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Free & Frugal Traveling in West Michigan

A visit to West Michigan doesn’t have to be expensive. Take a trip to the great outdoors, spend a day at the beach, visit museums and art centers, enjoy special events, and so much more without spending a lot of money. 

Be sure to check out the events calendar for even more ideas to help plan your next West Michigan adventure. 

Click here for more info to help Travel Safely in West Michigan 

 

St. Joseph (South)

Celebrate the winter season at the annual Magical Ice Fest, February 5th-7th! This weekend brings frosty fun to downtown St. Joseph, with free Magical Ice Fest admission. Enjoy professional Ice Carving Competitions, a SnowBiz Scavenger Hunt, Ice Interactives, and more.

Krasl Art Center in St. Joseph is always free & open to the public for in-person visits Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays from 11am – 5pm. Starting January 30th guests will find local artists’ work on view in the annual “KAC Members’ Show: Inspired By…” Deputy Director Tami Miller will host a virtual tour on Facebook Live with select member artists on Thursday, February 4th, at Noon. Learn more about this program and other free virtual programs tied to the exhibition by visiting the KAC website

Join KAC on a virtual field trip Thursday, February 18th, to Muskegon with Deputy Director and Curator Tami Miller to explore inspirations behind the work of artist Richard Hunt. Art Martin, Director of Collections and Exhibitions at the Muskegon Museum of Art, will provide a virtual tour of Richard Hunt’s monumental sculpture Muskegon Together Rising located at the heart of downtown Muskegon. The tour will be in dialogue with Saint Joseph’s own monumental Hunt sculpture, Rising Crossing Tides. Both directors will also highlight additional works by the artist held in the museums’ collections. This is a free event, however registration is required.

 

South Haven (South)

A day in South Haven can be inexpensive and fun. One way to enjoy the most fun at low cost is to attend an annual summer festival and enjoy all of the activities they have to offer. Pack a cooler and spend a day at one of South Haven’s sandy beaches, and while you’re at it, hunt for sea glass along the shoreline. Then, head over to Kid’s Corner playground for a playful romp at this large play area. Climb the Van Buren dune at the Van Buren State Park. Bring your bicycles (or rent them) and your walking shoes and spend some time on the Kal-Haven or the Van Buren trails. Drive to a nearby u-pick farm and enjoy picking blueberries, raspberries, and apples for a sweet and healthy treat. Visit the Michigan Maritime Museum and the Liberty Hyde Bailey Museum and learn about the Great Lakes and agriculture.  

 

Kalamazoo (South)

Discover the Kalamazoo Valley Museum in downtown Kalamazoo! With free general admission, families can spend a day–rain or shine–at awe-inspiring and ever-changing exhibits. Planetarium shows, hands-on crafts, lectures, and musical performances round out the offerings.

Hickory Corners (South)

W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary in Hickory Corners is open Wednesdays through Sundays from 9am until 5pm for guests to hike the trails and see the wildlife. Admission is just $5 for adults, $3 for children ages 2-17, and children under the age of two have free admission. 

Hastings (South)

Pierce Cedar Creek Institute is currently offering free programming on Zoom each month. February programs are all about animal tracks and woodchucks. Registration is available online. Pierce Cedar Creek also offers over nine miles of hiking trails open to the public, free of charge, from dawn to dusk year round. 

 

Muskegon (Central)

Admission to the Lakeshore Museum Center in Muskegon is free for Muskegon County residents, and just $5 for non-residents. Their February Second Saturday event is coming up on February 13th, when the museum will be open to explore, the STEM Center will be open by registration for 30-minute time slots, and the hands-on Science Center will be open throughout the afternoon. Scavenger hunt sheets will be available and kids will receive a take-and-make activity related to one of our exhibits to complete at home. 

Throughout February, Visit Muskegon invites you to join their winter adventure social media contest. Share your photos of outdoor winter adventures for the chance to win weekly prizes. The contest is free to enter and winners will be chosen at random. 

 

Newaygo County (Central)

The ice fishing enthusiast will be right at home with Newaygo County’s abundant lakes. From Fremont Lake to Croton Pond, there are numerous lakes to choose from. 

Ludington (Central)


Photo: @a_e_schwartz courtesy of Ludington Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

Ludington’s many hiking trails turn into perfect playgrounds for winter sports when the snow flies. One of the most popular places for a winter sojourn is at 5,300-acre Ludington State Park. Snowshoers can explore the 24 miles of trails while skiers will find designated groomed trails for cross country skiing. In addition to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing at Ludington State Park, Ludington School Forest Trails offer five miles of trails. Other cross-country trail systems in the area include Big M Cross-Country and Mountain Bike Trail, Crystal Valley Ski Trail, and Pentwater Pathway. Fat bike trails include Big M, Manistee Non-Motorized Trail Park, and Ludington School Forest Trails. 

