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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore | © Paul Wilkinson / Flickr
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10 Great Family Vacations in Michigan If You’re on a Budget

Picture of Tim Marklew
Updated: 12 June 2017
Bordered by many of the beautiful great lakes, Michigan is blessed with miles of dramatic coastline, sandy beaches and watersport options. Add that to a number of national parks and forests across the mainland and the Upper Peninsula and many small islands, and you’ve got a pretty great place for family vacations. Here are just some of the amazing places to visit.

Northwest

Climb the dunes at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: campsites from $27 a night

The amazing sand dunes of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore are undoubtedly among the most stunning areas of natural beauty in the state. Climbing up the dunes to enjoy great views and down them to access remote beaches is great fun. But watch out: they can be very tricky to climb back up. The park has several options for camping, including sites on North and South Manitou Island. Camping in the Platte River Campground is $27 a night.

The "Dune climb" at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore | © Paul Wilkinson/Flickr
The “Dune climb” at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore | © Paul Wilkinson / Flickr

Take a tour in Traverse City: hotels from $79 a night

Known as the Cherry Capital of the World, Traverse City has been named among the best small towns in the country, and is well established as a great holiday destination. Hundreds of inland lakes and miles of coast offer many watersport opportunities, and the town offers tours themed around a wide variety of activities, from shopping and eating, to seeing lighthouses and art galleries. Rooms at the Traverse City MI Travelodge start at $79 a night.

Sleep aboard the historic S.S. City of Milwaukee in Manistee: state rooms from $73 for two people

Moored on Lake Manistee is the S.S. City of Milwaukee, a 1920s railroad car ferry that spent 50 years crossing Lake Michigan. Now you can step back in time by spending the night on the ship, as staterooms and quarters have been restored to their original 1929 design. Rooms sleep one to four people, and the deck of this National Historic Landmark is a great place to relax on a warm summer’s evening.

S.S. City of Milwaukee, Manistee | © Tim Marklew/Flickr
S.S. City of Milwaukee, Manistee | © Tim Marklew/Flickr

Northeast

Discover Mackinac Island: camping from $17 a night

You cannot camp on the island itself but there are lots of reasons to visit Mackinac Island, situated in the Straits of Mackinac between mainland Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. Exploring Fort Mackinac, learning about history at the Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park and seeing the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse are just some of the attractions and activities on this historic island. Camping at the Straits-Semi Modern Waterfront starts at $17 during the offseason.

Historic Mackinac Island | © John Freeland/Flickr
Historic Mackinac Island | © John Freeland/Flickr

Cherry picking in Northeast Michigan: camping from $15 a night

Fruit picking is a quintessential Michigan summer activity. It’s cheap, fun, and provides healthy snacks that can last for days. Farms and orchards all over the state allow customers to pick their own fruit, with sweet and tart cherries the most popular option. A.J.’s Berry Farm in Lachine is one such place, with a variety of fruit to pick and other produce for sale. Camping in nearby Thunder Bay River State Forest Campground starts at $15 a night.

Upper Peninsula

Get back to nature at Hiawatha National Forest: cabins from $45 a night

At nearly 900,000 acres and with shorelines on both Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, the Hiawatha National Forest has a lot of wild and dramatic land to get to grips with. There are so many beaches, islands, lighthouses, historical sites, and hiking trails to enjoy that you’ll need several days to even begin to see it properly. Tom’s Lake Cabin in roughly the center of the forest is $45 a night.

East

Have fun with German festivities in Frankenmuth: rooms from $55 a night

You don’t need to leave Michigan to get an international experience. In the western region of the state, Frankenmuth is a Bavarian town with German festivities year round. “Little Bavaria” has a number of festivals to celebrate the best of German culture, including an annual beer festival, Oktoberfest, and a music festival. The town is also home to the world’s largest Christmas store. The Frankenmuth Motel has rooms from $55.

Bavarian buildings in Frankenmuth | © Christopher Woodrich/Flickr
Bavarian buildings in Frankenmuth | © Christopher Woodrich/Flickr

West

Explore Saugatuck/Douglas: camping from $10 a night

Named the best small coastal town in the U.S. by U.S.A. Today, Saugatuck and Douglas are picture perfect and ideal for any family vacation. Take the only hand-cranked chain ferry left in the country across the Kalamazoo River and discover Oval Beach, ride a bike on the river, or explore the many shops, restaurants and art galleries of the town. Whether you’re looking for activities or relaxing, you’re sure to find it in Saugatuck/Douglas. Camping at the nearby Campit Outdoor Resort starts $10 a night if you’re a member.

Saugatuck Chain Ferry | © ClatieK/Flickr
Saugatuck Chain Ferry | © ClatieK / Flickr

Get a Dutch experience in Holland: hotels from $74 a night

Unsurprisingly from its name, Holland in West Michigan has Dutch heritage, and the town works hard to preserve and honor it with annual events and year-round attractions. Dutch architecture can be seen throughout the city, Dutch delicacies are available in shops, there’s Dutch art in the Holland Museum and tulips bloom in their millions every spring. Rooms at the Days Inn start at $74 a night.

Southeast

Check out Ann Arbor: rooms from $59.95

The city of Ann Arbor is largely famous for being home to the University of Michigan, but it’s also a great holiday destination. With festivities including sporting events, music festivals and food festivals held around the year, alongside great independent shops, restaurants, galleries and public parks, there’s always a lot to do. Rooms at the A Victory Inn and Suites start at $59.95.