Lions, tigers, and camels…? Oh my.
If there’s an animal lover in your family, you have no doubt seen the look of unconditional love and excitement when they encounter his or her favorite furry/scaled/feathered friends. West Michigan offers animal-oriented experiences to get you closer to the mammals, amphibians, birds, and reptiles they adore.
A Horse of Course
Horses have the ability to adapt and respond to changes our body language, emotions, and behavior, creating a unique bond with their riders. Horses show their attention with slight bends of the ear and their affection with playful nudges, and once a connection is established with an equestrian beauty, there’s no turning back.
West Michigan is home to several horse-friendly destinations. Double JJ Ranch in Rothbury is known for giving riders the complete cowboy experience with daily trail rides ranging from beginner (a peaceful walk) to advanced (an exciting canter) while Ranch Rudolf in Traverse City offers variety of scenic rides through the Pere Marquette State Forest and Boardman River Valley in addition to weekend horse camps. Rainbow Ranch in New Era, Boyne Highlands in Harbor Springs, and Boyne Mountain in Boyne Falls also offer horseback riding programs for visitors.
For a truly special experience, The Inn at Bay Harbor hosts its Facilitated Equine Experiential Learning program, or FEEL, using interactive exercises to learn about your true self through your interaction with horses. The programs goal is for participants to “experience their authentic self and honor the gift of the horse.”
Down on the Farm
There are some animals you would expect to find on a farm, but peacocks, zebras and camels typically do not fall on that list. Lewis Farm Market, New Era, offers this unusual lineup in its barnyard petting zoo. The mix only becomes more surprising with the addition of Laura the Elephant. Laura, a 28-year old Hollywood starlet, also makes appearances at Klackle Orchards, Greenville.
Down the road from New Era’s whimsical petting zoo is a more expected farm animal: the cow. Country Dairy is home to the happiest bovines you may ever meet – cheerful, dancing cows that produce the most delicious ice cream you may ever eat! Country Dairy’s Moo School is a chance for little ones to get a peak at life on a dairy farm and gaze through the long lashes and into the eyes of a heavenly heifer.
Animal lovers are surely familiar with the wonders found at the zoo, but West Michigan’s go above and beyond penned-up pets. In addition to unique exhibits (have you ever hand-fed a giraffe on safari?), Battle Creek’s Binder Park Zoo offers fun-filled programs dedicated to education and conservation. Howl-a-palooza, BontebOktoberfest, Kids Funfari, The Great ZooBoo, and the Cheetah Chase can be found on Binder Park’s calendar, each event putting its unique twist on animals for fans young and old. BontebOktoberfest even encourages you to tip back a few Michigan microbrews with the cheetahs, wolves, and snow leopards.
John Ball Zoo is a gem hidden in Michigan’s second largest city, Grand Rapids. One may not guess that beyond an unassuming line of tress lie lions, monkeys, and a bevy slithering reptiles. John Ball rounds out its animal experience with a zip line, ropes course, and relaxing swan paddle boat rides.