Start packing the suitcases for an incredible Michigan road trip exploring the Great Lakes Bay Region. Whether you want to relax on the sandy shores of the bay, discover charming small towns or get out to experience the beauty of nature, Great Lakes Bay, Michigan has it all.
Michigan is full of popular destinations. However, I encourage you to consider a visit to these seven spots, many that are off the beaten path. Great Lakes Bay sponsors this post to bring exciting new ideas to your travels. As always, opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links.
Where Is the Great Lakes Bay Region in Michigan
The Great Lakes Bay Region of Michigan is tucked along the eastern coastline at the base of Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay. The Great Lakes Bay Region is home to six cities; Bay City, Birch Run, Chesaning, Frankenmuth, Midland, and Saginaw.
Each city offers its unique flair, which is a delight to discover. The towns are pretty close apart, making it easy to explore each city while having a home base or choosing to city hop!
Check out our Road Trip Tips for kids while planning out your vacation.
Step back into history in Chesaning
The sleepy small town of Chesaning is the ideal place to take things slow. Grab a bite to eat at the Showboat Restaurant, take the kids to Cole Park to play on the steamboat playground, then venture to the Malt Shop for a sweet treat to end your evening. Here are a few other recommendations for things to do in Chesaning, Michigan.
Take a scenic walk along the river at Showboat Park. It was at Showboat Park where Chesaning would have their famous Showboat Music Festival. While the festival is no longer, the park is now home to a professional 18-hole disc golf course.
The Stone House Inn
Stepping into the Stone House Inn is like stepping into the home of a beloved relative. This historic home has been transformed into a darling bed and breakfast, which welcomes guests from all around the world. Over 100 years old, the Stone House Inn is brimming with character.
Relax on the front porch swing with a book, gather around the dining room table for a game or grab a quick snack from the kitchen. The innkeeper is fabulous, with the rooms being spacious and comfortable. Take a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood to see other beautiful historic homes.
Enjoy Michigan’s “Little Bavaria” Frankenmuth
A gem of the Great Lakes Bay Region is the city of Frankenmuth. Known as Little Bavaria, Frankenmuth is full of German heritage, charm, and food! It is easy to see why so many families make it a yearly tradition to visit Frankenmuth. Here are a few things to do in Frankenmuth on your next visit.
Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland
Christmas decorating takes on a new meaning after stepping inside the world’s largest Christmas store. Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland instantly fills you with the holiday spirit while browsing over 50,000 trims and gifts. Get customized ornaments within minutes, have a conversation with Santa, then drive through Christmas Lane filled with sparkling lights.
Silent Night Chapel
Right next to Bronner’s is a replica of the Silent Night Chapel in Oberndorf, Austria. It was the St. Nicolas Church site where “Silent Night” was first sung on Christmas Eve in 1818. Walking up to the chapel, the speakers softly play “Silent Night,” with fascinating facts about the song on panels leading up to the chapel.
The Bavarian Inn
There are two places in this town to get a chicken dinner, The Bavarian Inn and Zehnder’s. However, I prefer getting traditional German fare at the Bavarian Inn. The atmosphere reminds me of Bavaria, with an accordion player, servers in traditional outfits, and themed rooms. They also have a great German menu that pairs nicely with their extensive German beer selection!
Zehnder’s Chicken Dinner
To not choose sides on who has the best chicken dinner, we opted to try Zehnder’s as they offered a meal package with our hotel stay at the Splash Village. We were not prepared for the bounty of food that comes with a chicken dinner. COME HUNGRY! Endless plates of side dishes, chicken, and food seem to appear on the table magically. When looking at the side dishes on the menu, you get them all!
Our recommendation: This is a great spot to come with a large group or family. The chicken dinner is served with a wide variety of side dishes so that everyone will find something they will enjoy.
The River Place Shops
An excellent spot to find the perfect souvenir is at the River Place Shops. With plenty of restaurants, it is easy to spend the whole afternoon here. Catch a ride for a scenic cruise aboard the Bavarian Belle, walk across the covered bridge or take part in the Ultimate Mirror Maze.
The Cheese Haus
One of the highlights of shopping on Main Street is stopping at the Cheese Haus! The Cheese Haus has over 250 different types of cheese, including chocolate cheese!! Samples are currently not being offered; however, guests could come sample a variety of different cheese. Please make an effort to catch their Figurinespiel, which happens a few times a day. It is a fun clock display.
Grandpa Tiny’s Farm
Step onto a historic farm that is full of hands-on experiences. The farm offers guests the opportunity to pet the farmyard animals while being able to feed others. Tour the historic buildings on the farm, including the one-room schoolhouse that was built in the 1850s.
Great Lakes Bay Family Favorite: Zehnder’s Splash Village
Great Lakes Bay is home to Michigan’s largest indoor waterpark, Zehnder’s Splash Village in Frankenmuth. With two massive indoor water parks, restaurants, and hotels, Splash Village is a destination in itself for families.
Splash Village offers guests the opportunity to experience the waterpark with a day pass option or overnight packages. Overnights in the hotel offer spacious rooms, ideal for families, with suites available. Breakfast and dinner add-ons make meals a breeze. The hotel provides complimentary transportation to Zehnder’s Restaurant in downtown Frankenmuth.
Once inside the Splash Village, there is a changing area, lockers, and bathrooms. The park is split into two different indoor water parks, both with retractable roofs! The Atrium Waterpark includes:
- A family raft ride.
- Action river.
- Zero-entry pool with water geysers.
- Water basketball.
- Water volleyball.
- A large family hot tub.
- Other fun family activities.
