Though Grand Rapids' downtown is often bustling, nature is never far away: green havens can be found throughout the city and all along the Grand River corridor. More than two dozen natural environs can be found within 10-minutes of Rosa Parks Circle in downtown Grand Rapids. Several are within easy walking distance, and the rest are close enough to visit on your lunch break or during a lull in your trip itinerary!

Family picnic at Ah-Nab-Awen Park

Can't beat the city views from Ah-Nab-Awen Park right within downtown Grand Rapids.

Photo by Ideology for Experience GR

Along the Grand River

Immediately downtown, amid the bustle, consider the Grand River Edges Trail, a pleasant walk along the Grand River. A popular scenic stroll is from Fulton St. north to the Sixth St. Bridge, then across the river and back along the west bank. Bring binoculars because spring especially is a great time to see birds in Kent County, but there is beauty to be seen in every season. The route passes by Sixth Street Bridge Park and Canal Street Park - both small but peaceful riverside areas where nature-lovers can enjoy a view of the Grand River.

Fish Ladder Park, across the river and one block south of Canal Park, is a popular destination for watching spring steelhead and fall salmon runs. Ten or so minutes further downstream is the tranquil, grassy knoll overlooking the river at Ah-Nab-Awen Park, a fine place to enjoy a snack.

Plans are underway to extend the Grand River Edges Trail to Riverside Park, about 2.5 miles upstream from Canal Park. Until then, you can drive or take a Rapid bus to the 180-acre site, which is lined with mature trees and includes a paved biking/hiking trail, river overlooks, picnic shelters, ballfields and a playground.

Overlooking the Grand River

For a spectacular view of the city and its river, head to Lookout Park on the northeast side of downtown. It’s a relatively small greenspace but there’s plenty of room to enjoy a picnic in the glow of the setting sun.

Families and couples at Reeds Lake/ John Collins Park

Located in East Grand Rapids, John Collins Park is a beautiful spot to enjoy the surrounding scenery of Reeds Lake.

Photo by Ideology for Experience GR

Outside of the City Center

The north trailhead for Kent County's Millennium Park is just a five-minute drive from downtown. One of the nation’s largest urban parks, this  1,500-acre expanse has 18 miles of trails, a six-acre beach and an abundance of wildlife. Anglers catch panfish, bass, and even northern pike in its lakes. The park encompasses portions of the Grand River and connects via paved trail to Johnson Park, a Riverside Natural Area great for walking, picnicking or simply relaxing. 

Across the street from the north trailhead is John Ball Park, a green space with four playgrounds, including a universally designed one that incorporates features for the visually impaired. The park is adjacent to John Ball Zoo, which is home to more than 2,000 animals from all over the globe. It’s not exactly “natural” but it will provide a taste of what nature looks like in other parts of the world.

Beautiful Reeds Lake is a 10-minute drive southeast of downtown, in East Grand Rapids. Hodenpyl Woods on the north side of the lake is a 43.9-acre nature preserve with a .9-mile loop trail that meanders through woods and wetlands. It’s a great spot for birdwatching and whitetail deer may cross your path, too.

Reeds Lake's northwest shoreline also is good for bird aficionados. More than 190 species have been identified there by the Grand Rapids Audubon Club. The accessible floating boardwalks at Waterfront Park go out through the marsh and offer a great platform for spotting birds, or for fishing. Pick up a "Common Birds Found at Reeds Lake" checklist brochure at the kiosk there.

Grand Rapids has 75+ city parks and public spaces, and eight of them have designated natural areas, undeveloped places left to nature for people to enjoy. Five of those are within 10 minutes of downtown hotels. They include the Huff, Fourth St. Woods, Burton Woods, Richmond, and Ball Perkins parks.

Images of the landscape and wildlife experiences hosted at the Blandford Nature Center, 2023

Blandford Nature Center features eleven different trails to choose from, ranging from easy to difficult.

Photo by Alina Albin for Experience GR

10-15 Minutes from Downtown

A little further out, Knapp Valley Forest Park, is an undeveloped 87-acre Kent County park, offering scenic, wooded hiking trails. Linus Palmer Park is another with forested trails and streams. Both offer peaceful green spaces in spring. Visit the Kent County Parks and Trails website to explore all 43 natural sites in the county system.

Blandford Nature Center, one of Grand Rapids' best spots to experience and/or learn about nature, has 8+ miles of walking trails through 264 acres of woods and rolling meadows. All are open to the public. Dogs are allowed (leashed) on all but the Wildlife Trail where several live animals can be seen, including an osprey and bobcat.

Calvin University’s Ecosystem Preserve & Native Gardens offers hiking trails through 100+ acres of native plants and natural habitats. It’s a great spot for birdwatching – more than 179 species have been spotted here – or to just sit and immerse yourself in nature. It’s located just 10 minutes from Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, which juxtaposes natural beauty and manmade art along easy-to-walk trails.