Great Wolf Lodge Traverse City Trip Planner: Best Tips for Families

great wolf lodge traverse city

The Ins and Outs of Great Wolf Lodge Traverse City

The Traverse City Great Wolf Lodge opened in 2001 and quickly became a favorite waterpark getaway for many Michigan families.

Great Wolf Lodge Traverse City
3575 U.S. 31 North S, Traverse City, MI 49684

In fact, it’s one of several indoor waterparks in Michigan and one of seven Great Wolf Lodge locations in the Midwest.

But with all the other waterpark offerings, this begs the question: is Great Wolf Lodge worth the sometimes hefty price tag?

Yes, Great Wolf Lodge is definitely worth it, especially if you use these tips to make your GWL visit enjoyable and as affordable as possible.

Over the years, our family has become GWL connoisseurs…we try to go at least once a year.  After your first visit, you’ll know what to expect and will be able to easily put together a schedule for the day. We’re here to help you get ready for that first trip.

So, read on for a recap of our Great Wolf Lodge Traverse City experiences, including helpful tips.

We’ll even talk about the pros and cons of Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City as well, so you’ll be able to make an informed decision before booking a reservation.

*This post contains affiliate links.

Great Wolf Lodge Traverse City Michigan

What to Expect at Great Wolf Lodge Traverse City

Great Wolf Lodge in Traverse City is an indoor/outdoor water park built for families with children of all ages. While similar to other GWL destinations, they are not all the same.

The Great Wolf Lodge Traverse City location is a little smaller than others around the country, and the attractions can vary from destination to destination.

Great Wolf Lodge Traverse City
Fort Mackenzie is Great Wolf Lodge Michigan’s four-story Interactive Water Treehouse
Great Wolf Lodge Michigan
When the Bell Rings, the Gigantic Bucket of Water on Top Tips and Splashes Those Below

Should We Get Day Passes?

It used to be that only guests with a room were allowed to use the water park facilities. Recently, though, GWL introduced Day Passes.

Without booking a room, you can spend the day at the waterpark, with the use of the locker rooms and towels.  Price varies by market, and prices vary tremendously depending on the season, but on average, plan on day passes at a cost of $40 to $50 a person (2 and under are free).

As a family of five, booking a room and getting the waterpark passes that come with the room is often a better deal for us. It’s also important to note that there are a limited number of day passes available each day. You are able to book day passes online in advance.

About the Rooms at Great Wolf Lodge Traverse City

One of the best things about GWL are the rooms! Rooms, also known as Suites, vary in size and design, but all are lodge-themed.

There really is a size for every family.

You can choose from Standard, Themed, and Premium Suites.

dad and girls laying on bed wearing wolf ears

Suites sleep from 4 to 8 people and may offer a separate bunkbed room or loft. Some rooms even have balconies.

All suites come with a microwave and a mini-fridge, amenities that I find very helpful.

The Water Park has Attentive Lifeguards and Lots of Activities

I felt my kids were safe at Great Wolf Lodge.

My kids are all under 5 years old, but we often travel with cousins who are older and able to play by themselves. It’s impossible to keep them all together.

Thankfully, the park’s attentive lifeguards and life jackets helped me handle my fears.

We spend most of our time helping the younger kids float around the lazy river, while the older kids (about 8 & 11 years old) gave the waterslides a run for their money.

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The Lazy River at Great Wolf Lodge Michigan
great wolf lodge traverse city water park
One of the Water Slides at Great Wolf Lodge Traverse City

The water park is divided into a few different sections.

The pool area is kept warm, at about 84 degrees, so it’s comfortable for most kids and adults.

There’s a four-story water treehouse in the middle of the park equipped with a giant 1,000-gallon tipping bucket. Adventurous kids love this!

Tip: Kids get to “turn the water on” in the morning if you are there when the park opens.

Great Wolf Lodge Michigan

Off to the right, the younger kids have their own section with smaller slides, a shallower pool, and spray toys.

