The University of Michigan relocated its Museum of Natural History to the Biological Sciences Building in 2019. (Courtesy/U-M)
The University of Michigan relocated its Museum of Natural History to the Biological Sciences Building in 2019. (Courtesy/U-M)

Love exploring museums but hate the ticket prices? Don’t despair—you’ve got a bounty of affordable educational options in Michigan that won’t break the bank.

MICHIGAN—Summer is the perfect time for outdoor recreation, but it’s also a great time to explore local museums—especially on those rainy days, when families are stuck at home, likely glued to a screen. Fortunately, Michigan has plenty of opportunities for both occasions. Here are a few budget-friendly options for the latter:

Southeast Michigan

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University of Michigan Museum of Art (Wikimedia Commons)

Cranbrook Institute of Science (Bloomfield Hills)

The Cranbrook Institute of Science offers a planetarium and observatory, interactive exhibits, artifacts, and more. Normally, this science museum isn’t free, but thanks to the Masco Corporation Foundation, admission on the first Friday of each month is on the house. 

Pre-register on the Cranbrook Institute of Science website.

Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit)

This legendary Detroit art destination is completely free for residents of Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties. The Detroit Institute of Art features 65,000 artworks, including the famous Diego Rivera murals, and over 100 galleries. 

Visit the website for more information.

Belle Isle (Detroit)

Situated on the Detroit River, this 982-acre island park is filled with plenty of attractions. Most are free to visit, though parking may require a Recreation Passport. In addition to Belle Isle’s sheer natural beauty, be sure to check out the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory—which includes the world’s largest municipal collection of orchids. Its sibling is the newly renovated Belle Isle Aquarium which features reptiles, as well as both freshwater and saltwater fish.

University of Michigan Museum of Art (Ann Arbor)

At this impressive, 94,000 square foot museum, you might feel like you’re getting away with something by getting in free. But nope! Thanks to the University of Michigan, visitors are welcomed to explore and learn about a variety of art six days a week–all entirely free. 

Visit the website for more information.

University of Michigan Museum of Natural History (Ann Arbor)

If art isn’t your thing, the University of Michigan’s history museum might tickle your fancy. Its new location in the Biological Sciences Building is filled with all sorts of historical artifacts and learning opportunities—also with absolutely no cost for admission for groups smaller than 10 people. Be sure to check out the male and female mastodon skeletons. It’s the only place in the world where you can find the exhibit. 

Visit the website for more information.

Kelsey Museum of Archaeology (Ann Arbor)

If you’re interested in archaeology of ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt, or the Middle East, the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is the place for you. The free museum is open six days a week on the campus of the University of Michigan. 

Visit the website for more information.

Matthaei Botanical Gardens (Ann Arbor)

This University of Michigan conservatory only charges for parking. Admission is free. Once inside, you’ll find all sorts of plants from a variety of different climates, as well as medicinal plants, wildflowers, bonsai trees, and much more. 

Visit the website for more information.

Mid-Michigan

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Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum (Michigan State University)

Sanilac Petroglyphs (Cass City)

This historic park on Michigan’s Thumb contains the largest collection of Native American petroglyphs in the state. These carved symbols—estimated to have been etched out of stone sometime within the last 1,400 years—have been important to understanding the spirituality of pre-Columbian era indigenous tribes. 

Visit the website for more information.

Michigan State University Museum (East Lansing)

Michigan’s first Smithsonian-affiliated museum can be found on the campus of Michigan State University. There you can find a variety of cultural and historical artifacts, as well as ongoing projects from the MSU student and staff community. 

Visit the website for details. 

Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum (East Lansing)

MSU’s contemporary art museum always stimulates intellectual conversation and is always free. Over 10,000 artistic works are on display from local, national, and international artists. The building itself is also quite the sight to behold. 

Visit the website for more information.

W.J. Beal Botanical Garden (East Lansing)

This garden may be small, occupying only five acres of MSU’s campus, but it holds a special title as the oldest continually maintained university botanical garden in the US. Among the gardens are over 5,000 organized plant species. 

Visit the website for more information. 

Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum (University Center)

Today, Marshall M. Fredericks is best known for creating Detroit’s iconic Spirit of Detroit statue, but there’s more to this sculptor than meets the eye. This museum on the campus of Saginaw Valley State University documents Fredericks’ life and helps preserve his legacy, while also providing a space for other artwork. 

Visit the website for more information.

West Michigan 

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Kalamazoo Valley Museum (Wikimedia Commons)

Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (Grand Rapids)

A collaborative effort between Kendall College of Art and Design and Ferris State University, this museum is dedicated to equitable access to the arts—and that means free admission to galleries featuring plenty of innovative artistic expression. 

Visit the website for details.

Grand Rapids Art Museum (Grand Rapids)

This museum may charge admission on the weekends, but if you come on a Tuesday or Thursday, you’ll get a free ticket courtesy of Meijer. Its collection includes over 5,000 works of art, ranging from the Renaissance to more modern designs. 

Visit the website for details.

Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives (Grand Rapids)

This nonprofit museum is devoted to Black history and culture in Grand Rapids and beyond. Though it may be small, the African American Museum and Archives has big plans to expand. Art produced by Black artists, as well as art depicting important moments of Black history can be found within its collection, as well as historical records and photographs of historical moments involving those of African heritage. 

