Morning ferry on Mackinac Island

How to Plan a Mackinac Island Day Trip on a Budget

Mackinac Island is as incredible as everyone says, but it can be pricey to visit. Between food, accommodation and transportation, the costs can add up quickly.  It doesn’t have to break your bank to visit Mackinac Island.

Here are some tips to stay within a budget and see this amazing island!

Stay Off Island

Unless it is your dying desire to stay 1 night on the island, it’s going to save you a lot of money to stay on “the mainland.” The two cities that connect to Mackinac Island by ferry boat are Mackinaw City and St. Ignace, Michigan. Both cities have hundreds of hotels to choose from and several campground options. Accommodations on the mainland are typically a fraction of the price of staying on Mackinac Island.

Spring Icebergs in Mackinaw City

Spring Icebergs in Mackinaw City

In the peak of summer season, there will be ferries to and from Mackinac Island, every 15 minutes or so. Schedules do vary based on time of the year, so it is very important to check the schedule before heading to the island.

There are 2 Mackinac Island ferry lines to use, Starline Ferry and Shepler’s Ferry. Both companies charge the same price for a ticket, and take the same amount of time to arrive on the Mackinac Island. There are other perks like parking, valet and family packages – which vary between the ferry line. Bikes are allowed on the ferry, there is a charge per bicycle.

Sheplers Ferry on Mackinac Island

Many people visit Mackinac Island daily. Day visitors can take the first available ferry to the island at 7am. To make the most of your time on Mackinac Island, you may consider staying until the last boat leaves the island, which during peak season is at 11pm. But again, make sure you check the schedule for the dates you are visiting!

Looking at Fort Mackinac from the ferry

Looking at Fort Mackinac from the ferry

Also, multi-day ferry tickets are available. There is so much to do and see on Mackinac Island, one day just might not be enough!

Morning ferry on Mackinac Island

Morning ferry on Mackinac Island

Stay in St. Ignace

St. Ignace, Michigan is the lesser known of the 2 cities, connecting either side of the Mackinac Bridge.  It is on the northern side of the bridge and typically sees less tourists than Mackinaw City. It can also be cheaper for accommodations, in St. Ignace.

There are 29 hotels available in the St. Ignace area, so it may be a bit overwhelming to decide where to begin. When traveling on a budget, free breakfast and free parking, are going to be your best friend! So always look for what is included and what is complimentary!

If you’re looking for hotels in the city of St. Ignace with freebies and discounts, start with:


Camping & Cabins

Northern Michigan is incredibly beautiful with an abundance of wilderness and stunning sandy beaches. Imagine camping just feet from the Great Lakes with the sleepy sound of waves to tuck you in each night. A completely natural cure for insomnia!

Esch Beach

Camping is not allowed on Mackinac Island but there plenty of options off island.

St. Ignace Campgrounds

Mackinaw City Campgrounds


Planning a visit to Mackinac Island? To learn more, take a look at these:

Mackinac Island’s Best Kept Secrets

5 Reasons to Love/Hate Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island Bucket List – 17 Tips for the Best Summer Vacation

6 thoughts on “How to Plan a Mackinac Island Day Trip on a Budget

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