If you love exploring and learning about nature, then the Outdoor Discovery Center is a must-see spot on your next visit to Holland Michigan!
Situated on the south side of Holland, the Outdoor Discovery Center is a 160-acre nature preserve open to the public during daylight hours all year long. As part of the larger ODC Network, it’s a vital asset to the community that focuses on nature education and conservation.
The Outdoor Discovery Center has it all for nature lovers:
- An interactive Visitor Center
- 3 miles of nature trails (with tons of educational trail markers)
- De Witt Birds of Prey Center
- Eldean Family Nature Play Area
- Wade & Kris Eldean Wildlife Exhibit
- Catch and release fishing ponds
Start at the Outdoor Discovery Center’s Visitor Center
When you arrive, the Visitor Center is located right next to the parking lot and is a great place to start your adventure. Its open hours are limited, typically from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday thorugh Saturday. Plan ahead if you’d like to see the indoor exhibits.
Even if the Visitor Center is closed, the outdoor exhibits and nature trails are open to visit anytime during daylight hours. Very convenient!
While it is free to visit the ODC, donations are welcome. You can donate online or in person. For locals, consider a yearly membership to the ODC for additional perks like discounted prices for classes and special events.
Peachwave Frozen Yogurt Truck
Another fun feature right by the parking lot is the Peachwave frozen yogurt truck. It offers the same tasty treats as the downtown Holland location, although with a more limited food truck menu. The hours vary, so it may be hit or miss if it’s open.
The Visitor Center
Inside the Visitor Center, you’ll find helpful staff at a welcome desk, a small gift shop area, several interactive educational displays, and a bird-watching room. With vaulted ceilings and big windows, it’s quite spacious inside with lots of room to wander and learn.
What are your thoughts on taxidermic animals — fascinating or creepy? The Visitor Center is filled with taxidermic North American wildlife, from a polar bear and arctic foxes to a moose and wolves.
Several of the displays are designed with curious children (and adults!) in mind who crave tactile experiences. Look for signs that say “Please touch,” like this table filled with animal artifacts, including antlers and feathers.
Walking the Nature Trails & Viewing the Exhibits
Now, let’s hit the trails! Our family strategy is to hike first and then play later. It’s a little incentive to help keep the kids walking a little further.
With a trail network of about 3 miles, the ODC paths are very family-friendly. Each trail section is around 1/2 mile or less, so you can easily customize your journey without needing to commit to a longer hike.
The terrain is very flat, which is great for all skill levels. The natural paths consist of gravel, dirt, and wooden boardwalks that sturdy strollers could easily handle. The wooden boardwalk ledges make the perfect balance beam for your kiddos too!
For our visit, we walked this path…
- Sensory Trail — 0.6 miles
- Kestrel Trail — 0.27 miles
- Ironwood Trail — 0.33 miles
- Back to the Sensory Trail — 0.6
This is a great loop for kids at under 2 miles long!
First, we wandered through the Sensory Trail. Along this trail are several educational trail markers that invite using your senses to observe the environment around you.
Take this coniferous tree display, which explains the differences in needles between the local trees (spruce, cedar, and pine) that are located right behind the sign.
For an immersive experience you can:
- Gaze at each tree
- Smell the fresh evergreen needles
- Listen to the wind rustle the trees
- Touch the pokey needles
Winding through the Sensory Trail is also the Doug & Kori Rentz Art Trail which includes a few outdoor art sculptures. The highlight of the trail is a bronze statue by Emil Alzamora, entitled Abrazo (Hug).
A display sign explains the statue’s significance from the donors Jim & Donna Brooks: “Its exaggerated arms remind us all that we must never take nature for granted and to remain ever-vigilant stewards who protect and preserve it today and for future generations.”
De Witt Birds of Prey Center
Next, we journeyed along the Kestrel Trail to the De Witt Birds of Prey Center.
The Birds of Prey Center is a massive structure that serves as an educational resource and refuge for injured birds. As an outdoor exhibit, the birds can be visited anytime during regular park hours. The exhibit features a variety of owls, falcons, hawks, eagles, and vultures.
If you enjoy learning more about wildlife and the environment as you explore, all the educational displays are really an awesome feature of the ODC. The Birds of Prey Center in particular has tons of interesting facts!
Did you know: “Dark vertical lines, known as molar stripes, reduce the amount of reflected light into a falcon’s eyes. The effect is similar to that of blackeye under the eyes of a football or baseball player.” You can learn something new everyday!
All of the birds of prey in this facility have been injured and rehabilitated but would not survive in the wild. Each sign in front of the bird explains how they were injured as well as information about the species.
For example, this bald eagle was injured falling out of its nest and has permanent damage to its wing. The Outdoor Discovery Center is able to give these birds of prey a second chance and provide teaching opportunities to the community.
Fun at the Eldean Family Nature Play Area
After taking the Ironwood and Sensory Trails back to the main entrance, my 4-year-old was done walking and more than ready to go to the nature playground. After a piggyback ride to the Eldean Family Nature Play Area, he magically had plenty of energy to run and play!
And what an amazing place to play! With natural play structures in wide-open spaces, this playground is a dream. From a log fort and tree swing to a nature slide and zip line, your kids could happily play here for hours.
There’s even a hammock village, where you can set up your own hammocks on poles and relax while your kids burn off some extra energy. Something to remember for the future!
In true Outdoor Discovery Center fashion, the display signs share interesting tidbits on the benefits of outdoor play for children. Some amazing side effects of outdoor play your child may experience? Reduced stress, better social skills, and improved self-discipline.
Wade & Kris Eldean Wildlife Exhibit
Right next to the play area is another outdoor wildlife exhibit featuring animals native to Michigan, including a snowy owl, red fox, skunk, porcupine, and opossum. We got to see this snowy owl showing off how far he could turn his head around without moving!
Across from the wildlife exhibit is a beautiful catch-and-release fishing pond. It would make a great spot to teach your little ones how to fish!
Outdoor Discovery Center Community Programs
In addition to all of these awesome everyday exhibits, the ODC offers several classes and special events throughout the year. Some highlights include Indigenous culture workshops, women in nature events, and nature programs for preschoolers.
The Park Passport
The Outdoor Discovery Center even puts together a yearly Park Passport, which features several local hidden gem parks to visit and prizes once you’ve completed all your visits. Our family had tons of fun checking out some old favorites and some new parks on the passport.
Look for a new passport in the spring to be used through the fall. You can pick up a physical copy in the Visitor Center or print an electronic version.
Other Things to Do in Holland Michigan
For any nature lovers living in or visiting West Michigan, make sure to stop by and experience the magic of the Outdoor Discovery Center! However, there are even more things to do in Holland Michigan.
In fact, you have plenty of Holland outdoor activities to choose from, or you could find indoor things to do in Holland on a rainy day. In addition, you could eat at some of the best restaurants in Holland Michigan.