Visit the website for more information.

Kalamazoo Valley Museum (Kalamazoo)

A planetarium, a children’s museum, a real mummy, and so much more await visitors to this Kalamazoo museum—and it’s all for free. Operated by Kalamazoo Valley Community College, the museum welcomes visitors of all ages to learn, with plenty of hands-on exhibits.

Visit the website for more information.

Northern Michigan

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Hartwick Pines Logging Museum (Pure Michigan)

Hartwick Pines Logging Museum (Grayling)

The Hartwick Pines Logging Museum preserves pieces of lumberjack culture and Michigan’s history as a leader in lumber production in the 19th Century. The museum recreates original logging camp structures and preserves old equipment to give its visitors an idea of what life was really like for those early Michiganders. 

Visit the website for more information.

Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center (Alpena)

Interested in learning more about Michigan’s many shipwrecks or the myths surrounding them? Then you’ll find a treasure chest at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center. You can even walk the deck of a life-size schooner. 

Visit the website for more information.

Upper Peninsula

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Michigan Iron Industry Museum (Wikimedia Commons)

Michigan Iron Industry Museum (Negaunee)

This UP museum overlooks the site of the first iron forge in the Lake Superior region. At this free museum, visitors can explore what life was like in Michigan’s mining towns and witness how iron mining has evolved over the last century. 

Visit the website for more information.

Lakenland Sculpture Park (Marquette)

This trail is open all year and provides a scenic tour of artist Tom Lakenen’s iconic junkyard style—featuring more than 80 sculptures that have been created from scrap iron to depict everything from Upper Peninsula history and culture to clever political commentary.

Visit the website for more information. 

Museum of Ojibwa Culture (St. Ignace)

The Museum of Ojibwa Culture documents both indigenous tribe history and St. Ignace’s history as a French Jesuit mission before other colonists arrived in the area. There, guests can learn the ways of life of the Huron tribe—including quite a bit about longhouses. The museum also features one of the state’s largest collections of indigenous arts and crafts.

Visit the website for more information.

Across Michigan

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Big Sable Point Lighthouse at Ludington State Park (Pure Michigan)

National Parks and State Parks

Michigan has five national parks and 101 state parks, many of which contain nature reserves and historical sites. With little more than a Recreation Passport, plenty of free summertime adventures can be found in the great outdoors— like hiking at the Sleeping Bear Dunes or exploring the mystical colors of the Pictured Rocks. Whether gazing in awe at the “cola falls” of the Tahquamenon Falls, witnessing the magic of the Kitch-iti-kipi springs at Palms Book State Park, or hunting for fossils at the Rockport Recreation Area, you can find your perfect Michigan outdoor getaway at the Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources website.

Lighthouses

With America’s longest freshwater coastline, Michigan has needed a lot of lighthouses over the years. More than 100 lighthouses have helped guide watercraft along the state’s 3,200-plus mile coastline since 1825—and most of them are either free or cheap to visit.

Check out the official Michigan website and corresponding map to find one near you.

Other Resources

Michigan Activity Pass

If you haven’t used your library card in a while, the Michigan Activity Pass gives you a good reason to put it to use. All public library cardholders can access free or discounted admission to over 450 partner destinations across the Mitten—including museums, arts and cultural destinations, and more. By simply entering your home library, starting zip code, and a few other bits of information, you can build a custom tour of Michigan museums for your family.

Interested card-carrying Michiganders can check out one Activity Pass pass per library card, once every seven days. Passes must be used within seven days from the date reserved.

Visit the Michigan Activity Pass website or your local library’s website for more information.

Museums for All

If you’re one of 1.36 million Michiganders receiving food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, then you already have access to free or discounted admission at 900 museums across the country. Simply present your EBT card at the ticket desk to take advantage of the benefit at dozens of popular Michigan museums like Frederik Meijer Gardens, Greenfield Village, Air Zoo, Alden B. Dow Museum, and more.

Visit the Museums for All website for more information.

Museums on Us (by Bank of America)

Credit and debit cards often come with certain perks, but for Bank of America and its partners, one of those perks is free museum tickets. This program offers free admission to participating museums on the first full weekend of every month. In Michigan, this means free admission to places like the Henry Ford Museum, the Michigan Science Center, the Grand Rapids Art Museum, and many other destinations. Free admission is limited only to the cardholder—not for the rest of their families. Additionally, cardholders must show a photo ID.

Visit the website for more information on participating locations in Michigan.

Blue Star Museums

The Blue Star Museums program began in 2021 as a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts and Blue Star Families, in collaboration with the Department of Defense. Between Armed Forces Day (May 21) and Labor Day (Sept. 5), the program covers admission at many Michigan museums for active-duty military and up to five of their family members—including for all Michiganders currently enlisted the Army, Army National Guard and National Guard Reserve, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Coast Guard Reserve, US Public Health Commissioned Corps and NOAA Commissioned Corps. 

Locations that participate in the Blue Star Museums program include the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Henry Ford Museum, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, and more.

Visit the National Endowment for the Arts website for more information.