Vacationing on a budget can be stressful. You want to find something that the whole family wants to do, but won’t break the bank. Luckily for you, West Michigan is full of free and frugal fun. Take a trip into the great outdoors, visit one of West Michigan’s museums, or see a world-renowned artist perform, all while pinching those pennies. No matter your interest, you’re sure to find something here that will fit any budget!
Free & Frugal in Northern West Michigan
Can you tell what critters have been walking around your house by the tracks that they leave? Visit the Grass River Natural Area in Bellaire and their amazing naturalists on Saturday, February 4th for an afternoon of tracking mammals during a snowy walk on their beautiful trails. You never know what we may find! If you’re more interested in the trees around you than the animals that live in them, you’ll love Bark, Buds and Branches at the Grass River Natural Area on Saturday, February 11th. Gain the skills to identify Michigan trees by their bark, buds, and branching patterns while taking a short hike on their beautiful trails with one of their naturalists. Become a nature expert with these two free educational events!
If you have a budding young skier at home that wants to learn to ski, the Grass River Natural Area can help! On Sunday, February 5th, they’re hosting the final day of their Sunday Skiing for Families. They have a limited number of kids size cross-country skis to get your kids on the trails! Either call ahead to reserve one of these pairs or bring your own. All skill levels are welcome and encouraged to come out for a fun day outdoors!
Traverse City Tourism has compiled a list of activities for the frugal adventurer! Free activities include hiking on Traverse City’s countless trails, geocaching to unearth one of Northern Michigan’s hundreds of caches, going to the beach to soak up the sun, and many other free things to do around the city. If you have a little bit of dough in your pocket, why not tour a lighthouse, visit an art gallery or museum, or taste some Northern Michigan wine. Of course, this is just a small preview of that many adventures that you can have in Traverse City when you’re traveling on a budget.
In the Petoskey Area, there are fun things to do that cost nothing (or very little). Take a free tour at Kilwins Chocolate Kitchen where you even get a free sample of some of their fresh and delicious treats. Hunt for Michigan’s state stone, the Petoskey Stone, during much of the year, or in the spring explore the forests in the area while looking for morel mushrooms. More outdoor activities include hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing on a wide variety of trails that are made available for free. Most beaches in the Petoskey Area don’t charge admission, and you can while away building sandcastles and cairns. For a rush of excitement, jump off the Petoskey breakwall into the crystal clear waters of Little Traverse Bay. Mix and match any and all of these fun Petoskey activities to create a free day out on the town!
When it comes to free things to see and do in Marquette, it’s time to get outside and take in the best that nature has to offer, with its proud waters and rugged landscapes to forests as far as the eye can see. Walk, bike, and hike your way around some of the area’s amazing natural parks, trails, and mountains. You can even find a one-of-a-kind outdoor sculpture park, Lakenenland Sculpture Park, with more than 80 iron sculptures all created and built with scrap iron. The great outdoors are always free in Marquette!
Find frugal winter fun on the slopes of Sault Ste. Marie! The area has many hills where you can ski, snowboard, sled, and tube! Of course, the fun doesn’t stop when the snow goes away. The area is a wonderful place for a walk through the park, downtown, or along the water.
For a hot time in the cold winter, visit Harbor Springs for the 12th Annual Harbor Springs Area Chili Cook-Off, sponsored by the Harbor Springs Area Chamber of Commerce. Amateurs and food-service professionals alike compete for the title of Best Chili in Harbor Springs. This event is open to the public to learn about and taste some of the area’s finest chilis.
Winterlochen is the Interlochen Center for the Art’s annual family-friendly outdoor festival, which celebrates all things winter! Featuring a full day of hands-on experiences geared toward families, Winterlochen offers outdoor activities like snow painting, a snow treasure hunt, s’mores, and the always entertaining frozen fish toss, among many other activities, performances, and workshops!
Free & Frugal in Central West Michigan
The Muskegon Museum of Art has plenty of free and educational fun to fill your calendar. Their lineup includes free tours, exhibits, films, receptions, and more, with topics ranging from religious works to Chinese photography. The Muskegon Museum of Art’s varied expertise are sure to bring something new and interesting to the table for you and your family!
The Tri-Cities Historical Museum in Grand Haven is a premier destination for those watching their bottom line in West Michigan. The museum is completely free to the public! Step inside and find exhibits on the first floor that focus on the many eras of state and local history. Most of these exhibits have hands-on elements to spark the interest and imagination of learners at every level. Upstairs, visitors can see changing exhibits that often focus on artistry, artifacts from the recent and not-so-recent past, and static exhibits about soda fountains and the medical history of the area. The Tri-Cities Historical Museum is the perfect free and frugal component to a visit to beautiful Grand Haven.
