West Michigan Zoos and Animal Encounters

Explore the wild side of West Michigan! Get up close to local wildlife, learn about exotic animals, and more with these animal encounters and zoos. 

West Michigan Zoos 

Lewis Farms and Petting Zoo, a 700-acre farm in New Era, is home to a hands-on petting zoo and indoor aviary. Meet Jeffrey the Camel, donkeys, goats, and deer, just to name a few of the fun-loving animals to see. Children can also ride pedal carts, jump on a giant pillow, mine for rocks or take a train ride. The on-site farm market provides home-grown produce, scrumptious bakery items and famous kettle corn. Celebrate Jeffrey the Camel’s 12th Birthday at Lewis Farms & Petting Zoo August 10th!

With over 2,000 animals and 213 individual species, John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids is full of opportunities to encounter and interact with wildlife. You can see animals from around the world, from African lions and Amur tigers to river otters and red pandas. If you’re looking to get a little closer, they have an interactive petting corral, camel rides, and budgie feeding. They also offer daily animal training demonstrations and Tools of the Trade animal encounters, which is a free program that gives you the opportunity to take a look at how John Ball Zoo staff trains the animals. 

Have a great day trip to Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek where you can get up close with the giraffes. You can even feed them face to face on the deck in Wild Africa. 

Other Zoos to explore:

Grand Traverse Butterfly House & Bug Zoo, Williamsburg

Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park, Alto

Potter Park Zoo, Lansing 

Nature Centers

No matter what the weather, Raven Hill Discovery Center in East Jordan is full of fun for all ages. The Hands-on Room encourages everyone to explore light, sound, music, magnets, motion, earth, and life sciences. The Animal Room includes reptiles and amphibians to look at, pet, or hold. There are also salt and freshwater fish to watch. If you want to endear yourself to the animals, bring broccoli or apples for the tortoises or worms for the turtle, gar, and Miss Puff! 

Grass River Natural Area in Bellaire is a 1,492-acre nature preserve surrounding the Grass River, located in the heart of Antrim County.  Along with the beautiful views of Grass River, they also offer seven miles of well-maintained trails including 1.5 miles of boardwalk floating above sedge meadows and cedar wetlands. With all of these natural features, Grass River Natural Area offers visitors an outdoor, living laboratory to explore and learn. The Grass River Center is open year-round, offering a comfortable learning environment for public programming, school field trips, camps, and more. Trails are open 365 days a year, 7 days a week, from dawn until dusk

You may not be able to pet the animals you find in Mecosta County, but you will still get a great learning experience. At Ferris State University in Big Rapids, there is an area known as the Card Wildlife Education Center. The Card Wildlife Education Center is a 5,000 square foot facility located on the ground floor of the Arts and Sciences Commons building on the Ferris State University Campus in Big Rapids. The primary function of the Card Wildlife Education Center and Wildlife Museum is to serve as an educational resource for Ferris State University college students, K-12 school children, and members of the Michigan Community. The wildlife specimens found within the wildlife center have been donated by Ferris alumnus Roger Card and his late wife, Debra. 

Animal Encounters

Since opening to the public in 1997, Oswald’s Bear Ranch in Newberry of Michigan’s UP has grown tremendously both in size and in bears. With lots of room to roam, these rescued bears are given a chance to continue their lives in natural habitats and comfort.

While visiting Black Star Farms near Suttons Bay on the Leelanau Peninsula, you will enjoy viewing the dressage horses and get up close to feed the goats. Up to 18 horses are privately boarded every year on the 160 acre estate. Farm animals change annually and are a delight to children and adults alike. Feeders bring them up close!

With 5,000 acres to explore, Shanty Creek Resort offers a variety of options to just get outside and be one with nature. Grab a pair of hiking boots, walking shoes, or even a bicycle to enjoy the on-site trails at the resort. Or, head just 3 ½ miles down the road from the resort to Glacial Hills Pathway and Natural Area. Enjoy the 750 acres that make up this combined trail system suited for hiking, biking, and wildlife viewing.

Head to the Holland Area to meet farm animals and more!

  • Visit the DeGraaf Nature Center and explore the 18 acre nature preserve, and interact with live animal exhibits.
  • Enjoy pony rides, hayrides, fishing, barn animals, and feed sheep and goats at Teusink’s Pony Farm 

Where can you go to have lots of hands-on FUN this summer?  Zeeland’s Critter Barn is filled with growing baby animals, visitors, and lots of classes. Each year, thousands of children and youth join in Farm Classes and Field Trips that teach about feeding, handling, and caring for farm animals. These programs provide entertaining lessons and interactive learning experiences that focus on farm life and how our food is raised: “from the ground to the table.” Help collect eggs, try milking a goat, or hand-feed corn to the hens. Class openings still available. 

  • Plan to feed treats to animals, feed a hungry calf a bottle, learn to hold or lead animals, collect eggs, milk a goat, plus give a goat a bubble bath in the Animal Adventures Class.
  • Your child will delight to meet the new “baby faces” at Critter Barn’s Baby Animal Class. Ducklings, Chicks, Lambs, Kids, Bunnies, and Calfs! This one-time class is to be shared with an adult (yes, please bring your camera). 
  • Critter Camp is a three day experience that gives animal lovers an inside look at the entire farm operation. Critter Campers learn how to feed and care for animals, clean a pen, tend the garden, eat lunch in the hayloft, and enjoy the option to come back and volunteer throughout the year as a member of the Critter Crew.

Ludington has some unique animal encounters for you this summer! Spend the day at Amber Elk Ranch and take a wagon tour of the 130-acre beautiful pastureland, where you will see cows, spikers, calves, and bull elk up close. Visit the gift shop, or stop by the petting zoo for a closer look at nature. 

Tour a 4th generation dairy farm, meet the cows and learn about milk bottling at Country Dairy in New Era. Visitors can also sample cheese and farmstead ice cream, fresh and smoked meats.

Explore the “Amazing Dinosaurs!” exhibit at Grand Rapids Children’s Museum — an exciting animal encounter for families visiting West Michigan. Dinosaur fossils and skeletons have captured our imaginations for centuries, but once upon a time, they were living, breathing animals. In this interactive exhibit, you can touch real fossils, make raptor tracks, dig for dinosaur eggs, hear a T. rex roar, and more!

Get up close to birds in their natural habitat at the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary in Augusta! Did you know that a Ruby-throated Hummingbird weighs as much as just two paper clips? Learn more about these diminutive birds Tuesday, Aug. 20, at a hummingbird banding demonstration hosted by the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary. Visit with experts Rich and Brenda Keith of the Kalamazoo Valley Bird Observatory, part of the Kalamazoo Nature Center, to learn about their research, observe a banding and see a hummingbird up close! 

Home to hundreds of reptiles, Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary & Zoological Gardens located in Athens in Coldwater Country, is a must-see destination. Visitors will enjoy daily guided tours and animal interactions. Walk through the swamp, feed your favorite gator, or just watch them bask in the sun and swim in this reptile paradise.