And there are hot tubs, one of which will be filled with kids.  Kids love to hop in the hot tub after getting drenched by the tipping bucket.

Needless to say, this is not a relaxing hot tub for adults. There is another hot tub tucked away that is intended for adults that is a little calmer. But still, when I’ve been there, teens and kids find a way in.

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Cub Paw Pool at Great Wolf Lodge Traverse City

The pool is split down the middle, with one side for just relaxing and swimming around, and the other half with basketball hoops for the athletic bunch to play a game of HORSE.

Connected to the pool towards the back is an obstacle course, where kids can try to walk across floating lily pads while hanging on to ropes above their heads. So much fun to watch dad try this one!

The far end of the Great Wolf Lodge Traverse City houses the large water slides and lazy river. These water slides require children to be 42″ or taller, which some younger kids can get upset about, but there is still plenty to do if they’re not quite tall enough.

If you do have a family that ranges in ages, sometimes we have one adult take the bigger kids down later in the evening to ride the big slides, so their siblings don’t get upset. But again, it’s always fun to wave to family members waiting in line for the slides way up at the top, while floating down the lazy river!

With so much running water, it’s pretty loud in the water park area. It’s not as loud as that water park at Double JJ Resort; their water park has walls made of metal whereas GWL’s wooden walls dampen the sound a bit.

great wolf lodge traverse city water park

In summer, the outdoor section of the park is open. Two large pools with play toys and a splash area are a nice treat.

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The Outdoor Pool at Great Wolf Lodge Michigan is Open During the Summertime
Great Wolf Lodge Traverse City Waterpark hotel
There is an outdoor splash park for little kids at Great Wolf Lodge Traverse City.
Great Wolf Lodge Traverse City Waterpark hotel

My kids will play for hours at the park, only stopping to wolf down food.

Can I Bring My Own Food or Buy Food at Great Wolf Lodge Michigan?

All of this play is going to make everyone hungry, but don’t worry – GWL has you covered! Below are a few options available on and off-site.

Buckets: Did someone say poolside picnic?? Yes please! Order and eat right next to the pool. Tables are provided. The food is decent. Hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken strips, etc. Be prepared to pay amusement park prices. Alcoholic beverages are available.

Camp Critter Bar & Grille: This restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They have a great all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet, and one of my favorite times to go is over Thanksgiving, when they have a Thanksgiving Buffet.

Make sure to plan ahead no matter when you stay, because this restaurant is a popular destination at the resort, make a reservation when booking your trip!

great wolf lodge Rachael Sallie Marshall

Fast Food Options: If your kids want to take a quick break, towel off and head to one of the quick onsite eating options. GWL has a pizza/sub/pasta joint or sweet treat stop in the basement.

On the main floor there is a Dunkin’ Donuts. Tip: DD’s line in the morning can get long. 

Think ahead, and if you know you will want DD in the morning, fill out the pre-order form on your Suite’s door handle, and place it on the outside door handle before the designated time at night. Then, the next morning your food will arrive, and there will be no waiting in line!

Offsite Restaurants: The Traverse City GWL is located on a busy road, and there are numerous restaurant options a short drive away. If you want local fare, head downtown.

You really can’t go wrong with any of the downtown restaurants. They are all phenomenal. If you’re looking for a chain restaurant, Applebee’s, Wendy’s and many other options are also close by.

Pack a Cooler: As the most economical option, it requires the most forethought. While Great Wolf Lodge won’t allow you to bring your own food into the water park, it will allow you to bring your own cooler of food to leave right outside the park doors. I’ve done this twice and have a few tips to share with you.

  • Your room will have a mini-fridge in it. Use this to store perishables and repack your cooler in the morning before you go to the park. Or leave your cooler in the car if it’s cold enough outside and grab it right before you head to the park.
  • While you’ll be able to sit at tables and chairs to eat, you can’t bring the towels out of the water park with you. You may want to bring a few towels of your own so you’re not freezing while you eat.
  • Bring your own disposable plates, utensils, cups, and napkins.
  • Pack items that are easy to handle. Leftover pizza or sub sandwiches are great options.

