West Michigan – West Michigan is a kid’s paradise. From splashing in Lake Michigan in the summers to embracing their inner pirate afloat on the lake, West Michigan has something to offer kids of all ages!
With an array of impressive lakes, soaring soaring sand dunes, and a yearly winter wonderland, getting your kids to go play outside has never been easier! Summer fun abounds at Saugatuck Dune Rides, Parrot’s Landing (Mears) and Silver Lake Buggy Rentals, with group tours of the sand dunes offered, as well as the opportunity to rent your own buggy or Jeep to play on the dunes at your leisure.
Get up close with nature at a variety of locations, including Pierce Cedar Creek Institute (Hastings). It offers a wide variety of programming designed for kids, including opportunities to tap trees for sap in the spring, identify leaves in the fall, and learn about many aspects of our natural world all year long. The Frederik Meijer Gardens (Grand Rapids) features an interactive Children’s Garden, balmy greenhouses year-round, and acres of outdoor art and gardens for the whole family to explore.
Grass River Natural Area in Bellaire is a wonderful place for families and kids to explore the outdoors. From the Grass River Center with hands-on displays and friendly naturalists, to over 7 miles of trails and boardwalks to hike through woodlands and wetlands, families can visit again and again. There are also many year-round programs for all ages, including wildflower and bird walks, pontoon boat cruises, kayaking trips, story hours, and a summer day camp for kids ages 6 to 11.
Kids of all ages love the Petoskey Area – especially those kids who love to get outside! In the winter, there’s skiing available on more than 160 slopes. Plus cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are great ways to explore and those same trails are open for hiking the rest of the year. Designated sledding hills and outdoor ice rinks are wonderful places to spend time without spending a future – they’re free to use – and available in Petoskey, Boyne City, Walloon Lake and Harbor Springs. In spring, summer and fall, Petoskey stones are waiting to be scooped up by happy hunters (no license required).And the sparkling waters of the bay, Lake Charlevoix, Walloon and Crooked Lakes are perfect for cooling off with a swim on a hot summer’s day. Get your kids outdoors and find out how much fun you’ll all have together in the Petoskey Area!
Traverse City is a destination for kids of all ages, but especially those who like being in the Great Outdoors. In the summer you can swim in the sparkling waters of Grand Traverse Bay or build the ultimate sandcastle on a sugar-sand beach. You can kayak or tube down a crystal-clear river or go fishing in one of our many lakes. There’s hiking and biking on our many trails, cherries to pick in our orchards (this IS the Cherry Capital of America, after all.) And of course, there are the amazing Sleeping Bear Dunes – save time and energy to climb them, and then to run (or roll) down to the bottom. In the fall, visit Jacob’s Corn Maze to get lost in their 10 acre maze, catch a horse drawn wagon ride, and try your hand at the Apple Sling Shot. In winter, Traverse City is a snow-white playground for skiing, tubing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and snowmobiling. You can skate on a frozen pond – or on the indoor rink where the Detroit Red Wings do their fall training! For more than 100 kid’s ideas for things to do and places to eat in Traverse City, check out the on-line Kid’s Guide
Don’t let colder weather keep the kids indoors! Cannonsburg Ski Area is a family friendly location for all your winter activities, including snow tubing, skiing, snowboarding, and cross country skiing. Echo Valley in Kalamazoo offers a great twist on a winter favorite: sledding. Echo Valley boasts a hill full of toboggan runs, each of which is a quarter mile long and allows for speeds of up to 60 miles per hour before coasting to a stop.
There are plenty of things to do for kids on a snowy day in South Haven! Experience the joy of snowshoeing on the Kal-Haven Trail, Van Buren Trail Linear Park, or in the Van Buren State Park, or suit up in snow gear and visit one of their ski resorts. Nearby, the Timber Ridge Ski Area in Gobles is a favorite spot for tubing, snowboarding and skiing. Slopes vary in difficulty from very challenging to beginner runs. Snowboards can be rented for $25 a day, and ski rentals are $19 a day. A ski shop is on-site to purchase any forgotten items. Lessons are available for both adults and children. The Timber Ridge Ski Area offers a movie-worthy place where a wide range of snow activities can be performed. The Bittersweet Ski Area in Otsego has 16 runs and one of the fastest lifts in the South Haven area. The runs are made for first-time skiers and those who are experts. There is a full-service rental shop and several places to grab a bite to eat. Two snack shops, an outdoor grille, lounge and a cafe are all on-site and ready for when you work up an appetite on the slopes. Snowboards are allowed. There is no lodge present, so visitors will not have to worry about the extra crowd of hotel guests. Dress the kids warm for sledding and tubing at St. Joseph and Water Streets. Whatever the choice of snow activity, South Haven is a guaranteed destination for winter fun.
