​​Known as a “water, winter wonderland,” Michigan is a family-focused Midwestern destination that offers a lively, four-season paradise for children of all ages.

The largest state east of the Mississippi River has the longest freshwater coastline in the world, second only to Alaska for the longest coastline in the US. Its most stellar activities are really to be experienced outdoors, but cities such as Detroit, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids also offer world-class exhibits and parks geared toward children.

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Is Michigan good for kids?

Michigan borders four of the five Great Lakes, with more than 36,300 miles of rivers and more than 11,000 inland lakes. This waterside geography is balanced with rolling hillsides, vibrant cities, stunning beaches and thick forests. Most outdoor activities are focused on children, or offer a children’s version, and children get free or discounted access to most museums and theme parks. 

A car is necessary to get around the state, as public transportation is lacking in general, save for some options in the larger cities. It’s best experienced as a road trip, and kids will enjoy all the roadside attractions, ice cream parlors and fun stops in between sites. 

Where is best in Michigan for kids

A campsite with a tent, surrounded by trees and greenery as the sun comes up in the morning
Michigan offers abundant camping along its many lakes and rivers © pawel.gaul / Getty Images

Camping all over the state

While Michigan is the ideal place for kids to experience all four seasons, summer memories will always be the most quintessential. If you read no further, know that Michigan offers abundant camping along its many lakes and rivers, in a variety of campgrounds that have fascinated kids for decades. (Okay, but seriously, keep reading the whole list!)

Michigan campgrounds are clean, safe and extremely well located for exploring the natural wonders around them. From state forests, such as Ossineke State Forest along Lake Huron, to state recreation areas, such as Little Presque Isle jutting out in the magnificent and cold Lake Superior, kids will be enchanted by the pristine beaches and starry night skies. 

Visitors walk up and down Sleeping Bear Dunes to and from Lake Michigan
Kids of all ages will love to run or barrel-roll down the dramatic dunes at Sleeping Bear © KLiK Photography / Shutterstock

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Among Michigan’s most splendidly scenic sites, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is also one of the most impressive, with sand bluffs towering more than 450ft above the stunning waters of Lake Michigan, along 35 miles of shoreline.

Kids of all ages will love to run or barrel-roll down the dramatic dunes, but the national lakeshore also offers low-impact and short hiking trails, crystal-clear lazy rivers, a small lake great for young beachcombers and 22 miles of non-motorized bike trails.  

Grand Rapids  

The second-largest city in Michigan is characterized by the river of the same name, where you can rent kayaks and canoes for a true Michigan experience. Entrance to Millennium Park is free, with a small fee for the natural beach and boat rental.

The Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park features rotating seasonal exhibits, such as summer butterflies and autumn gardens with gourds, and in general is a lively place for kids to meander freely.

In the city proper, take a kids’ cooking class at Downtown Market and watch fish “climb” the fish ladder along the riverfront. 

A low-angle view of the white tiger sculpture outside of Comerica Park in Detroit
In season, you can catch a Detroit Tigers baseball game at Comerica Park © ehrlif / Getty Images


One of the Rust Belt’s great cities, Detroit has tons of unique activities for kids. There’s delightful music memorabilia at the Motown Museum and special kids’ activities at the Detroit Institute of Arts (with discounted tickets).

At open-air Eastern Market you can grab locally cultivated snacks and then head to Belle Isle (a state park in the middle of the Detroit River) to enjoy them for a picnic, kayak lessons and even a chance to slide down the island’s giant slide.

And who doesn’t love a stop for Detroit-style, heavily condimented hot dogs at the retro Lafayette Coney Island or American Coney Island downtown? Bonus: from either of those restaurants, it’s just about a 15-minute walk to Comerica Park, where you can catch a Detroit Tigers baseball game (in season).

Ann Arbor

As its name suggests, Ann Arbor is a heavily treed and laidback city, filled with green spaces and activities galore for families.

Kids will love tubing down the Huron River in the summer months, and those 12 and under can visit the Automotive Heritage Museum (technically in nearby Ypsilanti) for free, learning about classic cars built in the region. The Ann Arbor Summer Festival hosts free activities for kids, and children will adore a visit to see rescued animals from around the world at the Creature Conservancy.

What kid doesn’t love pizza? Being a college town, Ann Arbor has some of the best pizza in the region

Viewing shipwrecks

The Great Lakes are impressive – there’s so much water! It can sometimes boggle the mind that these quantities of freshwater can also create massive waves that pummel and sink ships of all sizes.

One of the favorite wrecks to observe, from the comfort of a kayak over shallow Lake Huron waters, is the Dorcas Pendell in Harbor Beach. Another favorite, for more adventurous and experienced hikers, is the Francisco Morazan, which is visible from the southern shore of South Manitou Island, accessible for a fun day trip via a ferry from Leland. The glass-bottom-boat tours of shipwrecks along Lake Superior’s Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore are also a hit. 

Bright white stalactites framing the mouth of a cave, with a bright blue sky and snowy ground seen through the opening
The Grand Island Ice Caves can be reached by walking across a short stretch of frozen Lake Superior © John McCormick / Shutterstock

Ice caves

Older kids will enjoy the challenge and reward of hiking to see the infamous ice caves in Michigan’s stunning Upper Peninsula. Generally not easily accessible, these adventures are more appropriate for teenagers. Just be sure to dress for the weather because it’ll be pretty cold, and the snow and ice can be difficult to traverse – use ice cleats!

The Eben Ice Caves outside of Marquette create an incredible draping effect, with massive “icicles” that are irresistible for memorable photos. The Grand Island Ice Caves are equally impressive and can be reached by walking across a short stretch of frozen Lake Superior.

The Beaver Islander ferry passing the Charlevoix South Pier Lighthouse in the Pine River Channel between Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix
Take a day trip or overnight to Beaver Island, courtesy of Michigan's ferry system © Deb Perry / Getty Images

Planning tips and getting around

While Michigan is not known for its public transport – it is home to the Motor City, after all – there are some non-car options to get between cities. A direct Amtrak train route links Detroit and Ann Arbor, to name one option, but for an even better “pure Michigan experience,” use the ferry system.

To experience transiting the Great Lakes, Mackinac Island, Beaver Island, Grand Island, Drummond Island and South Manitou Island are just a few of the many choices for day trips or overnights. For a longer trip, you can ferry across Lake Michigan from Muskegon, Michigan, to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

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man and girl walk on a sandy beach seen from a high angle looking down. A lake is to their left and a dune to their right.


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