Five Free Things to Do in Petoskey

Planning a visit to the northern Michigan town of Petoskey? Check out these free (or low cost) things to do while you are in the area.

The Little Traverse Wheelway takes you right through Bayfront Park in Petoskey.
The Little Traverse Wheelway takes you right through Bayfront Park in Petoskey. This park also happens to be one of my favorite places to admire fall colors.

Traverse the Little Traverse Wheelway

Strap on your walking shoes or hop onto your bicycle, and hit the trail! This 26-mile pedestrian trail travels from the nearby town of Charlevoix through Petoskey and up to Harbor Springs. Whether you travel the entire length or just a small portion, you are guaranteed to see some beautiful scenery along the way. Admire the scenery, watch for interesting wildlife, and don’t forget your camera!

This horse sculpture titled J-Bolt and the Ghost Rider is one of 25 intriguing sculptures that can be found in the Harris Gardens.
This horse sculpture titled J-Bolt and the Ghost Rider is one of 25 intriguing sculptures that can be found in the Harris Gardens.

Admire the art at the Harris Sculpture Gardens

On the campus of North Central Michigan College is this beautiful little sculpture park. It features 25 intriguing sculptures. My favorites include a tribute to Peter Pan, a turtle named George, and Kaleidoscope which is a kinetic sculpture . You may find it helpful to print this sculpture map (PDF) before you go.

Picnic with the Wright Brothers

Okay, okay… you can’t really picnic with the famous brother duo who invented the airplane. But you can picnic in front of a replica of the Wright brothers bicycle shop, and THAT is pretty dang neat. There is a lovely park called Pennsylvania Park right in the center of Petoskey. This park features several memorials, various shops, and a storefront façade of the Wright Cycle Company. It’s a great photo opportunity.

Be a Paleontologist for the Day

Petoskey Stones can only be found in a few select areas of the world… including Northern Michigan.
Petoskey Stones can only be found in a few select areas of the world… including northern Michigan.

Did you know that Michigan’s state stone is really a fossil? These fossils called Petoskey stones can only be found in a small region of the world, and Petoskey beaches are a perfect area to look for these unique natural treasures. So grab a bucket, hit the beach, and keep your eyes open for a “stone” with the telltale hexagonal pattern. Once you find them, you can take them home and polish them by hand. A Petoskey stone would make a perfect souvenir from your visit to northern Michigan.

RELATED: See this previous article for our best tips on how to find and polish Petoskey stones.

Discover your inner Willy Wonka with a chocolate factory tour.

Chocoholics rejoice! Kilwins, nationwide maker of chocolate confections and ice cream, is based in Petoskey. And at Kilwins Chocolate Kitchen located on Bay View Road, they give free tours!!! Learn about how they make the chocolate treats, fudge and ice cream. Watch the employees and machines work their magic. Did I mention there are free samples at the end of each tour?

Check out these other free (or super affordable) things to do in the area

If you’re looking for other affordable things to do in the area, here are some more ideas for you:

  • Check out the scenery along the famed Tunnel of Trees. Head north of town and drive the 20-mile section of Highway M-119 that stretches between Harbor Springs and Cross Village. It won’t take long for you to realize why people call it the Tunnel of Trees. It’s a beautiful drive any time of the year – winter, spring, summer or fall.
  • Float across Lake Charlevoix aboard the Ironton Ferry. While the ferry ride is not free, it is extremely affordable. For a few dollars, your family (along with your vehicle) will be ferried across the south arm of Lake Charlevoix. It’s a short-but-memorable experience and definitely worth a few dollars.
  • Catch a shooting star or even the Northern Lights at Headlands International Dark Sky Park. This park is about one hour north of Petoskey, and it’s one of only a few international dark sky parks in the nation. It’s open 24 hours a day, and there is no admission charge. It’s a fantastic place to view the night skies and possibly even see the Northern Lights if conditions are right. It also features some great trails that would be fun to explore during the day, including a 1-mile trail with displays that “explore humanity’s relationship with the cosmos” called the Dark Sky Discovery Trail.
  • Take a self-guided tour of the Mushroom Houses in the nearby town of Charlevoix. Built by a homegrown self-taught architect named Earl Young, these earthy dwellings are truly unique. They feature boulders from Lake Michigan, other natural resources from the local area, unexpected details like colored mortar and rounded shapes, hidden entrances, glass windows shipped from a faraway castle, and more. These structures are sure to pique your interest and inspire your imagination.
Young built the Half House as a wedding gift for his daughter.
Check out some of the other affordable things to do in the area, like a free self-guided tour of the Charlevoix Mushroom Houses.

RELATED: Interested in other fun adventures around the state of Michigan? Here’s a fun list of 10 Unique Michigan Adventures.

What are your favorite things to do while visiting northern Michigan?

 

Planning a visit to the northern Michigan town of Petoskey? Check out these free (or low cost) things to do while you are in the area.
Planning a visit to the northern Michigan town of Petoskey? Check out these free (or low cost) things to do while you are in the area.

 

14 comments

    1. So fun! Geoff and I did an anniversary trip there last fall. We had such a great time. Be sure to visit the Mushroom Houses while you are out that way! You two will love it! Oh, and there are tons of old Ernest Hemingway haunts up there!! I bet you would like that, too. Hemingway spent a lot of time there in the summers of his youth.

    1. Me, too! I think a dark sky park would be spectacular. Weather conditions never cooperate with us when we are near one though. But I always bring my special red flashlight… just in case.

  1. I really need to take a trip to Michigan! So many fun things to do. I’d really like to see the sculpture park, and I am always open to chocolate! Pennsylvania Park also looks really cool. I’ve always been fascinated by the Wright Brothers ever since I read a book about them in elementary school. I will keep this area on my list of places to visit!

    1. We love the Wright Brothers, too! My husband’s great grandfather ran a bicycle shop in their hometown. If I have understood the family stories correctly, Great Grandpa’s shop actually bought out the Wright brothers’ bicycle inventory when they quit selling bikes in order to focus solely on flight machines. So with our family ties to the Wrights spurring my interest, I am a bit obsessed with learning about the Wright Brothers.

  2. Thanks so much for the terrific story and wonderful pictures, April! Just a couple of ideas to add to your list of free activities – try bird watching along the Sunset Coast Birding Trail, hike one of the many free and scenic trails that are part of the Little Traverse Conservancy properties, tour the delightful Crooked Tree Arts Center which currently houses an awesome Ansel Adams exhibit, or experience Petoskey Hemingway-style by taking a self-guided tour of the author’s haunts.

    1. Yes, the Mushroom Houses are super cute! And, from the books and articles I’ve read, they are just as adorable on the inside. I hope you make it out here to Michigan someday. It’s a truly beautiful state.

  3. Ive never been to Michigan, or northern michigan, I have no idea where this even is, but I totally want to see that mushroom house! and we love going to Kilwin’s in SW Florida, so random that they are from Michigan!

    1. I was so surprised to find out that Kilwins was national during our tour. I always think of them as being a “Michigan thing”! The Mushroom Houses are amazing! There are over 20 of them, and every single one of them is uniquely adorable.

  4. I have been wanting to visit northern Michigan, but wasn’t sure where to go! I know our family would love looking for Petosky stones on the beach and sculptures in Harris Garden. This looks like a great weekend getaway.

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