Leelanau Adventures is currently offering guided interpretive snowshoe hikes in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore as well as winter survival classes. Discounts are available for families and groups of four or more. They also offer guided, safe opportunities to visit the magnificent ice caves that form along the lakeshore! Make sure to check their website and Facebook page for current updated on ice cave activities.
The Muskegon Winter Sports Complex is the perfect place for a day of winter activities and fun in the snow for kids of all ages! Located in Muskegon State Park, this huge complex offers exciting annual events and outdoor sports facilities to the public. They have one of only four publicly accessible luge tracks in the country and you’ll receive an instruction session before you take the plunge! You can also cross-country ski, snowshoe, snowboard or sled on 5 miles of groomed track day or night! They also feature an outdoor ice rink for hockey or skating and a ¼ mile, lighted ice skating trail. Skis, snowshoes, ice skates and sleds are available for rent.
And even in the dead of winter, you can easily explore nature through the Outdoor Discovery Center in Holland. The ODC has many events on Saturdays: Family Ice Fishing on February 20, and Birds of Prey on February 27.
Let your kids get wild in West Michigan with a visit to one of the area’s zoos or wild animal parks. Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park in Alto offers a walk-through parakeet aviary, a chance to feed the park’s giraffes, and free informational Safari Rides to view the park’s larger herds of animals. The John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids lets kids participate in an Under the Sea Tour and Penguin Encounter, and even sign up for their “Keeper for a Half Day” program. At Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, kids will love the free tram to Wild Africa, where they can feed the park’s giraffes before catching a ride on the Z.O.&O. Railroad to visit the rest of the zoo.
For the aspiring equestrians, West Michigan has plenty of opportunities for a first experience on horseback, or lessons for kids to expand their riding skills. Teusink’s Pony Farm in Holland offers pony ring rides for the littlest riders, and trail rides for kids ages seven and up. The Double JJ Resort in Rothbury has extensive equestrian offerings, with everything from trail rides to private lessons for beginners. Double R Ranch in Belding offers stunning trail rides along their river trail, with riding options available for ages two and up. Rainbow Ranch in New Era offers even more equestrian options, allowing children as young as one year old to ride double in the saddle with an adult.
Spend a day down on the farm, and give your kids the chance to get up close and personal with plenty of animals. Critter Barn in Zeeland is an educational farm, dedicated to educating both children and adults through hands-on activities, field trips, education classes, and family events. Lewis Farm Market in New Era is another location that offers plenty of animal experiences, with their star of their show: Jeffrey the camel! Learn about dairy cows at Country Dairy in New Era, where you can take a tour of the barns and attend “Moo School,” and then wrap up your visit by tasting some of their freshly made ice cream! Shetler Family Dairy in Kalkaska offers a similar experience, and you’ll want to plan to attend their “Open Barn Party” each year as well. Deer Tracks Junction in Cedar Springs boasts an impressive herd of deer, elk, reindeer, and Tibetan Yaks. Hop aboard their stagecoach for the Wildlife Safari Tour, or head to the Hands-On Farm for a chance to interact with some of their animals. Post Family Farm in Hudsonville offers a beautiful, old-fashioned farm setting perfect for the whole family. Meet their farm animals, catch a hayride to the pumpkin patch, and make sure to try their homemade donuts while you’re there! Meet lots of turkeys at Cornwell’s Turkeyville USA in Marshall, where you can camp, splash in the pool, catch a dinner theatre show, and much more.
With not only Lake Michigan nearby, but hundreds of inland lakes and rivers, the area has a wide array of options for little landlubbers to take to the water. Old-time riverboats cruise the rivers and lakes, offering sunset and educational cruises, or the option to rent the entire boat out for a birthday party or special event. You’ll want to check out the Holland Princess (Holland), Star of Saugatuck (Saugatuck), Michigan Princess (Grand Ledge), or Port City Princess (Muskegon), depending on which area you’re planning to visit.
