Best Family Nature Centers in Southeast Michigan
Explore these outdoor destinations to discover live animals, cool programs, hikes, crafts and more in Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties
Don't miss out on what nature has to offer! Check out the nature centers throughout Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties for an outdoor experience your kids are sure to love. The nature centers offer hiking trails, exhibits and programs geared towards your little ones. Plus, there is a wide array of live animals for you to see. Let the exploring begin!
- Address: 1831 Traver Road, Ann Arbor
- Phone: 734-997-1553
- Hours: Critter House: noon-3 p.m. Sunday. Contact for program hours. Grounds: Dawn-dusk daily.
- Admission: Free/general, fees vary/programs
Oodles of cool creatures call this 50-acre "center" home – and you can meet them all! Select weekend hours, The Critter House is filled with about 30 Ann Arbor-native frogs, turtles, snakes and rabbits, plus some exotic animals, like a bearded dragon, all in their unique habitats (desert, rainforest, wetlands, etc.) And don't miss the raptor enclosure, home to hawks, owls, a bald eagle, vultures and more. Stroll the mile-long trail through the Black Pond woods, too, or try a Leslie Science & Nature Center family event.
- Address: 31300 Metropolitan Parkway, Harrison Township
- Phone: 586-463-4581
- Hours: 1-5 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends (Summer Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.)
- Admission: $5/vehicle, $25/annual, fees vary/programs
Set close by the Lake St. Clair shoreline, this center is a hub for exploring Michigan's wildlife. Live amphibians and reptiles call this spot home (you might even get to hold a snake!) – and there's an eye-popping array of cool taxidermic critters, from squirrels to fox. Hands-on fun is over in the Kids' Corner; take a peek through the nature window, too. And be sure to check out the roster of interpretive programs, from seasonal to historical.
- Address: 4101 River Bends Drive, Shelby Township
- Phone: 586-323-2478
- Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Admission: Free; small fees/programs
Known as "little Grand Canyon of Macomb County," this habitat-rich gem touts an interactive crawl-through tunnel with scenes of wildlife you might find in and under the Clinton River. Touch real live reptiles and amphibians, too. Nature and historical programs and special events abound – and be sure to explore River Bends Park and the surrounding 80 acres.
- Address: 333 N. Hill Circle, Rochester
- Phone: 248-656-0999
- Hours: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday (the nature center holds many private field trips and classes so be sure to call ahead to be sure the nature center is open for your visit), noon-3 p.m. most Sundays (watch for extended spring/summer hours). Closed Saturdays. Trails: Dawn-dusk daily.
- Admission: Free/general, fees vary/programs
How much fun can you dig up at Dinosaur Hill? Thanks to a partnership between the city of Rochester and nonprofit Friends Group, tons! This serene 16-acre oasis is known for family programs at reasonable rates (watch for their Family Campfire activities). There's plenty more nature to explore inside their award-winning nature center.
- Address: 2125 Denby Drive, Waterford
- Phones: 248-674-5441
- Hours: Center: 1-6 p.m. Thursday, 1-6 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. Trails: October 16-April 14: 9 a.m.-8 p.m., April 15-October 15: 6 a.m.-9 p.m.
- Admission: Free
A wolf rug, displayed on a central table, joins other interesting animal mounts and live creatures here – such as fish, reptiles, amphibians and a 20-year-old black rat snake (he's five feet long!). Kids love reaching into the "mystery boxes" to guess what wildlife clues are inside. Originally a fish hatchery, this spot now offers a chance to stroll and explore the ponds. Check with the Waterford Park and Rec department for special programs.
- Address: 33175 Ann Arbor Trail, Westland
- Phone: 734-261-1990
- Hours: 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday.
- Admission: Free/general, nominal fee/guided tours
Meet some real reptiles and amphibians – including Sue, a large snapping turtle! Built in 1842, this historic mill is a key community centerpiece that's so striking, Henry Ford bought it back in the day. Now, there are plenty of interactive displays for kids to scope out, from the exhibits on Native Americans to Ford's village industries project. Loads of programs, too.
- Address: Waterloo Recreation Area, 17030 Bush Road, Chelsea
- Phone: 734-475-3170
- Hours: Memorial Day-Labor Day: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday; September-Nov. 21: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday; Jan. 2-March 31: Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., noon-5 p.m. Sunday; April 1-Memorial Day: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday.
- Admission: Recreation Passport is required for entry. $11/Michigan residents
Check out the Waterloo area's natural highlights in an interactive map. Also explore habitats in the area and cool Indian relics, like fluted spear points. Don't miss the giant beaver or Jefferson mammoth – and kids always dig the "Mad Scientist Lab" and "Fossil Graveyard." Top it off with a self-guided trail hike at this mega-sized 20,000-plus acre park.
