Ready for a close encounter of the wild kind? Families can beat cabin fever this year and connect with some strange friends in new ways.

MICHIGAN—What Michigander doesn’t love a good petting zoo? Time spent with animals is not just a reminder of our place in the circle of life, it’s also downright therapeutic. Whether you’re eight or 80, there’s something special about making friends with other creatures.

The state of Michigan has more than 25 different zoos and plenty more animal sanctuaries and rescues. From baby mammals to large reptiles, opportunities to engage with a variety of animals are plentiful across the state.

We’ve prepared a list of unique animal experiences, no matter the time of year.

Photo courtesy
Deer Ranch

Deer Ranch

1540 US-2, St. Ignace, MI 49781

Usually, if someone mentions deer in proximity of being up north, we’d assume they’d be talking about hunting. At the Deer Ranch in St. Ignace, though, visitors can have peaceful, friendly interactions with native whitetail deer.

With 60 years of operation under its belt, the Deer Ranch is the oldest whitetail exhibit in North America. It is home to about 30 adult deer. Visitors walk along a nature trail and have plenty of opportunities to feed, pet, and photograph the deer inhabitants. If you call ahead, you might even get the chance to help bottle feed the fawns! Make sure to also check out the gift shop for deerskin leather gloves and other unique gifts.

The Deer Ranch is open seasonally from May through October. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours until 8 p.m. in the summer months. General admission is $6/person, and children ages 5 and under have free admission. Visit the Deer Ranch official website for more information.

Photo courtesy
Catfe Lounge

Catfé Lounge

821 Livernois, Ferndale, MI 48220

This little building in Ferndale has a big claim to fame as Michigan’s first permanent cat café. If you’ve never heard of a cat café, the concept is simple—it’s a community space you can hang out with domestic cats.

The Catfé Lounge is owned by the Ferndale Cat Shelter, and all the cats and kittens that wander the café are available for adoption. Guests may play with the cats, look for a cat to adopt, or just watch them for therapeutic effect. Coffee, tea, and other treats are also available to help guests sit and relax with the felines. The Catfé Lounge also offers free wi-fi, which is perfect for posting your new feline friend to Instagram. There are also special events such as Cat Yoga and Cat Bingo.

The Catfé Lounge is open six days a week from noon to 5 p.m., closing on Tuesdays. Guests must pay a mandatory $10 donation. Visit the Catfé Lounge’s official website for more information.

Photo courtesy
Nature’s Kennel

Nature’s Kennel Sled Dog Adventures

14785 Co Rd 415, McMillan, MI 49853

If there’s one thing Michigan is good at, it’s finding things to do in the snow. If you’re ready for a robust getaway experience that’s completely different, consider dogsledding in the Upper Peninsula.

Nature’s Kennel is located about 80 miles west of Sault Ste. Marie and gives visitors the unique experience of driving their own Alaskan Husky dog team in the Upper Peninsula wilderness. Trips are suited for all ages and skill levels. Trips are also guided, allowing visitors to try their hand as a driver, or simply enjoy the ride. Kids can enjoy the ride too! Visitors may choose from three trip options. The 10-mile trip takes half a day (3 hours) and the 20-mile trip takes a full day (6 hours).

The premier experience at Nature’s Kennel is the third option of the Overnight Adventure. This covers one night of lodging at Musher’s Village. Lunch, camp snacks, dinner, and breakfast the next morning are all included. For this experience, visitors take care of their dogsled team for two days under the care of a helpful guide. They stay in a heated cabin or yurt in Musher’s Village. This experience offers plenty of time for bonding with the dogs that drive the sled.

Nature’s Kennel is only open for the winter months. While in season, hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week. Dog sledding trips start at $225 per adult and $50 per child. Visit the Nature’s Kennel official website for more information.

Photo courtesy
WK Kellogg Bird Sanctuary

W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary

12801-12999 E C Ave., Augusta, MI 49012

Up for feeding the birds in a natural bird habitat? Michigan State University’s W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary near Kalamazoo is a great opportunity.

The sanctuary is spread out over 180 acres and has three miles of trails. Wintergreen Lake is the heart of the sanctuary. The lake attracts plenty of waterfowl such as the Canada Goose and Trumpeter Swan. The Leslie Tassel Pen houses several varieties of pheasant. Birds of prey such as owls and hawks can be found in their own individual enclosures. Corn for feeding the birds is available for purchase in the Resource Center for $1 per bucket. Visitors can also check out the pollinator gardens and the Native Gardens, botanical gardens featuring a plethora of Michigan’s native plants.

