Family Fun at the Kalamazoo Nature Center

Discover plants, birds, barn animals and more at the Kalamazoo Nature Center, a fun, informative environment for the entire family. The editors of Michigan Travel Ideas share this springtime find, as well as other kid-friendly stops in Kalamazoo.

Interpretive Center: Young children love to push display buttons to release animal odors and bird calls. They can see fish live in area waters in the aquarium. Before heading out walk the trails, learn plant names in the domed greenhouse.

Barn: In May, the timber-framed barn opens for weekends. See baby farm animals: ponies, chicks, sheep and goats.

Trails: More than a dozen gravel footpaths wind through pine and hardwood forest and alongside ponds and marshes. Though trails range in difficulty, most are less than a mile long. A few highlights:

    • Beach Maple Trail: Take this .7-mile trail to see spring wildflowers in all their blooming beauty.
    • Habitat Haven Trail: Just over a half a mile, this winding woodland path loops around a pond where marshy plants like Joe Pye weed harbor frogs and turtles.
    • Bluebird Trail: A bit longer (2.7 miles each way) and more challenging, this trail goes through a variety of habitats, including a 144-acre tallgrass prairie. You’ll see lots of daisies, purple coneflower and big bluestem grasses.

Events: There are events planned for almost every day of the week and many on weekends. Kid-friendly activities include Small Wonders (stop at interactive stations geared to the under-5 set), Creature Features (where the animals come out from behind glass), Groovy Growing (kids under the age of 5 can visit the Learning Garden to see what’s growing in the sustainable farm project) and story times.

More to explore: Want to make a weekend of your trip?

  • Kalamazoo Valley Museum: This three-story museum blends history and science, with tons of hands-on activities (free!). At the “Science in Motion” exhibit, build a race car using supplied parts and race it around a track (kids love this, but we saw plenty of dads having fun, too). In the nature exhibits, kids can create a miniature tornado or tidal wave.
  • Food Dance: Funky Food Dance restaurant specializes in local food. The kids’ menu includes polka-dot cakes for breakfast and a pint-size burger for lunch and dinner.
  • Radisson Hotel: The 5,000-gallon saltwater aquarium on the lower level will entertain.
  • Air Zoo: Kalamazoo’s signature attraction features airplanes from the earliest fliers to advanced military craft and eight amusement park-style rides, including a 3-D space shuttle ride.

Trail Happy at Porcupine Mountain Wilderness State Park

With 60,000 acres of stunning forests, secluded lakes and scenic rivers, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is one of the few remaining large wild areas in the Midwest. The editors of Michigan Travel Ideas share what makes this massive state park Pure Michigan.

The still of the predawn morning is the perfect time to walk along the Lake Superior shore. Only the gentle hush of the water lapping on shore and the first birdcalls of the day accompany you. Watch the sunrise over the Porkies and experience all the beauty nature has to offer in a fleeting moment. Serenity is attainable here.

The size and variety of Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park allows you to choose your level of immersion in nature, and your level of difficulty on the 90-plus miles of hiking trails.

If you have part of a day…
The Union Mine Trail is an easy 1-mile loop north of the Union Spring trailhead, where interpretive signs point to evidence of copper miners who once worked here. On the hunt for waterfalls? Take the East or West River trails, which skirt the Presque Isle River to form a 2-mile loop.

If you have half a day…
For breathtaking views and a little more difficulty, tackle Escarpment Trail, which rises and falls along a ridgeline for more than 4 miles before accessing Lake of the Clouds Overlook. Only go half as far as you want to hike because you’ll have to turn back the way you came—unless you’re prepared for a much longer hike into the heart of the park.

If you have a full day…
Leave from the Summit Peak Scenic Area on the park’s south boundary and follow a 10-mile loop on the South Mirror Lake, Little Carp River and Lily Pond trails. The route hits many of the park’s highlights, including a wilderness lake, bird-filled marshes, dense forest, the Little Carp River and the Summit Peak Observation Tower, which soars three stories above the treetops. A day or annual permit is required for this hike.

Just as the sunrise exhilarates you for an adventurous day, the sunset (and the day’s hikes) will leave you satisfied and ready for a good night’s sleep. Visitors can choose from 10 campgrounds in the park, including rustic or backcountry camping and cabins as well as more modern areas with electrical service and restrooms.

Before you go, make sure you’re prepared for the level of difficulty on the trails you want to try. For more information on Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park, call 906/885-5275 or check out Michigan DNR.

Waterfall Season in Pure Michigan

Melting snow feeds a web of rushing rivers across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and creates more than 200 waterfalls. Springtime is prime time for waterfall viewing, so Michigan Travel Ideas editors compiled a list of some of the most impressive in the state.

Tahquamenon Falls – Paradise
At a remarkable 50 feet tall and 200 feet wide, the easily accessible Upper Tahquamenon Falls are the largest in Michigan. In fact, during spring, more than 50,000 gallons of water drop each second, putting the falls in the top five largest east of the Mississippi River. The low rumble you hear from the parking lot builds to a thundering roar along the short path. Arriving at the wooden observation deck, you’ll see the reason for the nickname of Root Beer Falls (cedar tannins tinge the water brown) and feel a cool mist. Four miles downstream, the Lower Tahquamenon Falls split in two, with each half more than 100 feet wide and 22 feet tall. Rent a rowboat for a better look (and better photos) from the water. If you only get a chance to visit one waterfall this season, the Tahquamenon Falls are a definite must-see. For more information: 906/492-3415.

Spray Falls – Munising
Take a boat ride on Lake Superior to see Spray Falls plunge almost 70 feet over the Pictured Rocks cliffs. Hikers take the 2-mile-long North Country Trail to the remote falls. For more information: 906/387-3700.

Bond Falls – Haight
Park at the base of the falls and snap some incredible photographs from the viewing platforms along the 600-foot boardwalk. For more information: 906/353-6558.

Cascade Falls – Matchwood
Half the fun of this waterfall is exploring Porcupine Wilderness State Park on the way. Take the Valley Trail for a shorter hike, or if you’re up for a challenge, Bluff Trail provides a more demanding climb. For more information: 906/884-2047.

Gorge Falls – Ironwood
Five striking waterfalls dot the Black River National Forest Scenic Byway on its way to Black River Harbor. Gorge Falls is one of the easiest to access, but even it has quite a few stairs to the overlook. For more information: 906/932-1330.