Explore the Mitten State With These 101 Free Things to do With Kids in Michigan

Show Your Kids How to Enjoy the Mitten State!

I know I’m a little biased, but Michigan really is the best.

For starters, our peninsulas mean we basically have two great states in one. And who else is bordered by four out of the five Great Lakes? Or boasts so many majestic sand dunes and thousand of miles of freshwater shoreline?

Lake Superior – Whitefish Point

Or provides the headquarters for such a large number of great companies that make useful things and tasty treats?

Michigan is overflowing with so many fascinating things–history, nature, invention, art–that you’ll never tire of finding something to do in this great state.

Monument to Joe Louis – Detroit

And since we don’t think adventure needs to break the bank, we raised the stakes a little and compiled a list of FREE (or nearly free) things to do with your kids in Michigan.  

Michigan State Capitol – Lansing

Where will your next mitten adventure take you?

Warren Dunes State Park – Sawyer

101 Free Things to Do With Kids in Michigan

  STATE WIDE  

01 – Drive the Great Lakes Circle Tour

Road trip! Follow the Great Lakes Circle Tour, a scenic road system connecting all of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. Pick a portion or enjoy the entire 6,500 miles!

02 – Explore a Lighthouse

Visit one of Michigan’s 92 lighthouses. The exterior views are FREE, but admission rates may apply if you want to go inside.

03 – Go Fishing

The Michigan DNR offers Free Fishing Weekends twice each year, once in the winter, and once in the summer.

04 – Stop by a Michigan Farmers Market

Okay, so this one isn’t completely free, but buying food is a necessity, and experiencing the signs and scents of Michigan homegrown is free, and worth it.

05 – Play a Round of Disc Golf

Play disc golf at one of Michigan’s 400 courses (and counting).

06 – Ride a Bike

Ride your bike on the masses of beautiful Bike Trails, Michigan has to offer!

07 – Explore a Beach Town

Fly kites, build sandcastles, splash in the water, or take in the wonder of winter water at one of Michigan’s beach towns.

08 – Go on a Color Tour

Enjoy the dynamic fall colors of a trillion trees by taking a Michigan color tour.

09 – Try Geocaching

Go on a real life treasure hunt – try geocaching or letterboxing!

10 – Take a Hike

Go hiking! The North Country National Trail connects seven states and headquartered in Lowell, MI!

11 – Check out a Michigan Activity Pass

Use your library card to check out a Michigan Activity Pass, good for discounts and FREE passes to cultural attractions across the state! Don’t forget to take advantage of the other amazing programs our library systems have to offer.

12 – Visit a fair or festival

Visit a local fair or festival. Whether it be music, art, ice, syrup, tulips, chocolate, kites, cherries, or magic, you can find one that suits you in Michigan…and many are FREE!

13 – Enjoy a Cheap Movie

Enjoy Celebration Cinema’s Free Kid Flicks – 10 weeks throughout the summer, enjoy FREE admission for kids 12 and under to select movies.

14 – Go Bowling or Skating

Go bowling…or roller skating…FREE! Kids Bowl FREE all summer long and Kids Skate FREE all year long at participating alleys and rinks all over the state!

15 – Build Something

Build something at a Home Depot’s Kids Workshop. The events are FREE, but pre-registration is required (and they fill up fast).

16 – Visit a State Park

Purchase a Recreation Passport and receive FREE admission to all state parks, state recreation areas and state boat launches including some gems such as the Warren Dunes State Park, Silver Lake Sand Dunes, Fort Custer State Park, the Sanilac Petroglyphs Historic Site, Fayette Historic Townsite, Fort Wilkins Historic State Park, Tahquamenon Falls, Bond Falls or the Porcupine Mountains.

free michigan : bike trail
Luton Park Trail – Rockford

  GRAND RAPIDS  

17 – Stop by Rosa Parks Circle

Explore Rosa Parks Circle, a public art space in the heart of downtown GR by renowned artist, Maya Lin. Many FREE events and concerts take place here all year long, and (almost FREE) outdoor ice skating is offered in winter months.

