Best Family Nature Centers in Metro Detroit and Ann Arbor

Experience the great outdoors and learn about the wonders of nature at these southeast Michigan nature centers in Metro Parent's 2018-19 guide.

At the nature centers in Michigan’s metro Detroit and Ann Arbor areas, there are tons of opportunities 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!

Belle Isle Nature Center 

  • Address: 176 Lakeside Drive, Detroit
  • Phone: 313-852-4056
  • Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. April 1-Oct. 31, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Nov.-Dec.
  • Admission: Free; $11/recreation passport

Belle Isle offers a variety of family fun in nature including an aquarium, conservancy and nature center in the heart of Detroit. This spot on the isle features a variety of swamp critters including turtles, frogs toads and mudpuppies; plus a fallow deer exhibit that lets you feed the dear. Look for their Nature Tots events for kids 2-4 throughout the year.

Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center

  • Address: 4101 River Bends Drive, Shelby Township
  • Phone: 586-323-2478
  • Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday
  • Admission: Free; small fees/programs

This nature-filled spot lets kids crawl through a tunnel complete with scenes of wildlife. Kids ages 3-5 can hear nature tales on select Thursdays. Plus, kids often get the opportunity to touch real reptiles and amphibians. Don’t forget to check out Burgess-Shadbush’s special events and programs (call for details) – or explore the area around the center. Visit the teaching gardens to learn about wildlife. In the summer, sign up for a three, four or five day camp.

Crosswinds Marsh Wetland Interpretive Preserve

  • Address: 27600 Haggerty Road, New Boston
  • Phone: 734-654-1220
  • Hours: Dawn-dusk daily
  • Admission: Free/general, fees vary/programs and events

Find year-round activities the whole family can enjoy at this Wayne County spot, including hiking trails. Enjoy cross-country skiing or picnicking and fishing. Summer parent-child programs are offered, as well.

Dinosaur Hill Nature Preserve

  • Address: 333 N. Hill Circle, Rochester
  • Phone: 248-656-0999
  • Hours: center: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday school year, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday, some Sundays, summer. 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 visiting Dinosaur Hill.

Drayton Plains Nature Center

  • Address: 2125 Denby Drive, Waterford
  • Phones: 248-674-5441
  • Hours: center: grounds: 6 a.m.-9 p.m. April 15-Oct. 15, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Oct. 16-April 14; center: check website
  • Admission: Free/general, fees vary/programs

Kids can get a look at real animals here. See everything from fish and turtles to caterpillars – and rotating animals seasonally that are native to Michigan. 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.

E. Dale Fisk Hawk Woods Nature Center

  • Address: 3799 Bald Mountain Road, Auburn Hills
  • Phone: 248-370-9353
  • Hours: By appointment. 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. Looking to camp? Rent one of the six log cabins, or just book a lodge for a birthday party!

E.L. Johnson Nature Center

  • Address: 3325 Franklin Road, Bloomfield Hills
  • Phone: 248-341-6485
  • Hours: trails: 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; center: weekday hours vary seasonally, noon-3 p.m. Saturday-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. Kids can feed the two orphan deer who live here, and check out two red-tail hawks and two great horned owls, to boot.

Farmington Hills Nature Center

  • 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 programs and activities for kids of all ages and adults. At the nature center, check out the interactive exhibits, hand-on activities and live animals. Plus, inside, you’ll see a life-sized animal displays with various critters, a bird viewing area and a nature library to read and learn from nature books, too. Venture out on more than four miles of nature trails, including the children’s discovery trail where kids can use all five senses to explore nature. Don’t miss the children’s garden, where you can observe various vegetables growing. Plus, sign up for camps at the nature center and park or head here with your school or scout group for programs.

Gerald E. Eddy Discovery Center

  • Address: Waterloo Recreation Area, 17030 Bush Road, Chelsea
  • Phone: 734-475-3170
  • Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday January-March; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday April 1-May 28; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday May 29-Sept. 3; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday Sept. 4-Nov. 21; closed Nov. 22-Jan. 1
  • Admission: Free, $2-$5/programs, $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.

Indian Springs Metropark Environmental Discovery Center

  • Address: 5175 Indian Trail, White Lake
  • Phone: 248-625-7280
  • Hours: center: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; grounds: 7 a.m.-10 p.m. April 2-Oct. 31, 7 a.m.-7 pm. Nov. 1-April 1
  • Admission: Park entry: $10/vehicle daily, fees vary/programs

Here, kids can learn about Michigan’s ecosystems. The environmental discovery center is located on more than 60 acres within the approximately 2,500-acre Metropark. The center has everything from ponds to wetlands and prairies. Be amazed by the underwater viewing room at this award-winning spot.

