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The 6 Best Zoos In Michigan: Lions, and Tigers, and Bears, Oh MY!

Planning a visit to Michigan and interested in some of the state’s main attractions? Look no further than its impressive selection of zoos!

Whether you’re traveling with children, extended family, as a couple, or even solo, the best zoos in Michigan offer plenty of things to do and see. Learn more about domestic and foreign animals and endangered species, participate in ropes courses and ziplines, meet new furry friends at petting zoos, and even ride camels!

To make your search easier, we rounded out a list of the best zoos in Michigan. These animal-friendly experiences offer up-close-and-personal encounters, as well as opportunities for education, petting, and the chance to observe nature’s creatures in various habitats.

Keep reading to learn about the best zoos in Michigan!

Deer in a zoo - perhaps one of the best zoos in Michigan.

Best Zoos In Northern Michigan

GarLyn Zoo Wildlife Park

Naubinway, MI

GarLyn Zoo Wildlife Park in Naubinway spans 30 acres, making it the largest zoo in northeast Michigan. It sits on a beautiful property surrounded by breathtaking mature pine trees and thousands of acres of federal forest.

The zoo is home to about 125 species and 450 individual animals. Some of its majestic residents include bobcats, peacocks, Siberian tigers, ring-tailed lemurs, and reindeer. Guests are welcomed to feed the whitetail deer, alpacas, goats, and sika deer, and can purchase feed in the onsite gift shop.

This zoo earned a spot on our list of best zoos in Michigan for many reasons which include its charming appeal as a family-owned zoo. Much different from the experience you’d have at a zoo in a big city, GarLyn Zoo Wildlife Park is recognized as a mom-and-pop zoo. It was founded in 1994 by husband and wife Gary and Lynn Moore, who combined their first names to come up with the zoo’s name. The Moore’s run the zoo to this day.

You can expect to spend one to two hours to see everything in the zoo, though many guests prefer to stay longer. It’s a great choice for an afternoon outing, especially for children.

DeYoung Family Zoo

Wallace, MI

The DeYoung Family Zoo isn’t large in comparison to others, but it strongly values its guests having a hands-on experience–especially its younger visitors. Located off the beaten path, the zoo sits on 80 acres of land and features vast natural habitats for its impressive 400 residents, which include red kangaroos, mountain lions, anaconda, bears, and tortoises. Unlike most state zoos, it’s also open year-round.

This zoo is named one of the best zoos in Michigan because of the personalized experience it offers. The owners, Bud DeYoung and Carrie Cramer, founded the zoo in 1990 and remain passionate as ever about their commitment to animals and education. They are often seen working at the zoo and are happy to speak with guests and answer their questions. Some of the animals there are rehabilitated by DeYoung and Cramer themselves before being re-released into the wild.

The DeYoung Family Zoo is also one of the best zoos in Michigan because guests love the chance to interact with, pet, and even bottle-feed several animals, such as baby wolves, baby porcupines, roosters, and baby deer. Zoo guests are also invited to book private experiences with animals including otters, caracals, and sloths. Guests can even participate in the feeding of big cats, bears, deer, and hippos!

Best Zoos in Central Michigan

Saginaw Children’s Zoo

Saginaw, MI

Saginaw Children’s Zoo offers an immersive experience for guests of all ages. It’s home to more than 150 animals and spans 10 acres of beautiful gardens and tree-filled grounds. As another one of the best zoos in Michigan, this zoo prides itself on its support of endangered species and is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Several endangered species are also featured at the zoo, including the black-footed cat, Mexican gray wolf, white-throated capuchin, and North American river otter.

In addition to the animals, guests can check out other attractions like a hand-carved carousel, a train ride, a playground, and a baseball field. Children can participate in a “fossil find” to uncover “dinosaur bones” whilst learning about these prehistoric creatures. Visitors can also peruse the zoo’s aviary and feed millet sticks to the birds, and also view a natural wetland ecosystem. The varied selection of attractions are also what landed the Saginaw Children’s Zoo a spot on our list of best zoos in Michigan.

