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19 Best Cheap & Free Things to Do in Traverse City with Kids

Whether you need daily or vacation things to do in Traverse City with kids, there are tons of places to explore. In fact, the abundance of activities makes the city one of the best places to visit in Northern Michigan.

From hiking trails and bowling to great restaurants and movies, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to have fun with kids in Traverse City. Look at our list of things to do in Traverse City with kids that are cheap or completely free!

Downtown Traverse City Things To Do
photo credit: @unexpected.blessings

Best Outdoor Family Things to Do in Traverse City with Kids

Look for Hidden Cache

Considered the biggest treasure hunt, geocaching is one of the one-of-a-kind free things to do in Traverse City. All you do is download the official Geocaching app on a device with GPS capabilities, and create a free account. Then, you can begin hunting for real-world treasure in your area. It involves using GPS coordinates for navigation, and you’ll find a hidden geocache when you get there.

Many of the geocaches require hiking to reach and offer opportunities for birding and watching other wildlife.

Tour Mission Point Lighthouse

From May through October, and during November weekends, Mission Point Lighthouse is open for tours. You can look around the first floor of the lighthouse museum for free. For a small fee, you can climb the stairs to the top of the lighthouse.

All year, though, the 5-acre Mission Point Lighthouse Park is open. It has miles of trails for walking, hiking, and biking. In the winter, you can go cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Play on the Beach, Playground, or Splash Pad at Clinch Park

Located along West Grand Traverse Bay, Clinch Park has the most popular beach in the area. It features more than 1,500 feet of sand, picnic tables, access to the Traverse Area Recreational Trail, and a snack bar.

On top of that, kids can enjoy climbing ropes on the playground and having fun in the splash pad.

Enjoy Beach Fun at Keith J. Charters Traverse City State Park

Along East Grand Traverse Bay, Keith J. Charters Traverse City State Park offers cheap things to do with kids in Traverse City.

The 47-acre park has campgrounds that are open all year and have heated restrooms. The best part is that it has 0.25 miles of beach.

Bike or Walk the Boardman Lake Trail

Near the center of Traverse City, the Boardman Lake Trail is 4 miles long and wraps around the northern and eastern shorelines of the lake. However, there are plans for the trail to completely circle the water.

You can spend only a few hours or the whole day on the trail. It has access to Medalie Park on the south end and Hull Park on the northeast end.

Explore the Timbers Recreation Area on Long Lake

Spread over 250 acres, the Timbers Recreation Area features a network of unmarked and marked trails for hiking and more. The newest edition in 2020 is a universal access trail for visitors of all ages and abilities.

Your children will have fun flying kites, fishing, and watching the wildlife too. If you have a dog, it can join you as long as it stays on a leash.

Build a Fairy House on the Fairy Trails

One of the other truly unique and free things to do in Traverse City with kids is to explore the Fairy Trails. As of 2020, The Botanic Garden at Historic Barns Park created a trail next to the Butterfly Garden and across from the Meadow’s Loop entrance.

It’s filled with small fairy houses, and your kids are welcome to build their own fairy homes near the trailhead as long as they use natural materials.

Mission Point Lighthouse - Traverse City Michigan
photo credit: @mrsjeniwood

Best Indoor Things to Do With Kids in Traverse City

Learn in Interactive Environments at the Great Lakes Children’s Museum

With the sole purpose of providing interactive, hands-on experiences for children, the Great Lakes Children’s Museum has been open since 1998. It has activities for various ages, such as The Hatchery and Skill Builder Stations for ages 1 to 3 and a Lilliputian Puppet Theater and Building Bridges for ages 5 to 8.

All ages can enjoy the Great Lakes Freighter, Life Cycle of a Cherry, and other activities. A family of four can visit for less than $30.

Visit The Dennos Museum Center for Kids Activities Traverse City Offers

At Northwestern Michigan College, The Dennos Museum Center provides various fun things to do in Traverse City. With an array of visual arts, performing arts, and scientific exhibitions and programs, it’s the premier cultural building in Northern Michigan.

The museum has both permanent and temporary collections, outdoor sculptures, and a hands-on gallery. A family of two adults and two kids can visit for about $20 or less.

Read or Listen to Stories at Traverse Area District Library

Offering an assortment of free things to do in Traverse City, the Traverse Area District Library is a network of libraries.

