The top 3 free places in Michigan you must explore

Mackinac State Historic Parks

Photo courtesy of Mackinac State Historic Parks

By The 'Gander Staff

May 7, 2024

Michigan is home to a variety of beautiful and unique places that won’t cost you a dime to visit. From stunning natural landscapes to world-class museums, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Check out our list of the best free places in Michigan that you must explore.

Breathtaking Natural Beauty at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

If you’re eager to witness some of Michigan’s most spectacular natural landscapes, make your way to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. This natural treasure is renowned for its expansive beaches, immense sand dunes, and the sparkling waters of Lake Michigan. It’s a paradise for anyone who appreciates the outdoors and is looking for an adventure without spending a penny.

As you explore, you’ll find a variety of trails suitable for all ages and experience levels. Whether you’re up for a challenging hike up the dunes or a leisurely walk along the shore, the park’s diverse landscapes offer something for every type of nature enthusiast. The views from atop the dunes are particularly breathtaking, providing a panoramic vista of the lakeshore that is truly unforgettable.

For those who prefer a more relaxed visit, the beaches at Sleeping Bear Dunes are perfect for soaking up the sun, picnicking, or simply enjoying the peaceful sound of the waves. The clear, turquoise waters are inviting on a warm day, and the sandy shores offer miles of pristine beauty to explore.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a must-visit for anyone exploring Michigan. Its one of Michigan’s most beautiful natural wonders. And while standard passes cost $25, the park offers free admission six days per year, including Juneteenth and Veterans Day.

Explore the Beauty of Mackinac Island State Park

The very first state park in Michigan was Mackinac Island State Park. Established in 1895, the park was also the second national park in the United States. Mackinac Island State Park is a haven of tranquility and natural splendor, offering visitors a unique blend of history, beauty, and adventure—all without the modern-day intrusion of vehicles.

As you set foot on Mackinac Island, you’ll quickly notice the absence of cars, which are prohibited on the island. This unique aspect fosters a serene atmosphere and encourages exploration by foot, bicycle, or horse-drawn carriage. The moment you begin your journey through the park, you’re greeted by breathtaking vistas, lush forests, and the refreshing breezes off Lake Huron.

The park boasts over 70 miles of hiking and biking trails, each offering its own unique view of the island’s natural beauty. Whether you’re seeking a leisurely stroll along the shore or an invigorating hike up to Arch Rock, you’ll find the perfect path to suit your mood and fitness level.

Historic Fort Mackinac is another must-visit destination within the park. Perched high above the island, the fort offers a glimpse into 19th-century military life, complete with reenactments and exhibits. While there is a fee to enter the fort, the panoramic views of the island and Lake Huron from its walls are priceless and accessible to all visitors of the park.

Don’t forget to explore the charming downtown area of Mackinac Island, where you’ll find quaint shops, delicious fudge, and warm hospitality. Although this is outside the state park’s boundaries, it’s an integral part of the Mackinac Island experience. Here, amidst the clip-clop of horse hooves and the laughter of delighted visitors, you can pick up unique souvenirs or enjoy a leisurely meal in a historic setting.

In every season, Mackinac Island State Park reveals a different aspect of its beauty. Spring brings a burst of wildflowers, summer shines with sunny days and bustling activity, fall cloaks the island in brilliant hues, and winter offers a peaceful, snowy retreat. No matter when you visit, the park’s timeless charm and natural beauty are always on full display.

So grab your favorite pair of walking shoes, hop on a ferry, and prepare to be enchanted by Mackinac Island State Park.

Discover the Hidden Gems of the University of Michigan Museums

Ann Arbor is home to the prestigious University of Michigan, and it’s where you’ll find an incredible array of museums that are open to the public absolutely free of charge. This is your chance to dive deep into the worlds of natural history, art, and ancient civilizations without opening your wallet. Let’s uncover the hidden gems housed within the University of Michigan’s museums, each offering its own unique window into the wonders of our world.

First up, step into the past and future simultaneously at the Museum of Natural History. Here, you’ll be greeted by towering dinosaur skeletons that tell tales of Earth’s ancient inhabitants, while interactive exhibits explain the cutting-edge science used to uncover these stories.

Next, head over to the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) where you’ll encounter a diverse collection that spans continents and centuries. The exhibitions are thoughtfully curated to spark dialogue and connect cultures, making each visit a fresh and enriching experience.

For a journey back in time, the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is a must-visit. This hidden gem showcases a stunning array of artifacts from the Mediterranean and Near East, including Egyptian mummies, ancient Roman tools, and Greek pottery. Each piece has its own story, offering insights into the daily lives, beliefs, and technologies of ancient civilizations. The museum not only educates but also captivates, allowing you to walk in the footsteps of people from thousands of years ago.

Whether you’re a local or just passing through, a visit to the University of Michigan museums offers a fascinating foray into the arts, history, and sciences. These institutions welcome you to explore, learn, and be inspired, proving that some of the best experiences in life truly are free.

Read more: 12 off-the-beaten-path experiences in Lansing

This story was generated in part by AI and edited by The ‘Gander staff.

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