18 – Go on a Tag Tour

Strap on your walking shoes and go on a Grand Rapids Tag Tour. Want to see more? Download the GR Walks app, and have FREE guided walking tours in the palm of your hand or visit Experience Grand Rapids.

19 – Hang Out at Millennium Park

Millennium Park offers nearly 18 miles of paved and natural-surfaced trails, fishing, recreational areas, and great playgrounds. Also available is a great beach and splash pad, paddle boats and more. However please note, unlike the rest of the park, these water-based features of the park are fee-based.

20 – Ride the Tire Swing

Take a ride on Motu Viget, a giant tire swing.

21 – Visit the GRAM

Visit the World’s first LEED certified art museum, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, and enjoy FREE admission all day on Tuesdays and Thursdays evenings.

22 – Watch the Fish

Visit Fish Ladder Park. Get up close to the Grand River, and watch the fish jump up the ladder in a seasonal migration in the spring and late summer!

23 – View the Planes

Watch planes take off and land at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport Viewing Area. Take advantage of the newly renovated pavilion with an abundance of picnic tables, and bring a sack lunch.

24 – Spend Time Outdoors

Foster a natural curiosity in your family for the great outdoors by joining one of Calvin Ecosystem Preserve Education Programs for families.

25 – Be Awed at ArtPrize

Although season and biennial now, ArtPrize is too good not to include. An international art competition, open to any artist and decided by public vote, it fills the city of Grand Rapids with art and visitors from all over the world. Off years will also feature fun art installments on a smaller scale.

free michigan : motu viget tire swing
Motu Viget – Downtown Grand Rapids

 MUSKEGON  

26 – Explore the Universe

Explore the universe at the Carr-Fles Planetarium.

27 – Hit the Beach

Go to the beach! While there are many options, if you have the Recreation Passport, definitely check out Duck Lake State Park, it’s the perfect size for kids!

28 – Visit a Museum

View an antique collection of fire fighting apparatus at the Fire Barn Museum and take a look inside the Scolnik House, a living museum that highlights the lives of those who lived in Muskegon during the Great Depression. Both of these Lakeshore Museum Center gems have FREE admission!

29 – Learn African American History

Explore the important roles African Americans played, that shaped Muskegon County at the  James Jackson Museum of African American History

30 – Watch a Movie on a Ship

Enjoy a movie on the deck of the USS LST 393, a historic warship located in Muskegon. Movies are shown on Friday nights all summer long.

free michigan travel - duck lake state park
Duck Lake State Park – Muskegon

 WEST COAST  

31 – Visit an Historic Park

Explore the Silver Beach Center in St. Joseph, experience the delightful past of the park that graced the shores of Lake Michigan from 1891-1971. If you’re visiting in the summer, head next door to the Whirlpool Compass Fountain, Michigan’s largest splash-pad!

32 – Ride the Chain Ferry

For just $1 per person (almost free), cross the Kalamazoo River by a hand-cranked Chain Ferry in Saugatuck.

33 – Hang Out at the Farm

Keep ‘moo-ving’ up the lakeshore and stop by the Critter Barn, an educational farm that is home to a variety of animals available to watch, interact with and learn from.

34 – Visit the Dutch

Visit the DeKlomp Wooden Shoe and Delftware Factory in Holland and talk with artists as they produce wooden shoes and paint Dutch pottery right in front of your eyes.

35 – Be Dazzled by the Musical Fountain

Take in the sights and sounds of the World’s Largest Musical Fountain in Grand Haven. These shows run nightly at sunset each year between Memorial and Labor Day.

36 – Get Lost in a Lavender Labyrinth

Wander through a giant lavender labyrinth at the Cherry Point Farm and Market.

37 – Meet an Alpaca

Make a new friend at the Crystal Lake Alpaca Farm in Frankfort.

38 – Enjoy a Bonfire

Further up the coast, stop by the Leelanau School and pay an (almost free) $1 admission to attend the Beach Bards (community) Bonfire every Friday night in the summer. It kicks off with an 8 PM children’s hour, and continues with storytelling, music and more.

