15 Best Things To Do in Big Rapids, Michigan

Big Rapids, Michigan / Source: Ferris State University

Situated along the scenic Muskegon River in western Michigan, Big Rapids offers the perfect blend of outdoor recreation and cultural experiences. The lively downtown district contains shops, eateries, and public art lining streets crossed by historic foot bridges.

The surrounding Mecosta County landscape provides plenty of adventures like kayaking spectacular rock formations at Garden of the Gods or stepping back in time at a recreated pioneer village.

With this combination of vibrant college town and abundant natural beauty, Big Rapids beckons visitors to relish in adventures outdoors while also engaging with local arts, dining and entertainment.

Here are my top picks for things to do, from museums and parks to unique local shops and restaurants. This guide has everything you need to experience the best of Big Rapids.

1. Ferris State University Campus

Ferris State University / Source: CollegeVine

Address: 1201 S. State Street, Big Rapids, MI 49307

Ferris State University’s beautiful campus is worth exploring even if you’re not a student. I love strolling under the crimson maple trees and admiring historic buildings like Old Main, an impressive Victorian structure.

Campus also houses the Jim Crow Museum focused on racism history, the FLITE aviation building displaying vintage aircraft, and Katokten art gallery.

2. Riverwalk and Bandshell

Michigan Trails Big Rapids Riverwalk / Source: Michigan Trails

Downtown’s Riverwalk along the Muskegon River and adjacent Bandshell provide pleasant public spaces to relax

On my visit last summer, I caught a free concert in the gazebo-style bandshell which hosts regular community performances. The riverwalk path is great for a scenic stroll or bike ride.

3. Artworks

Artworks in Big Rapids / Source: 9&10 News

Artworks is an exceptional local art gallery selling pottery, paintings, jewelry, glasswork and more by over 150 Michigan artists.

I always find unique handcrafted gifts here like ceramics and textile creations. They also host rotating exhibits, artist receptions and classes. It’s a must for fine arts fans.

4. Public Arts Big Rapids

Public Arts Big Rapids / Source: Big Rapids Daily News

Public Arts Big Rapids decorates the city with colorful outdoor murals, sculptures and installations. It’s fun to come across these eye-catching works while walking or driving around.

Must-see pieces include The Pilgrims sculpture downtown and the massive Peaceful Protector mural. Print a map online or grab one from downtown visitor racks.

5. Garden of the Gods Recreation Area

Garden of the Gods / Source: Wikipedia

Just 8 miles outside Big Rapids, the Garden of the Gods Recreation Area has some of the most spectacular scenery in Michigan. The winding Muskegon River carves its way through dramatic sandstone cliffs.

I went kayaking here and was amazed by the towering rock formations as I paddled along the water. Hiking, fishing and camping are also popular.

6. The Yellow Window

French pastries / Source: Yelp

For delicious from-scratch French pastries, breads and brunch, I often go to The Yellow Window cafe.

Their almond croissants and creme brûlée French toast are to die for! The quaint interior with flower boxes in the windows creates a cozy European vibe. It’s a great spot to refuel while exploring downtown.

7. Wild Bill’s Beef Jerky Outlet

Beef jerky / Source: The Chopping Block

At Wild Bill’s Beef Jerky Outlet, you can watch authentic beef jerky being made and sample over 50 flavors like Cajun style and maple whiskey.

I’m always amazed seeing the jerky sliced up fresh daily right from the deli counter. Their jerky makes the perfect high-protein road trip snack. The store also sells shirts and nicknacks.

8. Ferris State Racquet & Fitness Center

Ferris State Racquet & Fitness Center / Source: Ferris State University

If you want to stay active on your trip, the enormous Ferris State Racquet & Fitness Center offers indoor tennis, track, basketball, racquetball, cardio equipment, weights, fitness classes and more.

There are options for community members to buy day passes. I took an energizing cycle class here last time I visited Big Rapids.

9. Roben-Hood Airport Observation Area

Roben-Hood Airport Observation Area / Source: Big Rapids Pioneer

Car buffs will enjoy watching planes take off and land from the Roben-Hood Airport observation area. This small local airport sees lots of private plane traffic that you can view up close from bleacher seating.

The airport is next to the aeronautics building of Ferris State University, so you may spot their training aircrafts as well.

10. Clear Lake County Park

Clear Lake Park /Source: Explore Minnesota

Clear Lake County Park has a picturesque setting among pines along its namesake lake. I like going to swim from the sandy beach, kayak across the calm water, and hike the trails to see wildlife like deer and birds.

11. Big Rapids Community Library

Big Rapids Community Library / Source: Wikimedia Commons

Address: 426 S. Michigan Ave., Big Rapids, MI 49307

In addition to books, movies and wifi, the Big Rapids Community Library provides cultural activities.

On my past visits, I attended free programs like author talks, technology help sessions, and crafting workshops here.They also have passes you can check out for discounts at local museums and other attractions.

12. JW’s Family Billiards

Family Billiards / Source: Emerald Spas & Billiards

For some old-school recreation, I like to hang out shooting pool, playing arcade games and snacking on pizza at JW’s Family Billiards.

With 10 billiard tables, dart boards, air hockey, and skeeball lanes, this entertainment center has something for all ages to enjoy an evening out. The great staff and upbeat music create a welcoming vibe.

13. Bulldog Mall

Antiques near Big Rapids / Source: Yelp

Downtown’s Bulldog Mall housed in a historic brick building is great for antique hunting. Their multi-dealer set up showcases an eclectic selection of furniture, jewelry, books, glassware, vintage toys and more.

I always manage to discover unique finds here like concert posters and odd trinkets. You never know what treasures you may uncover!

14. JG’s Pizza

Pizza near Big Rapids / Source: Yelp

For the quintessential college town pizza experience, try JG’s Pizzafeaturing thick crust and gooey cheese. Their robust 17″ pizzas can easily feed a crowd.

I’m a fan of their signature Gold Digger with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms and more meaty toppings piled high. It hits the spot after outdoor adventures or for a casual meal while exploring downtown.

15. Artworks Festival

Big Rapids Festival of the Arts / Source: EMMA DAISY

Each July, the Artworks Festival celebrates creativity with live music, a studio art competition, art vendors, hands-on activities and street performers.

While attending this lively event, I participated in an outdoor painting workshop and watched a chainsaw wood carving demonstration. With all the art, it’s an inspiring festival for creatives.

From the stunning natural beauty along the Muskegon River to cultural attractions like art galleries and historic sites, Big Rapids offers the perfect blend of outdoor activities and enriched city experiences.

Unique local businesses line the charming downtown district, while community events like summer art festivals foster creative spirit.

Things to do in Big Rapids Michigan / Source: BuyLocalMichigan

With this guide’s recommendations, you’re sure to have an engaging, well-rounded visit showcasing the best of Big Rapids’ community, culture and landscape.

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