Budget-Friendly Day Trips in Michigan

If winter has got you down in the doldrums, add a ton of excitement by taking a one-tank adventure to a great Michigan destination just a short drive from home.

Courtesy of Belle Isle Aquarium.
Courtesy of Belle Isle Aquarium.

Written by Chris Reilly 

There's no reason to suffer from cabin fever during the winter. There are many activities and events within an easy drive of Detroit that are great for families, individual, couples and, well, everyone. Here are some fabulous and affordable adventures you should put on your winter to-do list. The best part? These destinations are only a tank of gas (or less) away.

Port Huron

100 McMorran Blvd.

Port Huron, Michigan

(800) 852-4242

Why Go? Known as the Maritime Capital of the Great Lakes, Port Huron offers a host of fascinating and fun things to do. Maritime lore is everywhere, from the Great Lakes Maritime Center to Michigan's oldest lighthouse, Fort Gratiot. Stroll through the historic downtown district and explore art galleries and specialty shops, then grab a meal on the waterfront along the St. Clair or Black River.

Insider Tip: Don't miss the river walk beneath the Blue Water bridges, connecting Port Huron to Ontario, Canada. The view from directly beneath the bridge spans is a photo op not to be missed. Remember your camera.

Must Do: Enjoy a meal at The Vintage Tavern inside an historic brick building. Alcoves and cozy rooms create a true tavern feel, with a nice view of the Port Huron waterfront.

The Fine Print: A year-long $45 family membership to the Port Huron Museum allows a family of two adults and four kids unlimited access to the Carnegie Center, Huron Lightship and Thomas Edison Depot ($60 if paid separately). If you’re visiting all three museums or retuning within the year, this option saves money. 

324 S. Hancock St.

Pentwater, Michigan 

(231) 869-4150

Why Go? On the second and third weekends in February, Pentwater—a historic village on the western shore of Michigan—celebrates Winterfest. Get in on a fishing tournament, polar dip or cross-country skiing; test your culinary and tasting skills in the chili cook-off and wine and beer tastings.  

Insider Tip: Pentwater is known for its art galleries and antique shops, so if antiquing is your thing, plan on doing some along the town's tree-lined historic streets.

Must Do: Freezin' for a Reason. Sign up sponsors and take a Polar Dip in Pentwater Lake benefiting charity. Check the Winterfest website for more information.

The Fine Print: Events are still being finalized. As events are added they will be posted, so keep your eye on what's on tap. Most events are free, but check for any associated costs on events yet to be announced. Winterfest takes place Feb. 8 and Feb. 15. 

Belle Isle Park  

6925 E. Jefferson Ave. 

Detroit, Michigan

(313) 628-2081

Why Go? Located near downtown Detroit, the island offers five miles of scenic shoreline drive along America's busiest inland waterway. Belle Isle provides impressive views of Detroit, Canada, the Ambassador Bridge and freighter traffic. Visit the 85-foot Nancy Brown Peach Tower, the old casino, Scott Memorial Fountain, Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, Great Lakes Museum, Belle Isle Aquarium and much more.

Insider Tip: Bring your sleds. There’s an abundance of great sledding runs for every skill level.

Must Do: Visit the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory. Patterned after Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, the conservatory has ferns, cacti, palms and one of the largest collections of orchids in the country on permanent display. Open Wednesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. Call (313) 821-5428 for current show info.

The Fine Print: Admission, and most of the park's attractions are free, though many of Belle Isles attractions are closed during the winter. Call about specific activities to confirm they're open when you're planning your trip.  


Pine Knob Ski Resort

7777 Pine Knob

Clarkston, MI

(248) 634-8811 

Why Go? Skiing is as close as the Detroit suburbs at Pine Knob Hill, with six chairlifts, four tow ropes and two Wonder Carpets serving 15 trails for beginners to advanced skiers. Try Big Park and test your extreme skills on cool rails and jumps. The steepest hill has s 300-foot drop. Pine Knob's longest run, Quicksilver, offers a mini-detour along the Mansion run through some trees, up a bank and then down a nice drop off. Snowboarding is available and Pine Knob rents both skis and snowboards. Friendly instructers offer private and group lessons.

Insider Tip: The cafeteria is cash only. 

Must Do: After spending the day on the slopes, relax with friends in the lodge, where they do take credit cards. Enjoy an Irish coffee and regale your guests with tales of your daredevil skills on the slopes. 

The Fine Print: Pine Knob is open weekdays 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday & Sunday 9 a.m.-11 p.m. There are a variety of ticket prices for half days, bunny hills only and group discounts. The most expensive is the All Day/All Area lift pass on weekends for $55, with weekdays costing $47. Ski rental is $27 and helmet rental is $10. Children six years and under receive half-off the cost of a ticket, but the child must be with you at the ticket window.


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