The magnificent state of Michigan is full of natural wonders that will inspire awe in everyone, regardless of age or interests. For those who love animals, nature, and adventure, the state has plenty of zoos scattered across the Upper and Lower Peninsula. These zoos are staple attractions in the cities and towns they’re located in, and you’d be remiss to pass through the mitten state without stopping by a few.
There are 26 zoos in total, and in this article, you’ll learn about the ten most popular ones. Within their enclosures, you’ll find all types of creatures, from species native to Michigan to exotic animals from the seven continents. Ready your itinerary and your pen; these are the ten best zoos in Michigan.
Cities in Michigan With Zoos
Here are some of the most well-known zoos and wildlife sanctuaries in the Great Lake State.
Binder Park Zoo
The vibrant city of Battle Creek houses one of the largest zoos in the state: Binder Park Zoo. Covering 433 acres, this attraction has plenty of space for the many animals living within its boundaries. It has been around since 1977 and has remained one of the most popular places in this region of Michigan.
Today, there are around 500 animals in this zoo, representing species from regions around the world. One of the most prominent attractions is its Wild Africa Exhibit, which showcases animals from the savannas and forests of the eponymous continent. Be prepared to see ferocious lions, tall giraffes, and graceful gazelles.
There are also animals that you can visit via trains and trams in this zoo. Binder Park Zoo offers a unique and memorable experience for those who choose to ride on these to explore the facility. If you have time, you can also join the Overnight Program. This is open for families and groups of friends who want to explore the zoo after dark. You’ll get to see nocturnal animals as they scurry about in the dark as they would in the wild — a rare sight that most people don’t get to experience.
Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park
Alto is a tiny town near Grand Rapids, but it houses a famous attraction within its borders: the top-rated Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park. While this zoo’s 80 acres seem small in comparison to Binder Park’s, this private zoo has plenty of clean and comfortable space for its animals to thrive. The park specializes in exotic species, so you won’t find most of the animals here in other zoos across the US.
There are around 770 animals living in the facility at any given time, and they are divided into four categories: mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians, and invertebrates and fish. Join a tour to see all these majestic and intriguing creatures, most of which you can even touch! From the hoofed herbivores of Southern America to the primates of Africa, from the colorful parrots of the Amazon to the great waterfowls of Northern America, you’ll see animals of all kinds when visiting the zoo. Let’s not forget the intimidating pythons, menacing alligators, and fearsome tarantulas that will make you think twice before touching them.
If you plan ahead, you can visit the zoo during one of its events. From Baby Animal Days to Mother’s Day celebrations, Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park arranges exciting activities for all visitors. Join these during your visit and make unforgettable memories with the animals!
Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary
A quick drive from Battle Creek is the small village of Athens. It holds an even tinier attraction, covering only 2.5 acres: the intimate Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary. Small as it may be, the facility stands out as a haven for alligators. Lovers of these fearsome creatures will have a grand time exploring this facility, even just for an hour or two.
Today, this sanctuary serves as home to more than 70 American alligators at any given time. These alligators are mostly rescued or donated to the facility. The zookeepers are dedicated to caring for these alligators and other reptiles who wound up in the sanctuary. Here, they can live the rest of their lives in comfort and contentment.
Since the animals have been with previous owners, most of them have been domesticated. That’s why the facility offers hands-on interactions with the reptiles. That may seem like an ill-advised practice, but you’re perfectly safe under the watchful eyes of the zookeepers. If you’d like to play with, feed, or take pictures with fearsome alligators, this is your chance!
Don’t miss the Godzilla and Medusa Shows, too! You’ll get to watch the staff interact with truly humongous alligators. It’s a great way to learn how these animals behave, especially outside of the water. It happens two to three times a day, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see it during your visit.
Despite its name, the grand Detroit Zoo is not located in the largest city of Michigan. It’s part of Royal Oak, another city on the edge of Detroit. Still, the attraction is part of the larger Metro Detroit area, making it one of the busiest zoos on this list. You’re better off avoiding the peak days or hours if you don’t like big crowds. With 125 acres of space, Detroit Zoo is one of the biggest family attractions in the entire state. It boasts 235 species and more than 2,400 individual animals living in its comfortable exhibits.
Since there are 14 sections in the zoo, you’ll likely need a whole day to explore them all. Among these exhibits are the African Forest with tropical animals, the American Grasslands with species native to the USA, and the Arctic Ring of Life, which is brimming with polar bears and sea otters. At the Asian Forest, you’ll find cute and cuddly creatures like lemurs and red pandas. It’s also the home of the majestic tigers. Don’t forget to visit the Holden Reptile Conservation Center, home to 70 species of reptiles. They’re all part of conservation efforts that aim to increase the dwindling populations of these creatures.
DeYoung Family Zoo
The township of Wallace is located in the Upper Peninsula, and it’s the home of the DeYoung Family Zoo. Sitting in the town’s outskirts, this private zoological park is nestled in the pristine forests near the Menominee River. This environment is perfect for the more than 400 animals that call this place their home. Still, the winters can be harsh, so the facility is open only from May to October.
Under the care of owners Bud DeYoung and Carrie Cramer, the zoo’s exotic animals live in comfort and security. Most of them are exotic creatures from all over the world. There are feline predators like lions, tigers, and leopards in safe enclosures. You’ll also find fearsome grizzly bears, mountain lions, wolves, and coyotes on the premises. There are also friendlier creatures like fennec foxes, capuchins, palm civets, and tortoises.
If you’re bringing kids along on this trip, they’ll certainly enjoy the petting zoo. The petting zoo houses more than 400 domestic creatures; you and your kids can feed, play with, and take photos of these animals, which aren’t limited to just chicken or sheep. The petting zoo includes animals from all over the world, so you can expect strange hoofed herbivores, colorful waterfowl, and monkeys ready to interact with all visitors.
