This post is part of a series on The Ultimate Pet Friendly Road Trip, our 10-month, 15,000-mile tour of the top pet friendly attraction in each of the lower 48 states.
Embarking on a ferry across the Straights of Mackinac toward Mackinac Island is like hopping aboard a time machine for a trip into the past. Though the ride only lasts about 20 minutes, the ship transports you to a different era. Horse-drawn carriages ramble down the streets, people walk or ride bikes, and the natural beauty that has drawn visitors to this place since prehistoric times is still intact.
If you’ve heard anything about Mackinac Island, it’s probably that cars are prohibited. When the first “horseless carriage” was delivered here in 1898, the noisy contraption scared the horses and threatened the islanders’ peace and quiet. The village council quickly decided to ban the automobile – a simple but decisive act that changed history.
The absence of automobiles, however, does not mean you’ll have any difficulty navigating the island! The ferry docks are just steps from Main Street, where the shops, restaurants, and souvenir stores could keep you busy for days. And many of Mackinac’s most popular sites are within easy walking distance – Fort Mackinac, the Grand Hotel, the cottages on the East and West Bluffs, and Arch Rock are all within a mile of the Visitor’s Center.
For those interested in seeing more of the island, consider a horse-drawn taxi, or guided carriage tour … or opt for the “drive yourself” carriage or “ride yourself” saddle horses for an even more authentic (and perhaps more exciting) experience! If you’re not feeling quite that adventurous, there are several bike liveries where you can rent two- or three-wheeled bikes, as well as trailers for kids and pets.
Leashed pets are welcome to explore much of Mackinac Island with you! The ferry operators are happy to see your furry family members and welcome them aboard, free of charge. Your dog is also welcome to join you on a kayak or paddle board excursion from Mackinac Island, as long as he brings his own doggy life vest. For those renting bikes, pet trailers are available at the island’s many bike liveries. Even the carriage tours are pet friendly – small pets that sit on your lap ride for free, while larger pets are charged a child’s fare.
Pets are also welcome at Fort Mackinac, and many of the shops on Main Street allow pets inside – just ask first. You’re also welcome to enjoy the parks, and explore all the roads and trails in Mackinac Island State Park together.
Pet Rules on Mackinac Island
- Pets must be leashed at all times
- Pet waste must be cleaned up and disposed of properly
One place that pets are not allowed is at the famous Grand Hotel. Built in 1887 to accommodate the island’s posh summer visitors, neither the hotel nor the grounds are pet friendly.
There are three pet friendly accommodation options on the island to choose from. Mission Point Resort has beautiful grounds and a restaurant with pet friendly patio, and welcomes pets for an additional per-stay fee of $100, plus tax. Park Place Suites offers three condo units in the heart of downtown, which come complete with a yard. They charge an additional pet fee of $30 per night. Finally, Sunset Condos offers more seclusion and fantastic views of Lake Huron and the Mackinac Bridge. Their pet fee is based on the size of your pet – less than 40 pounds is $75 per stay, more than 40 pounds is $100 per stay, and two pets over 40 pounds are $150 per stay.
There is something for everyone on Mackinac, and Ty and Buster were so excited to get going that we were first in line for the ferry!
For the history buffs, Fort Mackinac may be the place to start. Moved from the mainland to the island between 1779 and 1781, interpreters are happy to share the history of the fort and the island, from its beginning as a French fur trading hub, the transformation to commercial fishing, and finally as a summer vacation destination. The cannon at the fort is regularly “fired over the harbor” as part of the demonstrations, so if your dog is sensitive to loud noises, be sure to ask about the firing schedule.
Below the fort is a large green space that once served as the soldiers’ garden. Now it’s a park named for Father Jacques Marquette, who brought a band of Huron Indians to the island in 1671, after they were driven out of southern Ontario by Iroquois warriors. The soil on Mackinac was too thin to sustain the Huron’s crops, and the settlement was moved near what is now St. Ignace after a year, but a statue of Father Marquette was dedicated in the park in 1909. Having graduated from Marquette University, also named for this Jesuit priest, I found this historical tidbit interesting.
Mackinac Island State Park
In 1875 the U.S. Congress established Mackinac National Park – America’s second national park after Yellowstone. Twenty years later, when troops were being moved out of Fort Mackinac for good, the fort and the national park were transferred to the state of Michigan. Now the state park covers 80 percent of the island and protects the 19th-century atmosphere, as well as the unique limestone formations, caves, and vistas of Lakes Huron and Michigan.
There are multiple routes and miles of trails through the park, but Buster loves nothing more than a long walk, and Ty’s happy to ride in his stroller for hours, so we opted to follow Hwy 185 for the 8.2-mile lap around the island’s shore. We took a short detour on the Shoreline Trail to better appreciate Mission Point Resort – one of the island’s pet friendly hotels – and then got hopping on our trip around the island.
With stops to enjoy the views and take pictures along the way, we spent about four hours circumnavigating Mackinac. It was a nice level walk, and our tip if you’re considering it – either on bike or foot – is to travel in a clockwise direction. The visitor guide recommends traveling counter-clockwise, so nearly everyone does that … including us! If you go clockwise (come off the ferry and turn left on Main Street), your side of the road will be less congested and fewer bikers will be peddling by.
The scenery, the crystal blue water, and the rocky beaches are a wonderful payoff for your efforts. We saw no carriages on this road, so their routes may not get you the same views.
British Landing is a good place to stop for a snack, and maybe a splash in the lake, if you’re so inclined.
As the afternoon passed, traffic on the road lightened, and by the time we came back around to town, things had quieted down quite a bit. We considered getting a snack from the adorable Windermere Doghouse and enjoying the views from Windermere Point, but we’d worked up substantial appetites.
The staff at the Visitors Center had let us know that Ice House BBQ and Bistro on the Greens both offered pet friendly patio seating, but the brightly colored umbrellas at the Hotel Iroquois’ Carriage House caught our attention. We found out that, while they’re unable to accommodate pets in their rooms, they’re happy to have them join you on one of their lovely verandas for drinks or a meal!
It was the perfect place to end our day before hopping back on the ferry and heading home.
Visiting these attractions with Ty and Buster is a dream come true. We’ll be blogging about each one as we go along, so fasten your seatbelt and stay tuned!
The Ultimate Pet Friendly Road Trip wouldn’t be possible without the support of our wonderful sponsors: Winnebago, 2 Hounds Design, Alcott, goDog®, PetGuide.com, Red Roof Inns, Sleepypod, The Bark, PetHub, RVPetSafety.com, and The Honest Kitchen. Please be sure to visit their websites and social media pages and thank them for their participation!