Going to Mackinac Island On A Budget | FREE Things To Do On Mackinac Island

Planning a summer vacation to Mackinac Island on a budget? Get these insider tips on how you can save money while vacationing to Mackinac Island this summer. There are several FREE things to do on Mackinac Island, and we’re covering them below!

Planning a summer vacation to Mackinac Island on a budget? Get these insider tips on how you can save money while vacationing to Mackinac Island this summer. There are several FREE things to do on Mackinac Island, and we're covering them below!

Going to Mackinac Island On A Budget | FREE Things To Do on Mackinac Island

If you grew up in Michigan, you might have taken a field trip overnight to Mackinac Island. Often spelled Mackinaw (and this is how you say it), it’s a beautiful island, located right between the state’s Upper and Lower Peninsula. If you’ve never been to Mackinac Island, Michigan, then you are missing out. Many families want to visit Mackinac Island but think it’s too expensive! I’m here to break down how to go to Mackinac Island on a budget!  Are you ready to get started?

{article updated June 2017}

Planning a summer vacation to Mackinac Island on a budget? Get these insider tips on how you can save money while vacationing to Mackinac Island this summer. There are several FREE things to do on Mackinac Island, and we're covering them below!
Timing is Everything
I’m sure you already knew this, but do you put it into practice? Timing is truly everything when you want to make a budget friendly trip to an amazing destination. Going during the off season can help save you some major bucks, but there are still some ways you can save during peak season as well. The big bucks can really be saved after kids start heading back to school, aka fall. If you have little ones, then going before summer hits is also a smart idea. It may be a little busy, but not as crazy as when summer time hits.

Tip: Try to go in early May or September/October (if possible). Not only will you be able to save money on the hotel, but you won’t have to deal with crowds of people.

From reader Lorie: “My family & I have been to Mackinac Island 7 times, this August will make 8. 2 of the times we did not stay on the island. My family loves staying on the island. Here’s the what I use to get a great deal. We usually go the end of August during the week (right before labor day), prices aren’t “peak season.” Mackinacisland.org will tell you all the hotels, where they are & what specials are going on. The Island season starts beginning of May, start looking for a hotel end of March, beginning of April. Hotels are looking to book for the season ahead & give good deals. Sign up on Facebook & email to all hotels you are interested in staying at, to get savings emails. Hotels will send emails or post on Facebook specials & packages for dates that aren’t selling out. Do all sweepstakes you find; I won a 2-night stay two years ago. We bring pop, water & snacks in extra luggage. There are a few outdoor food places to get an inexpensive lunch (hot dog hut, cannonball run), also can get good sandwiches & deli foods at Doud’s market for a picnic lunch. Chuckwagon has good breakfast & lunch for a good price. Mackinacisland.org will also tell you all the restaurants, what they serve & price range.”

Free/cheap things to do on Mackinac Island

Hotel Tips

Call the Hotel
Whenever traveling, I’ve always been advised to call the hotel and ask about special rates instead of going through travel websites. Usually, hotels are running awesome deals that you will not know about unless you call ahead of time or sign up for their newsletter.

For example, the Inn at Stonecliffe sends out 50% off deals during the winter months for the upcoming summer season! That in itself is a STEAL! So be sure to head to their website and sign up for their newsletter.

If you can’t get a good deal at a hotel on the Island, considering staying in Mackinaw City. Staying in Mackinaw City is also MUCH cheaper than the Island. When we went, I used Mackinaw City.com to book my hotel reservations.  (Just a head’s up, a lot of the hotels in the area are looking to save money by cutting WiFi. Ask ahead of time if they are still carrying free WiFi).

Do you want to have the Grand Hotel experience, but can’t afford to stay at the Grand Hotel? They have weekend and one-night deals throughout the season, so be sure to stay sign up for their newsletter. You can also go there for brunch or high tea, and get a taste of the “grand” experience. Or walk over for a nightcap at the Cupola Bar. Not only will you get a beautiful view of the inside of the hotel, but you can also catch a beautiful sunset! They also do not charge to enter the hotel in the evenings, so go in and listen to the band play and check out the art museum.

Alternative ideas:

Think about camping on St. Ignace. Not only will you find reasonable rates, but that will give you another city to explore with up north.

From reader Sarah: “I worked on the island in college at the Lakeview Hotel. I have a big tip about saving major money on a hotel room for the night. Late in the day you can stop by a hotel and see if they have rooms available. If they do ask if they have a manager special. You can save major money! Since it’s an island and people book rooms ahead of time, they rarely have people walk up to get a room. They won’t turn down the money. I would try this on a weekday.”

From reader Beth: “a friend assures me that ferry prices and motels are much lower across the bridge in St. Ignace rather than staying in Mackinaw City.”

