Want Wildlife? Check Out the 10 Best Zoos in Michigan

Jen Cullerton Johnson Avatar
boy and girl in front of zoo exhibit
Photo credit: Cortney Fries

Ready to switch up your girls’ weekend trip? Looking for a fun detour on your Midwest road trip? Maybe you feel like ditching the city crowd to go solo? Level up your travel experience with a visit to one of the 10 best zoos in Michigan.

Big or small, Michigan’s got it all when it comes to zoo experiences. Visit big zoos like the Detroit Zoo with its Polk Penguin Conservation Center. Or experience the uniqueness of smaller zoos like the GarLyn Zoo. See lions, lemurs and giraffes. Get up close to the animals in the petting areas. Zipline, hike nature trails and see animals in their natural habitats.

Wave hello to a den of lions at Grand Rapids John Ball Zoo before you head to the wineries. Put in some wow-time with the bears, otters and polar bears at the Detroit Zoo after picking apples. After a swim in Lake Michigan, hang out with a herd of cows and other farm animals. It’s as easy as 1-2-Zoo!

No matter how it goes, visiting Michigan zoos, like John Ball Zoo and Binder Park Zoo, where animal conservation and wildlife protection are paramount, might give you a reason to high-five a Zoo-Yeah! Like one Tripadvisor wrote, “the best-kept secret in Michigan is the zoos.”

Here are the 10 Best Zoos in Michigan. Psst!… don’t tell anyone.

Read More: 25 Fabulously Fun Fall Things to Do in Michigan for All Ages

best zoos in michigan - girl in front of tiger exhibit
Checking out the tigers at the Detroit Zoo. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen

1. Detroit Zoo, Royal Oak

From the Polk Penguin Conservation Center to the Great Apes of Harambee, the Detroit Zoo is an international leader in animal conservation and the first in the USA to use open natural exhibits. Wander around the gorgeous 125 acres and enjoy more than 2000 species of wildlife, like zebras, kangaroos and big cats, in their natural exhibits.

I recommend the Nocturnal Adventures experience. It’s a great way to tour the zoo at dusk and then enjoy a campfire animal talk and stories by a zookeeper. Don’t miss the hands-on exhibits at the Belle Island Nature Center. If you’re looking for the best resources on Michigan’s aquatic life, go to the Great Lakes Center for Nature. Download the Detroit Zoo app for zoo maps and walking trails.

Highlights of The Detroit Zoo

  • 4-D Theater featuring special effects
  • Giraffe Encounters and Feeding.
  • Carousel, train and ample play adventure areas
Lions in their natural habitat at the Potter Park Zoo. Photo credit: Potter Park Zoo website

2. Potter Park Zoo, Lansing

While not the largest zoo in Michigan, Potter Park packs a punch regarding zoo visitor experiences and wildlife, like rhinos, tigers, leopards and the jewel of the zoo, the red pandas. At the Feline and Primate house, watch lions and monkeys in their outdoor natural habitats.

Great for families and small children, one Tripadvisor reviewer highlighted that “the zoo has a petting area and a wide variety of animals. My children loved the pony and camel rides.” Take time to play at Farmyard EdVentures where children learn about farm animals like sheep, goats and cows.

Highlights of Potter Park Zoo

  • Lush gardens with various native and exotic plant species
  • Large gift shop stocked with children’s toys
  • Zoo Nights for evening adventures
bets zoos in michigan - feeding giraffes at Binder Park Zoo
One of the best experiences at Binder Park Zoo is hand feeding the giraffes. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen

3. Binder Park Zoo, near Battle Creek

Second to the Detroit Zoo in size, the Binder Park Zoo hosts an array of wildlife and plant species. Get around Binder Park Zoo via tram, train or walking trails. Seeing wild African animals starts with observing lions prowl in their natural habitat. Head to the petting zoo or go feed a giraffe. Learn more about wildlife animal behavior at the zoo’s Overnight Program. The fun includes a night of animal keeper’s talks and campfire activities designed for groups or families.

