This Michigan bucket list item is brought to you by Discover Kalamazoo.
Located just a few miles northeast of Kalamazoo, Gull Lake is one of the few in Southern Michigan that can be labeled a mesotrophic lake. This means that it’s clear and has a moderate level of nutrients to support aquatic plants and wildlife.
The W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary is a beautiful place with accessible trails and interpretive tours. In addition, nearby Fort Custer Recreation Area and Gull Meadow Farms allow you to explore nature further.
All About the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary
On the southeast side of Gull Lake, the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary is a wildlife center. With public programs that focus on conservation, it’s part of the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station of Michigan State University.
At the center of the bird sanctuary is Wintergreen Lake, and throughout the sanctuary are various habitats for not only birds but also other wildlife.
The sanctuary has 3 miles of walking trails that give you a close view of hundreds of wild and captive birds. There’s a ¾-mile paved trail that leads to the small lake where the resident game birds, raptors, and waterfowl provide amazing photography opportunities. You’re likely to see several duck species, Canadian geese, trumpeter swans, and more.
Throughout the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary are captive bird enclosures too. The Birds of Prey enclosures house common and rare raptors — bald eagles, eastern screech owls, red-tailed hawks, and others.
The Leslie E. Tassel enclosures house endangered and threatened bird species. And in the Pollinator Garden, you’ll find native plants that attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
Picnic Area & Gift Shop
If you spend the whole day at the sanctuary, you can pack a lunch and have a picnic in the designated area. Before you leave, though, stop by the Resource Center to browse and purchase locally made items, fair trade products, toys, gifts, and more.
A Personal Experience of the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary
Thank you to Sally Thelen for sharing her experience getting to know the geese at the bird sanctuary:
Prior to my arrival at the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, I didn’t have any high hopes for what kind of birds I’d see there. In fact, I didn’t really think I’d see any birds. I have poor eyesight and even worse patience.
I’m not the type of person to camp out in the wilderness for hours, blinking through binoculars, trying to catch a glimpse of some rare Blue-Tailed, Speckled-Bill Bobbin. (I just made that up. I don’t think that’s actually a name of a bird. Is it?)
So, I was surprised when I was purchasing my entrance ticket into the park, and I was asked if I also wanted to buy a pail of dried corn for a dollar. The corn, I was told, was for the waterfowl that lived in the sanctuary.
Instantly, I had visions of my communing with all my new bird besties like some modern-day Disney princess. I plonked my money down, scooped up my bucket of corn and marched out the door of the information office.
And then that’s when I heard it.
It sounded like a parade was going on outside. Except a parade where the only instruments were wind instruments and the only people playing them were 2-year-olds.
I made my way to the source of the sound, and that’s when I discovered a lake full of Trumpeter Swans.
They were beautiful, majestic, and utterly terrifying. You see, I’ve had something of a lifelong fear of geese.
I know this may sound silly, but, growing up, my neighbors had geese. And in case you’ve never spent quality time with geese, let me inform you of something — geese are bullies. Big, cranky, feathery bullies.
During my childhood, it was not uncommon to be suddenly and violently attacked by the neighborhood geese while doing something mundane like taking a walk or going trick-or-treating.
And, well, as far as I’m concerned, swans are pretty much the same thing as geese, but bigger and crankier.
I tentatively made my way to the lake, gratefully noting the fence that separated me from my would-be attackers. I threw a few handfuls of corn in the general direction of the swans and other waterfowl. None of them attempted to poke my eyeballs out, which I took as a good sign.
I made my way along the lake, throwing out more handfuls of corn with one hand while trying to protect myself from spontaneous bird-attack with the other, when I came across a section of the fence which was patrolled by a band of very noisy, very hungry swans.
I noticed a 3-year-old girl next to me poking her hand in the fence to feed the swans with absolutely no regard to the fact that the swan could take off with her arm at any moment. And that’s when I decided if a 3-year-old could do it, so could I.
You guys, it was completely and totally horrifying. And awesome. And I’m pretty sure me and this swan are besties right now.
What’s your favorite bird to spot at a bird sanctuary?
Exploring the Fort Custer Recreation Area
About a 10-minute drive south of the bird sanctuary and Gull Lake is the Fort Custer Recreation Area. The state park features a range of recreational activities because it features the Kalamazoo River, three lakes — Eagle Lake, Jackson Hole Lake, and Whitford-Lawler Lake — prairie restoration, and second-growth forests.
The 3,033-acre park has an exceptional trail system that totals more than 40 miles. Along with hiking, the trails are ideal for horseback riding and mountain biking. You can see the system on this mountain bike trail map.
On Eagle Lake, Fort Custer Beach has a designated swim area and an accessible walkway. Each body of water in the Fort Custer Recreation Area has a boat launch, so you can bring your own or a rented canoe or kayak to do some paddle-boating.