Free/cheap things to do on Mackinac Island

How To Save Money on Food

Pack a Lunch
Mackinac Island has to be one of the few places in the world that could care less if you bring your own food. Everyone says that eating out is part of the vacation experience. While I do agree with this (I’m a huge foodie), it’s not always practical, especially if you have a big family. For my family of 5, we can easily spend $50-$75 for one meal. Packing a lunch or two can save you $30-$40 dollars on the Island. There are so many beautiful places to eat on the Island as well. You can’t pass up the view of the lighthouse, endless water, or picnicking on a beautiful green grass while eating your own food. We did this for one of our meals, and the money that you can save by packing a lunch is priceless compared to eating out for a family of 5 three times per day. Plus the boys had a great time getting their feet wet in the water and hanging out at the beach.

Be sure to stop by Murray’s for .60 cents donuts! This is a fun, cheap treat for the whole family!

Free/cheap things to do on Mackinac Island

Budget-friendly restaurant ideas:

  • Mighty Mac Hamburgers
  • Cawthorne’s Villiage Inn (get a $30 certificate for $20 here)
  • Doud’s Market
  • The Chuckwagon

best fudge on Mackinac Island

Don’t leave Mackinac Island without getting some fudge. You can also watch fudge being made from the window (something free to do). Plus, all of the fudge shops offer FREE samples of their fudge! But this is definitely an item you want to make sure you budget for– Mackinac Fudge is the BEST!

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best way to get to Mackinac IslandTransportation

Look for deals for the Ferry
The cost to take a ferry over from the city to the island can easily add up. Head to Shepler’s website or Star Line’s website and sign up for their newsletter. Also be sure to like their Facebook pages. Again, if you are traveling to Mackinac Island before peak season, you will get a break on the ferry price.

Google ferry discount and deals to find the latest ways to save on your ferry ride over to the Island. You can also check out WJML.com for discounted ferry tickets and combo packages. They currently have a One Round Trip From Mackinaw City To Mackinac Island Only $18 ($26 Value) Save $8 on one round trip passage from Mackinaw City to Mackinac Island for the 2017 Season{be sure to purchase this ahead of time since the tickets are mailed to you}/

Carriage Tour/Ferry Combo

If you plan to take a carriage ride while on the Island, be sure to look at the combo packages for Ferry Rides and Carriage Tours. It’s usually cheaper to buy a combo pass, versus separating these items out individually.

from reader Kat:If you are into Black Friday online sales, check out the sales on the ferry lines in November. I got ferry tickets for this year for $10 each on Sheplers, just had to remember I had them!!!”

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FREE/Cheap Activities:

Biking Around the Island
Biking around the island can be budget friendly and fun for the whole family. Plus, there are many things you cannot see unless you bike or walk around the island. Bringing your own bikes is smart if you have a big family, but it’s still around $8 for each bike on the ferry ride. Renting a bike is around $30 an hour per a 5 unit family. Do the math and see if this is a budget friendly option for your family, or not. Quite a few of the bike rental companies will only charge you for the first hour and then in 10-minute increments afterward. Biking around the island takes about an hour (8 miles), but it can take longer if you make a lot of stops. If you really don’t want to spend money, walk.

frugal things to do on Mackinac Island

FREE Concerts

On Thursday nights at 7 p.m., you can catch a free concert in Marquette Park. It’s a great spot to relax with the family, date night idea, or enjoy a late dinner/picnic on the grass while enjoying the music. If it rains, the free concert is held at the Center for the Arts at Mission Point.

FREE Movies

Every Tuesday, Sunday, and rainy days, you can catch a free movie at Mission Point Theater.

FREE Kids Club/Activities

Depending on which resort you and the family are staying at while vacationing on the Island, many of them offer free activities as a guest of the property. While you may pay more per night, the free activities could make up the difference. So, before booking your hotel, be sure to check out everything included in your stay. If you’re staying at Mission Point, they offer a FREE Kid’s Club for kids to enjoy while the parents are having a little free time of their own.

FREE Fireworks

If you’re staying on the Island over a weekend, they have a firework show every Saturday off St. Ignace Habor (July 4th- September 5th).

best locations for sunrise on Mackinac Island

FREE Scenic views | Arch Rock

Get the family up early to catch the sunrise from Arch Rock. It’s absolutely beautiful and worth the early morning wake up. If you’re on the Island just for the day, still walk/bike to it.

Lilac Festival on Mackinac Island

FREE Garden Tour | Lilac Festival

Along with the scenic views, you can tour the gardens at the Grand Hotel for free. And if you’re traveling in June, the Lilac Festival is one you don’t want to miss, and they smell amazing!