If you still want animal fun from the Binder Park Zoo, tune to WolfWatch on the live ZooCam.  On my Zoo bucket list, the next time I’m in Battle Creek, I plan on lacing up my hiking shoes and enjoying the zoo’s natural spaces while I see leopards, wolves, prairie dogs, lemurs, monkeys and red pandas.

Highlights of Binder Park Zoo

  • Zoo keeper talks with hands-on animal experiences
  • Feeding giraffes up close 
  • Ample parking, rest and play areas
  • Zipline and ropes course soon to open at Skylark Ridge
checking out the tigers (behind glass) at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, MI
You can get up close with a tiger (behind glass, of course!) at John Ball Zoo. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen

4. John Ball Zoo, Grand Rapids

The John Ball Zoo is a must-see when visiting Grand Rapids. Tucked into the heart of the city, the zoo is a haven for diverse and endangered wild animal species. Enjoy a cheek-to-beak experience at the Budgie Aviary where you can literally “feed the birds”.

If wildlife adventure calls, soar through the air like an American Bald eagle with a zipline adventure. Swing like a monkey on the high ropes course. Ride a camel! Or carefully plod up the mountain like a llama when you ride the funicular to the highest point at the zoo.

Don’t pass on the chance to have an animal encounter with a Bearded dragon, hissing cockroaches and silkie chickens. Stay connected to animals like the red panda on the ZooCam.

Highlights of John Ball Zoo

  • Children’s Zoo
  • Camel rides
  • Van Andel Living Shores Aquarium
Ring-tailed lemurs at the Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park. Photo credit: Boulder Ridge, Wild Animal Park

5. Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park, Grand Rapids

Not your typical zoo, Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park is a private 80-acre zoo that hosts an array of diverse and exotic wild animals, like wallabies, kangaroos, zebras and lemurs. Hands-on experiences and animal encounters make this zoo unique. Enjoy feeding animals and soaking up local vibes at the picnic areas.

“I loved the tapirs and appreciated the opportunity to meet the new baby tapir, Tumble. Since tapirs are so endangered, I think it’s wonderful for kids and adults alike to learn about them and encounter them in real life–they’ll be more apt to want to protect them,” commented one Tripadvisor member. The zoo is open from May until October.

Highlights of Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park

  • Zoo keeper talks with hands-on animal experiences
  • Petting zoo and ample children’s play areas
  • Animal feeding for camels and goats
african pigeons in pool
African penguin swims at the Saginaw Children’s Zoo. Photo credit: Saginaw Children’s Zoo

6. Saginaw Children’s Zoo, Saginaw

After a dip in Lake Michigan, head to a local favorite, the Saginaw Children’s Zoo. Enjoy spending time with more than 150 mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates while exploring the zoo’s ten acres with views of the water and natural foliage.

Saginaw Children’s Zoo celebrates Michigan’s nature with the Wetland Experience, with plants and fish native to Michigan wetlands. If you like birds, I recommend the Walk Through Aviary, where doves and cockatiels fly free. It’s fun to hand feed them and listen to their calls. Next to the Walk Through Aviary is the Australian exhibit with kangaroos. Enjoy the zoo from April through October.

Highlights of Saginaw Children’s Zoo

  • Rides include a carousel and train
  • Fossil Find for children
  • Loons Baseball Diamond
Brown bear
Brown bear at Wilderness Trails Zoo. Photo credit: Wilderness Trails Zoo

7. Wilderness Trails Zoo, Birch Run

When I visit Michigan, I immerse myself in nature. So if you love to hike, surround yourself with nature and observe exotic and native animals, Wilderness Trails Zoo is your go to zoo. The zoo is a mile-long trail that passes trees, ponds and over 50 species of exotic, mostly native, animals. Exhibits are constructed, so most animals are much closer than at a typical zoo. A hit for families, one Tripadvisor commented, “The whole place is affordable and contains a wide variety of rescued wildlife.”