39 – Eat All the Cherries

Visit Cherry Republic, at its home base in Glen Arbor or in downtown Traverse City, and enjoy FREE samples of all things cherry.

40 – Watch a Movie

Take in an (almost) free, $0.25 kids matinee, every Saturday at 10 AM (and Tuesdays and Thursdays during the summer) at the State Theatre in Downtown Traverse City.

41 – Eat All the Chocolate

Tour Kilwins Chocolate Kitchen and enjoy free samples at their headquarters in Petoskey.

free michigan travel : tulip time
Tulip Time, Holland

  KALAMAZOO & BEYOND 

42 – Walk Through a Garden

Take a walk through the Leila Arboretum and Children’s Garden in Battle Creek and discover 2,500 marked trees and plants, dozens of gardens and walkways, art and more!

43 – Learn While You Play

The Kalamazoo Valley Museum is a hidden treasure located in Kalamazoo, full of family friendly exhibits, play areas and demonstrations.

44 – Ride a Trolley

If you’re in downtown Kalamazoo during the holiday season, hop aboard the San-Francisco style Holly Jolly Trolley. It runs every Friday-Sunday in December.

45 – Visit a Farm

Visit the robotic milking viewing area and Michigan Garden at the Dairy Center Kellogg Biological Station in Gull Lake, or visit MSU’s Farms on campus.

46 – Enjoy Nature’s Beauty

Hike the Lillian Anderson Arboretum; 140 acres of marsh, meadow, pine, and deciduous forest in Kalamazoo.

47 – View the Cars

Attend a Wednesday Night Cruise-In at the Gilmore Car Museum.

48 – Be Amazed by Miniatures

Be amazed at lifelike houses, dolls, toys and more, on a miniature scale at the Midwest Miniatures Museum in Hickory Corners.

49 – Walk the Historic Streets

Take a Walking Tour of Historic Marshall.

50 – Stroll More Historic Streets

Explore Historic Charlton Park in Hastings, including 25 historic residences, businesses and community buildings moved from locations throughout Barry County. Have extra time, walk the city, and then cool off in their splash pad.

51 – Feed the Fish

Enjoy hatchery tours, trails and fishing programs where all equipment and bait is provided, at the Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery in Mattawan. Be sure to stop in the visitor’s center and ask for a FREE feeding token!

52 – Learn About Prehistoric City Times

Head south to Niles and visit the Fort St Joseph Museum, featuring exhibits that tell the story of the city from the prehistoric era through the modern business and industrial era.

free michigan travel : kalamazoo valley museum
Kalamazoo Valley Museum – Kalamazoo

  LANSING 

53 – Tour the Capitol

Tour public areas of the State Capitol Building, or learn about Michigan’s judicial branch by checking out the Michigan Supreme Court Learning Center, filled with exhibits, a mock-courtroom, computer programs and more! Visiting on a Sunday? Head to the nearby Michigan Historical Museum where admission is also FREE!

54 – Go for a Hike

Take a hike on over 4 miles of paved, handicapped accessible trails at the Carl G. Fenner Nature Center.

55 – Soak in the Arts

Head to the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center, a showplace dedicated to promoting the works of Michigan artists.

56 – Surround Yourself with Beauty

Learn about and enjoy plants in a beautiful setting at the MSU Beal Botanical Gardens, or explore the MSU Children’s Garden. In addition to a large variety of plants, you’ll find compilations of mazes and play structures.

57 – Visit MSU

Find a spot on the lawn outside Beaumont Tower, home of the MSU Carillion, and hear one of MSU’s most recognizable sounds in concert form. Weekly performances take place all year long, and concerts are held in July, when the tower also opens for tours and demonstrations.

58 – Find Your Inner Artist

Visit the architecturally awesome MSU Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.

free michigan : fenner nature center
Fenner Nature Center – Lansing

  CENTRAL MICHIGAN 

Great Lakes Bay and Central Michigan

59 – Be a Good Steward

Enjoy and learn about the environment and how to be responsible stewards of the land, water and air at the Chippewa Nature Center in Midland.