Young kids enjoy reading children’s books and listening to weekly storytimes. There are plenty of reading options for teens as well.

Watch a Cheap Kids Movie at the State Theatre

It can be expensive to watch a movie at a theater unless you visit the State Theatre at the right time.

It offers classic films on Wednesdays and kids’ matinees on Saturdays for just 25 cents! Also, Friday Night Flicks are available for just a few dollars.

Go Bowling for Free at Lucky Jack’s

For a fast-paced indoor activity, check out Lucky Jack’s. It’s the largest bowling center in Northern Michigan and has hosted thousands of leagues, tournaments, and parties. In the summer, bowling is free for kids.

On Sunday mornings, the venue offers discounted bowling games for all ages and free shoe rentals for children. Additionally, Lucky Jack’s has the biggest arcade in the region.

Lucky Jacks Bowling Alley In Traverse City Mi
Lucky Jack’s // photo credit

Best Traverse City Michigan Festivals for Families

Participate in Great Activities at the National Cherry Festival

Every July, families from across Michigan and the country attend the National Cherry Festival. In fact, it has been one of the best things to do with kids in Traverse City since 1925. It’s chock-full of entertainment and activities for all ages.

There are multiple parades, food vendors, live concerts, and thrilling rides. The Kid’s Club at Clinch Park during the festival offers face painting, Lego building, lawn games, and more.

See Free and Cheap Films at the Traverse City Film Festival

Another family-friendly event with a lot of free activities is the Traverse City Film Festival. Usually held at the end of July and beginning of August, it brings together filmmakers and movies from around the globe.

Kids can watch for free at Open Space Park, while Kids Fest Movies are only $1. There are even movies for teen audiences. The Closing Night Bash and Movies on Tap events are also free.

Engage in Kid-Friendly Activities at the Traverse City Children’s Book Festival

In November, the Traverse City Children’s’ Book Festival provides a host of free things to do in Traverse City. This event was the original children’s book festival in Michigan and celebrates literacy with families.

You can find a wide selection of books from local and national publishers. In addition, there are kid-friendly crafts and activities.

Traverse City Children's Book Festival
Traverse City Children’s Book Festival // photo credit

Best Places to Eat in Traverse City with Kids

Savor a Handmade Patty at Slabtown Burgers

Slabtown Burgers is an excellent restaurant for families because of its colorful decor and casual atmosphere. It serves hand-pattied burgers and freshly cut fries every day.

There are hot dogs, deli and chicken sandwiches, milkshakes, vegetarian, and gluten-free options, and more on the menu too. Indoor and outdoor patio seating are available.

Choose From a Variety of Food Trucks at The Little Fleet

One of the most fun places and family things to do in Traverse City with kids is to eat at The Little Fleet. Rather than a single restaurant, it’s a collection of food trucks that offer a range of dishes.

For instance, you can get Vietnamese street food at Good on Wheels, brick oven pizza at Traverse City Pizza Company, awesome barbecue at Cordwood, and delicious burgers and sandwiches at Glendale Ave.

Grab Fresh Produce or Homemade Treats at Gallagher’s Farm Market

Whether you want to grab ingredients to make a meal or stop for a snack, Gallagher’s Farm Market has what you want. You can find fresh fruits and vegetables and an array of baked goods, such as doughnuts, pastries, pies, and breads.

Kids can meet the farm animals throughout the year and investigate the corn maze in the fall.

Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth at Moomers Homemade Ice Cream

Stopping at Moomers Homemade Ice Cream is one of the coolest things to do with kids in Traverse City. It makes more than 160 ice cream flavors and serves cones, banana splits, sundaes, milkshakes, and the like.

You can order an ice cream flight to sample five flavors. Moomers hosts tours of the ice cream store and dairy farm during the summer.

Unique Local Traverse City Restaurant: Moomers Ice Cream
Moomers Ice Cream // photo credit

Find More Things to Do in Traverse City

Aside from these cheap and free things to do in Traverse City with kids, there are many other unique things to do in Traverse City. There are numerous great local restaurants in Traverse City as well. If you want some adult-only time, take a tour of Traverse City’s many vineyards and wineries.

And don’t miss the best Vrbo & Airbnb Traverse City vacation rentals – perfect for a family vacation in Traverse City!

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