For a sail that will really stir kids’ imaginations, climb aboard one of the area’s tall ships, which offer sails on replica ships from the 1800s. The Friends Good Will docks at the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven, and offers pirate-chaser adventure sails in the summer! The Tall Ship Manitou docks in Traverse City with the Traverse Tall Ship Company, and offers day sails, charter sails, and even overnight floating bed and breakfast accommodations.
Don’t let the word “museum” scare your kids away; there’s plenty of fun to be had at many of West Michigan’s museums! From flying an airplane to riding on an antique carousel, your kids will have so much fun, they won’t even realize they’re learning at the same time.
Let’s start with a museum designed specifically for kids: the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum. Beat the winter blues with a trip to the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum! Join them for daily drop in programs, explore the Imagination Lab, make your way through the jungle in “Adventures In Balance,” make a giant bubble, drive through “Little GR,” build in the “Imagination Playground” and more! GRCM has something for kids of all ages and something new to discover with every trip! While you’re in the area, stop by the Grand Rapids Public Museum for local history and impressive traveling exhibits, including the upcoming “Robot Zoo” and the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, honoring Ford in his hometown.
Visit the Discovery Gallery at the Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City, which offers children of all ages a “hands on” interactive experience. Highlights of the gallery include several unique interactive exhibitions including Recollections and Elastic Surgery by Ed Tannenbaum, The Sound Wall by Ed Weiss, a Laser Harp and an Anti-Gravity mirror plus numerous exhibitions related to light and color. The gallery also features a Hubble Space Telescope Theater with ongoing transmission of programming from NASA and the Space Telescope Institute.
If your kids are interested in music or machines, you’ll definitely want to plan on a stop at the Music House Museum in Acme, just outside of Traverse City. You’ll be hard pressed to miss the gem of their collection: an 18 foot tall & 32 foot wide Wurlitzer Theatre Organ, but will find countless other treasures along the way as you explore with your eyes and ears.
For the kids who dream of the day they’ll be able to drive, the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners will go a long ways towards holding them over. Featuring hundreds of vintage cars, the campus also houses an old-fashioned gas station, the authentic Blue Moon Diner, and a giant car set straight out of a Disney movie!
It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s the Air Zoo! Let your kids take on the role of captain as they blast off to space on an interactive 3D Space Shuttle Ride, or take a ride on the 26-foot indoor Ferris Wheel. Feel the sensation of weightlessness as you are dropped from a height of two stories on their Paratrooper Jump, or strap in and take control of a fighter plane in their Flight Simulators.
You’ll find all the magic and wonder of the Silver Beach Carousel in St. Joseph, just yards from Lake Michigan’s Silver Beach. Open all four seasons, you can ride a different carousel figure or chariot every week! Then explore the free Silver Beach Amusement Park Museum, where you can experience its delightful past through interactive exhibits and memorabilia (be sure to ask the Great Zandini to tell your fortune).
Kids don’t want to just see things, they want to do things too! At the Lakeshore Museum Center in Muskegon, young visitors have two hands-on galleries to explore. In the Science Center, visitors can open and explore the contents of over 20 science-themed drawers covering such topics as life cycles, mind bogglers, sound, and more. They can ride a bike to generate electricity, play a xylophone and experiment with pulleys, a microscope and a tornado simulator. A reading corner provides a little quiet time. The gallery is perfect for toddler age and older. The Body Works Gallery also offers hands-on experiences. Young visitors can build a meal, ride and exercise bike, and learn how flexible they are on the Flexi Tester. The gallery also has two computer stations with nutrition and health related activities. The Lakeshore Museum Center explores the natural and cultural history of Muskegon County and Michigan. It is open weekdays from 9:30 am to 4:30 and on Saturdays from Noon to 4 pm. Admission is always free.
Michigan’s Heritage Park at Hilt’s Landing (an expansion of the Lakeshore Museum Center) is a living history park which explores 10,000 years of Michigan history in a natural woodland setting. Tours begin in the Visitors Center where you’ll find a gift shop, meeting space, and restrooms. A gentle half-mile trail winds through the park with first-person encounters along the way. You’ll discover an Ottawa Village where you can help a Native American make a birch basket. Further along, in the log cabin, you will meet a settler from the 1840s and have an opportunity to help churn butter for the evening meal. Help bake bread in the 1910s farm house and learn about the origins of Michigan’s commercial farming industry.