Naubinway is an Upper Peninsula village tucked next to the vast Lake Michigan. Within its forested borders lies GarLyn Zoo Wildlife Park. It’s one of the largest facilities of its kind on this side of the state, boasting 30 acres of space for the many animals living here. It’s been around since 1994, and it remains a top attraction in this largely isolated area.
The zoo started with a few farm animals that the owners had collected over the years. Over time, it has grown into a menagerie of majestic, fearsome, and exotic creatures. One of the zoo’s largest collections is its North American animals, which include alligators, badgers, foxes, cougars, and river otters.
You’ll also see beasts like African lions, Siberian tigers, Patagonian cavies, and Syrian brown bears. They all live in relative comfort and safety, even during the harsh winters on this side of the USA. Still, the zoo closes during the colder months while the animals stay in their shelters, so take this into account when planning your itinerary.
While here, don’t forget to slow down and appreciate the tree-lined trails surrounded by a mature forest. The whole setting adds an authentic feel to the zoo, making you feel like you’re in a real wilderness filled with all kinds of animals.
Indian Creek Zoo
Lying on the southeasternmost edges of Michigan, Lambertville is a tiny community that serves as home to the Indian Creek Zoo. With around 51 acres of space, the facility has plenty of space for the 400+ animals who call it home. There are around 80 species living here, and they come from continents and regions all over the world.
Indian Creek Zoo is one of the most prolific and interactive zoos in the state, beloved by children and adults alike. Their wildlife encounters are their most prominent activity, letting you interact with creatures like sloths, giraffes, and deer. You can even ride camels!
Aside from the wildlife encounters, you can also visit the other sections of the park where wilder animals live. Indian Creek Zoo has Cat Alley, with well-known feline predators, Raptor Trail, with birds of prey, and Parakeet Paradise, where colorful birds fly and play with curious visitors.
If you want to participate in the zoo’s conservation efforts, you can visit the sections housing the red ruffed lemurs and giraffes. Here, you’ll learn more about these animals and the troubles they’ve been facing in the wild. It’s your chance to offer your support and solidarity for these vulnerable species.
Potter Park Zoo
As Michigan’s capital, the city of Lansing has a bustling urban atmosphere full of busy people. However, that doesn’t mean that there’s no space for leisure in the community. In fact, the oldest zoo in the state is located here: the magnificent Potter Park Zoo. It’s been a center for recreation since 1915, and it’s beloved by locals and visitors alike.
The 20-acre facility is home to around 500 individual animals. These come from all over the world, including native species of the country and the Great Lakes region. Thanks to the emphasis on conservation, the zoo is able to host breeding programs for these rare animals, especially ones that are considered vulnerable or endangered. Come see and learn about the rattlesnakes, pine martens, least shrews, and other species under the program.
There are still plenty of other animals you’ll encounter while touring the facility. These are classified under three categories: mammals, birds, and reptiles and amphibians. You’ll find them playing or resting in the Bird & Reptile House, the Farmyard EdVentures, and the Feline & Primate House. For those with an adventurous spirit, you can also try the thrilling camel rides, during which you get to explore the grounds on the backs of gentle giants.
For those who want a more low-key zoo experience, make time to visit the village of Roscommon. It’s the home of Roscommon Zoo, a rural zoo with 20 acres of land. It’s family-owned and operated, housing 120 exotic and domestic animals cared for by experienced and dedicated owners.
Because of its location, the Roscommon Zoo is able to take advantage of the natural surroundings and quiet rural setting. The atmosphere is close to what animals experience in the wilderness, making the facility an ideal home for them. Of course, visitors will enjoy the scenic and tranquil setting, too. Small as it may seem, the zoo has many animals to see and interact with. There are majestic tigers with both orange and white colors, showy peacocks, kangaroos and their joeys, and birds of prey perching proudly inside their enclosures.
For those bringing kids, don’t forget to visit the petting zoo to get a chance to interact with the farm animals! These cuddly and friendly creatures are used to humans and would love to socialize with visitors. Come play with and feed the turkeys, goats, camels, and more!
Wilderness Trails Zoo
The village of Birch Run is another small community located in the state’s lower peninsula, and it’s home to the vast Wilderness Trails Zoo. Within its 56-acre area, you’ll find around 200 individual animals representing more than 50 species from the country and abroad. It’s been around since 1991 and has remained a favorite zoological park because of its beautiful surroundings and the large variety of animals.
Aside from the animals, the zoo’s landscape is another sight to behold. The most unique aspect of the attraction is its long, winding paths lined with trees and dotted by ponds, hence the name “Wilderness Trails.”
There are plenty of animal attractions in the park, so plan a few hours or an entire day for visiting the exhibits. For those who like to play with docile creatures, check out the petting zoo or the feed stations. There’s also a butterfly house full of colorful insects, a reptile sanctuary for alligators, and a parakeet section where you can interact with loud and vibrant birds.
Take a break and head to the picnic pavilions for a sumptuous lunch with your family or group of friends! You can also visit the playground if you have kids who’d like to play and socialize with other children in the zoo.
Recap of the Best Zoos in Michigan
If you’re planning an epic adventure while in Michigan, visiting its zoos is a must. Not only will you get to see exotic and majestic creatures, but you’ll also get to interact with animals found only on this side of the USA. Plus, you’ll be contributing to the conservation efforts that many of these zoos are a part of.
Before you go, make sure to check out the opening times, health protocols, and other things that could affect your visit. Check out the website of each facility to read their latest announcements to help you streamline your schedule. Whatever the case, don’t forget to have fun and marvel at the beautiful creatures during your tour!
Looking to explore Michigan? Here are some other great things to do in the state: