Unique view from beneath the nation's longest canopy walk at Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens in Midland

📍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!



Wooden pod and cargo net bridge tucked in the trees along the Canopy Walk at Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens in Midland

📍Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens 📷 @blackmarkmedia



Top Kid-Free Things to Do in the Great Lakes Bay



Woman looking down a flower-lined pathway winding through Dow Gardens in Midland

📍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.


Woman walking along the tree-lined canopy walk at Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens

📍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).


One of BaySail's Appledore tall ship schooners, docked on the water in Downtown Bay City with a colorful, cotton-candy sunset in the background

📍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!


Friends toasting with their souvenir glasses on a Wine Tasting River Tour with Frankenmuth FunShips

📍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.


Bavarian Belle Riverboat and Frankenmuth FunShips passing under the Holz-Brucke Covered Bridge in Frankenmuth

📍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 in Bay City lit up with a colorful evening sky as the backdrop

📍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!


People sharing a charcuterie board and appetizers at The Public House in Bay City

📍The Public House 📷 @thepublichousebaycity



Top Things to Do in the Great Lakes Bay with Kids



Little girl posing with a watering can at Dow Gardens in Midland

📍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!


Two young kids exploring the glass-floored Orchard Arm overlook on the Whiting Forest of Dow Gardens Canopy Walk

📍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.


Girl looking at a goat at Saginaw Children's Zoo

📍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!


Children running down a pathway lined with flowers at Chippewa Nature Center in Midland

📍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!


Two young kids feeding a goat at Grandpa Tiny's Farm in Frankenmuth

📍Grandpa Tiny's Farm 📷 @x_stina


Splash Around

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.


Little girl playing on the sandy beach at Bay City State Park

📍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!