I know that I’ve been talking about Michigan a lot, but y’all. I’m seriously, hard-core falling in love with our new home. And this past week, we got a chance to visit Mackinac (pronounced “mack-in-NAW”) Island, I jumped at the chance. Mackinac Island is an absolutely beautiful island located between the upper peninsula (UP) and the rest of Michigan. It’s also hard to find out how to visit Mackinac Island on the cheap. The only way to access this gorgeous island is by taking the ferry, which means you will find very few if any cars on the island.
How to Visit Mackinac Island on the Cheap
The island is viewed by foot, bicycle, or even on horseback. Really. Not kidding. I got in ## steps during our time there, which is almost more than I got at the Magic Kingdom when I last visited! In addition to the thousands of steps that you’ll get, you can easily spend thousands of dollars visiting Mackinac Island if you’re not careful.
I prefer to be frugal with our vacation funds, so I tried to be very conscious of what I was spending money on (and where). Learn how to visit Mackinac Island on the cheap, and still have tons of fun with your family.
Sleep Off The Island
As much as I wanted to stay at the Grand Hotel, for $700+ a night, I decided that it wasn’t a high priority.
We found some amazing hotels and campgrounds both in the UP and on the mainland for less than a third of the price.
There are also some great campgrounds with cabins and trailer hookups if you’re planning.
My kids love souvenir shops…but they can be super spendy.
Instead of letting them go nuts, we went in with a budget and a plan. I like to pick up a magnet from each place that we visit, which means that I have a very specific budget (magnets usually run anywhere from $4.00-$10.00 in my experience, and Mackinac wasn’t much different).
For the kids, they really wanted to get something “fun” so we gave them each a budget of $10.00 for their time, which they could spend how they pleased. One of them chose fudge (which is amazing) and the other bought a toy from Fort Mackinac.
If you’re not into souvenirs, that’s totally okay! There are lots of gorgeous photo opportunities.
Instead of getting a keychain, coffee mug, or other trinkets with the Mighty Mac Bridge printed on it, bring your camera and take pictures that you can put in a photo book when you get home or display in a collage.
Bring Your Bike
If you’re able, plan ahead and bring your bike. We weren’t able to do that this trip (neither kid is able to ride without training wheels and wasn’t exactly over the moon about biking around the island), but I am planning on bringing our bikes up next time we visit.
The only way for you to get around the island is on foot. Mostly.
There were so many bicycles, though!
If you can’t bring your bike, don’t worry-you can totally rent one, but that kind of defeats the purpose of visiting ‘on the cheap.’
The island doesn’t seem like it’s super huge, but when you’re walking, it feels that way. Don’t be like me-bring your bike.
Bring Food With You
Are you tired of this tip yet?
It seems to be everywhere, regardless of where you’re visiting for the day.
There’s a good reason!
Packing a lunch is a GREAT way to save money, no matter where you are going.
There are some awesome places to eat on Mackinac Island, like the Yankee Rebel Tavern, Millie’s on Main, and the Fort Mackinac Tea Room. But Y’all. If you are planning to be there all day, you’re looking at a pretty hefty bill.
Do yourself a favor and choose one restaurant to enjoy, then pack snacks or even a small lunch with you (especially if your kids are like mine are used to eating nonstop).
Use Coupons and Look for Early Bird Offers
We didn’t find a coupon for the ferry (or anything else since it’s July). But we did save $16 on our ferry ride by booking it online ahead of time. We were able to save $100 per night on our hotel because we booked it far enough in advance.
I’ve had friends tell me that if you stalk Groupon you can get some pretty killer deals, too.
Go “Off Season”
Y’all. The island was gorgeous. And hot. And crowded.
I asked some locals and they said the best time to visit is mid- to late-May because it’s just starting to warm up.
This means that you can actually stay at the Grand Hotel without selling your firstborn child and eat on the island without breaking the bank.
Hopefully, these tips will help you plan an inexpensive, but awesome trip to Mackinac Island.