You can fish while you’re out on the water or use the fishing pier on Whitford-Lawler Lake. The lakes are home to bass, bluegill, channel catfish, crappie, pike, and other species.
Since it’s easy to spend the day here, you might want to pack lunch and snacks. There are picnic areas on Eagle Lake and Whitford-Lawler Lake that feature charcoal grills and tables.
Visiting Gull Meadow Farms
Just a 10-minute drive west of the bird sanctuary and on the other side of Gull Lake, Gull Meadow Farms in Richland is known for its family-friendly activities and award-winning apple cider and doughnuts. In fact, visiting the farm has become an annual tradition for many Michiganders.
Throughout the year, Gull Meadow Farms has more than 30 activities. The wagon ride through the woods lets you relax and enjoy the scenery around the farm.
At the Porkchopville Raceway on the weekends, you can see the pigs race for doughnuts. The petting farm is where you can get up close to alpacas, goats, miniature ponies, pigs, a Scottish Highland cow, and sheep. You can even feed the goats!
During the first three weekends of August, Gull Meadow Farms hosts Sunflower Days. For this event, you can walk through the 5-acre sunflower field, which grows more than 24 varieties of sunflowers.
At the end of the month, the farm hosts the Kalamazoo Balloon Fest with an awesome display of hot air balloons in the sky.
Fall Activities & Events
If you miss Gull Meadow Farms during the summer, there are plenty of fall activities to experience as well. It designs a unique 6-acre corn maze and has a mini corn maze for small children.
In early September, the apple orchard opens for picking your own apples, and the farm hosts the Grandparents Weekend and Touch-A-Tractor event. On top of that, there are apple cannons, a U-pick pumpkin patch, and a Giant Pumpkin Drop event.
No matter when you visit Gull Meadow Farms, you have to stop by The Market for delicious apple cider, doughnuts, and a variety of other treats — cookies, hand-dipped caramel apples, pies, turnovers, and more.
Also, you can get branded apparel, hats, and coffee mugs, as well as a plush version of an animal from the petting farm.
More Things to Explore Near Gull Lake
While the lake presents a wonderful opportunity for outdoor recreation, there are a few other attractions nearby that deserve your attention.
Gilmore Car Museum
Only a 10-minute drive north of the bird sanctuary is the Gilmore Car Museum in Hickory Corners. The 90-acre campus is the biggest automobile museum in the country and a popular historic attraction in Michigan.
On display in two buildings are almost 400 fantastic collector and vintage motorcycles and vehicles. Furthermore, the museum hosts car and motorcycle shows nearly every weekend. It plans concerts and Wednesday night cruise-ins too.
There are two restaurants on the property. The Heritage Cafe serves sandwiches, salads, and wraps. The Blue Moon Diner serves burgers, hot dogs, and old-fashioned custard.
Kalamazoo Nature Center
Less than a 15-minute drive west of Gull Meadow Farms is the Kalamazoo Nature Center. Voted the top nature center by other nature centers, it features indoor and outdoor recreational activities.
Across the 1,100 acres are 11 hiking trails, an 11-acre arboretum, beautifully landscaped gardens and lawns, a 3,600-square-foot deck, and state-of-the-art interactive exhibits. Additionally, there’s a Bug House, hummingbird and butterfly garden, and three-story tropical rainforest.
Great Food & Restaurant Options Near Gull Lake
All around Gull Lake, there are several places to get delicious food. In Richland, Kitchen House isn’t far from Gull Meadow Farms and serves Italian-inspired dishes that celebrate Michigan agriculture. At the southern tip of Gull Lake, South Kitchen is a sister restaurant to Kitchen House and serves some of the best Southern-style food.
Right across the street, Chicken House is a funky chicken and ice cream shop with a menu inspired by Nashville hot chicken eateries. The dishes pay tribute to Nashville and the South with Duke’s Mayonnaise and Crystal Hot Sauce. However, it also incorporates Michigan products into its menus, such as buns from Michigan Bread Co. and desserts from Plainwell Ice Cream.
If you don’t eat at the Gilmore Car Museum, NEDS on Gull Lake is just a five-minute drive back toward Gull Lake. You can order thin-crust pizza, Angus beef burgers, slow-cooked barbecue, deli sandwiches, and grinders. The restaurant has a sizable beer menu, a fun atmosphere, and patio seating that overlooks the lake.
Where to Stay Around Kalamazoo and Gull Lake
Plenty of lodging options are available to the east of Kalamazoo near Gull Lake and many attractions. Gull Lake View Golf Resort offers villa suites, deluxe suites, and luxury cottages on the south end of the lake. It’s about a five-minute drive from the bird sanctuary.
If you’re more interested in camping, equestrian and modern campgrounds are available at Fort Custer Recreation Area. It has rustic cabins too.