Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary: A Family Friendly Summer Activity with Bite 

Families visit alligator sanctuary

Take A Chomp Out of Summer 

A field in Michigan is the last place you would expect to find alligators but that’s exactly what you’ll find when you visit Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary.

This rescue facility is open to the public and home to hundreds of rescued reptiles from snakes to turtles to you guessed it: alligators.

This is a Summer Bucket List must for my kids because there’s something fun for everyone to do. My kids have a blast seeing alligators do tricks and giving tortoises a bath.

Pack a bag, hop in the car with your family and prepare yourself for an hour or two of some interactive, scaley fun.

Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary

Finding The Sanctuary

Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary

1698 M-66, Athens MI 49011
269-729-4802

Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary is 15 miles south of Battle Creek on M-66 and is open seasonally, from May through October. There is a sign but look for a light-yellow building and green fencing.

Upon arrival, you’ll be greeted at the ticket window. At our most recent visit, we were welcomed by a staff member with a very large snake wrapped around her. It seemed friendly enough, as far as snakes go, and we even got to pet it.

General Admission (Ages 3+)$11.95
Seniors, Healthcare, Military, Law Enforcement & Education$10.95
Kids 2 & UnderFREE
Twilight Tours (Ages 10+ Only)$15.00

We purchased our wristbands after deciding on our add-ons. You can get a day pass or a season pass and both will allow you to see the alligator exhibits and show. Food and animal encounters are an additional fee.

Tip: Follow Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary on Facebook to stay up to date with their current events and watch videos of the alligators.

Let’s See Some Alligators

You’ll see an Enter sign by the “elementary school” to help you know where you start. The alligators live in “schools” based on their size. This adds a fun spin to your visit and your kids can relate.

Their enclosures are double-fenced and there are some benches for little ones to stand on so they can see and toss in the gator food.

Feeding the alligators is a favorite activity at Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary

Tip: Read the signs if you’re feeding the alligators because some have special diets or need certain sized food.

You’ll see alligators slither in and out of their pond and hear them hissing and grunting especially if you have a cup of food.

Along the back is where you’ll find the biggest gators of all including Godzilla and Medusa, the stars of the show. These alligators are on a special diet so you can’t feed them but there are windows at the perfect height for kids.

The alligators back here have interesting stories about their previous homes so take the time to read their signs.

Want a Tour?

There are free guided tours you can follow but you don’t have to. You’ll learn a lot if you have the time but if your kids are antsy to move, I’d skip it.

Tip: If you didn’t buy gator food at the ticket window, you can buy it at the Reptile Encounter Station next to the tortoise exhibit. This is also where you can buy food for the tortoise experience.

You CAN Teach an Old Gator New Tricks

Save time to see the show where a giant 11-foot alligator named Godzilla comes out of his pond and shows off his powerful jaws. Medusa, a nine-foot alligator, is just as entertaining during the show, too.

Staff will walk around and let you know when the show is starting. The show runs for about 20 minutes two to three times a day at Godzilla and Medusa’s enclosure so you should always be able to catch one.

There isn’t much seating or shade but your kids can sit along the windows and get a good view. There’s a deck above the enclosure with a few benches and a great view but it fills up fast.

The windows provide a front-row seat to the alligators

Godzilla and Medusa will do tricks, grunt and snap while the staff member educates and jokes around. The surprising part is the alligators seem to know what to do. Your kids might get a chance to answer a question during the show.

Do you notice how passionate the staff is about the alligators? It’s a great reminder that this fun place is really a rescue facility dedicated to their reptiles.

Elevate Your Visit with Animal Encounters

Going to the Alligator Sanctuary is like choosing your own adventure. If you’re going for the full adventure, adding on an Animal Encounter will make your visit even more unique.

There are two options for the Animal Encounter: Tortoise Encounter and Alligator Encounter. The Tortoise Encounter is appropriate for all ages and you can take as much time as you’d like while the Alligator Encounter allows your child to hold a small or large alligator for a few minutes.

