Having fun doesn’t have to come with a high price tag. Michigan has a great assortment of no-cost destinations to keep a family on a budget entertained. Some of the best things in life really are free.
Lovers of the outdoors rejoice! Belle Isle Park is a 985 acre island packed with outdoor activities, and a few indoor activities as well. As you first enter the island, you’ll see the giant floral clock, filled with blooms all summer long, and flowers are also in abundance in the island’s conservatory, which is the oldest conservatory in the country. Watch boats pass by on the river or take a dip in Detroit’s only public beach. Or enjoy the water shows in the Scott Fountain during the summer. The park is also home to jogging and bike trails, picnic areas, a carillon tower playing bells every half hour, Kids Row playground, a lighthouse and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum.
Location: Belle Isle, Detroit, Michigan
Michigan’s State Capitol building, where the Michigan Legislature still convenes, was recently restored after being used continuously for over 100 years. It is a beautiful building, with over nine acres of hand painted surfaces inside. When in the rotunda, be sure to look up and see the spectacular inner dome. Guided tours of the public areas and House and Senate galleries are offered on weekdays every half hour. Following the hour-long tour, if you haven’t had your fill of Michigan’s history, head nearby to the Michigan Historical Museum, which is also free.
Address: 100 South Capitol Ave, Lansing, Michigan 48933
The Pioneer Log Village in Bad Axe is Michigan’s largest collection of authentically restored log buildings. There are six museums containing period artifacts and antiques onsite in a pioneer home, general store, school, chapel, barn and blacksmith shop. These buildings were moved from around Huron County and were originally built between 1875 and 1900. Come browse the village on Sunday afternoons during the summer. For an extra special event, visit on the last Sunday in June, which is Log Cabin Day in Michigan.
Address: 205 S Hanselman St, Bad Axe, Michigan 48413
Get ready, get wet, go! Canton’s Splash Playground sprays, spritzes and dumps water onto its visitors from Memorial Day through Labor Day. It is located in Heritage Park, a township park which also has athletic fields, picnic areas, walking trails and a fishing pier. Splash Playground is just beside Heritage Hideout, a large playground of the dry variety. It’s a wise idea to wear water shoes at Splash Playground.
Address: 1010 South Canton Center Rd, Canton, Michigan 48188
The colorful sign reading “Junkyard Art” leads visitors into Tom Lakenen’s imaginative one-man sculpture park. With fifty scrap-metal sculptures ranging from the fanciful to the bizarre, Lakenenland Sculpture Park is a truly one-of-a-kind destination. To view the sculptures you will walk along a nature path through woods with small pines, or you are invited to drive the path if you are elderly or handicapped. An outhouse is available if nature calls, and a shelter provides a respite from rain or a place to have a snack. Sometimes, especially on weekends, you may run into the sculptor, Tom Lakenen, on the grounds.
Location: On M-28 across from Shot Point Rd., Marquette, Michigan
Be entertained for hours without spending a dime! The Kalamazoo Valley Museum’s exhibitions encourage hands-on interactions in science, culture and history, especially local history. The museum staff is committed to providing a great experience for all visitors, and will even arrange an ASL translator for hearing impaired program visitors if notified in advance. The museum is free everyday, but if you plan to visit the planetarium or theatre there is a small charge.
Address: 230 N Rose St, Kalamazoo, Michigan 49007
Enjoy the beauty of the outdoors year-round at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Each season offers new activities, from hiking and boating to skiing and ice-fishing. Or just enjoy the scenery – there are multicolored sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, sand dunes and miles of pristine beaches. You will also find historic sites including an 1874 lighthouse, early U.S. Coast Guard lifeboat stations, old farmsteads and a Civil War era iron blast furnace site. Campgrounds are available for overnight camping for a fee.
Location: Sand Point Rd, Munising, Michigan 49863
The Grand Haven Musical Fountain presents a spectacular display of synchronized water, lights, and music, lasting 20 to 25 minutes. Not for early birds, the show starts when the sky is dark enough that the bright colored lights of the fountain are clearly visible, which means 10:00 p.m. in some months. Nightly performances run from Memorial Day through Labor Day, with weekend-only performances throughout the remainder of May and September.
Location: The best views come from the bleachers of Waterfront Stadium, Harbor Dr, Grand Haven Michigan
Enjoy Christmas in July, or any other month of the year, at Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the world’s largest Christmas store. Spanning the size of one and a half football fields, there are singing carolers, dancing Santas, and over 700 whimsical animated figures to bring a little Christmas spirit to all visitors. Bronner’s Silent Night Memorial Chapel is open daily, and in the evening, Bronner’s half-mile long Christmas Lane glistens with thousands of twinkling lights. Fair warning: this may not be ideal as a free destination if your kids are the “Buy me this, buy me that!” type.
Address: 1515 South Main St, Frankenmuth, Michigan 48734
Yes, there is music beyond Radio Disney. Expose your children to symphonic music by attending one of the four performances per season presented by the Kalamazoo Concert Band. Their musical selections range from classical to Broadway, with holiday tunes played during the holiday season. Each year, a Youth Soloist is chosen at a Youth Soloist Competition to perform at a concert with the band. The Kalamazoo Concert band has a number of corporate sponsors which allows them to offer their concerts and parking free of charge.
Location: Various venues, Kalamazoo, Michigan