to decide which ferry to Mackinac Island you want to take and which side of Michigan you are on. Since there are ferries in Both Mackinaw City and St. Ignace, this gives those in the upper peninsula and lower peninsula access without having to cross the Mackinac Bridge.
Coming from the south on I-75 North, you will see signs to exit for Mackinaw City at 337, 338 and 339. All of these exits will have signs directing you to the ferries.
If you choose Shepler’s as your ferry to Mackinac Island, they are located less than a mile off of 75 at: Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry, 556 E Central Ave, Mackinaw City, MI 49701.
If you choose Star Line, they are located less than half a mile off 75 and located at: Star Line Mackinac Island Ferry – Mackinaw City Dock #1, 801 S Huron Ave, Mackinaw City, MI 49701.
Coming from the North on I-75 South take State Street Exit and follow signs to Mackinac Island Ferry Docks.
If you choose Shepler’s as your ferry to Mackinac Island, they are located less than a mile off 75 at: Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry, 601 N State St, St Ignace, MI 49781
If you choose Star Line, they are located less than a mile off 75 at: Star Line Ferry, 587 N State St, St Ignace, MI 49781
Getting Tickets For The Ferry To Mackinac Island & Which One You Should Buy
There is no right or wrong way to get ferry tickets for Mackinac Island. However, booking online ahead of time can save you some money. It usually isn’t a lot of money (maybe $2) but hey, it all adds up in the end AND you won’t have to wait in line at the dock to get a ticket.
If you have access to the internet, I say book online. Might as well save a few dollars and be ready to get in line for the ferry to Mackinac Island when you arrive versus waiting in line for a ticket first. By purchasing online, you bypass lines to get an actual ticket at the terminal. In my experience, I have never waited more than 15 minutes.
If you buy a round-trip ticket, you can come back at anytime. There are not timed tickets. You wait in line for the ferry on both sides and they run frequently during high season.
*Pro tip: make sure you are in the right line at the ferry to return to the city you came from, otherwise you’ll be spending a lot of time on the boat trying to get to your actual destination.
Since lodging on the island can be scarce at times (please book in advance) people will stay off the island and buy multi-day tickets. This means that they go to and from the island each day, staying off the island. You can check with both Shepler’s and Star Line for deals on multi-day tickets if you decide to go this route.
Often people buy a round-trip ticket and just visit for the day. This is normal, especially for people who visit a lot. They go to the island and walk the shops, take a carriage tour, eat at the restaurants, get some fudge, attend various festivals, and just be a local for a day.
Where Does Your Luggage Go On The Ferry To Mackinac Island
Once you purchase a ticket or show a ticket that you bought online, you take your luggage up to the ferry you plan to get on and they ask you which hotel you are going to. For some hotels, there are porters who will take your luggage to the hotel for you and will tag your bag with that hotel name. For others, you will get your luggage on the island off the ferry.
Once you hand your luggage over to the ferry staff and they tag your bag(s), they will give you back the other end of the ticket so you can claim it at your hotel (if they offer porter service) or at the terminal on the island.
After they take your luggage, they will place it on a large luggage holder and after all the passengers get on the ferry to Mackinac Island, they put the luggage in last. Which also means luggage is first off the boat.
You will not be holding your suitcase(s) on the ferry as they are not that big and want to offer as much sitting room as possible for guests. If you bring a personal item like a purse or backpack, you should put it on the floor or your lap to leave an open seat for a passenger.
*Tip: summer season is busy because that is when the island is all open and thriving.
Weather Conditions On The Ferry To Mackinac Island
Weather can be unpredictable, as we all know. I have taken the ferry to Mackinac Island on the most beautiful days of the year and also in pouring rain, high winds and freezing cold weather.
Your ferry to Mackinac will go unless it is unsafe. I have never felt unsafe taking the ferry.
If the weather is gorgeous and there is access to the top of the boat, I highly recommend taking in the views up there. There is nothing quite the like the wind blowing in your hair while witnessing the magic of soaring over Lake Huron.
Why Do You Need To Take A Ferry To Mackinac Island?
Short answer: Mackinac Island is an island that does not have a bridge or road to access it.
Technically you could fly, but it will not be in big plane and will cost significantly more than the ferry to Mackinac Island. If I had to guess, 99% of people take the ferry.
I know if you have your own boat you can check with the marina to see if they have any open slips that you can dock at. Alternatively, there are docks in St. Ignace and in Mackinaw City. However, Mackinac is a popular boating destination, so do check to make sure they can accommodate you and I would suggest doing that well in advance.
What To Expect Once You Take The Ferry To Mackinac Island
Mackinac Island is truly a hidden gem. Prepare yourself for what is sure to be one of the best adventures of your life.
There are no cars on Mackinac Island, except for emergency vehicles. Therefore, getting around is done by foot, horse drawn taxi or bikes. If you arrive to the island and your hotel does not offer luggage service, you can get a taxi for about $6 per person to your destination. You could also walk with your luggage. Just be on the lookout for horse poop in the road (especially during high season).
The island is just over 8 miles around, but you will find most things are located off of Main Street and the side streets off it. This area is busy during high season (May-September) with people visiting. Just take your time.