Before we go, I have my kids pick if they’d rather hang with the tortoises or hold an alligator.  Animal Encounters are always an immediate memory-maker when we add them to our visit.

Scrub A Tortoise

The Tortoise Encounter boasts 15 tortoises meandering around their enclosure and is where we spend the most time during our visit. They’re cute and they’re big but they’re friendly.

For an extra fee you can feed them but they are just as happy being scrubbed by the brushes. A parent can go in, too. How many people can say they’ve washed a tortoise?

The Tortoise Encounter is $10/single person or $20 per family.

Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary

Hold an Alligator

Brave kids can have an encounter with a small or large alligator at the Reptile Encounter Station. The staff preps the kids before they bring the alligator out and help the entire time.

It’s safe! The alligator’s mouth is taped shut.

Have your camera ready because it’s a quick experience.

The Small Gator Encounter is $10/single person or $20 per family; large gator is $20/single person or $40/family.

Alligators After Hours

If you can’t get enough of the alligators during their normal hours, there are two recurring events you can attend: Twilight Tours and Spring Release.

Twilight Tours

Twilight Tours are available once a month throughout the summer for anyone at least ten years old. You will be able to experience the facility in the dark during a special guided tour with Mr. C to see their glowing red eyes and have some laughs.

Photo: Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary

The tour starts at 9:30 PM and lasts until 11:30 PM but don’t be late because they lock the door once the tour gets started. Tickets are $15 and reservations are required by calling ahead or purchasing them on their website.

Spring Release

Before the Sanctuary opens for the season, you can help the staff as they carry the alligators from their winter enclosures into their summer habitat.

Watch their Facebook for details but this special event happens every year at the end of April. You don’t need a reservation to help but you will have to pay admission for this wild encounter.

Photo: Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary

Your kids can get in on the action and carry an alligator because all ages are welcome. Your fingers will be safe because their mouths are taped but your child will earn some bragging rights for their help along with an unforgettable experience.

You Can Help the Sanctuary

Aside from visiting, you can help in two ways: (1) You can donate money on their website or (2) you can “adopt” one of their reptiles. You don’t get to keep an alligator, but your donation will help keep the reptile fed and cared for.

Critchlow Animal Sanctuary FAQs

What Should I Bring?

There is very little shade so wear sunscreen and spray yourself down with bug spray since you’re walking by swampy habitats. 

Bags are allowed so pack your own water and snacks but they have frozen treats and crunchy snacks available at their snack station if you need to refuel. There are picnic tables with umbrellas throughout the middle of the grounds if you need to take a break in some shade.

You can bring a stroller but you’ll be walking on grass so make sure your wheels do well off-roading.

We always get dirty since the ground is grass and dirt so you might want to pack another outfit for the ride home.

When is the best time to visit?

Weekends can be busy but it has never felt crowded since there’s plenty of space to move around. We enjoy going during the week after lunchtime.

How long will we stay?

You can expect to stay anywhere from one to two hours.

What ages will enjoy The Alligator Sanctuary?

This is really an experience appropriate for all ages. There is something interesting there for everyone especially if you add on an animal encounter or feed the alligators.

Where are the bathrooms?

There are 2 portable toilets on the grounds and 1 bathroom inside the building in the gift shop. The inside bathroom has a changing table and a very loud hand dryer.

Is there a gift shop?

Your visit will end at the gift shop; they have stuffed animals, toys, clothes, jewelry, books and souvenirs.

Photo: Critchlow Alligator Sanctuary

Are the alligators scary?

The alligators on exhibit are fully enclosed behind fences and mostly lounge in the water at a comfortable distance away.

However, if you have a less gator-confident visitor, we don’t recommend feeding them or purchasing an alligator animal encounter on your first trip.

Are there restaurants nearby?

Station 66 is a popular ice cream shop that also serves hot dogs, burgers and sandwiches. They are less than 10 miles north so you could stop there on your way back home. It’s kid-friendly and delicious!

Is there anything else I can do in the area?

Binder Park Zoo is just 20 minutes away. You could make a whole day devoted to animals since there’s plenty of time to fit in both places.