Being that it is one of my favorite places in the world, one of the most frequented questions I receive is people wondering how to get to Mackinac Island. Having the word “island” attached to anything means that the location is not attached to anything but itself.
Therefore, islands can sometimes have limited access points for arrivals and departures.
While Mackinac Island is only a little over 8 miles around, it does stand alone. There are no bridges to the island and there are no cars allowed on the island. But where does the Mackinac Island Bridge go? Good question! It connects the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan.
You can access mackinaw City and St. Ignace on their respective sides.
In short, you can get to the island by boat or by plane. Mackinac is pretty easy to access, especially during the open season.
You can read the various entry points below for my guide on how to get to Mackinac Island easily. I promise it is very simple, I do it every year, as do thousands of others.
How To Get To Mackinac Island: Knowing When To Go
First you should know that the island is only fully operational seasonally.
About April through the end of October-ish is when you’ll find Mackinac Island in its full operation. Going to the island during this time frame gives you the best window of access and availability of things to do once on the island.
The hotels, bed and and breakfasts, resorts, boutique shops, restaurants, and activities will be in service as well as all the popular events (like the Lilac Festival).
There are essentially two main ways to get on the island: boat and plane.
The main way people are getting on the island is by ferry.
During the full open season of Mackinac, you will find a couple ferry companies (Shepler’s and Star Line) who run pretty frequently back and forth to the island daily. Once the season ends at the end of October, you can get to the island by plane, personal boat (assuming that Lake Huron is not frozen), and Star Line runs a ferry from St. Ignace only. Flights run all year.
From October to April there is limited ferry service from Star Line in St. Ignace and you can fly to the island.
Since the island is not that big, it is a small landing strip in the middle of the island that is about 3,500 feet and the aircraft is even smaller. It takes about 4 minutes to get to St. Ignace from the island. The airport on the island is not designed for big planes. If you do not like small aircraft, taking the ferry may be your best bet.
Taking The Ferry
Taking the ferry to Mackinac Island is by far the easiest. Once you arrive in Mackinaw City or St. Ignace, you can park your car with one of the ferry companies and get a ticket to go to the island. During high season a ferry is running about every 30 or so minutes back and forth. You will need to check with the ferry companies (Shepler’s, Star Line) for prices, schedules and parking info.
I always use Shepler’s when going to Mackinac Island because it takes about 16 minutes each way, however, Star Line does offer a hydro-jet boat (June-August) that only takes 15 minutes to get to the island.
The way it works is, you can either book a ticket online (and you can usually get a deal) or you can book a ticket when you arrive.
For example, Shepler’s has a deal for the 2019 season ” Buy 2 adult tickets at our regular rate of $27.00 each and get a free child’s (ages 5-12) ticket or get $15.00 off a third adult. (This must be purchased as a package, not as individual tickets).”
This is ONLY available on their website and not in person. You will need to book these tickets in advance to coming to the island to get this deal. So plan ahead if you want to save some money.
Star Line has various package deals if you book a ticket with them. For example: you can book a round trip ferry ticket to Mackinac Island with a Carriage ticket tour for an adult for $49.49. This will save you $8.00 if you had booked them separately.
If you are planning to do a carriage tour anyway, this is a great way to book it and save a little, especially if you have several members in your family or are just working on a budget.
One thing to note when you buy a ticket: you are not buying a ticket for a certain day or time, the ticket is good for the entire season. Decide when you are going to go and then try and arrive early so you don’t wait in line for awhile to get to the island.
During peak season it is very busy, but they have several boats going back and forth so you will not wait too long.
Both ferry lines have parking available at various price points.
Shepler’s Parking Rates (subject to change):
Shepler’s Mackinaw City overnight parking:
$5 per night, located off site and 4 blocks away. There is a tram that runs back and forth. You can pull in to unload luggage and then go park your vehicle.
$25 per night, located on site. You can pull in and unload your bags, then find a parking spot on site.
St Ignace Overnight Parking:
$5 per night, located on site. Pull in and unload your bags then go find a parking spot on the lot.