60 – Live Like a Pioneer

Visit Pioneer Log Village in Bad Axe, the largest collection of authentically restored pioneer log buildings in Michigan, open on Sunday afternoons between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

61 – Appreciate Sculptures

Check out a unique, fun collection of over 2,000 works by Marshall M. Fredericks, Detroit-based public sculptor, at his museum in University Center.

62 – Celebrate Christmas Any Day

Visit Michigan’s Little Bavaria, Frankenmuth. Be sure to stop in the Visitor’s Center and pick up a Gnome Hunt log, one of the many free things to do in the city. Don’t forget to stop at the world’s largest Christmas Store, Bronners, where it’s Christmas year round!

63 – View a Mammoth

Take in larger than life exhibits and study mammoth bones unearthed in Huron County, at the Nasr Natural Science Museum.

64 – Go on a Trolley Ride

Ride the Blue Water Trolley and get a picturesque tour of Port Huron’s historical sites, including the Blue Water Bridges. The narrated one-hour tour is (almost) FREE at a cost of only 10 cents per person.

65 – Visit an Orchard

Have fun on the farm at the Anderson & Girls Orchard in Stanton. In addition to seasonal events, the farm is home to a variety of barnyard animals, ranging from camels to hedgehogs.

free michigan travel : bronners
Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland – Frankenmuth

  ANN ARBOR & BEYOND 

66 – Tour a Factory

Tour the Jiffy Mix Factory in Chelsea, while sampling products and other refreshments.

67 – Find a Fairy Door

Go on a Fairy Door hunt – there are 10 located throughout the city of Ann Arbor.

68 – Love Science and Nature

Visit the grounds of the Leslie Science and Nature Center and uncover trails, raptor enclosures and a great critter house where you can observes frogs, turtles, snakes and more.

69 – Uncover Habitats

Uncover a wide variety of habitats, trails, formal gardens, a conservatory and a great Children’s Garden at the University of Michigan’s Matthaei Botanical Gardens, or see what’s in bloom at the Nichols Arboretum.

70 – Appreciate Art

Stop in The University of Michigan Museum of Art, a small, but architecturally beautiful building that contains the works of Rodin, Picasso, Monet and more!

71 – Be an Archaeologist

Enter the ancient world at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, where you’ll find an Egyptian mummy coffin, magical amulets, Greek pottery and more.

72 – Watch Vintage Baseball

Watch a vintage Walker Wheels Baseball Game where the players don old-fashion jerseys and play under 1860 rules. The event is FREE, though a Recreational Passport is required to enter the Cambridge Junction Historic Park, where it is played.

73 – Learn About Railroads

Learn about the railroads, military and Underground Railroad through photos, documents and more at the Lenawee County Historical Museum and Archives.

  DETROIT 

74 – Enjoy Delicious Aromas

Enjoy the sights, sounds, aromas and scenery of Yates Cider Mill in Rochester Hills, or check out its store in the charming Olde World Canterbury Village in Lake Orion.

75 – Appreciate History

Visit the Detroit Historical Museum and take a trip through America’s Motor City, the Underground Railroad, the Kid Rock Music Lab and more!

76 – Celebrate Diversity

Open your mind to a world of adversity and achievement at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. The second Sunday of each month is FREE.

77 – Explore Belle Isle

Take the bridge to Belle Isle and discover 200 acres of woodland, trails, swimming, recreational facilities including the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, Belle Isle Aquarium, Belle Isle Nature Center and much more! Admission is free to pedestrians, bicyclists and those who take public transportation…but please note, a Recreation Passport is required when accessing the island by vehicle.

78 – Tour Detroit

Pick a Self-Guided Tour of Detroit or a section of the beautifully transformed Detroit Riverfront, and explore.

79 – Be Amazed by the Heidelberg Project

Take in an open-air art environment in the heart of an urban community and be amazed – explore The Heidelberg Project.

80 – Indulge in Treats

Watch expert candy makers create luscious treats, while you indulge in them, at the Sanders Candy Factory Tour in Clinton Township.