What are the Locker Rooms Like?

If you want to secure belongings in the water park, you’ll need to pay for a locker. Locker rooms are equipped with showers but have wet floors; you’ll want to bring shower sandals and shampoo along.

Towels are provided but must stay inside the water park area. The towels are on the smaller side.

Is There Anything Else to Do at Great Wolf Lodge Michigan?

If your kids want a break from the water action, you’re in luck. GWL designed a complete kid-oriented resort that you won’t need to leave for anything unless you want to.

Here are some of the other activity options you’ll find at GWL. Some are free and some are fee-based. Times vary daily, so make sure to check the online Event Calendar or see your Lodge Life activity guide upon arrival.

Wake up with Wiley and Friends: Rise and shine! Join the GWL’s Ambassadors of Fun for morning activities before the water park opens. Free.

Lunchtime Lineup: If you’ve been at the pool all morning and have wrinkly paws, take a break from the water park and join the GWL team for some crafty midday fun. Free.

PJ Party with the Great Wolf Kids: The sun may be down and the moon may be up, but there’s still more fun to be had! Usually, this night activity includes a dance party and story time. PJ’s and wolf ears encouraged. Free.

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The Fieldstone Fireplace in the Lobby is a Great Group Gathering Place
great wolf lodge traverse city arcade 1

If you are terrible at remembering times or want to go at your own pace, some other non-water park activities include the following options:

MagiQuest: Imagine a hotel that encourages kids to run around its halls. You found it! Kids purchase an expensive wand and game and then proceed to solve a magic-filled scavenger hunt that takes them all over the property. My older kids probably love this more than the water park.

Kids need to be able to read to do MagiQuest, so sometimes pairing up in groups or playing as a family is your best bet. Wands can be reused from trip to trip; be sure to save them. Fee.

great wolf lodge traverse city magiquest

Northern Lights Arcade: Lights, action, and energy fill the arcade with excitement as you’re surrounded by the newest and best games, and great prizes, too. Sometimes they will have arcade happy hour during slower times at the resort – be on the lookout for this – it may mean that your arcade tokens go twice as far. Fee.

great wolf lodge traverse city arcade

Ten Paw Alley: Kid-size bowling alley…shorter lanes and smaller bowling balls make this a perfect way to spend time together as a family. Fee.

Howl in One Mini Golf: Perfect outdoor game for your wolf pack if you head to GWL during the warmer months. Fee.

girl bowling at Great Wolf Lodge

Tips for Families Visiting Great Wolf Lodge Traverse City

Finally, here are a few more things to know about if you’re looking to make your trip as smooth – and as economical – as possible:

Discounts: If you are on the Great Wolf Lodge email list, special offers come frequently. Try to go midweek on teacher training days to get discounts. Also, Groupon frequently has deals for Great Wolf Lodge but they usually don’t last long.

Allergies: A Grand Rapids mom says, “The Great Wolf lodge franchise is notoriously good at safely handling food allergies and special meal requests. As a food allergy family, it is a joy and a relief to be somewhere where we can feel secure eating out.”

Busy Times: School breaks are the busiest. Although, it’s also during this time that GWL puts on special events and activities, too. Halloween, Thanksgiving weekend, Christmas, and Spring Break are times to avoid if you do not like crowds or paying super high prices. (If Christmas Eve is at an oddball time of the week, we’ve had luck scoring mega deals on a visit around Dec 22/23.)

Arrive Early and Stay Late.  Your stay includes water park passes with access from 1:00 PM on the day of arrival until the water park closes on the day of departure, even though you can’t check into your room until 4:00 PM. Ultimately, this means you can play in the water park for two days for the cost of a one-night stay. Have your suits packed in a separate bag to make getting straight into the pool a breeze.