**Shepler’s will tag your bags if you are going to a hotel that offers luggage delivery and make sure it gets there for you so that when you get to the island you will be free to do what you would like.
Star Line Parking Rates (subject to change):
Star Line does offer more robust options for parking.
Valet – Star Line is the only ferry line that offers this. One of the benefits of paying for valet is that you can text 60 minutes prior to your departure from the island and your vehicle will be waiting when you get off the ferry. *Note: there is limited availability for this service.
- $24 valet per night to leave your car outdoor but in the valet
- $38 valet per night for indoor valet
$10 for a day parking permit. This is for those visiting the island just for the day and you can park dockside.
$5 per night, for self parking that is secured in a fenced in area right off the dock. Shuttle available to bring you back to the dock once you park. (Mackinaw City only).
FREE PARKING per night, at an off site unsecured location. Shuttle service back to the dock is available.
Once you get off the ferry, here is what happens next:
The ferries dock right on Main street where everything is happening.
If you had your luggage tagged before you got on the ferry and it is being sent to your lodging, you do not need to collect it at the ferry. It will be transported to your destination for you and you will get it later in the day after check-in.
If there is something in your luggage that you need access to before it is delivered to your destination, please keep it with you as it may not be delivered as quickly as you get to your hotel.
If your luggage is being taken for you to your lodging, you can either go check in or hit the ground running and explore Mackinac. Might I suggest a Carriage Tour to familiarize yourself with the island and to learn some of the history. You can find the stand right in the center of town.
If you did not have your luggage tagged and/or your lodging does not offer transfer, you will collect your luggage in the ferry terminal.
After you get your luggage, you can either walk or get a taxi to your hotel. Mission Point and the Grand Hotel have their own shuttles (for a fee) and can transport you and your luggage.
Frequently asked questions about the ferry:
Can I take my car? Unfortunately, no. The island does not allow vehicles and bicycles, walking or horse and carriage are the mode of transportation. The only time you will see a car is if there is an emergency (like a fire truck or ambulance).
Can I take my bike on the ferry? Yes, both ferry lines charge a fee to bring your bike on.
Is there a bathroom on the ferry? Yes
Can I take pictures outside on the ferry? Yes
Flying to Mackinac Island can be pretty easy. You only have one place to start and end from and that is St. Ignace. It looks like the flights are $30 per adult, each way (subject to change), children are half price, and kids and dogs under 3 are free. The flying time is about 4 minutes. Once you land on Mackinac, you will get a taxi to take you to your final destination since the airport is in the center of the island.
Yes, you can get to the island faster via flying and have an overhead view of Mackinac.
Once you get to your location point of where you are staying, you can rent a bike, walk or use the horse and carriage taxi service on the island to get around.
For more tips and info on Mackinac Island, please feel free to follow me on Instagram or Facebook.
Directions to Mackinac Island
Directions to Mackinac Island are pretty straight forward. If you are coming from the north, you will come down 75 South or Highway 2. From there you could catch the ferry over OR take a flight.
If you are coming from the south, you will most likely be coming up one of three ways: 75 North, 31 North or 23 North. From there you could take the ferry in Mackinaw City OR you could drive across the Mackinac Bridge and fly over from St Ignace.
If you are flying into Michigan:
From Detroit take: I-94 West to 75 North and take the ferry in Mackinaw City.
From Grand Rapids: US-131 North and to 75 North and take the ferry in Mackinaw City.
From Traverse City: US-31 North to M72 East to US-131 North to 75 North. Once in mackinaw City, take the ferry over.
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Hi I have never been to the island and am going myself in oct. I’m a little nervous, bc if seems a little complicated to me and i’m sure it’s not. I would be coming from Phila. Pa. I know i can get a plane to Pelston but not sure what i do from that point, do I take the ferry. Also, do i have to make reservations for the ferry if they run often. I wouldn’t want to miss it if my plane isn’t on time. Help
I would probably just drive if you have the opportunity because then you can park right at the ferry. No you do not need to book tickets ahead of time, but you can usually get a small discount if you do.