FREE Governor’s Tour

Starting June 10 and all summer long, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Wednesdays, anyone can get a free insider peek of the East Bluff mansion that serves as a summer getaway for Michigan governors, a bit like Camp David for the President. The three-story mansion built in 1902 for a Chicago meat-packing baron has served nine governors and their families. Tours start at the corner of Fort Street and Huron Road. {source}

FREE Spiritual Cruise

According to legend, tribal people believed Mackinac Island was home to Gitchi Manitou, the Creator. And those of many religions find the Straits awe-inspiring, perhaps never more so than during the Vespers services held on free Arnold Line Cruises from Mackinaw City (Sunday nights, 8 p.m., late June through August) or St. Ignace, (Fridays, 8:30 p.m. in July). A freewill offering is taken. Info: arnoldline.com/cruises.htm. {source}

best things for families to do on Mackinac Island

Marquette Park | Playgrounds | Beach

A popular place for families to relax and have a picnic. Your kids will have fun just playing with other kids and being kids. There are several playgrounds on the Island as well to check out. Plus, you can take them down to the beach areas for a little fun in the water.

free things for families to do on Mackinac Island

Check out the Library

Stop by the library. Not only can everyone have a little down time, but it’s also a great place to spend the afternoon reading a book with a beautiful view of the Mackinac Bridge in front of you.

things for kids to do on Mackinac Island

How to save on Fort Mackinac and Colonial Michilimackinac {part of the Mackinac State Historic Parks}

A favorite for many families and a place you may have visited as a child is Fort Mackinac. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Straits of Mackinac was once a strategic landmark for the American, British and French forces. This is definitely a must-do on the Island and in the City. Buy your tickets online to save a few dollars. However, if you are planning to come back more than once, or plan to explore Fort Mackinac, Fort Homles (on the island) and Colonial Michilimackinac (in the city), it would be worth it to buy the combo pass.

discounts/deals on Fort Mackinac

The Mackinac Family Heritage pass is $85 for the entire season for ALL parks, plus a membership to Mackinac Associates. This pass includes two adults and all dependent children (or grandchildren). Even if I were planning to visit the Island/City one time, I would buy this pass for me and my family of 5. We could easily spend over $100 to visit all of the parks. Buying a Heritage pass would save us money, plus it’s good all season!

things to do at Fort Mackinac

Plus, your kids can now fire the cannon. Visit their website to get more information.

Tip: Buying the Heritage Pass also gets you into the Mackinac Art Museum, also part of the Mackinac State Historic Parks!

Another way to save on attractions:  Mainland Combo: Visit All 3 Mackinac Historic State Parks in Mackinaw City For Only $5! ($12 Value)

How to save on the Butterfly House

Another favorite thing for families to do on the Island is the Butterfly House. If you are staying overnight on the Island, check to see if your hotel package includes admission to the Butterfly House. “While on the Island, your ticket purchase will get you unlimited visits.  Great way to keep the kids entertained in between the other fun adventures you will be seeking!”

Wings of Mackinac

If you plan to visit the Wings of Mackinac, a Butterfly Conservatory, check out the combo rates they offer when you book a Carriage Tour. (Tip: many of the Island’s attractions have combo options, which may be ideal if you plan to do quite a few of them!)

Visit Skull Cave

Another free activity to do on the Island is to see Skull Cave. You can easily walk or bike to the cave. It was once believed to be the burial ground for Native Americans.

Haunted Ghost Tour:  Group Pass Of Four Tickets To The Haunted Theatre For Only $8! ($28 Value)

From reader Rebecca: “My daughter and I went just this past month. We rented bikes and rode through the middle of the island. It was hard work, getting up those hills on the bike, but we made it! We saw Skull Cave, the cemetery, and Arch Rock. Then we decided to bike around the island. What a fun time! We went to a restaurant afterward. Now, usually, I looked very carefully at the bill but didn’t this time. When we got home, I noticed we were charged @2.50 for a coke we never ordered. You have to keep your guard up even on vacation! Still, it is a fantastic place to visit!”

FREE game of Duckpin Bowling Alley

Walk, bike or spring for a ($10) horse-drawn taxi to Bobby’s Bar, inside the island’s Bavarian-themed Woods restaurant, owned by the Grand Hotel now but built as a children’s playhouse by wealthy cottagers. Families play on the free duckpin bowling alley, one of the oldest of its kind in the nation, a game played with a ball without holes and rules that allow three rolls per frame.

{thanks Kim!}

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Avoid Souvenirs
It’s fun to buy souvenirs and take them home with you, isn’t it? But how many times do the souvenirs actually make it home? If you can’t get a great deal on a souvenir, then it’s probably best to not buy them at all. On the Island, this is a great way to spend the majority of your budget. If the kids want to spend money on a souvenir, set budgets for each of them and once the budget runs out—that’s it.

