Best Nature Centers in Southeast Michigan
Get in touch with the great outdoors with hikes, interpretive programs, exhibits, crafts, events and more at the region's best nature nooks
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- Address: 2125 Denby Drive, Waterford
- Phones: 248-674-5441
- Hours: Center: 3-8 p.m. Thursday, 4-8 p.m. Friday, noon-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Closed Monday-Wednesday and major holidays. Trails: Dawn-dusk, daily.
- 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: 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday.
- Admission: Free/general, $5/person, programs
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: Regular: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. (Also some Sunday hours during warmer months; call to see.) Closed Monday.
- Admission: $6/vehicle, $24/annual. Programs: Free or $2/person, $5/family.
Check out the Waterloo area's natural highlights in a bit 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 Junior Ranger Program and Forest Fitness lineup. 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: Lake Erie Metropark, 32481 W. Jefferson Ave., Brownstown
- Phone: 734-379-5020
- Hours: 1-5 p.m. daily (opens earlier, 10:30 a.m., in warmer weather)
- 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: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Mondays and most holidays.
- 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: 30300 Hales St., Madison Heights
- Phone: 248-585-0100
- Hours: 1-5 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, noon-8 p.m. Wednesday, noon-4 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Closed Monday-Tuesday. 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: 42700 Utica Road, Sterling Heights
- Phone: 586-446-2711
- Hours: 1-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and Sunday, 10-5 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).