Best Family Nature Centers in Southeast Michigan
Experience the great outdoors and adventure in nature at these Macomb, Oakland, Wayne and Washtenaw centers in Metro Parent's 2014-15 guide
In southeast Michigan, there are tons of places for families to get outside and experience all that nature has to offer. Macomb, Oakland, Washtenaw and Wayne counties all tout a wealth of nature centers, giving kids the perfect place to explore, have fun and learn something, to boot. With hiking trails, live animals, special programs and hands-on activities abounding, what are you waiting for? Find a center near you to start the fun!
- 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-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Admission: Free; small fees/programs
This nature-filled spot lets kids crawl through a tunnel complete with scenes of wildlife. Plus, kids get the opportunity to touch real reptiles and amphibians. Don't forget to check out Burgess-Shadbush's special events and programs – or explore the area around the center.
- Address: 27600 Haggerty Road, New Boston
- Phone: 734-654-1220
- Hours: Dawn-dusk daily
- Admission: Free/general, fees, fees vary/programs
Find year-round activities the whole family can enjoy at this Wayne County spot, including hiking trails. Also, families and schools can get involved with the educational programs here to learn more about nature, with topics ranging from geology to wetlands.
- Address: 333 N. Hill Circle, Rochester
- Phone: 248-656-0999
- Hours: School year: 9 a.m.-noon Monday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. Summer: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday. Open occasional Sundays. Trails: Dawn-dusk daily.
- Admission: Free/general, fees vary/programs. Note: Preregistration required for programs and events here!
The 16-acre preserve has lots for families to explore. With family programs galore at affordable rates, kids are sure to learn a lot and have fun while they're at it while visiting Dinosaur Hill.
- Address: 2125 Denby Drive, Waterford
- Phones: 248-674-5441
- Hours: Center: 1-6 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday. Grounds: 6 a.m.-9 p.m. April 15-Oct. 15, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Oct. 16, 2014-April 14. 2015.
- Admission: Free/general, fees vary/programs
Kids can get a look at real animals, both native and to the area at not. See everything from fish and turtles to caterpillars, hedgehogs and ferrets. Plus, kids will want to watch for birds here, where you can look out a one-way window and see feathered friends eating from the feeder. With 13 different tanks and aquariums here and summer camps for all ages, there's no shortage of fun at Drayton Plains. Check with the Waterford Parks and Rec department for special programs.
- 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
Swing by for a hike on the nature trails, or walk the boardwalk over the marsh. Families can find a wealth of family programs here, like the father-son campout. Looking to camp? Rent one of the five log cabins, or just book a lodge for a birthday party!
- Address: 3325 Franklin Road, Bloomfield Hills
- Phone: 248-341-6485
- Hours: Trails: 8 a.m.-dusk Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Center: Hours vary weekdays, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, noon-3 p.m. Sunday.
- Admission: Free; donations welcome
Explore this 40-acre site, complete with pond (with real live fish!) and tons of plants and wildlife. Walk the trails, or stop by the visitor center to check out the displays and pick up some bits of nature knowledge.
- Address: Heritage Park, 24915 Farmington Road (between 10 and 11 Mile roads),
- Phone: 248-477-1135
- Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Closed most holidays and closed Mondays in winter (December-March)
- Admission: Free/general, fees/programs
Find family-friendly groups and activities for the kids like the Advanced Junior Naturalist Club and outdoor yoga. At the Discovery Cove, check out the hands-on touch table. Plus, inside, you'll see a life-sized animal habitat with 40-plus critters, a backyard habitat viewing area, native fish aquariums and a nature library, too. Plus, sign up for camps at the nature center and park or head here with your school or scout group for programs.
- Address: Waterloo Recreation Area, 17030 Bush Road, Chelsea
- Phone: 734-475-3170
- Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday (April 1-Memorial Day and September-November). Open Mondays (Memorial-Labor Day), weekends only (January-March).
- Admission: fees vary, most programs free for Waterloo Natural History Association Members, $2/person, $5/family (non-members). Recreation Passport is required for entry. $11/Michigan residents.
An interactive map lets families see the Waterloo area's natural highlights. Kids will love the "Mad Scientist Lab" and the "Fossil Graveyard." Afterward, take a hike on the trails at the 20,000-plus acre park.
- Address: 5175 Indian Trail, White Lake
- Phone: 248-625-7280
- Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily
- Admission: Park entry: $7/vehicle daily, $30 annual; fees vary/programs
Here, kids can learn about Michigan's ecosystems. Located on more than 60 acres, the center has everything from ponds to wetlands and prairies. Be amazed by the underwater viewing room at this award-winning spot.
- Address: 2240 W. Buno Road, Milford
- Phone: 810-227-8917
- Hours: Center: 1-5 p.m. Monday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Park: 6 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.