The W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary is open year-round. The grounds are open Wednesdays through Sundays, from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. General admission is $5, with a $4 rate for seniors and college students, and $3 for children. Children ages 2 and under have free admission. Visit the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary official website for more information.

Photo courtesy
Rooftop Landing Reindeer

Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm

2706 E Stevenson Lake Rd., Clare, MI 48617

When the snow starts falling and the holidays start approaching, it might be hard to find an animal-themed holiday activity. But what better way to get into the Christmas spirit than interacting with real reindeer?

The family-owned and operated Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm has been raising and training reindeer for about 30 years. Their reindeer have been used in holiday displays, public events, and even movies. Visitors to the farm can pet and feed the reindeer in the pasture. You can even watch the reindeer virtually through a live camera. The farm also features Christmas alpacas and other animals for petting and photos in their heated barn.

During the season, there are plenty of family-friendly holiday-themed activities. The farm serves up fresh donuts, hot cider, and hot cocoa. Santa’s antique sleigh is great for photo ops. And the gift shop has plenty of great stocking stuffers.

The Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm is open seasonally from October through December. Hours are Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m. General admission is $7, and children ages 1 and under have free admission. Visit the Rooftop Landing Reindeer Farm official website for more information.

Photo courtesy
Indian Creek Zoo

Indian Creek Zoo

2744 Consear Rd., Lambertville, MI 48144

Although this zoo in southeast Michigan may be small, it’s unique for the fact that visitors can feed many of the animals zoo-approved food for $3 a cup. The zoo features over 400 animals of 80 different species. The included animals span a wide variety, from whitetail deer and goats to ostriches and wallabies. 

For visitors wanting to get a little closer to the animals, special encounters are available for ages 10 and older. Visitors may choose the Giraffe Encounter ($25/person), where they can feed and pet a giraffe. The Lemur Encounter ($50/person) involves feeding lemurs and watching them paint a canvas for you to take home. The Sloth Encounter ($65/person) gives visitors bonding time with a sloth that you can pet, feed, and take a few candid photos with.

The Indian Creek Zoo is open April 1 through Dec. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Oct. 31, and 10 a.m. through 3:30 p.m. Nov. and Dec. General admission is $14, with a $13 rate for seniors and military, and $12 for children. Children ages 2 and under have free admission. Visit the Indian Creek Zoo official website for more information.

Photo courtesy
Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary

Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary

1698 M-66, Athens, MI 49011

When most people think of alligators, Michigan isn’t exactly the first habitat to come to mind. David Critchlow at the Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary, though, has an interesting knack for finding orphaned gators in the Mitten.

The Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary has an interesting origin story. FedEx delivery person David Critchlow found himself occasionally delivering snakes from exotic pet suppliers. When David followed up with these deliveries, he found many of the owners were less interested in the animal when the snake began to outgrow its habitat. So, he began taking these unwanted snakes in. Eventually, someone asked if David could take in an alligator. He did so, and one eventually turned into more than 10 in the family’s backyard. Word of mouth spread and people ended up wanting to see the alligators. So, in 2007, David turned his makeshift shelter into a full-time reptile sanctuary.

All the reptiles in the sanctuary are rescues. The three most infamous gators are Godzilla, Medusa, and Jaws, who are 11 feet, 9 feet, and 7 feet long, respectively. Other gators are separated into habitats by age, and pellet food is available for purchase in the gift shop for visitors who’d like to feed them. Additionally, for the rate of $30 per household, families can purchase 30 minutes of animal encounter time and interact with handheld reptiles.

The Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary is open daily from May through September. Hours are 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Admission is $11.95/person, with a $10.95 rate for seniors and service workers. Children ages 2 and under have free admission. Visit the Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary official website for more information.

Photo courtesy
GT Butterfly House and Bug Zoo

GT Butterfly House and Bug Zoo

8840 M-72 East, Williamsburg, MI 49690

The Traverse City area features much more than just cherries. At the GT Butterfly House and Bug Zoo, visitors can enjoy an indoor barrier-free butterfly paradise.

The Butterfly House features hundreds of tropical butterflies from around the world. The butterflies are kept safe in a greenhouse garden with a variety of plants and water features. Visitors can take their time strolling through the gardens in a self-guided tour while they observe varieties such as the Blue Morpho and the African Moon Moth.