The second is the Splash Waterpark with includes a Splash Landing Play Area, a dumping bucket, Giggling Gorge, and Perilous 4 story tube slides. Enjoy the Whimsical Whirl Hot Tub or float along Crooked Brook Lazy River. Those looking to stay on the drier side can enjoy the Mushroom Grille, a massive arcade along with a bar.
Consider booking one of their packages or sign up for their newsletter to get promotions delivered to your inbox for money-saving options. Before booking, ensure to check their pandemic regulations as some attractions may be closed.
Go Wild in Birch Run
Birch Run is home to Wilderness Trails Zoo. Located only a few minutes from Frankenmuth, the Wilderness Trails Zoo is a great way to spend a morning or afternoon. The zoo sits on 56-acres, offering guests the opportunity to see exotic animals, take part in a petting zoo or have a parakeet encounter.
There are seven feeding stations found throughout the park. So bring quarters or make change at the front before going into the zoo. The zoo does allow outside food and drink, which can be enjoyed at the picnic area near the playground.
Tip: Bring a stroller or rent a wagon. The zoo loop is roughly a mile long. Little legs will often get tired, so be prepared.
Go hog wild by indulging in a BLT from Tony’s I-75 Restaurant. These massive sandwiches each contain a pound of bacon! Come hungry because all of Tony’s meals are pretty large. Then walk it all off at the Birch Run Premium Outlets.
Explore The Great Outdoors in Saginaw
Saginaw has many great attractions worth visiting but for a unique experience, plan a visit to the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge is one of Michigan’s most significant wetland ecosystems, home to a wide variety of migratory birds. The bird watching is remarkable as there are new species around every corner, so don’t forget your binoculars.
During the months of June-September, the park offers an Auto Tour, allowing visitors to drive through the 6-mile trail with observation areas. There are a variety of hiking trails available year-round for guests to enjoy.
Tip: Bring bug spray, sunscreen, and water. The swampy wetlands are a magnet for bugs with little shade. Come prepared to make the most out of your visit.
Relax By The Bay in Bay City
Bay City is a unique, beautiful city that is nestled along Saginaw Bay. Stroll along the river while watching tall schooners glide out to the bay, indulge in a visit to St. Laurent Brothers for delicious candies, or browse through treasures in one of many antique shops. Bay City is home to plenty of great dining establishments such as Old City Hall and Uptown Cafe, along with charming boutiques for shopping. In addition to setting sail on a sightseeing cruise, here are few other things to discover in Bay City.
Home to the iconic World Friendship Shell, Wenonah Park is the central park of Bay City. It sits along the bank of the Saginaw River offers guests plenty of scenic views, picnic areas, and even a pavilion for larger events. The park is a great starting point for exploring downtown Bay City, Michigan. They were in the process of putting in a new playground during our visit!
Bay City State Park – A Great Lakes Bay Favorite
Hit the beach with a visit to Bay City State Park. This is a 2,389-acre state park can be found on the shore of Saginaw Bay near Bay City in Bay County, Michigan, United States. The beach area offers swimming, a playground, picnicking and more! The Tobico Marsh, one of the most extensive remaining freshwater coastal wetlands on the Great Lakes, is located in the park. Take time to enjoy the walking trails throughout the wetlands.
The Riverfront DoubleTree
Be in the heart of the city by staying at the Riverfront DoubleTree by the river. Watch the boats come and go from your hotel window while enjoying a signature DoubleTree cookie. While booking, ensure to ask for a room with a view of the river.
The hotel also offers a beautiful indoor pool and whirlpool, exercise room, and restaurant. However, it is it’s a central location that makes it ideal for getting out and exploring Bay City.
Discover Why Everyone Loves Midland
A brief twenty-minute drive from Bay City will land you in Midland, the heart of Michigan. A lively main street is full of charming boutiques, trendy restaurants, and taprooms. See the Tridge, dine at the delicious Cafe Zinc, do a little shopping, then cap your evening off with a beer from the Whichcraft Taproom. During your visit, don’t miss out on these Midland musts!
Dow Gardens – A Must While Visiting The Great Lakes Bay Region
Take to the treetops by exploring the nation’s longest canopy walk at Dow Gardens. Guests are encouraged to venture off the path to tour the grounds. Stroll through the diverse gardens, including a stop in the Children’s Garden, Rose Garden, and Herb Garden. The prime time to visit the gardens is during the spring and summer months, while many of the flowers are in peak bloom. Buy your tickets online before arriving to reserve a time slot.
Chippewa Nature Center
Outdoor enthusiasts will love venturing to the Chippewa Nature Center. The Chippewa Nature Center has a unique Homestead that kids of all ages will find fascinating. I highly recommend this stop for those with children.
Step back into the 1870’s Homestead Farm, complete with a variety of historic buildings, farm animals, and gardens. There is a nature play area that lets kids build forts, make a mud pie, enjoy the sound garden, and more.
There is an abundance of hiking trails found throughout the Nature Center. The River Trail offers excellent overlooks of the Chippewa River, while smaller hikes like the Asbury Trail takes guest around a pond. The best part is that admission to the Nature Center is entirely FREE!!
Recharge at the elegant Hotel H, which has been a Midland staple for years. Indulge in top-of-the-line amenities, five-star service, and hospitality. Luxurious guest rooms include all the comforts of home, along with state-of-the-art technology. Our daughter adored the indoor pool while my husband enjoyed the craft cocktails at the bar. Did I mention they have an incredible restaurant, Cafe Zinc, that can be ordered directly to your room?
Our recommendation: End your evening by having cookies and milk delivered to your room, then enjoy them in bed wrapped up in one of the hotel’s plush robes.
There are so many incredible places to visit the Great Lakes Bay Region of Michigan that we could have easily made this a two-week Michigan road trip.