- Admission: Park entry: $7/vehicle daily, $30/annual; fees vary/programs
See fun live displays here filled with reptiles and fish. Plus, hands-on activities are always a treat for the kids. Take a walk on the trails to see the woods and marshes, too. Don't forget about the monthly activities!
- Address: Lake Erie Metropark, 32481 W. Jefferson Ave., Brownstown
- Phone: 734-379-5020
- Hours: School season: 1-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Summer hours (through Labor Day): 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily.
- Admission: Park entry: $7/vehicle daily, $30/annual, fees vary/programs
A highlight here is always seeing the real live bald eagle, Luc, who was rescued by the park. Find a 1,300-gallon aquarium and see regional fish swimming along. Kids will get a kick out of the Marshland Symphony, where you can play bird and frog calls. Find programs for the kids here, too.
- Address: 31300 Metropolitan Parkway, Harrison Township
- Phone: 586-463-4581
- Hours: 1-5 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends. Check for summer hours.
- Admission: $7/vehicle daily, $30/annual, fees vary/programs
Interested in the wetlands? Head here to see lots of wildlife thanks to the shoreline, wooded and marsh areas. Live reptiles and amphibians are always fun for the kids to watch for. Take a nature walk or partake in one of the family programs, too.
- Address: 1831 Traver Road, Ann Arbor
- Phone: 734-997-1553
- Hours: Critter House: Noon-3 p.m. Sunday. Contact for program hours. Grounds: Sunrise-sunset daily.
- Admission: Free/general, fees vary/programs
The Critter House is teeming with, well, critters! Visit the turtles, snakes, rabbits and more. Plus, there are always the raptor and birds of prey enclosures to see – or explore the grounds. Leslie Science & Nature Center has family events available, too.
- 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: Dawn-dusk daily. Building hours can change without notice; call ahead to confirm.
- Admission: Free/general and trails, small fees/programs
Visit this sanctuary with your family for tons of nature fun. Take a hike along the trails for some beautiful views, or try one of their special programs, like the Junior Naturalists.
- 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, fee/programs
Sue, a large snapping turtle, will greet you – along with some other real reptiles and amphibians. There are tons of hands-on activities here, including touch boxes where kids can feel real snakeskin and other nature items, or the touch table, featuring elk antlers. Touch-screen computers feature games about river cleanliness. Or head to the interactive map. Find history exhibits and interactive programs, too. Fun fact: This historic mill was one owned by Henry Ford!
- Address: 32991 Willow Road, across river from Michigan Memorial Cemetery
- Phone: 734-782-3956
- Hours: 1-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
- Admission: Park entry: $7/vehicle daily, $30 annual; fees vary/program
Wow! The huge 700-gallon turtle tank is a fun place to watch real turtles swimming about. See snakes, toads and fish, too. Hawkeye the red-tailed hawk would like to meet you, if you swing by to say hello. Find trails, a pond and butterfly garden here as well.
- Address: 30300 Hales St., Madison Heights
- Phone: 248-585-0100; 248-858-0916 (programs)
- Hours: Noon-4 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday-Saturday, noon-8 p.m. Wednesday, closed Sunday-Monday. Trails: Dawn-dusk, daily.
- Admission: Center: Free; park entry $5/day or $30/annual Oakland County resident, $10/day or $46/annual nonresident; small fees/programs
This cozy nature center, which is inside a log cabin, offers programs for families, includes exhibits with live native animals. Also, find a pond with a low waterfall, which is a water source for the wildlife in the area. Check out the surrounding George W. Guarez Friendship Woods and 1.3-mile paved trail. Find nature programs online.
- Address: 42700 Utica Road, Sterling Heights
- Phone: 586-446-2710
- Hours: Fall/winter/spring: 1-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. Summer (June 17-Labor Day weekend): 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.
- Admission: Free/general, fees/programs
Find a calendar of nature center events to see what piques your family's interest. Head to the center to discover the live reptiles and amphibians and explore the touch tables. Nature walks and classes are available here, too.
- Address: 4300 Main Park Drive, Shelby Township
- Phone: 586-781-9113
- Hours: 1-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday (school season); 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (summer).
- Admission: Park: $7/vehicle daily, $30/annual; fees vary/programs
What a great environment for the area's wildlife! This nature center gets families up close to live snakes, turtles and fish. Want to participate in one of the programs here? Be sure to keep up with this center for fun nature-filled activities.
- Address: Independence Oaks Park, 9501 Sashabaw Road, Clarkston
- Phone: 248-625-6473
- Hours: walk-ins: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday; registered groups and appointments: Tuesday-Thursday.
- Admission: Park entry: $5/day or $30/annual Oakland County resident, $10/day or $46/annual non-resident; small fees/programs
Programs? Special events? You bet! Find the StarLab here, plus the Nature Discovery program. Take a look out the Window on Wildlife to see wildlife feeding outside.