The 3 best budget-friendly vacations in Michigan, according to readers

The lighthouse at Menominee, Michigan at sunset

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By Stacy Rounds

May 29, 2024

When it comes to vacations, Michigan is a treasure trove of stunning landscapes, charming towns, and unique experiences that won’t break the bank. Recently, we conducted a readers’ poll to uncover the best budget-friendly vacation spots in Michigan. The results are in, and we’re excited to share the top three destinations that offer a perfect mix of adventure, relaxation, and affordability. So, pack your bags and get ready to explore Michigan’s finest!

A view of the boating docks at Mackinac Island

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3. Mackinac Island

Enchanting Mackinac Island is a place where time seems to stand still. Known for its horse-drawn carriages, historic architecture, and stunning natural scenery, Mackinac Island offers a unique and budget-friendly vacation experience.

One of the best ways to see the island is by bike. Rent a bicycle and take a leisurely ride around the 8-mile perimeter. The stunning views are priceless. For all you avid nature lovers, don’t forget to visit Arch Rock, a natural limestone arch with breathtaking views of Lake Huron. It’s easily accessible by bike or on foot. And the photos will be worth the hike!

After a day of biking or hiking, visitors can wander through the quaint downtown area, filled with unique shops, fudge stores, and affordable dining options. Or take a step back in time with a visit to Fort Mackinac. Admission is low-price, and the interactive exhibits and reenactments are fun for all ages.

Mackinac Island has several budget-friendly inns and B&Bs. Consider staying at the Murray Hotel or the Pontiac Lodge for comfortable, affordable accommodations. If you prefer to sleep under the stars, there are nearby camping opportunities. While there are no campgrounds on the island itself, you can camp at nearby Mackinaw City and take the ferry over for day trips. Look for ferry deals and discounts online before you go. Companies like Shepler’s Ferry and Star Line Ferry often have promotions.

An aerial view of Traverse City over the lake.

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2. Traverse City

Traverse City is a vibrant lakeside town known for its many attractions and picturesque views on the shores of Grand Traverse Bay. With its combination of natural beauty, cultural flair, and culinary delights, Traverse City is a fantastic destination for budget-conscious travelers. Many attractions, such as the Open Space Park and the Boardman River Walk, are free and offer beautiful views and recreational opportunities.

If you love a touch of nature, Clinch Park Beach is a must-visit offering sandy shores, clear waters, and picnic areas. Nearby, the Traverse City State Park provides additional beach access and hiking trails. And since Traverse City is in the heart of Michigan’s wine country, oenophiles are welcome to visit its many vineyards that offer affordable tastings and tours. (We’ve heard good things about Chateau Grand Traverse and Brys Estate Vineyard.)

Tourists can enjoy a lively stroll through downtown Traverse City, where you’ll find unique shops, art galleries, and budget-friendly eateries. If you plan on visiting in July, don’t miss the National Cherry Festival, a week-long celebration with free events, live music, and more.

Traverse City has a range of budget-friendly hotels and motels. Check out the Econo Lodge or the Sierra Motel for more affordable options. Or you may consider renting a room or apartment through Airbnb or VRBO for a cost-effective full-home stay with a local touch.

A view from a walkway over Sleeping Bear Dunes

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1. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a natural wonder that consistently leaves visitors in awe. Stretching along Lake Michigan, this stunning area is renowned for its towering sand dunes, lush forests, and pristine beaches. The best part? Taking a trip to Sleeping Bear is incredibly budget-friendly.

Travelers who live for a charge of adrenaline can challenge themselves to the iconic Dune Climb. This (almost) all-ages activity is free and offers spectacular views of Glen Lake. If you’re not up for the rush of the dune, feel free to explore over 100 miles of trails, from strolls to more strenuous hikes. And if you love a breathtaking vista, don’t miss the Empire Bluff Trail for panoramic views of Lake Michigan.

For leisurely fun, spend the day at one of the National Lakeshore’s many beautiful beaches. North Bar Lake and Platte River Point are local favorites for swimming and picnicking. After a day on the beach, take the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive for breathtaking overlooks and Instagrammable photo opportunities.

If you’re looking for the ultimate budget-friendly experience, pitch a tent at one of the many campgrounds within the park, such as the Platte River Campground. Not a camper? No problem. Nearby towns like Empire and Glen Arbor offer charming, budget-friendly motels and vacation rentals.

Families can purchase an annual National Parks pass, especially if your crew plans to visit multiple parks. It’s a great deal for nature enthusiasts, and Sand Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is included in the National Parks pass. Imagine the travel savings! If you’re not looking to spend money at one of the nearby local eateries, you can save by packing your meals and enjoying a picnic with a view. There are plenty of scenic spots perfect for dining al fresco.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers a wealth of activities that cater to all interests and ages without putting a dent in your wallet.


  • Stacy Rounds

    Stacy Rounds is a writer and growth producer for The Gander. Prior to joining the team, Stacy has worked as a writer, editor, and engagement specialist covering topics ranging from local history, disability advocacy, recreation, and food hotspots to relationships and mental health.



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