The zoo takes about two to three hours to walk through. Local fans of the zoo can purchase annual memberships to return again and again. Kids can participate in a one-, two-, or three-day zoo camp and teens ages 13 to 18 can volunteer for the Zoo Crew and learn about zoo education. Because it caters to children, there are also other small offerings to engage kids such as storytelling, and events like Boo at the Zoo for Halloween.

Wilderness Trails Zoo

Birch Run, MI

The Wilderness Trails Zoo is nestled in a wooded area that spans roughly 56 acres. The zoo itself, however, sits along a one-mile-long trail lined by enclosures. It’s home to more than 200 animals, some of which include the arctic fox, Bengal tiger, capybara, emu, lemurs, white tigers, and some primates. Guests particularly love how vocal the animals are.

Earning a spot on our list of the best zoos in Michigan for its hands-on appeal, this zoo has a petting area where guests can help feed domestic farm animals. There’s also an outdoor Western-style reptile sanctuary and a parakeet encounter. The gift shop features adorable animal memorabilia of critters that are found in the zoo. It takes about two to three hours to walk through.

Local residents have the option to book special experiences for birthday parties. There’s also a zoo camp for children ages five to 16 to attend during the summer months.

Best Zoos in Southern Michigan

Detroit Zoo

Royal Oak, MI

As the largest zoo in Michigan State, the Detroit Zoo is quite impressive, to say the least. Drawing millions of visitors each year, it provides an experience that you won’t want to pass up if you’re in the area. It’s also certainly one of the top-rated best zoos in Michigan and is often featured in local media.

Located in Royal Oak, the zoo sits about three miles north of Detroit and spans 125 acres. More than 2,000 individual animals and 200 species live here, and its residents include African spurred tortoises, axolotls, red pandas, sloths, and wolverines. It’s also recognized as one of the best zoos in Michigan because of the relatively new Polk Penguin Conservatory, a 33,000 square-foot facility that features a 326,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep aquatic area where guests can observe penguins eat, sleep, and swim. The immersive experience comes complete with blasts of polar air and sea mist. There’s also a 126-foot 4D theater, a carousel adorned with hand-painted characters, two playgrounds, and a miniature railroad.

And if you’re hungry during your visit, there are several choices for dining. Table 28 is one of the onsite eateries and it was named after the year 1928, when the zoo first opened. With so many amenities, Detroit Zoos earns a spot on the list of best zoos in Michigan because you can truly spend the day there immersed in all-things nature.

John Ball Zoo

Grand Rapids, MI

The John Ball Zoo is nestled in a 103-acre park, though it currently covers only 31 acres. According to the zoo’s website, it’s the fourth most-attended cultural facility in Michigan State and attracts some 600,000 guests annually. More than 220 species and 2,400 individual animals call the zoo home, including spider monkeys, pygmy hippos, snow leopards, toucans, and red pandas. It’s also accredited with the AZA and supports many endangered species.

This zoo earns a spot on our list of best zoos in Michigan because of its many attractions. The zoo features a 40,000-gallon tank that houses sharks, exotic fish, eels, penguins, and coastal birds, as well as a variety of different habitats. Guests can participate in a sky trail ropes course, a zip line, and take camel rides in groups of three. There are fun lego displays throughout the park that depict some of the animals who live there. Art installations fashioned from recycled ocean waste also adds a neat touch, especially for kids.

One of the most unique appeals of the John Ball Zoo is that it sits on the side of a hill. Guests say that its atypical landscape offers several vantage points throughout the visit. There’s a train that also takes guests to the top of the hill, so you can conveniently start your journey from the top down.

Plan a Visit to One of the Best Zoos In Michigan

Now that you’ve learned about all the best zoos in Michigan, which one will you visit first? Consider visiting any of these zoos and their animals, and leaving a review about your experience to help other people find out about them, too!

Next, if you’re traveling in Michigan and need a place to stay while you explore the zoos and other local attractions, check out our favorite hotels in Michigan for a great trip!