📍Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens 📷 @blackmarkmedia
First trip to the Great Lakes Bay? We could just say you’re going to love it here (and you will). But we’d rather help fill your bucket list with all the can't-miss, must-do's — and signature experiences you just shouldn't leave without having.
Buckle up: your first trip to the Great Lakes Bay is about to be one for the books, and we’re dishing on all the top things to try, whether you’re traveling with or without the kids!
📍Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens 📷 @blackmarkmedia
Top Kid-Free Things to Do in the Great Lakes Bay
📍Dow Gardens 📷 @nrupalikulkarni
Go from Gardens to Forest
Within Dow Gardens' 110 acres (that come alive with 35,000+ annuals in spring and summer alone), you'll also find its Whiting Forest (and the longest canopy walk in the United States). Overlook 54 acres of forest, a pond, and a four-zoned orchard — all from up to four stories high in the treetops — and come back again and again to experience it (at least once) in each season.
📍Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens 📷 @nrupalikulkarni
Try Freshwater Sailing
Board one of BaySail’s dreamy tall ship schooners for a hands-down magical Celestial Excursion, where you’ll sail Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay while stargazing (and grazing on artisanal charcuterie, plus drinks you brought on-board).
📍BaySail 📷 @jeffcaverlyphoto
Go Wine Tasting on the Water
Just when you thought wine tasting couldn’t possibly improve, Frankenmuth FunShips brings it on a boat (and pairs each sampling with handcrafted gourmet chocolates). Find these 12-passenger vessels and enjoy a little Peach & Honey vino with those sunset river views!
📍Frankenmuth FunShips 📷 @tabslee
Take an Adventure Ecotour
Johnny Panther Quests Adventure Trips will whisk you through the “Everglades of Michigan” on a shallow-draft boat — with an expert local guide as your Captain, and ample opportunities to spot wildlife you won’t see anywhere else.
Ride All the Riverboat Cruises
Board the 150-passenger Bavarian Belle for a narrated history tour of Frankenmuth by day, or dance on-deck under a blanket of stars while you listen to live, local music on one of Bay City Boat Lines’ Friday-evening cruises.
📍Frankenmuth FunShips & Bavarian Belle Riverboat on the Cass River 📷 @michiganaddicts
Shop the Top Spots
When you’re in a place that’s home to Michigan’s largest antique center, one of the Midwest’s largest outlet malls, a 40-store, European-style outdoor shopping district, two indoor city markets, the world’s largest Christmas store, and a village of shops that spans six historic buildings — you can cover a lot of ground quickly. Explore our top spots for shopping in spring & summer or fall & winter!
Roll Through Town
Whether you’ll bike through Bay City or Frankenmuth on a 16-person pedal trolley (with a cold, local brew in-hand) or tour Michigan’s German town on a cozy horse-drawn carriage — these are anything-but-average ways to see our cities for the very first time!
📍Sunrise Pedal Trolley 📷 @jeffcaverlyphotography
Immerse Yourself in the Arts
See a show at historic gems like the Temple Theatre and State Theatre, catch a concert or comedy show at The Dow Event Center or Huntington Event Park, enjoy a performance at Midland Center for the Arts, or explore spots like the Saginaw Art Museum, Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum, and one of North America's most authentic Japanese tea houses.
Savor Local Flavor
Whether you’ll cozy up at one of our most romantic restaurants, find the places with the best outdoor patios, or choose the perfect pour at one of our breweries or wineries — be sure to get a taste of our local food scene while you’re here. These top restaurants for spring & summer or fall & winter are a great place to start!
📍The Public House 📷 @thepublichousebaycity
Top Things to Do in the Great Lakes Bay with Kids
📍Dow Gardens 📷 @carpenoctem182
Explore Forests & Gardens
Let your kids play (safely!) four stories above the forest floor (and lounge in cargo net hammocks tucked in the treetops), on the country's longest canopy walk within Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens. After, cross over a beautiful bridge to explore the rest of Dow Gardens' 110 acres — including an award-winning Children’s Garden and grassy lawns made for a family picnic. Or, adventure in the trees at Frankenmuth Aerial Park, where you’ll zipline and climb through six ropes courses for ages seven and up!
📍Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens 📷 @jenniferrussell1105
Try Two Top Indoor Waterparks
With one of “30 Top Indoor Waterparks around the World” (Zehnder’s Splash Village) and another incredible Frankenmuth waterpark with the Midwest’s largest hotel family fun center (Bavarian Inn Lodge) — these spots are a no-brainer first on the Great Lakes Bay family bucket list!
Do Two Zoos
Visit the Saginaw Children’s Zoo to interact with more than 150 animals (and take a spin on the hand-carved carousel and iconic miniature train). Be sure to feed the cockatiels in the Walk-Thru Aviary and try the Wetland Experience! Or, explore Wilderness Trails Zoo in Birch Run — a 56-acre zoo with a Petting Area, Parakeet Encounter, and Rainforest Experience.
📍Saginaw Children's Zoo 📷 @thekatierex
Find Freshwater Family Adventures
Bring the whole crew for a Bald Eagle-spotting boating adventure through our Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge with Johnny Panther Quests, or join BaySail for a family-friendly sail on Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay.
Be Free in Nature
Experience one of the largest private, non-profit nature centers in the country for free at Chippewa Nature Center in Midland. Your littles will love the Nature Play Area — and seeing the 1870s-style log cabin Homestead Farm, complete with chickens, sheep, pigs, a cow, and a calf!
📍Chippewa Nature Center 📷 @ehlerspartyofthree
Make Educational Memories
Experience an interactive Children’s Museum designed just for tikes under 10, explore the hands-on galleries of the Alden B. Dow Museum of Science & Art, or take the whole family to outer-space at Delta College Planetarium.
Find Fun on the Farm
Take the kids to tour a working heritage farm at Grandpa Tiny's or a working dairy farm at Weiss Centennial Farm — then bring them to LeCronier’s Baby Acres where they can pet, hold, and even feed baby animals!
📍Grandpa Tiny's Farm 📷 @x_stina
With nearly half-a-dozen spray parks and splash pads in the Great Lakes Bay, you’ll have no problem finding a cool place to chill with the kids! From a spray park at Bay City State Park to a filtered-water, zero-depth splash park in Saginaw with three bays that cater to kids of different ages — be sure to pack extra suits and try them all.
Make it a Beach Day
Enjoy almost a mile of natural, sandy Saginaw Bay shoreline inside Bay City State Park (plus that spray park we just mentioned!), or spend the day on a 40-acre lake at William H. Haithco Recreation Area in Saginaw for a swimming beach, paddleboats, and plenty of spots to fish and picnic.
📍Bay City State Park 📷 @shineonsunfish
Go for Family Game Time
Ride a five-story rollercoaster before mini-golf, bumper boats, laser tag, and arcade games at Kokomo’s, or play all day at Stardust with bowling, bumper cars, laser tag, escape rooms, and a 60-game arcade. You can even spend a summer day at the ballgame when you watch the Great Lakes Loons play in Midland, or see heart-pounding hockey action as a family when the Saginaw Spirit face off at the Dow Event Center!
Already know where you’re headed here? Check out our top things to do by city and keep adding to that Great Lakes Bay bucket list!