For most of us the signs of spring are heralded by the return of robins or blooming daffodils. For the 600 or so year round residents of Mackinac Island, Michigan, spring is marked by the return of horses.

Mackinac Island is located between the Upper and Lower Michigan Peninsulas. It is approximately 4 square miles and a popular tourist destination during summer months. More than 15,000 visitors a day ferry to the island where transportation is limited to two options: bike or horse. Motorized vehicles are not permitted on the island, never have been. If you want to go anywhere or haul anything on the island, its done so by good old fashioned horse power.

During the winter about 20 horses remain on the island for the permanent residents. But before tourist season begins (May) more than 500 horses return and settle in for their summer jobs. Some horses work for the tourists, others are useful taxis, many others haul cargo to the hotels, stores and restaurants.

The Arnold Mackinac Island Ferry line ships the horses from the mainland, 30 at a time. The horses are tethered within the ferry’s belly and accompanied by handlers for the 20-minute ride. At the island they are roped together in groups of four and walked to their summer stables. In October, the horses are returned to the mainland where they winter outdoors until warmer weather returns.

Considering an equestrian vacation this summer? You might consider Mackinac Island!


  • Mackinaw Island was first settled in the 17th century it served as a hub for the Great Lakes fur trade.
  • Horses were first documented on the island in the 1700s. They were used to haul Fort Mackinac over the ice from the mainland to the island during the American Revolution.
  • Mackinac Island Carriage Tours is the world’s oldest horse and buggy service continually operating with 100 carriages and 400 horses since 1869.
  • In the late 19th century the island became a popular tourist resource. The island’s extensive historical reclamation and preservation has earned it a listing as a National Historic Landmark.

Of course I couldn’t keep my hands off the carraige horses – our family vacation to Mackinac Island, 1973.