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?
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.
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.
Where will your next mitten adventure take you?
101 Free Things to Do With Kids in Michigan
01: Take a 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: 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.
05: Play disc golf at one of Michigan’s 400 courses (and counting).
06: Ride your bike on the masses of beautiful Bike Trails, Michigan has to offer!
07: Fly kites, build sandcastles, splash in the water, or take in the wonder of winter water at one of Michigan’s beachtowns.
08: Enjoy the dynamic fall colors of a trillion trees by taking a Michigan color tour.
09: Go on a real life treasure hunt – try geocaching or letterboxing!
11: 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.
13: Enjoy Celebration Cinema’s Free Kid Flicks – 10 weeks throughout the summer, enjoy FREE admission for kids 12 and under to select movies.
15: Build something at a Home Depot’s Kids Workshop. The events are FREE, but pre-registration is required (and they fill up fast).
16: 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.
Grand Rapids Area
17: 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: 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: 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: Take a ride on Motu Viget, a giant tire swing.
21: 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: 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: 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: Foster a natural curiosity in your family for the great outdoors by joining one of Calvin Ecosystem Preserve Education Programs for families.
25: 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.
26: Explore the universe at the Carr-Fles Planetarium.
27: 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: 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: Explore the important roles African Americans played, that shaped Muskegon County at the James Jackson Museum of African American History
30: 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.
- 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!
- For just $1 per person (almost free), cross the Kalamazoo River by a hand-cranked Chain Ferry in Saugatuck.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Wander through a giant lavender labyrinth at the Cherry Point Farm and Market.
- Make a new friend at the Crystal Lake Alpaca Farm in Frankfort.
- 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.
- Visit Cherry Republic, at its home base in Glen Arbor or in downtown Traverse City, and enjoy FREE samples of all things cherry.
- 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.
- Tour Kilwins Chocolate Kitchen and enjoy free samples at their headquarters in Petoskey.
Kalamazoo and Beyond
- 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!
- The Kalamazoo Valley Museum is a hidden treasure located in Kalamazoo, full of family friendly exhibits, play areas and demonstrations.
- 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.
- 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.
- Hike the Lillian Anderson Arboretum; 140 acres of marsh, meadow, pine, and deciduous forest in Kalamazoo.
- Attend a Wednesday Night Cruise-In at the Gilmore Car Museum.
- Be amazed at lifelike houses, dolls, toys and more, on a miniature scale at the Midwest Miniatures Museum in Hickory Corners.
- Take a Walking Tour of Historic Marshall.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
- Take a hike on over 4 miles of paved, handicapped accessible trails at the Carl G. Fenner Nature Center.
- Head to the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center, a showplace dedicated to promoting the works of Michigan artists.
- 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.
- 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.
- Visit the architecturally awesome MSU Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum.
Great Lakes Bay and Central Michigan
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- Take in larger than life exhibits and study mammoth bones unearthed in Huron County, at the Nasr Natural Science Museum.
- 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.
- 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.
Ann Arbor and Beyond
- Tour the Jiffy Mix Factory in Chelsea, while sampling products and other refreshments.
- Go on a Fairy Door hunt – there are 10 located throughout the city of Ann Arbor.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- Enter the ancient world at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, where you’ll find an Egyptian mummy coffin, magical amulets, Greek pottery and more.
- 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.
- Learn about the railroads, military and Underground Railroad through photos, documents and more at the Lenawee County Historical Museum and Archives.
- 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.
- Visit the Detroit Historical Museum and take a trip through America’s Motor City, the Underground Railroad, the Kid Rock Music Lab and more!
- 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.
- 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.
- Pick a Self-Guided Tour of Detroit or a section of the beautifully transformed Detroit Riverfront, and explore.
- Take in an open-air art environment in the heart of an urban community and be amazed – explore The Heidelberg Project.
- Watch expert candy makers create luscious treats, while you indulge in them, at the Sanders Candy Factory Tour in Clinton Township.
- Be amazed as you explore coin operated oddities and antiques at Marvin’s Marvelous Mechanical Museum in Farmington Hills.
- 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.
Northern Michigan and Mackinac
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- Make music in Cadillac’s Sound Garden, rustic metal sculptures that double as instruments.
- Visit the Cross in the Woods National Shrine in Indian River, home to one of the largest crucifixes in the world.
- 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.
- Witness the galaxy at Dark Sky Park in Mackinaw City, open year round every day (and night).
- 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.
- Enjoy a Laser Light Show at Mackinaw Crossings nightly, all summer long.
- 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.
- 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.
- Cross Michigan’s largest spring, Kitch-iti-kipi in Manistique, on its self operated observation raft.
- Test your bravery as you jump off the Black Rocks at Presque Isle Park in Marquette.
- 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.
- Ride over the world’s widest and heaviest double decker vertical lift bridge on Portage Lake.
- 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.
- 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.
- Find a unique collection of ‘Junkyard Art’ at Lakenenland Sculpture Park, near Marquette.
- 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.
Have something to add to this list? Let us know in the comments so our readers can check it out, too!