81 – Walk a Trail

Take a walk, run, or bike ride along the Dequindre Cut Greenway.  Two miles of trails to explore that used to be a section of the Grand Trunk Railway. Local artist have been known to leave their mark along the greenway since the appropriate graffiti been permitted to stay along the pathway.

free michigan travel : belle isle
Belle Isle Park – Detroit

  NORTHERN MICHIGAN 

Northern Michigan and Mackinac

82 – Be a Lumberman

Learn about the industry that helped develop northern Michigan through hands on activities, video displays and trails at the Lumberman’s Monument Visitor Center in Oscoda.

83 – Experience Early Logging Life

Experience life as it was in an early Michigan Logging community, at the Houghton Lake Historical Society, open Fridays and Saturday afternoons from Memorial to Labor Day.

84 – Chase Model Trains

The Roscommon Model Train Club opens its doors every Wednesday and Saturday (the one day you can hitch a ride on their over-sized model train). Stop in around the holidays and you’ll find a special exhibit featuring the Polar Express and Harry Potter!

85 – Make Music

Make music in Cadillac’s Sound Garden, rustic metal sculptures that double as instruments.

86 – Visit the Cross in the Woods

Visit the Cross in the Woods National Shrine in Indian River, home to one of the largest crucifixes in the world.

87 – Stay Dry While Exploring a Shipwreck

Explore a full-size replica wooden Great Lake schooner and shipwreck, without getting wet at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary’s Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena.

88 – Explore the Galaxy

Witness the galaxy at Dark Sky Park in Mackinaw City, open year round every day (and night).

89 – Visit the Mighty Mac

Visit our state’s crown jewel and the 5th longest suspension bridge in the world, the ‘Mighty Mac’ and learn all about it at the Mackinac Bridge Museum.

90 – Enjoy a Laser Light Show

Enjoy a Laser Light Show at Mackinaw Crossings nightly, all summer long.

free michigan travel

  UPPER PENINSULA 

Upper Peninsula

91 -Discover Waterfalls and Incredible Views 

Take in the splendor of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Alger and the numerous waterfalls around it. In winter, head down the road to check out the Eben Ice Caves in Hiawatha National Forest Rock River Canyon Wilderness Area.

92 – Learn About Mining

Discover Calumet’s beginnings and its explosion into a major copper mining boomtown, by checking out the Calumet Visitor Center, or head west and learn about the state’s iron mining history at the Michigan Iron Industry Museum in Negaunee.

93 – Ride a Self-Operated Raft

Cross Michigan’s largest spring, Kitch-iti-kipi in Manistique, on its self operated observation raft.

94 – Be Brave

Test your bravery as you jump off the Black Rocks at Presque Isle Park in Marquette.

95 – Visit a Refuge

Fish, hike, ski or drive through the Seney National Wildlife Refuge; 95,000 acres of diverse habitats which provide a home to a wide variety of plant and wildlife species.

96 – Ride Over a Double Decker Lift Bridge

Ride over the world’s widest and heaviest double decker vertical lift bridge on Portage Lake.

97 – Observe Ships at the Soo Locks

Observe ships at Soo Locks Observation Platform and Visitor Center in Sault Ste. Marie. On the way up, stop by Castle Rock in St Ignace and snap a picture with Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. While you’re there, pay the (almost) free $1 fee and climb to the top.

98 – Tour a Factory

Take a Stormy Kromer Factory Tour, in Ironwood, home to their signature cap. While in town, learn about it’s history a the Historic Depot Museum.

99 – Discover Junk Yard Art

Find a unique collection of ‘Junkyard Art’ at Lakenenland Sculpture Park, near Marquette.

100 – Climb a Mountain

Take in a spectacular sunset view of Pine Mountain, well worth the 500 steep steps it takes to get there, then head to the Millie Mine Bat Viewing Area, and watch as one of the largest bat colonies in North America, depart at dusk.

free michigan travel

Have something to add to this list? Let us know in the comments so our readers can check it out, too!

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