FREE Things to do on Mackinac Island
Did you know that Mackinac Island is considered to be one of the top places to vacation in Michigan? We have it listed in on our 100 Michigan Summer Bucket list of ideas post (which you should out for more things to do in Michigan over the summer).

It’s a place where the whole family can go for a few days and feel refreshed and relaxed. The biggest expense is hotel and ferry costs, so make sure you prepare accordingly.

Have you been to Mackinaw City or Island in the past? Or perhaps you’re planning a future vacation or weekend getaway there? It’s beautiful to visit this time of year (and in the Fall as well).

Feel free to share your tips and thoughts about Mackinaw City or  Mackinac Island!

Pin this post for later!

Planning a summer vacation to Mackinac Island on a budget? Get these insider tips on how you can save money while vacationing to Mackinac Island this summer. There are several FREE things to do on Mackinac Island, and we're covering them below!

 

Go to Mackinac Island on a budget with these free/cheap things to do!

Find other things to do around Michigan:

List of things to do Mackinac Island

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51 Free Things to Do In Detroit

Free/Cheap Things To Do In Grand Rapids

26 FREE Things To Do in Petoskey

 

Tatanisha
Thanks for stopping by! I'm Tatanisha! When I'm not blogging here on the latest Meijer Deals, our latest travel adventures or stuffing my face with a budget-friendly recipe, you can find me over at A Worthey Read! I love to do simple DIY projects, drinking wine, watching the latest reality show or just having fun with family and friends. I'm always looking for ways to save money, but value quality over quantity. I enjoy reading and also finding out ways to keep up with the latest social media changes!
Tatanisha

Comments

  1. My family & I have been to Mackinac Island 7 times, this August will make 8. 2 of the times we did not staying on the island. My family loves staying on the island. Here’s the what I use to get a great deal. We usually go the end of August during the week (right before labor day), prices aren’t “peek season”. Mackinacisland.org will tell you all the hotels, where they are & what specials are going on. The Island season starts beginning of May, start looking for a hotel end of March, beginning of April. Hotels are looking to book for the season ahead & give good deals. Sign up on facebook & email to all hotels you are interested in staying at, to get savings emails. Hotels will send emails or post on facebook specials & packages for dates that aren’t selling out. Do all sweepstakes you find, I won a 2 night stay two years ago.
    We bring pop, water & snacks in extra luggage. There are a few outdoor food places to get an inexpensive lunch (hot dog hut, cannonball run), also can get good sandwiches & deli foods at Doud’s market for a picnic lunch. Chuckwagon has good breakfast & lunch for a good price. Mackinacisland.org will also tell you all the restaurants, what they serve & price range.
    There’s just a few of my tips… 🙂

    • Those are fantastic tips Lorie! We have only been once, but I definitely want to go back– hopefully this summer! I will look into/signing up for those emails. Thanks!

  2. Rebecca says:

    My daughter and I went just this past month. We rented bikes and rode through the middle of the island. It was hard work, getting up those hills on the bike, but we made it! We saw Skull Cave, the cemetery, and Arch Rock. Then we decided to bike around the island. What a fun time! We went to a restaurant afterwards. Now, usually I look very carefully at the bill, but didn’t this time. When we got home, I noticed we were charged @2.50 for a coke we never ordered. You have to keep your guard up even on vacation! Still, it is a fantastic place to visit!

  3. If you are into Black Friday online sales, check out the sales on the ferry lines in November. I got ferry tickets for this year for $10 each on Sheplers…just had to remember I had them!!!

  4. Thanks for the tips never Been there but planning a trip.

  5. Sarah Sims says:

    I worked on the island in college at the Lakeview Hotel. I have a big tip about saving major money on a hotel room for the night. Late in the day you can stop by a hotel and see if they have rooms available. If they do ask if they have a manager special. You can save major money! Since it’s an island and people book rooms ahead of time they rarely have people walk up to get a room. They won’t turn down the money. I would try this on a week day.

  6. Mark Rush says:

    Thank You for your post, We are going to Mackinac Island in September and your post is very refreshing and true. This is our 4th time going, but the first time staying on the island. We normally stay in Mackinac City. We are staying at the Harbor Place Studio Suites but while we are in Mackinac City we plan to stop by KFC and taking some with us as the room has a kitchen setup. Still looking for a discount for bikes, but we do plan on doing a lot of walking. We have seen most of the sites but it’s very relaxing for two 50 plus seniors. Thanks again.

    8 Track

  7. a friend assures me that ferry prices and motels are much cheaper across the bridge in St. Ignace rather than staying in Mackinaw City….

  8. Thanks for this! I’m hoping to get back to Mackinac sometime soon. I’ve only been once and it was a while ago.

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