More Fun for Kids
Kids in West MI should visit the Downtown Market this February to experience delicious food with their families and explore the greenhouse, a warm and welcoming place in the winter. The Downtown Market also offers classes in the teaching kitchen and greenhouse for kids and families, to teach them fun meals and snacks they can cook, and that food comes from a farm, not a factory. February classes include “Zombie Pineapples and Other Experiments” on Saturday, February 20th.
Calling all parents, grandparents, and guardians! On February 27th there will be a lot to see and do in Coopersville. Teams will be racing outhouses down Main Street at 10am and then heading to the Coopersville Farm Museum and Event Center for an indoor Chili Cook-off (11am-1pm) and lots of activities, small or baby animals, and crafts for kids (10am-2pm). Dress in layers and plan to spend the day in downtown Coopersville for the Coopersville Winter Festival!
With 60 rides and attractions, including seven roller coasters, Michigan’s Adventure is the state’s largest theme park! Roller coaster enthusiasts from around the country come to experience the critically acclaimed Shivering Timbers, a high-speed wooden out-and-back coaster, and the Thunderhawk, the first and only suspended loop coaster in the state! WildWater Adventure features three wave pools, body slides, tube slides, family raft rides and a kiddie play area. The Funnel of Fear is a standout favorite, taking riders through a 300 ft. enclosed tunnel out to a 60 ft. funnel propelled by swirling water!
San Chez Bistro in Grand Rapids is offering a Kid’s Cooking Class this month on Tuesday, February 9th. Let your little chef blossom with this Kid’s Cooking Classes. Your kids will be in great hands when they join the San Chez chef team in learning how to make dinner in a fun and safe environment. Ages 5-10. Cost is $35.
You’ve got the chance to catch some great shows for the kids at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids this month! “Disney On Ice: Let’s Celebrate” comes to Van Andel Arena from February 11th through 14th with a colossal party on ice, with all your favorite Disney friends! Join Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald and Goofy as they celebrate a Very Merry Unbirthday Party with Alice and the Mad Hatter; A royal Valentine’s Day Ball with your favorite Disney Princesses, including Cinderella, Ariel, Belle and Tiana; a Hawaiian luau with Lilo & Stitch; a whole new world with Jasmine and Aladdin; a winter wonderland with Woody, Jessie and Buzz Lightyear; a Halloween haunt with the Disney villains and more in a magical medley of holidays, celebrations and festivities from around the globe. The Grand Rapids Griffins face off against the Rockford IceHogs, the Milwaukee Admirals, the Charlotte Checkers, and more this month for those looking to catch a hockey game at Van Andel Arena.
Enjoy a high tea experience for all ages at Henderson Castle in Kalamazoo, complete with Disney princesses and activities! The castle will be transformed into a magical world where Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Prince Charming and many more favorite characters come together to entertain little guests over tea, petite four and savories, pictures, storytelling, dancing and guided tour of the Castle with the princess. The Princess Tea Party takes place on February 29th from 1pm-3pm, and reservations are suggested. $25 per person.
Bring your kids to the Double JJ Resort in Rothbury. If you live in the area, visit on a Local Community Appreciation Sunday Swimming day. Through May 22nd, locals can swim at the Gold Rush Indoor Waterpark for just $10 per person. Please call the resort for details on Local Community Appreciation days.
Nelis’ Dutch Village is a like a step back into the Netherlands of over 100 years ago, on a day when the festival came to town. In a setting filled with authentic Dutch architecture, flowering gardens, canals and windmills, their associates dressed in authentic costumes and wooden shoes bring the history and culture of the Dutch to life. The theme park features Dutch klompen dancing, wooden shoe carving, museums, a vintage Dutch movie, and a Frisian farmhouse with barn filled with a large petting zoo. Kids can ride a Ferris wheel ride, Dutch chair swing ride, restored antique carousel, mini zipline, Petal Pumper Cars, and a large wooden shoe slide. You’ll find Windmill Island Gardens also in Holland, featuring guided tours of 252 year-old working Dutch windmill. Klompen dancing in summer, a 17th-century Dutch country inn, an antique carousel for children, movies in the Post House, and the Netherlands in miniature.
Catch Air in Grand Rapids is a fully kid-friendly, high-energy zone! Your kids will have a blast with their fun, safe, interactive, dynamic, and unique activities. Bring your boogie shoes for the bubble dance party, and make sure to watch the laser show. Play in the giant three story soft play castle, and enjoy lots of interactive toys, even featuring a separate play area for the really little kids. It’s also a great place to host a birthday party that the guests will talk about for weeks!
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