The Best Nature Centers In + Around Detroit

Welcome to the heart of our community’s natural wonderland–nestled within the Detroit area, nature centers are vital hubs of environmental education and community engagement, offering visitors interactive exhibits, guided trails, and engagement in outdoor activities that foster a deep connection with nature.

Nature centers are crucial for the community by providing educational experiences, environmental awareness, and creating spaces for outdoor recreation and social interactions.

Free Gateway Path photo and picture

The centers listed below invite you to discover the beauty and significance of their local environment while fostering a strong connection to the world around us. You definitely won’t want to miss these amazing places!

Nature Centers In + Around Detroit

Belle Isle Nature Center | Detroit

Address: 176 Lakeside, Detroit, MI 48207
Cost: recreation passport for vehicles: $13; non-Michigan drivers: $11/day pass, $39/annual pass; walking, biking, or public transportation onto the island: free
Hours: 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily
Indoor/Outdoor: Both

Located in the Detroit River just off of East Jefferson, Belle Isle Park is a hidden gem in the city of Detroit. As you cross over the MacArthur Bridge, you will find many things to do–including Belle Isle Nature Center. The facility offers a variety of programs, including Nature Tots, hikes, discovering what lives over and under the pond, Nature at Night, Nature Art Hikes, and visiting honeybee hives.

All programs are free, but registration is required. It is the perfect place for children to see amphibians, reptiles, and other animals that call Belle Isle home. After finishing at the nature center, check out the park that is located across the street.

Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center | Shelby Township

Address: 4101 River Bends Dr., Shelby Township, MI 48317
Cost: Free; donations welcomed
Hours: Mondays and Tuesdays: closed
Wednesday through Saturday: 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Sundays: 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Indoor/Outdoor: Both

Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center has may walking trails and an indoor building with various reptiles, amphibians, and Lily the opossum. They conduct Summer Nature Academies, which include activities for ages 4-12 like archery, puddle jumpers, survival 101, and stem in nature. Pre-registration is required and there is a fee of $55 per resident, and $65 per non-resident.

Make sure to check out their Facebook page to see upcoming events, such as bat hikes, guided hikes, story time, and Dutch oven cooking classes.

Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge | Trenton

Address: 5437 West Jefferson Ave, Trenton, MI 48183
Cost: Free; donations welcomed
Hours: Thursday through Sunday: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; grounds are open 7 days a week during daylight hours
Indoor/Outdoor: Both

The refuge consists of 6,200 acres. It’s made up of 30 different parcels–including Mud Island Unit, Grassy Island Unit, Refuge Gateway, Humbug Marsh, and many more. The Refuge Gateway is the perfect place to begin your adventure beginning at the visitor center. The public can visit the center to explore the displays about local nature, learn about the refuge, and purchase merchandise.

Outdoors, you could walk the nature trails, take a lunch break at the picnic tables, paddle board downstream through the Humbug Marsh, fish on the 700-foot fishing pier, or hunt. Check all regulations in the refuge BEFORE setting out to hunt. If you didn’t bring the right equipment for your trip, you can borrow binoculars and fishing equipment, too!

DNR Outdoor Adventure Center | Detroit

Address: 1801 Atwater Street, Detroit, MI 48207
Cost: Adults (13-61): $5, Seniors (62 and older): $3, Children (2-12): $3, Children under 2: free, Annual Family Membership $50
Hours (Summer): Tuesday and Thursday: groups by reservation only
Wednesday and Friday: 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Saturday: 12:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Sunday and Monday: closed
Indoor/Outdoor: Both

Located on Detroit’s riverfront, the Outdoor Adventure Center provides exciting outdoor adventures for all its visitors, right downtown. There are over 20 interactive experiences including hand-on activities, exhibits and simulators, climbing an oak tree, hopping aboard an airplane, and visiting an aquarium. The DNR also provides an archery skills introductory course for children 8 years and older.

Check out their website for events that are offered, such as guided nature walks, archery classes, Science Saturdays, and more.

Farmington Hills Nature Center | Farmington Hills

Address: 24915 Farmington Rd., Farmington Hills, MI 48336
Cost: FREE!
Hours: Monday-Saturday: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Sunday: 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
The Nature Center is CLOSED on Mondays (December through March) and on city holidays.
Indoor/Outdoor: Outdoor

Farmington Hills Nature Center provides a space for inquiring young minds to learn while exploring life-sized animal habitats, backyard habitat bird viewing, nature fish aquariums, nature libraries, and a hands-on touch table. Heritage Park hosts a large variety of nature opportunities from trails to wildlife.

Nature programs are provided year-round and change seasonally. Programs for children include Nature Preschool, the Farmington-Area Outdoor Xplorers (F.O.X.) Club, Kid’s Fishing Day, and the Junior Naturalist Club.

Howell Nature Center | Howell

Address: 1005 Triangle Lake Rd, Howel, MI 48843
Cost: Adults: $8, Youth (3-17): $6, Children 2 and under: free
Hours: open seven days a week
Wild Wonders Wildlife Park: Monday–Sunday: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic: Mondays: closed, Tuesday–Sunday: 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Indoor/Outdoor: Outdoor

The Howell Nature Center is nestled around Pleasant Lake among 230 acres of woods and wetlands. You can explore the Wild Wonders Wildlife Park (which is a teaching zoo), see the beautiful birds of Livingston County, listen to a story and complete a nature activity in Alexandria’s Nature Scape, enjoy the natural play area, or brave the Sky Tykes rope course. Driving from far away? Howell Nature Center provides lodges for year-round retreats and overnight accommodations.