While visiting Ludington, be sure to check out the self-guided art walk featuring pieces from the Detroit Institute of Arts’ (DIA) Inside | Out program, on display through November 2021. See Van Gogh and Whistler painting reproductions up close and in nature. Ludington is one of six northern Michigan communities participating in the DIA’s Inside | Out program, which brings reproductions from its permanent art collection of 65,000 works to outdoor venues. The eight pieces and their respective venues are listed on a walking map available online. Locations include Rotary and Waterfront Parks,  Ludington Municipal and Harbor View Marinas, Ludington Area Center for the Arts, Mason County District Library, and the S.S. Badger. You’ll find the first traveling piece from the program aboard the Badger, and it’s also the program’s first piece of art to travel outside of Michigan.

Mecosta County (Central)


MePhoto: CranHill 

With February arriving, so does one of Mecosta County’s favorite annual events: Cranhill’s Winterfest in Rodney! Enjoy a day full of winter fun at this free event February 21st from 2pm to 6pm. A free meal will be served between 2:30pm and 5:30pm, and snacks and drinks will be available for purchase at the Barn Store all day. The free activities to look forward to include tubing, ice skating, snowshoeing, broomball, ice climbing, pony rides, a bonfire, marshmallow roast, game room, petting farm, and more. There will also be tractor-drawn wagon rides running continually throughout the whole event. 

Take advantage of the DNR Free Fishing Weekend February 13th & 14th, allowing residents and non-residents a weekend of fishing without a license, though all other fishing regulations still apply. Need help finding a regulated piece of land that allows public fishing? No problem, just check out the Michigan Lake Finder for Mecosta County here. If this weekend draws your interest towards fishing and you happen to be in Mecosta County, check out the “Fishing in Mecosta County” page on the Mecosta County Visitors Bureau website.

 

Traverse City (North)

There’s no shortage of fun and free things to do in Traverse City. Hiking, biking, and snowshoeing trails await to be explored this winter, while beaches take center stage during the summer months. Cool attractions like lighthouses and shipwrecks can be seen or visited for under $10, and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers several free-entry days throughout the year. In the winter, be sure to also explore alpine tubing or sledding hills for a frugal way to entertain the whole family.

Bellaire (North)

Grass River Natural Area in Bellaire is a 1,492 acre nonprofit nature preserve surrounding the Grass River in the heart of Antrim County’s Chain of Lakes. With seven miles of trails, including 1.5 miles of boardwalk floating above northern fen and cedar wetlands, there’s plenty to explore! The kid-friendly Grass River Center is also open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 4pm, so stop in after your hike to check out the displays on the many animals and plants that call GRNA home, like black bears, loons, and rare orchids. Best of all, using the trails and visiting the center is completely free, though donations are always appreciated.

Walloon Lake (North)

Hotel Walloon guests can enjoy free ice skating in the Village Green Park all winter, and everyone is invited to the 4th Annual Walloon Lake Winterfest on February 20th. Winterfest is a free outdoor community event featuring local breweries, distilleries and wineries, free hot cocoa, free ice skating, giveaway prizes, a visit from the Village Yeti, and more.

Petoskey Area (North)

You don’t need to spend a fortune to enjoy the Petoskey Area – just soaking up the scenery is one of many people’s favorite things to do. Year round, taste something delicious at the end of a free tour at Petoskey’s Kilwins Candy Kitchen. Wander through eclectic sculpture gardens at North Central Michigan College or browse the indoor art at Crooked Tree Arts Center where admission is by donation. Find a trail to explore – it’s not hard! There are free natural areas dotted throughout the whole area. 

It doesn’t cost a cent to browse the beautiful downtowns of Petoskey, Boyne City, Bay Harbor, and Harbor Springs. In a non-Covid year, a tour at Maple Moon Sugarbush and Winery is a super interesting Saturday event. In the winter, in addition to cross-country skiing or snowshoeing on beautiful trails, area sledding hills and ice skating are open for fun. In the warmer months, hit the beach for free or a nominal entry fee at state parks. Play a round of disc golf at no charge at Boyne City’s Avalanche Mountain Preserve. 

In the summer, take advantage of free outdoor concerts in Petoskey, Harbor Springs, and Boyne City as well as outdoor movies in Alanson. Speaking of movies, the Lyric Theatre in downtown Harbor Springs seasonally has Saturday favorites showing for a mere quarter and Wednesday classics are just two dollars! For a terrific time with the kids, take them to see the animals at a non-profit animal rescue farm. And Petoskey Stone hunting is free, open to kids of all ages, and offers a great way to spend time with the family. Don’t know what a Petoskey Stone is? Check it out and then check out the Petoskey Area for your next getaway.

Take a step back in time and learn more about the Harbor Springs area at the The Harbor Springs History Museum, run by the Harbor Springs Historical Society. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11am-3pm, and admission is by donation.

Keweenaw Peninsula (Upper Peninsula)

Cross off many of your bucket list items all in one magical place at Keweenaw Adventure Company in Copper Harbor! Journey over the Mighty Mac to find yourself in the purest of Pure Michigan, where you can save a buck or two as well. Kids 15 years or younger receive a $25-$40 discounted youth rate on Keweenaw Adventure Company Lake Superior sea kayak day trips. Kid rates on mountain bike rentals are available, too. Book your adventure today!