Kensington Metropark Nature Center

  • Address: 4570 Huron River Parkway, 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: $10/vehicle daily, fees vary/programs

The renovated center offers new exhibits to explore the park’s wildlife. Feed small songbirds like chickadees or the fish in Kingfisher Lagoon by hand.

Lake Erie Marshlands Museum & Nature Center

  • Address: Lake Erie Metropark, 32481 W. Jefferson Ave., Brownstown
  • Phone: 734-379-5020
  • Hours: center: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends; park: 7 a.m.-8 p.m. daily winter; 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily summer
  • Admission: Park entry: $10/vehicle daily, 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. Find programs for the kids here, too.

Lake St. Clair Metropark Nature Center

  • Address: 31300 Metropolitan Parkway, Harrison Township
  • Phone: 586-463-4581
  • Hours: 1-5 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends September-May; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily June-August
  • Admission: $10/vehicle daily, 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.

Leslie Science & Nature Center

  • Address: 1831 Traver Road, Ann Arbor
  • Phone: 734-997-1553
  • Hours: grounds: sunrise-sunset daily; Critter House: see website; seasonal hours/events
  • 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.

Lloyd A. Stage Nature Center

  • Address: 6685 Coolidge Highway, Troy
  • Phone: 248-688-9703
  • Hours: center: 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Check website for summer hours; trails: dawn-dusk daily
  • 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.

Maybury State Park 

  • Address: 20145 Beck Road, Northville
  • Phone: 248-349-8390
  • Hours: 8 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
  • Cost: free; $11/recreation passport

This 944-acre park offers hiking and biking trails, skiing in the wintertime and a variety of wild animals to watch. There’s a working farm on site and demonstrations of 1900s sheep shearing, honey extracting and grain harvesting throughout the year.

Nankin Mills Interpretive Center

  • Address: 33175 Ann Arbor Trail, Westland
  • Phone: 734-261-1990
  • Hours: 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-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 they can visit the touch table. 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!

Oakwoods Metropark Nature Center

  • Address: 32991 Willow Road, across river from Michigan Memorial Cemetery, New Boston
  • Phone: 734-782-3956
  • Hours: center: 1-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday September-mid-June; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily mid-June-August; park: 8 a.m.-dusk daily
  • Admission: Park entry: $10/vehicle daily, 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 and Radar the great horned owl would like to meet you, if you swing by to say hello.

Outdoor Adventure Center

  • Address: 1801 Atwater St., Detroit
  • Phone: 844-622-6367
  • Hours: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday
  • Cost: $5/adults, $3/12 and under, free/under 2, fees/programs

Experience “up-north” adventures with hands-on activities, exhibits, simulators and events. Kids can get a taste of camping, hiking, fishing, hunting and more at this indoor spot.

Red Oaks Nature Center

  • Address: 30300 Hales St., Madison Heights
  • Phone: 248-585-0100
  • Hours: center: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday (open until 8 p.m. Saturday May 28-Sept. 3), noon-5 p.m. Sunday; Trails: Sunrise-sunset year-round
  • Admission: Center: Free; park: $5-$10/day, small fees/programs

This cozy nature center, which is inside a log cabin, offers programs for families, and 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.

Sterling Heights Nature Center

  • Address: 42700 Utica Road, Sterling Heights
  • Phone: 586-446-2710
  • Hours: spring-winter: 1-5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday; summer: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturdays
  • Admission: Free/general, fees/events (register)

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. Be sure to check out the 900-gallon aquarium full of fish, and the atrium of live creatures. Kids are welcome to partake in a free indoor scavenger hunt that is age appropriate.

Stony Creek Metropark Nature Center

  • Address: 4300 Main Park Drive, Shelby Township
  • Phone: 586-781-4242
  • Hours: center, school year: 1-5 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends; summer: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; park: 6 a.m.-10 p.m. April 1-Oct. 31, 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Nov. 1-March 31
  • Admission: Park: $10/vehicle daily, 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, and don’t forget to try out their brand new zipline and treetop course, too.

Wint Nature Center

  • Address: Independence Oaks Park, 9501 Sashabaw Road, Clarkston
  • Phone: 248-625-6473
  • Hours: walk-ins: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday May 28-Sept. 3; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday Sept. 4-May 27; park: dawn-dusk daily, year-round.
  • Admission: Park entry: $5-$10/day, 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. Just outside is a sensory garden, where kids are encouraged to touch the plants and observe the butterflies, hummingbirds and insects that populate it. Scouts are welcome to join badge days here to work for and receive a specific merit. Find birthday party opportunities for little ones turning 4 through those turning 12 here.

This post is updated regularly. 


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