Pre-registration is required for all events. Want to do something as a family? Join the archery challenge and learn how to use a bow and arrow!

Johnson Nature Center | Bloomfield Hills

Address: 3325 Franklin Rd, Bloomfield Hills, MI 48302
Cost: FREE!
Hours: Visitor Center is open on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; trails are open 8:00 a.m. to dusk daily except for holidays
Indoor/Outdoor: Both

The Johnson Nature Center features forty acres of learning opportunities, including a four-acre inland pond and two miles of trials. The visitor center features interactive education exhibits and seasonal displays. Children ages 3-5 can register for Treeschool, which is an early childhood drop-off program where children develop lifelong skills and engage in meaningful play within the 40 acres of the center!

Nankin Mills Nature Center | Westland

Address: 33175 Ann Arbor Trail, Westland, MI 48185
Cost: FREE!
Hours:  Monday–Friday: 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Indoor/Outdoor: Both

The Nankin Mills Nature Center allows children space to explore in their indoor Interpretive Center, and the grounds to explore outdoor living. Learn about native species like turtles, snakes, and fish up close, and see how Henry Ford used mechanical innovations to improve farm work-life. Grab a net and join Bugtopia to learn to identify bugs by sound and go on a bug hunt!

Does your child love Pokemon Go? Join Poke Park, where children go on a walk around Nankin Mills and learn how different Pokemon relate to real plants and animals. Does your child love to draw? Register for Chalk It Up and transform the parking lot into a work of art! Pre-registration is required for all programs.

Red Oaks Nature Center | Madison Heights

Address: 30300 Hales St., Madison Heights, MI 48071
Cost: Visitors need a parking pass, but admission is FREE!
Hours:  Monday–Friday: 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Indoor/Outdoor: Both

The Red Oaks Nature Center hosts 37 acres of natural habitat. The park includes Storybook Trails, which feature different stories throughout the seasons for children to read. Inside the nature center’s log cabin, there are many seasonal displays that children can learn about and observe. There’s even a sensory area and dramatic play puppets! Scout Badge Day programs are offered, and even Wild Birthday Parties are available for children ages 4-12.

Stage Nature Center | Troy

Address: 6685 Coolidge HWY, Troy, MI 48098
Cost: FREE
Trail Hours: Trails are open 365 days, from dawn to dusk.
Building Hours: Tuesday–Friday: 9:00 a.m.­ to 3:00 p.m. (except holidays)
Saturday: 10:00 a.m.­ to 4:00 p.m. (except holiday weekends)
Sunday + Monday: closed
Indoor/Outdoor: Both

Outside of the visitor center, children can start their adventure by climbing the external rock wall. Inside the nature center, there is a dinosaur dig pit, a play area with toys and puzzles, touch stations, a toad tank, and stuffed animals for children to look at.

After exploring the indoor exhibits, head outdoors to over two miles of trails to explore. They host special programs including summer day camps and the Junior Naturalist Club. Registration is required for all programs.

Sterling Heights Nature Center | Sterling Heights

Address: 42700 Utica Rd., Sterling Heights, MI 48313
Cost: FREE!
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Sunday + Monday: closed
Indoor/Outdoor: Both

Begin your exploration inside the nature center with up close views of the still-life exhibits, living reptiles and amphibians, and an aquarium with local fish. There is an exhibit room with magnifying glasses and binoculars, with plenty of learning opportunities for children.

Then, venture outside and walk the trails, play at the park, and walk along the river. The nature center hosts special events such as Family Fun Day, Story Time with the Animals, Archery Games, and Exploring Owls and Owl Pellets for children. Pre-registration is required for all programs.

Stoney Creek Metropark Nature Center | Shelby Township

Address: 4300 Main Park Road, Shelby Township, MI 48316
Cost: $10 Daily Vehicle or Boat Pass OR Annual Passes
Hours:  June 19 through August 31: 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
September 1 through June 18: Monday–Friday, 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Saturday + Sunday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m
Indoor/Outdoor: Both

The nature center is located along Stony Creek. Children can see exhibits on landforms, the first settlers, and native animals. There are self-guided nature trails, programs led by interpreters, Voyager canoe paddling, animal encounters, and more.

Since the Nature Center is located within the Metropark system, there are over 4,435 scenic acres for recreational fun, including baseball diamonds, fishing, playgrounds, picnicking areas, camping areas, and a beach with a waterslide.

West Bloomfield Parks Nature Center + Nature Reserve | West Bloomfield

Address: 4640 Walnut Lake Rd, West Bloomfield, MI 48323
Cost: FREE!
Hours: 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. daily
Indoor/Outdoor: Both

Here you’ll find nature trails, the Nature Room, and the Natural Outdoor Play Area. Within the Nature Room children will find a variety of educational and hands-on stations, and animals such as a box turtle, tree frog, albino garter snake, dessert millipedes, and more. Afterwards explore outside in a sensory-rich environment with dirt to dig in, stepping stones to hop on, bugs to hunt for, or a masterpiece to create with sticks.

The naturalist team hosts a hiking series which include Little Hikers, Hero Hike, and Seasonal Family Hikes. There are year-round programs that are led by naturalists on staff, including summer camp experiences, live animal shows, astronomy, fishing, archery, beekeeping, and native planting. Pre-registration for hikes and programs is required.

Nature centers offer a fantastic learning experience for children. These nature centers in and around Detroit provide hands-on and interactive environments where kids can explore and discover the wonders of nature. By engaging with the natural world, children develop a sense of curiosity, empathy, and appreciation for the environment, fostering a lifelong connection with nature.

For more outdoor inspiration, Elizabeth shares how she encourages her family to play outside for National Play Outside Day!


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