If you want to take a road trip with the kids this summer but don’t have the time or budget for an overnight stay, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a look at 10 ideas for day trips in Michigan that are no more than a three-hour drive from the metro Detroit area.
We’ll include some places close to home and extend farther from there, but we know we won’t be able to touch on all the cool day-trip destinations in the mitten state. Let’s hear your suggestions, too. Add them in the comments section below!
Note: COVID-19 has caused closures of many institutions across the state. Make sure you check ahead on hours and safety protocols before heading out.
Obvious as it may seem, many people still don’t realize how much fun for families is available right in our backyards.
“You don’t have to go very far to have a great deal of fun especially when you’re in an area like Detroit,” says Dave Lorenz, of Travel Michigan, the official tourism promotion agency for the state of Michigan. “Downtown you can find something for everybody and every age.”
That includes exploring the Riverwalk and Belle Isle, seeing the Detroit River and city skyline, taking a ride on the carousel at Rivard Plaza and checking out some of the cultural institutions like the Michigan Science Center and the Motown Museum. Also consider heading to Dearborn next, where you could easily spend a full day at the Henry Ford Museum Museum of American Innovation and Greenfield Village.
2. Ann Arbor
You can’t go wrong with a day trip to Ann Arbor, home to great shopping, dining and destinations like the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. Some families may also be surprised to find out that your trip here can also include kayaking or canoeing along the Huron River.
“It’s a great deal of fun,” Lorenz says.
3. Bay City
You’ve probably heard of Bay City or passed by it on your way Up North, but did you know what a great day trip town it can be? Here you’ll find the Appledore Tall Ships, which offer public sailing excursions, private charters, dinner cruises and more.
“You can take that cruise out there and it’s a blast,” Lorenz says, pointing out that educational programs for kids are also available on a regular basis. “That’s a fun time that everybody will enjoy.”
Most families are familiar with this favorite day trip destination, especially if they’ve ever stayed hotels like the Bavarian Inn and Zehnder’s. When it comes to things to do in Frankenmuth, you can also enjoy boat rides on the Cass River and of course a world-famous chicken dinner.
“Frankenmuth is just a fun place because it’s also where our original water park hotels are. They’re popping up everywhere but Frankenmuth was kind of the originators on that,” Lorenz says.
Your family may have already visited this small town for a magical holiday ride on the train that inspired the Polar Express. If you haven’t (or even if you have), young train lovers will be thrilled to spend a summer day riding the famous Pere Marquette 1225 steam locomotive and then visiting the Steam Railroad Institute museum in town where they can learn more about this and other trains.
Michigan State alumni will love a trip back to Spartan country in East Lansing and a visit to our state’s capitol can make the trip fun and educational for the whole family.
Consider a tour of the State Capitol building or a visit to the Impression 5 Science Center, where each sense is engaged as kids take part in scientific hands-on activities and programming.
“There’s a lot of things to inspire the imagination and get people thinking,” Lorenz says. You can also visit River Town Adventures for canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding on the Grand River.
7. Grand Rapids
The Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is a great destination for families with its interactive, hands-on exhibits, and older children interested in history are likely to appreciate the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum.
“It’s an inspirational story of someone who grew up in Grand Rapids and became the president,” Lorenz says of the museum.
If your kids love checking out planes overhead, a city like Kalamazoo should definitely make your top day-trip destinations list. At the Air Zoo, originally opened as the Kalamazoo Aviation History Museum, kids can see more than 50 rare and historic aircraft, enjoy amusement-park-style rides, take part in flight simulators and check out historical exhibits.
“That is a fantastic place for families with all these airplanes and interactive space things,” Lorenz says.
9. Port Huron
There’s nothing like spending a warm, summer day by the lake watching big ships go by. At the Great Lakes Maritime Center in Port Huron, families can learn about the history and current events of the Great Lakes, meet “Freighter Frank” Frisk and his world headquarters for BoatNerd.com (the most widely-used website for Great Lakes maritime information), and check out the live underwater camera.
As giant freighters pass by less than a quarter mile away, onlookers get to hear an announcement of what type of ship is going by and what material it’s carrying. “That’s just a lot of fun,” Lorenz says.
You’ll have to drive a little bit farther for this destination (almost 3 hours from Detroit), but we think you’ll find it’s worth it. Muskegon is home to Michigan’s Adventure, a 250-acre amusement park featuring roller coasters, tons of other rides and a massive water park.
“That’s a great value and a tremendously fun place,” Lorenz says.
This post was originally published in 2015 and is updated regularly.