Explore the Mitten State, even with young kids in tow. This region-by-region list offers some ideas of what RVing families with young children can enjoy and experience during a trip to Michigan.
An engineering marvel and essential for the movement of ships, tugboats, barges, tall ships, cruise ships, and freighters from and to Lake Superior, the Soo Locks in Sault Ste. Marie (saultstemarie.com) is worth a visit. Kids will be amazed by the sight of some of these large vessels passing through the locks – 21 feet. You can view the action from the observation platform above the MacArthur Lock, or you can visit Soo Locks Park. Alternatively, jump on a Soo Locks Boat Tour. There are several locks, a couple that have been in operation since the 1800s. Visit the U.S. Weather Bureau Building for a history lesson. To ensure you see a boat pass through the Soo Locks, you can call (906) 253-9290.
Drive north from Sault Ste. Marie to Whitefish Point, which has the phenomenal Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (shipwreckmuseum.com) and a lighthouse that oversees Lake Superior. A sobering artifact at the museum is the bell of the famously known Edmund Fitzgerald, a ship that went down in a November storm in 1975 just 17 miles from Whitefish Point.
M-22 is a scenic highway that passes through some of the state’s most gorgeous countryside – and through some of the sweetest small towns. One stop that should not be missed is that of Arcadia Overlook in Manistee County, also known as Inspiration Point. If you’ve been taking a driving tour of M-22, this is a perfect chance for everyone to stretch their legs. The town of Arcadia is right on the water, but then you’ll quickly climb nearly 400 feet up to the parking lot that leads to the overlook. Now it’s time to climb 120 steps (first one up wins!) to the highest perch in the county. On a clear day you may even see the beacon of the North Pierre Lighthouse back in Manistee Harbor. There are picnic tables and charcoal grills around if you want to enjoy a snack or a meal while gazing at the Michigan landscape from above.
Alpena is a gem of a town situated on the shores of Thunder Bay, which runs into Lake Huron. Visit Island Park, also known as Duck Park, located not far from the quaint downtown area. This island sanctuary is gated by a covered bridge that is a masterpiece to behold. There are a few short trails on the island and several overlooks.
If more remote is more your style, then drive 20 minutes to Bell Bay Natural Area, a quiet, peaceful escape with a long beach that’s a perfect place to sit and relax while the kids for wade in the shallows (it doesn’t get deep very quickly), swim, or skip stones. Or, you can choose to wander the trails the meander through a virgin pine forest and past historic homesteads.
Silver Beach Carousel in picturesque St. Joseph is open year-round and full of fanciful horses adorned in ornate bridles, gilded chariots, and other creatures (you may even notice a sea serpent). Create a magical moment with the kids by joining them for the ride. Afterwards, depending on the season, walk or swim at Silver Beach, one of the top 10 family beaches according to Parents magazine. The fresh water of Lake Michigan laps against the shore, offering a refreshing respite in the summertime. The beach is very wide, but it’s a very popular destination.
You can choose to make a day of it and stay beach-side, taking a break to ride the enchanting carousel or even visit the Whirlpool Compass Fountain. Support local business – and get brownie points with the kids – by walking a couple blocks to the Chocolate Café for ice cream.
What kid doesn’t like a zoo? Everyone seems to have a fascination for animals and naturally want to view wildlife. Open year-round, though hours change seasonally, Potter Park Zoo near the capital city of Lansing is https://potterparkzoo.org is spread over 20 acres and is home to more than 160 species. From wolves to red pandas to penguins to anteaters, you can take your time observing the animals and learning about them. You can also visit the Backyard Garden near the duck pond that also connects to a peaceful river stroll. There’s a large picnic area, too, and sitting benches around the zoo if you want to stop for a snack (bring your own as food is not available for purchase currently). Purchase tickets ahead of time online for a specific date and time, which helps get the clan inside more swiftly so that you can all start exploring!
Greenfield Village, which is part of the Henry Ford museum complex, is one of the hot spots in southeast Michigan to take the family for an afternoon. The kids get an immersive history lesson of early American life and culture, including Edison’s lab, the Wright brothers’ workshop, glass blowing shop, a working farm, and more. There are seven districts in all that speak to early American’s perseverance, resourcefulness, and ingenuity. There’s even a replicated 19th century tavern for victuals if there are hungry tummies. There is a steam engine train, carriages, and a Model T – all available for you and the kids to ride. And yes, the “locals” are in traditional dress. It’s fine to “wing it” when you arrive, but get the kids excited by looking over the Visitor’s Guide online before you go; they may have a few requests of what to see and do. Visit www.thehenryford.org/visit/greenfield-village/ to purchase tickets online and to get a comprehensive look at what you can expect during your time there. Speaking of time, you’ll feel like you stepped back two hundred years, able to encounter this wholesome yet enchanting sight of the past.
*Note: This article was written in June 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and during the reopening phases in Michigan. Some attractions may have new protocols to follow, and some eateries or attractions within some of these locations may be closed. Make sure to check websites and Facebook pages, if available, for up to date information prior to your visit.