8 Michigan Destinations Perfect for Watching Wildlife

Animal sanctuaries provide great learning opportunities for animal lovers of all ages. Here are a few cool places to visit across the state that are great for birding and animal watching. 

A fawn standing by a body of water
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

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Michigan is known for having a variety of interesting fauna, including  moose, cougars, bears, birds, deer and so much more. Birding is an especially popular hobby in the Great Lakes state and is steadily growing each year. However, we can’t forget about all the other species of animals that you can watch and admire here.

1. Saginaw Bay Birding Trail – Saginaw Bay Area

First up, the Saginaw Bay Birding Trail is a fantastic place to see a large variety of birds. On the Sunrise Coast, it runs from Port Crescent State Park to Tawas Point State park, covering 142 miles. The distinct change in seasons and habitats makes it easier to see a variety of over 200 species of birds. Be sure to check out the Tawas Point Birding Festival each spring.

2. Sleeping Bear Birding TrailSleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Heading over to the west side, the Sleeping Bear Birding Trail is another great place to visit if you love to watch and examine different types of birds. Stretching all 123 miles of the M-22 Highway, from Manistee to Traverse City, this trail is home to a diverse habitat and miles of shoreline. The Piping Plover, an endangered shorebird, has a home here due to the long sections of beach. Check it out and consider joining their eBird movement, where you can help provide your own bird photos and manage their database of sightings and early and late arrival dates.

3. Oswald’s Bear Ranch – Newberry 

Oswald’s Bear Ranch
Oswald’s Bear Ranch | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

This sanctuary is for Upper Peninsula black bears, with the forest and nearby lake perfect for them to roam. These bears were orphaned or abused and now live out their lives on the safety of the ranch. Visitors can see them up close and learn about them.

4. Summer Wind Farms Sanctuary – Brown City

This local non-profit is a licensed sanctuary for exotic birds, mammals and reptiles. Located in Brown City and home to more than 200 animals, the sanctuary looks to provide a safe haven for foxes, llamas, peacocks, alligators and more! In order to see the animals up close and personal, schedule an educational tour of the facility, where you can learn about the different animals. This is a perfect opportunity for children to learn about the world around them or even adults who love animals and want to be more educated. Also, check out their volunteer opportunities in order to make a great difference!

5. Howell Nature Center – Howell

The Howell Nature Center has a ton of fun activities for people of all ages. First and foremost, the center has a space called the Wild Wonders Wildlife Park where there are more than 70 mammals, like Taz the bobcat, and birds, like Kili the bald eagle. Visit and get educated about the variety of fauna at the park. The Nature Center also has camps for children from kindergarten through 12th grade. Kids can climb rock walls, go canoeing and have a ton of outdoor fun with their friends! Another special activity is the high adventure course where you can zip line through trees, climb on Michigan’s tallest outdoor climbing tower and participate in a high ropes course.

6. Deer Ranch - Saint Ignace

The Deer Ranch is a great opportunity to see many types of deer including whitetails, white whitetails and even albino deer! First established in 1950, the Deer Ranch is the oldest live whitetail exhibit in North America. The ranch allows visitors to feed, pet and photograph the deer, maybe even bottle feed a fawn. Be sure to visit if you have always been fascinated by our Michigan deer and want to see them up close!

7. Creature ConservancyAnn Arbor

The Creature Conservancy is home to over 70 species of exotic animals. It aims to inspire compassion for wildlife while education through camps, classes and private events. More than half of the animals, like Al the Alligator and Quinn the Bald Eagle, are rescue animals with a variety of backgrounds. Transplant animals like Harper the cougar and Lady Gaga, were relocated from other institutions. The smallest group is captive breeding between other regional institutions.

8. Elk Viewing - Pigeon River Country State Forest 

Michigan’s wild elk herd is flourishing, with over 1,000 elk living in an 105,000-acre area in the northeast Lower Peninsula. This fall, when you’re looking to get away, take a trip up to the Pigeon River Country State Forest near Gaylord and see if you can catch a glimpse of a Michigan’s majestic elk! The Pigeon River Country State Forest is home to hundreds of elk, where forests are managed or cut with purpose.  Managed forests provide year round food sources and are diverse in the types and ages, which is effectively controlled with timber cutting. Hundreds of acres of openings planted to cover elk and other wildlife enjoy, and are great places to view elk.