Explore West Michigan’s wild side with these nature centers, farms, zoos, and other animal encounters!
Zoos and Nature Centers
In Grand Rapids, there’s a place where discovery is happening. Where families build bonds while exploring the natural world. Where children’s curiosity comes alive – up close with some of their favorite animals. Where learning is fun, and every moment is a shared adventure. It’s all at the reimagined John Ball Zoo. It’s time to get wild.
And don’t miss seeing the zoo on the road! John Ball Zoo’s Traveling Zoo is coming to Hastings Live on August 5th at 11:00am! Children and adults alike are invited to attend this free educational event, hosted by the Thornapple Arts Council, and taking place at the Thornapple Plaza in Hastings. And on August 13, don’t miss the John Ball Zoo bringing their turtles to the Lakeshore Museum Center in Muskegon. Choose from one of two programs, both with live turtles on display.
Through September 4th, Muskegon’s Lakeshore Museum Center is also hosting Turtle Travels, an interactive exhibit where guests have a chance to experience life as a turtle! Built around a life-sized board game, you’ll face the same obstacles and dangers turtles face in their day-to-day life. Learn the hazards of their suburban and urban settings, and amazing, unknown facts about these slow, unassuming creatures.
Get up close and personal with the friendly farm animals at the Critter Barn in Zeeland! You’re invited to visit them and enjoy a day at their 3-acre farm, enjoying lots of hands-on fun and learning. Feed hay to the goats, hold baby chicks, or pet a velvety soft bunny! Be sure to follow along at their website as they continue building their new farm location as well.
Sarett Nature Center in Benton Harbor is home to hundreds of species of wildlife, both inside the nature center and out. There are several different habitats throughout Sarett’s property which provide homes to many different types of native species. Inside the nature center, you will find over twenty species of animals to view up close. Visitors can also walk through a netted garden, home to hundreds of butterflies in the summer.
Head to Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek and get up close with their giraffes. You can even feed them face to face on the deck in Wild Africa. Plus, coming this summer, explore their exciting new exhibit, Zoorassic Park. The exhibit, chosen as part of Lowe’s 100 Hometowns project, will host nearly twenty life-size dinosaur displays, fun hands-on activities, STEAM-based education programs, and public events.
Take a walk around the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary near Kalamazoo to spot many different species of wild birds and get a close-up look at the sanctuary’s resident waterfowl and birds of prey. The grounds and trails around Wintergreen Lake are open to visitors Wednesday through Sunday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. On the second Wednesday of each month, join sanctuary staff online for an in-depth chat about some birds of the season. The free Birds and Coffee Chats are held on Zoom and begin at 10:00 am.
Get up close and interact with the animals at Lewis Adventure Farm & Zoo in New Era. With over 100 animals and 46+ experiences on site, there’s tons of fun for the whole family! Slow down with Brook and Sid (the resident sloths), hop in to meet the kangaroos, and so much more. Plus, be sure to stop by on Saturday, August 14th for Jeffrey the camel’s 14th Birthday Party & Corn Roast!
At Raven Hill Discovery Center, located in East Jordan, a number of exotic animals are used to teach children of all ages not to fear, but to respect such critters as snakes, spiders, lizards, and turtles.
Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids is home to a number of animals, including owls, hawks, turtles, a bobcat, and more. Blandford’s Wildlife Ambassador animals permanently live at the center due to severe injuries and now help educate students and give families a close-up view not often seen in outdoor exploration.
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.
Located on 80 acres of land in Alto, Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park is a unique, hands-on experience for the entire family. The park boasts a distinct collection of exotic animals and reptiles, and the variety and dynamic atmosphere make Boulder Ridge anything but your average zoo.
Looking for a gator fix? Visit Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary & Zoological Gardens, located in Athens. This is a must-see destination, which houses hundreds of alligators, turtles, and more. Take a sanctuary tour and encounter these amazing reptiles. You can even feed them with some vegetables – a popular activity among both guests and the animals! It’s just a 20 minute drive from Battle Creek, or 30 minutes from Coldwater to visit the sanctuary.
For anyone looking to celebrate nature and learn about the wildlife of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, MooseWood Nature Center at Presque Isle Park in Marquette is eager to introduce visitors to the critters that frequent the area. From insects and birds to turtles, plant life, and more, MooseWood is a nature center facility with educational exhibits that provides nature programs for the public, groups, and schools.
Visit Bumbleberry Acres in South Haven for u-pick blueberries and fun on the farm with miniature farm animals. Come meet theanimal caretakers and learn the story of each of their furry friends. All of their animals are miniature except the Flemish Giant rabbits. Something fun is always happening in the barnyard: you may see the sheep being sheared, the donkeys nibbling on donuts and showing their teeth when they smile, or even get to meet new baby bunnies!
Ludington’s Amber Elk Ranch is home to world-class bull elk and a petting zoo, where you can get up close and personal with nature. Take a wagon ride at this 130-acre farm and enjoy a sandwich while you’re there
Lansing is home to one of Michigan’s oldest zoos, Potter Park Zoo, which offers multiple family-friendly animal encounters. Guests ages two and up are invited to meet the camels – Molly, Maple, and Joy – at the camel ride area. Bird lovers can enjoy “Wings of Wonder,” featuring parakeets and cockatiels in free flight! The birds aren’t shy when it comes to interacting, you can buy a seed stick to feed them yourself! Finally, a family favorite is Farmyard EdVentures where visitors can find adorable pygmy goats, cattle, burros, chickens, and pigs. Take a break from your walk around the zoo and enjoy these fun farmyard animals!
Also in Saugatuck, Evergreen Lane Creamery makes delectable, handcrafted cheeses right on their farm with milk from their own goats and cow’s milk from local dairies. Visitors can interact with their herd of LaMancha goats, filled with personality and mischief. Spring, summer, and fall are the best times to see the goat kids frolicking about. Visit the Khnemu Studio at Fernwood Farm, where resident artist Dawn Soltysiak makes handmade art and functional pottery. Of course, no artist’s farm would be complete without chickens and ducks roaming free, along with a horse, llama, and a few peacocks!
Trails and Other Animal Encounters
With nearly 5,500 acres to explore in beautiful Bellaire, 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.
In South Haven, don’t miss visiting A. W. Overhiser Orchards to see their farm animals after a day of picking delicious apples, peaches, cherries, and more. Their $5 Animal Pass includes U-pick admission and a free animal cone to feed their critters with.
Near Saugatuck, visit Virtue Cider (Fennville) to enjoy their handcrafted barrel-aged cider, as well as some great animal encounters! Situated on a working 48-acre farm, Virtue Cider raises heritage breed animals, including 500-pound Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs and chickens. Tours and events are usually scheduled throughout the year, including Percheron horse-drawn sleigh rides in the winter.
New Era’s Country Dairy offers tours of the farm to table process of their dairy farm! Guests will be able to take a wagon ride, and see how the cows are milked in their free-stall barns. You’ll even get to see and pet calves and young stock- you won’t want to miss it!
Don’t miss out on MOO-ville Creamery’s free petting farm in Nashville with over 40 different farm animals! Spend some time petting and feeding the animals at their accessible farm, complete with a playground and shaded pavilion. They also offer a variety of tours of their dairy farm and creamery.
For a touch of the Old West, visit Double JJ Resort and take a trail ride on horseback on their miles of trails to explore. Trained staff ensures that riders of all skill levels feel safe and comfortable, matching a horse with your experience level. For the real cowboy experience, don’t miss the Wally Wojack Memorial Rodeo happening in September.