Forget Pokemon — see and touch real animals at Michigan zoos and wildlife centers

Photo courtesy of Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park
Move over, Pokemon. You’re nothing compared to the real deal.

As easy as it is to enjoy animals and nature through books and pictures, there’s just something about seeing them for yourself that is truly incredible. West Michigan is gifted with an array of indigenous wildlife as well as zoos that provide guests a glimpse into a greater world. Here are some places to see, touch and learn about a variety of animals.


Marshall Area Economic Development Alliance works closely with Binder Park Zoo to promote animal education to people of all ages. The zoo features an award-winning “Wild Africa” exhibit where you can actually feed the giraffes and see zebras. There are over 140 different species of animals throughout the 433-acre zoo.

See some birds up close at the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary in Augusta. You and your family can spend time with dozens of species of birds such as swans, owls, ducks and more. There’s a great resource center where you can learn about the sanctuary’s birds as well as purchase corn to feed them.

South Haven/Van Buren County has tons of local orchards featuring petting zoos with farm animals. You can feed the chickens, goats, alpacas and bunnies that call these orchards their home. Come and enjoy the animals up close and in person while picking blueberries, sweet and sour cherries, peaches, plums, apples, and pumpkins in season. You simply can’t beat fresh fruit and hanging out with these farm animals.

Critter Barn in Zeeland has lots of baby animals in their barn. In June, three Angora goats were born as well as four lambs. The new lambs are the result of off-season breeding which is a first for Critter Barn. Come see the babies — and your kids will also enjoy pony rides and  other animal-centric events.

Photo courtesy of Lewis Farm Market


Learn about animals up close and personal in Muskegon County this summer. Lewis Farm Market has a 700-acre petting zoo with a variety of animals and birds that you can touch. The market is open through October so you have plenty of time to visit these animals yourself. There’s also a raptor rehabilitation clinic where you can learn about wildlife conservation, ecology and habitat preservation.

It’s salmon season for Stowaway Charters in Ludington. Fish the clear blue waters of Lake Michigan for trout and salmon with everything you need on board. Bait and tackle is included and they’ll even clean and bag what you catch on your return trip.

Mecosta County has a wildlife center where you can learn more about animals! This is a fantastic educational tool if you’re planning a school trip or just want to take your family on an educational trip. There’s a lot to learn about nature and the animals that inhabit it, and Mecosta County will help you further your wildlife education.

Deer Tracks Junction in Cedar Springs has some of the most unique animal experiences you can have. How does feeding a yak sound? Or kissing a reindeer? They also have many cute animals that you can cuddle up with, such as miniature donkeys, baby goats and baby bunnies. In the evenings, take their guided tour to see some of their adult animals. End your visit with some homemade ice cream made right on the farm and you’ll have a packed day.

The Outdoor Discovery Center in Holland connects people with nature through outdoor education for the benefit of wildlife and the conservation of the natural world. They protect over 1,200 acres along the Macatawa River in Ottawa County and a 150-acre nature preserve in Fillmore Township. The Outdoor Discovery Center Nature Preserve is free and open to the public and offers many diverse programs that help foster the concepts of wildlife management, conservation, outdoor education and preservation.

Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park in Alto is located on 80 acres of land and offers unique, hands-on experiences 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. They’re open until mid-October so you have plenty of time to check out all the animals.

John Ball Zoological Garden in Grand Rapids features 1,200 animals including chimpanzees, a Komodo dragon, penguins, an aquarium, tigers, lions, bears and a children’s zoo. The zoo takes an active role in conservation, not only here in Michigan, but around the world. The zoo is celebrating its 125th birthday right now, so make sure to visit during this monumental year.

Photo by Ron Sexton


Check out some of the animals that you can see up close in Traverse City. There’s a diverse array of birds that find their way to the area. Two rare birds, the piping plover and the Kirtland’s Warbler, nest in the area. Traverse City even has a bird sanctuary and rehabilitation center that raises awareness and rehabilitates hawks, eagles, owls and other raptors.

If you’re interested in smaller flying animals, visit the Grand Traverse Butterfly & Bug Zoo. Here, you can interact with hundreds of live butterflies from around the world and see hundreds of exotic insects behind glass. the GT Butterfly & Bug Zoo is open all summer so you have plenty of time to check out all of the cool things.

The Charlevoix Area promotes animal awareness and has a family-friendly educational center that is all about hands-on learning. They also have a great fruit stand.

Located in Bellaire, Shanty Creek Resorts has 4,500 acres to explore with more than enough animals for you to find. Grab a pair of hiking boots, walking shoes or even a bicycle to enjoy the on-site trails at the resort. Keep an eye out for wildlife and make sure to document anything cool that you see. Shanty Creek also offers a free shuttle to the Grass River Natural Area (below) so you can explore there as well.

Grass River Natural Area in Bellaire offers a great place to experience local wildlife. Seven miles of trails and boardwalk take visitors up close through cedar swamp, sedge meadow and upland forest. This area is perfect for a school group, day camp and the general public. Take some time to walk through this beautiful area and enjoy all that it has to offer.