If you’re looking for fun things to do together as a family here in northern Michigan, biking on Mackinac Island should be on your list! My wife, son, and I visited the island on August 25, 2020, and we had a great time touring around on our bikes. Here’s our experience, which we hope you’ll find inspiring and helpful for planning your own Mackinac Island biking adventure!
Bike Trip Planning
To get to the island, we chose Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry and ordered our tickets from their website the day before our trip. We took advantage of the online discount they offer with their two-adult, one-child round-trip package, which was $58. There’s an additional cost of $13 per bike if you bring your own, like we did. Our total cost was $97, which was well worth the priceless memories we took aware from the trip!
If you don’t bring your own, there are numerous bike rental shops on Mackinac Island. You can learn more about bike rental options along with other places to see and things to do on Mackinac Island in Holiday Vacation Rentals’ Insiders Guide to Vacationing in Northern Michigan.
Be aware that, except for people with a mobility disability, e-bikes are prohibited on the island, as are any motor vehicles for public use.
To get around the island, you can walk, ride horseback, rent a horse carriage, or bike. The absence of cars on the road make it a great place to go bicycling with children. It was nice not to have to worry about speeding vehicles. Our son still wore his helmet in case of a fall, though, and we wore ours, too, to set a good example.
We dressed for warm weather but each brought an easily packable jacket just in case it got chilly on the island or on the ferry ride. The ferry boats have an indoor lower deck, but we wanted to enjoy the view from the breezy top deck!
We also packed food for the day, such as beef sticks, summer sausage, hardboiled eggs, apples, granola, energy bars, and nuts. My wife carried two bottles of water, and I carried three, which turned out to be just enough to get the three of us through the day with plenty of hydration. (Of course, you can stock up on the island once you get there, but we wanted to save time and money by bringing everything we needed for the day.)
We also brought sunscreen, and I always bring along a basic first-aid kit on all our outings in case someone gets a boo-boo.
Additionally, I brought a spare tube for the adult bikes and one for our son’s, along with a portable pump that straps onto my bike frame and a set of three tire levers. We fortunately didn’t get any flats on the ride, but it’s always good to be prepared!
Another item you’ll want to be sure to bring for a bike excursion on the island is one or more bike locks in case you want to leave your bikes for a while to do some exploring on foot. (Bikes do get stolen on the island, so be careful!)
A final item you’ll want to have is a map of the island. These, too, are available once you get there, but I printed out this one to bring along, available along with other maps and guides from MackinacIsland.org.
Additionally, I used the Komoot app to plan a few possible routes in advance. It’s nice because it let’s you select your waypoints and estimates the distance. (Get it from the Google Play or Apple stores.) The printed map was a bit redundant, but I opted to use it to save my phone’s battery for taking pictures and because it was just faster to whip out of my pocket when I wanted to consult it.
One popular option is to take the main road all the way around the island along the lakeshore. It’s alternatively known as Main St. (when you’re downtown), Lake Shore Dr., or M-185.
The distance to bike around Mackinac Island is about 8.2 miles, and it will probably take you between one to three hours depending on your pace and how often you stop to rest or view points of interest.
That was one possible route I mapped, although we also wanted to bike the interior of the island. The perimeter route is flat, whereas going through the interior involves some hill climbing. The trail we took had some fun ups and downs that thrilled our son (and, well, us, too). We ended up doing one loop through the interior and then the full trip around Lake Shore Drive!
We were watching the weather to make sure the day we’d scheduled for the trip would remain suitable. It turned out to be a perfectly beautiful day, but we were comforted knowing that if we had to reschedule, our ferry tickets could be used any other day of the year.
Taking the Ferry to Mackinac Island
To get to the Shepler’s parking lot, take I-75 north to Exit 338. As soon as you come to the stop sign off the exit, you’ll see the gateway to their free day-parking lot. Take a right and then an immediate left turn to enter the lot.
We unloaded our bikes from the car and packed up, then headed for the Shepler’s docks. To get there, just get on Mackinaw Crossings Dr. on the north side of the lot, then head east a short distance to S. Huron Ave. and go north to N. Huron Ave, where you can’t miss Shepler’s. It’s probably about ten minutes by foot, or you can take their shuttle bus. You can also pay to park on-site at the docks. There is a fee for overnight parking. We took advantage of the free day parking, and since we had our bikes, we just rode the short distance to the docks, which is about a half mile and takes just a few minutes.
The ferry ride to Mackinac Island typically takes about 16 minutes whether you’re departing from Mackinac City or St. Ignance (on the north side of the Mackinac Bridge). However, for departures between 9 am and 10:30 am, Shepler’s offered a detour trip under the Mackinac Bridge, which we took advantage of to get a unique view of the “Mighty Mac”.
