If you asked me what one of my fondest memories of my childhood was, I’d say going to John Ball Zoo. I went there often when visiting my grandparents. Getting a balloon and sitting by the John Ball statue were always on the agenda.
John Ball Zoo is a wonderful park and zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I didn’t grow up in Grand Rapids, but I still went often in the summer. Now I do live near Grand Rapids, and I love taking my own kids! We usually get a membership so we can go as often as we like every year. My son even took his first trip at just a few weeks old.
Recently I was privileged to go on a tour of the zoo. There have been a lot of updates since I was little.
We started with one of my favorites – the chimpanzees. They are always entertaining. There is one older male that loves to get up close and look at everyone. After talking to one of the zookeepers we found out that he likes to look at everyone’s shoes!
We were fortunate to have a good view of one of the lions. We also saw the mountain lions, bears, turtles, otters, and many other neat creatures.
The kids got a special treat, too. They got to see a screech owl up close and pet an albino ferret.
John Ball Zoo has an exciting aquarium. If you time your stop there well you can see the penguins being fed. It’s noisy but fun. We also got go behind the scenes of the aquarium to see where they prepare food, take care of sick creatures and get others adjusted to their environment.
There is also outdoor water fun at the zoo. You can pet stingrays!
The latest attraction at John Ball Zoo is a huge tiger exhibit. It feels like you are walking right through their habitat. Part way up the tiger trail is a unique play area for kids of all ages. Kids can pretend to camp, have fun in a clubhouse or walk along bridges and ropes.
Once you get to the top of the trail you can make your way back down via the funicular. You get a great view of the zoo and the surrounding area.
But don’t think your visit is over yet. There is still a petting zoo/farm. You can feed budgies. You can get up close and pet wallabees. And a trip to John Ball Zoo is never complete for the little ones without playing on the wooden train.
Did I mention the monkeys, reptiles, frogs, camel rides, baboons…there is so much to see and do at John Ball Zoo! Don’t forget to visit the new gift shop for a souvenir of your visit.
But don’t leave just yet. Once you step out of the zoo you’ll see that there is a huge pond where you can ride duck paddle boats. Or you can take the kids to John Ball Park for a picnic and fun on the playground.
You could spend the whole day at John Ball Park/Zoo. But you also don’t have to. John Ball Zoo is the perfect size for a shorter visit – especially if you have little ones that don’t need long outings. Or you can make a whole day of it.
The zoo continues to evolve and expand. It is different than the zoo I grew up going to. There is so much more to see and do! But it still remains the friendly, fun, family-oriented zoo of West Michigan.
If you live in the area or ever get a chance to visit, be sure to stop by John Ball Zoo. It’s been a part of my family’s tradition for many years. I hope my kids enjoy it for years to come and can take their own children some day.