With borders on four of the five Great Lakes, Michigan is sometimes referred to as the “Great Lakes State.” However, there’s so much more to this freshwater paradise than nature and beaches. The state has several bustling cities too, which provide more than enough indoor and outdoor things to do. Whether you live in Jackson or you’re just visiting, there are numerous day trips Michigan offers, and we’ve made a list of our favorite day trips from Jackson MI that are closer than 3 hours away (assuming it’s not construction season).
Best Day Trips from Jackson MI: City Destinations
Ann Arbor, Michigan
A short road trip east from Jackson, Ann Arbor is the home of the University of Michigan. This tech hub and culinary hot spot has a walkable downtown area that offers world-class culture, arts, and music. You’ll find sporting events, unique shops, history-rich museums, and more in this bustling, urban oasis.
East Lansing, Michigan
Also a college town, East Lansing is north of Jackson and home to Michigan State University. Its famous museum features 15 galleries across three floors, and its Bug House and Abrams Planetarium provide entertaining family experiences. The university’s Dairy Store is a great place to get lunch and dessert, and you can go on a self-guided tour of the campus barns and cow nursery. In the evenings, Beggar’s Banquet, Harrison Roadhouse, and HopCat are popular dining and drinking spots in the area.
Although it’s not considered a major city, Kalamazoo offers a ton of things to do west of Jackson. It’s rich in arts and culture, and the culinary scene is a wonderland for foodies. You can learn about the area’s history, science and technology at Kalamazoo Valley Museum, and view the art collection at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. Additionally, the Air Zoo Aerospace & Science Museum features rides and flight simulators.
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Settled along the Grand River, Grand Rapids is full of artistic and culinary design. The city was built on the craft furniture industry, and you can learn all about it and ride a restored 1928 carousel at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. If you’re interested in attending a mock White House dinner or eavesdropping on the Oval Office, check out the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. The 125-acre Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park has the largest tropical conservatory in the state.
You can take a road trip to another country by visiting Frankenmuth, Michigan. Known as “Little Bavaria,” this cozy town is a major tourist destination that makes you feel like you’ve stepped into the German state. You can expect Bavarian architecture, foods, beer, music, and warm hospitality. In addition, the town has two indoor water parks, horse-drawn carriage rides, riverboat cruises, an aerial park for zip lining, and Christmas all year.
With 10 miles of shoreline on Lake Michigan, Saugatuck is one of the best beach towns in the world. However, the beach isn’t the only thing to do here. It has a blend of shopping opportunities from upscale galleries and boutiques to artisan shops. Also known as the “art coast” of the state, dozens of artists call it home, and the Saugatuck Center for the Arts hosts exhibits, films, stage productions, and other cultural events throughout the year.
Best Day Trips from Jackson, MI: Attraction Destinations
In Haslett, picking your own apples at Clearview Orchards from the beginning of September offers a low-key experience for families. There’s a wide variety of apples to choose from, including Empire, McIntosh, Gala, and Honeycrisp. The orchard sells Crest Haven and Flaming Fury peaches during the first two weeks of September. Through late September and the majority of October, gourds, pumpkins, and squash are available.
Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary
For an exhilarating adventure, take a road trip to Athens to explore the Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary. Animal encounters are a great learning opportunity and include the chance to hold one of the animals. The sanctuary has several exhibits, including covered and outdoor swamps. In Gator High School, you can watch the smartest gators in the world perform daily training activities. Aside from alligators, you’ll find lizards, river fish, praying mantises, crocodiles, giant tortoises and more.
Belle Isle Park
With numerous family things to do, Belle Isle Park is a 982-acre island park in Detroit. It sits on the Detroit River and is home to an assortment of recreational and educational opportunities. Some of its attractions include the Belle Isle Nature Center, Dossin Great Lakes Museum, Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse, Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, Belle Isle Aquarium, and James Scott Memorial Fountain. The park features a playground, golf range, swimming beach, and athletic fields as well.
For-Mar Nature Preserve & Arboretum
Another nature option with family things to do is the For-Mar Nature Preserve & Arboretum in Burton, which is near Detroit. It used to be a dairy farm and stretches across 383 acres of picturesque land. You can enjoy miles of trails and the beautiful flora and fauna of the gardens. A barrier-free treehouse and apiary are on the property too.
Lake St. Clair Metropark
Whether you like bicycling, bird-watching, boating, swimming or windsurfing, you can do it at the Lake St. Clair Metropark in Harrison Township. The 1-mile paved trail has easy access to the water for boats. There’s even an Olympic-sized swimming pool with waterslides, a 1,000-foot sandy beach, Squirt Zone Spray Ground and 1,600-foot boardwalk. It’s one of the coolest family day trips Michigan offers with winter activities as well, including outdoor ice skating, cross-country skiing, ice hockey and ice fishing.
Lone Wolf Paintball
If you’re into adventurous things to do, Lone Wolf Paintball in Clinton Township can deliver. Specializing in everything paintball, this venue offers a great way to have fun and unwind. It’s the largest paintball center in Michigan with an indoor course that’s more than 20,000 square feet. Since the course is indoors, you can play any time of the year.
WildWater Adventure Park at Michigan’s Adventure
During the summer, one of the most popular family things to do in Michigan is making a splash at WildWater Adventure park inside Michigan’s Adventure in Muskegon. It’s the biggest water park in the state and has something for everyone, including body slides, wave pools, and speed slides. The little ones can play at Half-Pint Paradise or Beach Party, while older kids and adults can enjoy more extreme rides, such as the Funnel of Fear, Snake Pit, and Mine Shaft. The best part is that you get two-for-one admission to Michigan’s Adventure amusement park when you visit!
Silver Lake State Park
For excellent boating, canoeing, fishing, and swimming, be sure to plan a day trip to Silver Lake State Park in Mears. This 3,000-acre park sits on the shoreline of Lake Michigan, creating one of the best beaches in the state. There are hiking trails, miniature golf, Mac Wood’s Dune Rides, and nature to explore. Sightseeing and shopping are available nearby.
Other Day Trips Michigan Has to Explore
These aren’t the only day trips that you can plan in Michigan. You can explore many other towns and cities across the state in a day when you live or visit Jackson. For more ideas, check out these vineyards and wineries for adults and free and cheap things to do for everyone in the family.