Downtown Grand Haven comes alive with local artists and musicians displaying their talents at more than six locally owned businesses during their First Friday Art Hop. Start your evening at C2C Gallery, where you can listen to live music and view are from West Michigan artists. At many First Fridays, you might see Cyndi Casemier, the owner and a potter, throwing on her potter’s wheel at the gallery. C2C Gallery has been participating in First Fridays since 2011, and they aren’t stopping anytime soon!
You could spend weeks in Muskegon enjoying the free fun that they have to offer. If you’re looking for a quality museum in the area, the Lakeshore Museum Center is right around the corner and admission is always free. Learn about the natural and cultural history of Muskegon County with their many exhibits and programs. Or you can explore Muskegon’s great outdoors with their trails and parks. They have trails for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling. After a long day on the trails, watch a movie on the deck of the USS LST 393 with their Movies on the Deck, which runs every Friday from June until August. Other outdoor entertainment comes in the form of free summer concerts. Let music fill the air with summer concerts at the Montague Band Shell, McGraft Park, and Marantha! Fill your calendar without overspending with free entertainment throughout Muskegon!
Need an inexpensive way to enjoy your favorite Broadway shows? Grand Haven Main Street’s Frozen in Time event is Saturday, February 11th at 2pm. Downtown business will showcase classic Broadway scenes in their window displays using live mannequins and theater sets. You’ll be able to experience shows including The Lion King, Hamilton, Wicked, The Phantom of the Opera, and more, just by strolling down the street! Vote on your favorite and see who will win in a Tony-style awards ceremony immediately following the event.
The Rockford Chamber of Commerce has a unique free event this February! The Sweetheart Splash is on Saturday, February 11th. Groups and individuals jump into the frigid Rogue River competing to show who has the most devotion to their special Valentine Sweetheart in this judged competition. This event is free and benefits the North Kent Community Service Center.
Free & Frugal in Southern West Michigan
The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts offers free admission for youth through age 12, and just $5 admission for adults (students are $2). Ten galleries filled with art include a “please touch” Kids Corner, recently updated with a black light alcove, music making stations, art books, and more. Other free programs include ARTbreak, Art Hop, Teen Night, and Art Detectives. Your entire family will discover their creative side at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, with their diverse range of free and inexpensive exhibits and programs!
The trails at the Pierce Cedar Creek Institute in Hastings are always free to the public from dawn to dusk. Enjoy a relaxing hike, frigid snowshoe trek, or exhilarating cross-country ski trip on their trails. If your furry friend wants to come, bring them along! Dogs on leashes are allowed on this adventure!
Sir András Schiff is coming to the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival in Kalamazoo on March 11th at 8pm! For smart concert goers, get concert tickets for only $30-50, or $6 for students. Schiff is a world-class performer who will be performing at Carnegie just two days before he arrives in Kalamazoo! This concert is essentially an $80-100 concert for only $30, so take advantage of this stellar deal!
Bring your thinking and drinking caps and join Arcadia Brewing Company in Kalamazoo for a fun-filled night of beers and brain twisters, brought to you by Geeks Who Drink! You don’t have to be a trivia whiz to enjoy the quiz. Since you’re playing on a team, the collective knowledge base (and the beer) makes for more fun and less pressure!
Battle Creek offers plenty of free fun for the whole family with two events that are all about who has the fasted cardboard sled. Festivus is Saturday, February 4th at the Leila Arboretum, and is ready to test any young cardboard creator. The following week, on Saturday, February 11th, is the 27th Annual Cardboard Classic Sled Race in Albion where you’ll have another shot at that cardboard gold! Drivers, start your (cardboard) engines, and race to victory in Battle Creek!
South Haven’s annual Ice Breaker Festival is February 3rd to 5th, and features beautiful ice sculptures, delicious chilli, ice skating, and rides on a horse-drawn wagon! There will also be a Cardboard Sled Race with awards for crowd favorite, style, and speed! This free event is perfect for any family, especially if you’re on a budget!
The Greater Lansing Area is rich with history, nature, and family fun, all of which can be enjoyed without you even needing to get your wallet out. A must-see for any visitor to the area is a tour of Michigan’s State Capitol Building. Explore the impeccably restored national historic landmark with a free tour available Monday through Saturday. Michigan’s Supreme Court Learning Center is another place that needs to be on any history or government buff’s list. This hands-on gallery is designed to educate visitors on the judicial process in the majestic Hall of Justice. If you need to get out and stretch your legs, a walk, bike, or run on the 15 miles of paved pathways that wind along the Grand and Red Cedar Rivers makes for the perfect backdrop. Learn about Michigan’s capital, or enjoy its great outdoors next time you visit the Lansing Area!
The 13th Annual Magical Ice Fest is in St. Joseph from February 3rd to 5th. Watch the main event as carvers magically turn frozen blocks into works of art! The Professional Individual Competition runs from 5:30-7:30pm on Friday along Pleasant Street and from 8am to 4pm on Saturday along State Street. There is also a 5K run/walk, scavenger hunt, photo ops, and more all weekend!
Find more Free Events on WMTA’s Event Calendar