Biking to Arch Rock
Upon disembarking from the ferry and collecting our bikes, we skipped the crowded restroom at the docks and headed east on Main Street down to the visitors center, where there is another public restroom that, as we had hoped, had no lines. We had a little snack at the waterfront and then hit the road!
The first route I’d planned took us east along Main Street and then left onto Truscott St. That took us up a fairly steep hill that two of my party walked. I made it up without stopping in my lowest gear, and fortunately the steep section is short so my crew was not far behind me. We stopped where Turscott St. meets Huron Rd. to take a few family selfies. Then we moved on, heading east on Huron Rd. We enjoyed viewing the homes atop the bluff as well as the view of Lake Huron.
Pretty soon, we entered the woods. Huron Rd. winds around the southeast corner of the island, just up the bluff from Lake Shore Dr., and then heads northwest to Arch Rock Rd., where we turned east and stopped for a few minutes to view the famous Arch Rock.
Biking to British Landing and the Cave of the Woods
Arch Rock Dr. wraps around and turns into Rifle Range Rd, which we rode up from Arch Rock for just a short distance before taking a right turn on Leslie Ave., which was a beautiful stretch of paved trail through the woods that was really fun, with thrilling ups, downs, and turns. At one point, we came to a great scenic overlook and stopped to snap some photos, grab a snack, and rehydrate.
We took Leslie Ave. until we came to Scott’s Rd., which got us off the paved trail and onto a dirt path for a while. It wraps around the north of the island and then south to the area known as British Landing.
We passed through British Landing to State Rd., which is a gravel road, although the paved British Landing Rd. was another option to get us back to the center of the island. Preferring to stay more off the beaten path, our son found a frog while we were stopped along State Rd. to get a snack and a drink of water.
Then we came to the Cave of the Woods and parked our bikes for a short hike up a trail to see it. A sign at the cave informed us that it was formed as a sea cave more than 10,000 years ago, when the shoreline was at that elevation!
Biking to Fort Holmes and Sugar Loaf
Continuing along State Rd., we eventually hooked back up with British Landing Rd., which turns into Garrison Rd. We continued south to Fort Holmes Rd. and the Mackinac Island Cemetery. We wanted to see Fort Holmes so headed up that road. It’s a somewhat steep climb for a little ways, but once you’re up there, you’re at the highest point on the island!
On the way to the fort, we stopped at Point Lookout for a view of Lake Huron to the east and below us saw a giant rock formation sticking up through the trees, which is known as Sugar Loaf. That landmark wasn’t on my originally planned route, but we decided to head there after the fort.
At Fort Holmes, we stopped to do some sightseeing and to refuel at a picnic table overlooking the lake to the south. From that high point, you can see the Mackinac Bridge to the southwest.
Next, we headed back down Fort Holmes Rd. back to Garrison Rd., which took us through the cemetery and to Skull Cave, so named because it was a burial site for the island’s native inhabitants.
From Skull Cave, we turned east on Rifle Range Rd. and northwest on Sugar Loaf Rd. to find the rock formation, where we got off the bikes again to explore.
From Sugar Loaf, we headed back to Garrison Rd. and on down to Huron Rd., where we turned west and rode past Fort Mackinac. Staying on Huron Rd., we next rode past the Jewel Golf Course. Coming to Cadotte Ave., we headed south again, with the golf course remaining on our left. We coasted on down the hill past the Grand Hotel and back into town.
Biking Around Mackinac Island’s Lakeshore
But we weren’t done yet! We still had plenty of daylight left on a nice sunny day, and we were having so much fun, we decided to go ahead and do the full circle tour of the island along Lake Shore Drive, which is nice and flat. The lake was a beautiful green-blue and made for nice scenery as we rode along at a relaxed pace.
Along the way, we stopped occasionally to read the informational signs telling about the history of the island, such as one discussing how the native Anishinabek tribes were faced with expulsion from their land and so signed an agreement to cede a vast territory to the US in exchange for recognition from the US government of their right to reside in the remainder of their ancestral homeland. But they were betrayed by the Congress and once again faced the possibility of forced relocation until the government again recognized their right to remain under the 1836 Treaty of Washington.
You can learn more about this and much other history of the area in the Insider’s Guide to Vacationing in Northern Michigan.
After completing our tour of the island, we stopped at Marquette Park below Fort Mackinac for a rest before heading back to the docks and hopping aboard a ferry back to Mackinaw City.
For much more information about things to do on Mackinac Island and elsewhere around northern Michigan, download the free Insider’s Guide to Vacationing in Northern Michigan. You’ll also learn more about the fascinating history of the area, and it’s full of great resources to help you plan.
We hope you enjoyed sharing in our experience and found it helpful for inspiring and planning your own visit. It was an awesome day, and we definitely look forward going biking on Mackinac Island again!