- Address: Heritage Park, 24915 Farmington Road, Farmington Hills
- Phone: 248-477-1135
- Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Closed most holidays.
- Admission: Free, some fees apply for programs
Its robust roster suits all seasons, from Friday-evening fall hayrides to Nature Incorporated summer camps – not to mention a cool Advanced Junior Naturalist Club and Outdoor Yoga. Inside, don't miss the life-sized animal habitat displaying 20-plus animals, plus a backyard habitat viewing area, native fish aquariums, a nature library, hands-on touch table and Discovery Cove. A standout for having open-hours daily!
- Address: 3799 Bald Mountain Road, Auburn Hills
- Phone: 248-370-9353
- Hours: 4-7 p.m. Wednesday, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday; Trails open dawn to dusk daily
- Admission: Free/Nature Center; Some fees may apply to programs
Check out the groomed nature trails, a boardwalk that goes over the marsh or participate in one of the many family programs like the Mother-Daughter Campout. Hawk Woods Nature Center also features a lodge available for rent for birthday parties and other celebrations or camp close to home in one of the five log cabins available for rent!
- Address: Lake Erie Metropark, 32481 W. Jefferson Ave., Brownstown
- Phone: 734-379-5020
- Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (Hours may vary by season; call ahead to confirm)
- Admission: Park entry: $5/vehicle, $25/annual, fees vary/programs
Outside, be sure to see the live bald eagle Luc, rescued by the park. Inside at the nature center, The Muskrat Club has hands-on exhibits just for kids, exploring oodles of birds and frogs – and get to know Lake Erie fish residents, represented in a massive 1,300 gallon aquarium area. The museum upstairs features everything from duck hunting to Native American history.
- Address: Independence Oaks Park, 9501 Sashabaw Road, Clarkston
- Phone: 248-625-6473
- Hours: 1-5 p.m. Friday-Sunday walk-in visitors; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday registered groups and appointments.
- Admission: Park entry: $5/day or $30/annual Oakland County resident, $10/day or $46/annual non-resident
Whatever the weather, a peek out the Window on Wildlife lets kids see all sorts of critters, from squirrels to deer, at the feeding stations just outside (check out the "big board" for what you might see – and hang tight about 20 minutes; something's bound to swing by!). Inside, also find a variety of interactive exhibits, including extensive programming, employing everything from puppets to music to crafts to bring the outdoors to life.
- Address: 6685 Coolidge Highway, Troy
- Phone: 248-688-9703
- Hours: Exhibit Hall Hours: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, closed on holidays. Trails: Open dawn to dusk daily. Building hours can change without notice; call ahead to confirm hours.
- Admission: Free/trails
Visit this 100-acre nature sanctuary and take a hike on the trails or register for a special program like Little Acorns, where your wee ones can explore nature on an interactive hike!
- Address: 30300 Hales St., Madison Heights
- Phone: 248-585-0100
- Hours: noon-4 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday-Saturday, noon-8 p.m. Wednesday, closed Sunday-Monday. Trails: Dawn-dusk, daily.
- Admission: Free
Nestled in a rustic log cabin, this peaceful oasis lets kids get up-close and personal with Michigan fish, birds, reptiles and insects – many of them alive. A lovely pond out front adds to the chill vibe (and lets you spot a few more critters). While there's no programming, the center is open to explore, with staff nearby to answer questions; stroll the 1 1/3 miles of paved trails in the surrounding George W. Suarez Friendship Woods, too.
- Address: 4300 Main Park Drive, Shelby Township
- Phone: 586-781-9113
- Hours: School season: 1-5 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends; Summer: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
- Admission: $5/vehicle daily, $25/annual
Head out to Stony Creek Metropark for a day filled with fun! Check out the "Waters of Change" exhibit tells the story of southeaster Michigan's earliest Native people, the story of our pioneer history and the story of today. Don't let the fun stop there – Stony Creek also has beaches, playgrounds, a disc-golf course and much more.
- Address: 42700 Utica Road, Sterling Heights
- Phone: 586-446-2710
- Hours: 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday (watch for extended spring/summer hours). Closed Monday.
- Admission: Free, fees for classes
Step into an incredible indoor "wooded" setting year-round at this beautiful center that features a huge tank with Michigan-native fish, turtles and quail "hanging out" in their own designated habitat area. Animals also play a role in programming, such as story times and other presentations (check its site for the latest offerings).