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.
This post was written in September 2018 and updated with 2019 information.
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.
Where is John Ball Zoo?
The John Ball Park Zoo is located on the west side of Grand Rapids, Mich. It’s an urban zoo with a pretty setting, wooded with plenty of shade.
It’s smallish, so families can visit for the afternoon and not be exhausted afterward.
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.
How much does it cost to visit John Ball Zoo
The zoo is typically $10 for adults; $8 for seniors, children (ages 2-12), college students with ID, and military; FREE for children under 24 months.
Admission for special events, like the zoo’s Halloween event, may be more.
Experiences that cost extra at the zoo
The John Ball Zoo offers several add-on experiences to your visit at the zoo. These include:
- – Feeding budgies for $1 a stick
- -Zip-lining is $8
- -Sky Ropes Trail is $8
- -Combo zip-line and Sky Ropes Trail is $12
- -One-way funicular ride is $3
- -Camel ride is $6 (souvenir photo is extra, too)
- -John Ball Zoo Gem Co. (bags are $6.99, $11.99 and $24.99)
Members at the zoo receive a discount on the experiences.
Keep reading if you want to see what I thought about some of these experiences!
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.
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.
Note: This was a summer show, and upon revisiting the zoo’s website, it does not sound like it’s necessarily an annual show. In its place is a FREE behind-the-scenes experience called Tools of the Trade Animal Encounters.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When to visit John Ball Zoo
Considering the fact that this zoo is in Michigan and the highlights, for us, were outdoor activities that are weather dependent, I’d recommend planning a visit in the summer.
The zoo is open in mid-March through early-November. See the zoo’s hours here.
More about Grand Rapids
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:
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