Free Things to Do In Traverse City

Free. It’s the four-letter word we like to hear, especially when it is used within the context of vacation planning. We know that traveling can take a toll on your bank account, but here in Traverse City, that’s not always true. Yes, wine tasting will cost a few bucks and so will going to the Sleeping Bear Dunes, but there are plenty of other options for free things to do. Need some suggestions? Take a look at our not-so-extensive list below or click here.


There is nothing quite like roaming the beach to discover your first Petoskey stone - a special treasure found on Michigan shorelines. Take a refreshing dip in the cool lake and warm back up on the toasty sand. The beaches are abundant in Traverse City and are a beautiful spot to spend time no matter what season you're visiting.


Truly enjoy the beauty of northern Michigan by getting out in nature, on a trail. The Traverse City area has many pathways so you can always find what you’re looking for, whether you’re a casual stroller or a more advanced hiker or even have kids tagging along. The spots nearest to downtown Traverse City are Hickory Hills, TART Trails and The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. To find a suitable hiking area for your recreational needs checks out our complete list of trails here.

Visit a Lighthouse

The Traverse City region is home to five historic lighthouses. As icons of the Great Lakes, they are must-see attractions. The buildings are all in good condition and many of them can be toured. Be sure to pack a swimsuit, hiking shoes and a snack, as most of the lighthouses, are near beaches, trails and picnic spots.

Art Galleries

Your stay in Traverse City shouldn’t be complete without visiting one (or more) of the art galleries in the area. See the region from local artists’ perspectives through the diverse selection of paintings, ceramics, sculptures, glass or a mixture of the different art forms. Take your time as you wander through the galleries to fully immerse yourself in the experience.  

Visit a Park

Want to go to the park? It’s music to a kid’s ears. Do an underdog on the swings, climb a play structure or cool off at the Clinch Park Splash Pad. These are the memories kids’ will hold onto long after the vacation is over. Looking for a location with picnic tables, a playground, and a beach all in one spot? Parks to check out close to downtown include Clinch Park, Bryant Park, and The Traverse City State Park.


Traverse City offers beautiful nature preserves and parks where you can enjoy a birding adventure. Whether you have gone birdwatching before, or it is your first time, you will love seeing the various habitats and species that inhabit this region. The Traverse City area is filled with birdsong -- forest birds like pewees, phoebes and woodpeckers; summer nesters like flycatchers, orioles, warblers, vireos, cuckoos, and hummingbirds; and a bewildering number of aquatic birds including gulls, terns, loons and the rare piping plover. There are also raptors -- from hawks and owls to majestic bald eagles.

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