If Mackinac Island is famous for two things, it’s horses and expensive hotels. Being the budget traveller that I am, even though I was dying to visit I kept putting it off until I could come up with a way to make it to the island with at least some semblance of money saving. I finally was able to do so this past summer, and now I’d like to share with you how you, too, can visit Mackinac Island on a budget!
Camp (or at least give up your dreams of staying on the island)
Especially during the peak summer season, hotels on Mackinac Island are ridiculously expensive, and hotels in the surrounding towns climb to pretty steep prices as well. But for less than $30 a night, we were able to get a beachfront property all our own at Castle Rock Campground in nearby St. Ignace. I could not recommend this campground more – the owner was incredibly nice and the views and facilities were beautiful (guys, there were even hot water showers). To top it all off, we were only a five minute drive away from the ferry docks that would shepherd us off to Mackinac Island!
Buy a Multi-Day Ferry Pass
If you’re not going to be staying on Mackinac Island itself, chances are you’re going to have to take the ferry to get there. If you’re planning on going for more than one day, then a multi day ferry pass can save you a bit of money.
Pack a Picnic
Once you get on the island, prices for everything skyrocket – especially when it comes to food. We made the mistake of eating dinner at a restaurant our first day, and our wallets sorely regretted it. The day after, we stopped in at a market on the main street and were able to buy our lunch for around $15 – still expensive for two sandwiches and some cheese and crackers, but better than anything else we would have paid, and we got to enjoy it on a sunny lawn. If you have the foresight (which we did not) grab your food at a supermarket before you make it to the island – your bank account will thank you.
Rent a Bike
As cute as the main street of town is, there is loads to see on Mackinac Island that you just might not consider ‘walking distance’. Or, maybe you have the desire to bike the 8-mile ring road around the island. Either way, pick up a bike from one of the many bike rental stands around town – the simple one speed cruisers are only $5 an hour!
Take a Horse and Carriage Taxi
Going to Mackinac Island without riding a horse and carriage is probably a sacrilege of some kind. Unfortunately, most of the horse and carriage ride options are incredibly expensive, and way out of the price range of someone who is trying to stay on a budget. Fortunately, there are such a thing as horse drawn taxis! Really more like horse drawn buses, for around $5 a person you can get your quintessential Mackinac Island experience AND get to somewhere you need to go!
Visit the Grand Hotel (but don’t stay the night)
Famous for having the world’s longest covered porch and being insanely expensive, the Grand Hotel is a Mackinac Island staple. Unfortunately, if you’re on a budget, staying at the hotel even for a night is the farthest thing from being an option. For $10 a person, however, you CAN get access to the hotel and grounds in order to walk around and explore as much as you’d like.
Finally, if you’re really looking to save some money, make your afternoon activity one day a simple leisurely stroll around the island. You’ll probably be surprised at all of the cool and cute stuff that you find!
And that’s it! While one or two splurges may put a sizeable hole in your pocketbook, visiting Mackinac Island on a budget is totally doable. If you’ve visited Mackinac Island on a budget before and have any tips that I didn’t cover, do be sure to leave them in the comments!
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