The Bug Zoo allows visitors to observe hundreds of invertebrates in protected habitats. The Beetle Boulder houses plenty of beetles and mantises. The Honeybee Observation Hive allows visitors to observe the inner workings of a honeybee hive. Look for the curious creature of the axolotl, an endangered member of the salamander family, or spend time watching the frogs and toads. The Tarantula Tree allows visitors to see the largest spiders, but for those guests who are arachnophobic, the Bug Zoo staff is highly understanding.

The GT Butterfly House and Bug Zoo is open seasonally from May through October. Daily hours are 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. General admission is $10 and children 12 and under have $6 admission. Children ages 3 and under have free admission. Visit the GT Butterfly Zoo official website for more information.

Photo courtesy
Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park

Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park

8313 Pratt Lake Ave SE, Alto, MI 49302

In Michigan’s climate, it’s not easy to mimic the experience of the African savannah. At Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park, though, you can get pretty close.

This private zoo spanning 80 acres allows for plenty of interaction with the animals. Food that is safe for the animals is available at two Feed Stations for an extra fee. The enclosed giraffes and camels are available for feeding with the provided food. There is additionally a petting zoo where guests can interact with a variety of animals, including aviary birds, goats, kangaroos, zebras, and prairie dogs.

The Safari Ride shouldn’t be missed! It is a free 20 minute excursion on a converted school bus. The open air bus allows visitors to observe bison, wildebeest, hyenas, buffalo, and zebras in their natural habitats.

The Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park is open seasonally from May through October. Hours are Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. through 6 p.m. and Sundays from 12 p.m. through 6 p.m. General admission is $16, with $14 rates for seniors and $12 rates for children. Children ages 2 and under have free admission. Visit the Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park official website for more information.

Photo courtesy
Lewis Adventure

Lewis Adventure Farm and Zoo

4180 M-20, New Era, MI 49446

What do you get when you cross a U-Pick farm with a zoo and a county fair? You get the Lewis Adventure Farm and Zoo.

This 700-acre farm in western Michigan is chock full of family fun and exotic animals. With more than 40 different activities. The activities include typical farm favorites such as a corn maze, tractor pull, and wagon rides. Additional activities are more fair-like, such as a carousel, giant swing, pirate ship, giant slides, and skeeball. Other interesting attractions include paintball, a low ropes course, and a sound garden.

The farm also features a variety of structures for the animals, including goats, deer, birds, camels, chickens, an aviary, a honeybee hive, and a special barn for exotic animals. For $5, you can get a feed cup to feed the animals.

There are also animal encounters available for those visitors who want a little more than a petting zoo. The Baby Animal Feeding ($15/person) is for the newborn animals and allows visitors to feed and pet the babies. The Zoo Keeper Experience ($49.95/person) is a 50 minute experience that will have visitors learning about kangaroos, capybaras, lemurs, as well as feeding, petting, and taking photos with them. The Sloth Experience ($64.95/person) gives visitors up to 30 minutes with two-toed sloths. Visitors will learn about sloths from the resident zookeeper as they feed, pet, and take photos with the sloths.

The Lewis Adventure Farm and Zoo is open seasonally for spring, summer, and fall. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. Visit the Lewis Adventure Farm and Zoo official website for more information.

Photo courtesy

SEA LIFE Michigan

4316 Baldwin Rd., Auburn Hills, MI 48326

Located in the Great Lakes Crossing mall, SEA LIFE Michigan is Michigan’s largest aquarium. In addition to a wide variety of aquatic creatures, it features the state’s only 180 degree underwater ocean tunnel.

SEA LIFE Michigan spans 150,000 gallons of water, with 2,000 creatures of 250 species. Visitors will meet sharks, sea turtles, jellyfish, stingrays, clownfish, and seahorses in a variety of habitats. The habitats span a range of underwater aesthetics, including a harbor, a coral reef, a tropical ocean, and an underwater shipwreck.

To get closer with these water dwellers, check out the Interactive Touchpool! Designed to look like a west coast tide pool, this kid-friendly open tank lets visitors feel free to touch sea stars and sea anemones. Educational talks and feeding demonstrations were also formerly offered—check the website for their return!

SEA LIFE Michigan is open every day from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., with an extended closing time of 7 p.m. on Saturdays only. Tickets start at $22.99/person, and children ages 2 and under have free admission. Visit the SEA LIFE Michigan official website for more information.