Enjoy a petting area with farm animals. There are feed stations throughout the trail. Wilderness Trails Zoo at Birch Run is a seasonal zoo. It is open from May until October.

Highlights of Wilderness Trails Zoo

  • Feeding stations with hand sanitation
  • Ample playground and rest areas
  • Gift shop and snack bar

Read More:  Things to Do in Northern Michigan: Top Picks!

snow leopard
Snow leopard at GarLyn Zoo Wildlife Park. Photo credit: GarLyn Zoo Wildlife Park website

8. GarLyn Zoo Wildlife Park, Naubinway

Traveling to the Upper Peninsula? Then make a stop at the GarLyn Zoo. It has over 30 acres and packs in a plethora of wildlife. Enjoy African wildlife like a tortoise, a lion and fruit bats while walking through the mulched nature trails. Get curious and learn about the long list of animals living at the zoo, like a snow leopard, tiger, cougar, bobcat, river otter, grizzly bear, camel, ring-tail lemurs and reindeer. There’s a petting zoo where children can feed the animals.

“What a great gem. It is a small to mid-size zoo. Very relaxing to walk around to see the animals as you are walking in the woods. Loved the lions, tigers and bears and everything else. Also, having all the different varieties of chickens wandering around was great. I would recommend stopping for a visit,” wrote one Tripadvisor reviewer. This family-run zoo is only open from May until October.

Highlights of GarLyn Zoo

  • RV and bus parking
  • Gift shop
  • Snack bar and other dining options available on weekends like local food trucks

9. DeYoung Family Zoo, Wallace

Located in the beauty of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, De Young Family Zoo brings together wildlife and local nature. This is a small, family-run zoo. So get ready for your zoo-wow experience. Known for their feeding experiences, you can give snacks to big cats, hippos, bears, deer, goats, camels, farm animals, sheep, ducks, alpacas and more.

“My kids had once-in-a-lifetime experiences–feeding and standing among does and bucks with velvet on their horns, feeding a hippo up close,” wrote a Tripadvisor member. The zoo is open from May through September.

Highlights of DeYoung Family Zoo

  • Ample parking for cars and RVs
  • Walking paths and rest spots
  • Children’s play areas and picnic areas

10. Roscommon Zoo, Wallace

Roscommon Zoo is a small family-owned zoo with many native plants, and exotic and domestic animals, like tigers, owls, kangaroos, lemurs, bobcats, parrots and more. Young children and adults enjoy Roscommon Zoo’s special touches, like hands-on feeding of the animals.

Since most of their animals have been highly socialized, the Roscommon Zoo acknowledges that this makes “for a unique interactive experience between you, the visitor and some amazing creatures.”

Take your time and enjoy the petting zoo. One Tripadvisor member wrote that it was “the biggest petting zoo we’ve been to. There were plenty of animals to enjoy…Fun and different place to go if you’re looking for something to do.” Double check the website for zoo hours and opening times, as they change with weather conditions.

Highlights of Roscommon Zoo

  • Ample parking for cars and RVs
  • Handwashing stations throughout the zoo
  • Gift shop and snack bar
As an educator, creative writer and Digital Media Specialist at Creative Chicago Reuse Exchange (CCRx), I apply my M.Ed. in Curriculum and Development and my passion for eco-social justice to create and manage impactful content that promotes the reuse of creative materials for education and community benefit. I have over four years of experience in developing, executing, and overseeing communication and writing strategies that support the values and goals of CCRx and its partners, such as Books on Benches and Green Literacy.org. I have a proven track record of identifying and resolving communication challenges, fostering a collaborative mindset, and initiating change management plans that enhance the effectiveness and appeal of CCRx’s content. I also provide thought leadership and best practices for content development, optimization, and alignment with educational institutions and environmental stewardship. Additionally, I have published multiple books and teaching units on the inspiring story of environmentalist Wangari Maathai and the importance of green literacy for young readers.
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