September 4, 2018

Adventures At John Ball Zoo

We visited one zoo during our great Michigan Road Trip – the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids. It was a great zoo for animal interaction and adrenaline adventure (for an added fee). I wouldn’t typically say zoos have adventure (well, there was that one time in Florida), but this place was a blast.

John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has add-on experiences including a zipline, ropes course, funicular, & bird show #USA #familytravel #zoos

Disclosure: Our visit was hosted by Experience Grand Rapids, though the add-on experiences were at not complimentary. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

The zoo is in a pretty setting, wooded with plenty of shade. It’s smallish, so families can visit for the afternoon and not be exhausted afterward.

Waterfall at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
A waterfall at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Mich.

My caveat: I’m pretty spoiled with the Omaha zoo, so I didn’t seek out a lot of the animal exhibits. Instead, I sought unique zoo experiences I can’t find in Omaha.

Favorite Extra: Bird Show

My kids’ favorite part of the zoo, and, fine, MY favorite part, was the Realm of Flight Bird Show. It was only $2 extra per person and worth it. If you visit on a weekday, it is free.

Bird show at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
The audience learned about 10 birds through demonstrations during the Realm of Flight Bird Show at the John Ball Zoo.

As part of the show, keepers introduced different species and we watched them in flight. Some were trained to do tricks, which delighted kids. Adult volunteers were included in the show, too, and I was called up to play the part. No bird landed on me, I just had to place a can on a side table.

At the end, families could get their pictures taken beside the bald eagle and donate money to the zoo by handing a macaw a dollar bill.

Ropes Course at John Ball Zoo

Until recently when the Venture Parks exhibits opened, there were no ropes courses in Nebraska, so I’m all for trying them out on vacation. In Grand Rapids, the zoo has a pretty stellar, four-story ropes course for families.

Ropes course at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
My 8-year-old managed the ropes course with ease but my youngest child was nervous.

It is a big extra cost to do it, but if you’re an adventure-loving family, how can you not? It’s a course in a pretty space in the zoo, treetops and greenery.

Kids need to be at minimum age and weight to do it. My daughter was all talk about it, but then when we got out on the course, she froze up. Be extra sure your kiddos are ready for it before spending the money to take them on it.

Ziplining at the zoo

Following the nervousness my youngest had on the ropes course, I figured I should just do the zipline alone.

Ready for the zipline at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
All set to zipline through the zoo.

It’s pretty tame for a zipline course—just two lines and not too fast—but the cool thing is that they go right through the zoo. 

You can buy combo tickets to save money on both the ropes course and ziplines.

More things to see at the zoo

We tried a few other add-ons, including the Budgie Aviary, where for $1 you feed birds with a stick dipped in peanut butter and covered in seed.

Feeding a budgie at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Feeding a budgie, or parakeet, at the Grand Rapids zoo.

There’s also a funicular ride in the zoo. For $3, it takes you the highest point in the zoo – saving you the walk up the hill. 

Funicular at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
The funicular at John Ball Zoo takes passengers to the highest point in the zoo, making it an all-downhill walk from there.

So, you’re probably wondering about animals exhibits. We stuck to a lot of hands-on things on this trip. However, one of the more unique exhibits to check out is the Wild Way Trail. It’s a trail with animal exhibits dependent on weather, but the neat thing is that it incorporates ways for kids to try to move like the animals (climbing and crawling, for example). There a wallabies, lemurs, parrots and howler monkeys along this wooded path. 

TreeTops Outpost at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan
Playing in the TreeTops Outpost at the John Ball Zoo.

There are also fun play areas. One’s a natural play area where kids can get their hands dirty playing with sticks and stuff. The other, the TreeTops Outpost, is more about climbing and feeling adventurous. My kids loved it.

More about Grand Rapids

Weekend in Grand Rapids
48 Hours In Grand Rapids With Kids

Grand Rapids was the first stop of an epic road trip adventure through Michigan (more on that to come). To plan your own epic road trip through Michigan, I’ll be sharing a road trip recap soon featuring restaurant highlights, sights to see, and where to stay. You can start planning now with this ultimate Michigan Bucket List.

For Grand Rapids highlights, read these posts:

48 Hours In Grand Rapids With Kids

Where to Stay in Downtown Grand Rapids

Exploring Grand Rapids Public Museum

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