Paw Pass: The Paw Pass is an activity package. It may be a good way to go if you’re staying at GWL for more than a day and want to play MagiQuest. According to GWL, you save $43 with this package.

When is a Trip to GWL Not Worth It?

If your kids are two and under, consider a smaller water park closer to home.

While there is a section for toddlers, it is small and the noise in the water park can be overwhelming. That said, if you have older kids, you can still easily bring baby or littles along for the ride.

If you’re not interested in the water park, this is not the hotel for you.

You are paying premium prices for water park access; it doesn’t make sense to stay here unless you want to splash around. All of the other activities are open to the public. You could stay at another hotel and hop over to GWL to play MagiQuest or play in the arcade.

A GRKIDS reader says, “My oldest is 15 and he still enjoys playing Magiquest, but the allure of the waterpark has worn off for him.” Each kid is different, though. We often see little babies through teens having fun at GWL.

Deals for Great Wolf Lodge Traverse City

At our stage of life, we love taking the kids to Great Wolf Lodge, but can’t afford to go for long stays or go very often.

We view it as a very special treat and always look for discounts or other ways to save a bit. The “Year End Sale” email usually has a pretty good discount (I’ve seen up to 50%), but the email usually comes in October.

We do pay extra for the MagiQuest games because our kids love them and spend almost as much time playing MagiQuest as they do splashing in the pool. We’ve visited the Double JJ water park and prefer Great Wolf Lodge. Other water parks look fun, but the overall vibe of GWL can’t be beat.

For us, right now, it is worth it.

I’d love to hear about your thoughts on Great Wolf Lodge. Do you think it’s worth it? Do you have any tips to share? Leave a comment below or tag us in your posts @GRKIDS!

Check out even more Michigan indoor waterparks.

5 thoughts on “Great Wolf Lodge Traverse City Trip Planner: Best Tips for Families”

  1. I just wanted to add that the buffet is only available when the hotel is busy enough (like weekends) and the bubble dance party is also only available on Friday and Saturday night. Otherwise great article. We also love GWL and try to go every year.

  2. Timothy E Terberg

    The hotel and activities are fun for the whole family. It would be nice if you had a deeper end of the pool. Roped off and maybe life jackets. How about water volleyball?

  3. We are actually currently at GWL! Some tips I would add is that they have an adult hot tub next to the kid one, it’s hotter and kid-free, obviously. Another thing is they changed their towel system and now you “check out” towels like you do books at the library and as long as they are returned at the end of your stay you won’t be charged a fee for them. You can take them anywhere on the resort but must return to the water park (can’t be left in your room) before you leave.

  4. Our kids are 7,6 and 4. We’ve done GWL twice, but my kids prefer Avalanche Bay. I love that GWL is in TC. It dies allow for good offsite entertainment.
    But Avalanche Bay has other fun things on site to do. We did a horse drawn carriage ride and s’mores by the fire. The food options at Avalanche Bay fit our family a bit better too.

  5. We love it too!!! We normally go a couple times a year but now with our kids in school full time it is harder! When we were going so often we got really good deals for being frequent flyers or whatever they call it LOL!! We normally send dad to McDonald’s in the morning for a quick breakfast and then dad goes out again at night to grab pizza somewhere local! We normally just eat sancks for lunch!! Our kids love MagiQuest too and all the other free activities!! They especially love going to the Arts and Crafts place!! We also have been to a few other water parks and we love GWL the most!! Our kids are great swimmers so I know they will want to go to someplace bigger soon but for now they love this and it always feels like a little vacation for us!! Well worth it! I would say if you don’t like swimming or you won’t use the water park much don’t go!! Most hotles have pools!! This one is so cool because of the water park which we are in all day except when eating, sleeping or playing Magi Quest!! Also my kids totally love the hot tub and we love that kids can go in but that parents have to be there to open the door for the littler ones and can make sure they don’t stay in too long 🙂

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