Just 15 minutes north of downtown Grand Rapids, Rockford is a vibrant city filled with small-town charm and ambiance. A quaintly nostalgic downtown, situated on the banks of the scenic Rogue River, bustles with activity. Nearby lakes, trails, parks and golf courses provide abundant recreation opportunities. Here are some great reasons to consider Rockford as part of your Grand Rapids getaway!
Mark your calendar for the annual Start of Summer Celebration.
Photo by Matt Makowski
Art & Culture
Rockford takes pride in celebrating the history, talents and spirit of its people.
The Rockford Area Museum tells the story of the city from its early days as a logging community. Historic artifacts and video memories from Rockford residents shine a light on every aspect of local life. The museum collection includes the original Medal of Honor awarded to John Sjogren, a Rockford native who was commended for his heroic actions against the Japanese in 1945. A statue of Sjogren graces the memorial plaza in front of the museum. Before you leave the premises, pick up a walking tour map of downtown’s historic buildings. Admission is free, and the museum is open Tuesday through Sunday.
The Rogue River Artists Association is a group of art makers dedicated to developing, nurturing and supporting member artists by showcasing their works. The group sponsors an annual trio of Rockford events: Summer Art Market (August), Art in the Park (September) and Holiday Art Market (November).
The Start of Summer Celebration (June) features carnival rides, arts & crafts, food vendors, children’s activities, live entertainment, beer tents, fireworks and a parade through downtown. The Harvest Fest (last weekend in September) is packed with fun entertainment and activities celebrating the end of the growing season. The Santa Parade (December) kicks off the holiday season with parade floats and visits with Santa. Be sure to check their Facebook page to keep up to date with their events.
Painting pottery at Accidental Art is the perfect creative activity for kids of all ages.
Photo by Experience Grand Rapids
Family-friendly Rockford offers all sorts of all-ages fun:
Accidental Art is a pottery painting studio open to all ages. Walk-ins are welcome during regular hours and there are regular classes offered for kids as young as two years old. These “Once Upon a Paintbrush” classes include reading a favorite children’s book together and then painting a piece of pottery that relates to the story – such as a butterfly, unicorn or dinosaur. A great way to stimulate creative young minds!
Aunt Candy’s Toy Company is a family-owned business offering more than 4,000 sq. ft. of toys, books and games for all ages. A Rockford favorite for 25+ years, Aunt Candy’s is the place to find high-quality toys, meet children’s book authors and keep up with kid-friendly community events. Best of all – there’s a kid’s play area in the store!
Epilogue Books offers a variety of children’s books and games as well as a cozy kids’ space stocked with small chairs, pillows and stuffed animals. It’s a great place for kids to hang out while adults shop. With luck, they’ll get to meet Tommy, the shopowners’ friendly Golden Retriever, who is a frequent visitor.
The Krause Memorial Library in downtown Rockford offers weekly storytimes and activities for all ages. Drop in to enjoy the early literacy play space, imagination station, writing center, teen area and more.
The Maas Family Nature Preserve is home to an oak-pine barrens ecosystem, which is one of the rarest natural communities in Michigan. An ocean of purple lupine in bloom draws visitors in May and June, followed by tall prairie grasses and widlflowers in later summer. Keep an eye out for tiny Karner blue butterflies – the preserve is one of the only sites in Kent County known to contain this endangered species. The trail through the preserve is just one-half mile, so it’s easy for young ones to manage.
Myers Lake Park, open from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, is a free place for kids to swim and play in the sand. There’s also a playground, picnic tables, grills, restrooms, changing facilities and plenty of shade trees. It’s just a 10-minute drive from downtown Rockford.
NorthStar Cinema is a hometown movie theater showing first-run films at an unbeatable value: $5 tickets for every show before 5:00 Monday-Thursday and $6.25 for kids age 12 and younger all other times. The concessions are affordable, too! It’s a 10-minute drive north of downtown.
Grab a bite to eat at Rogue River Tavern (left) or Rockford Brewing Company (right).
Photo by Experience Grand Rapids
Food & Drink
There are 20+ food and/or drink destinations in the seven walkable blocks of downtown Rockford, and even more within a short drive. Here are some local favorites.
Bridge Street Burger Shack is a throwback to old-school burger joints – simple, quick, fresh and casual. All of its beef is freshly ground and never frozen, and there are vegan and vegetarian options, too. The people are friendly, the décor is fun and the value is fantastic (witness the $2 root beer float).
The Corner Bar has been a Rockford landmark since 1935 – although it looks just a little different since being completely rebuilt after a 2017 fire. The friendly neighborhood atmosphere remains along with the historic neon sign and the “World Famous Hot Dog Hall of Fame” – a wall emblazoned with the names of hundreds of patrons who have managed to consume 12 of the bar’s signature hot dogs in four hours or less. The family-friendly menu extends well beyond hot dogs and also offers a variety of local beers.
Flo’s Wood Fired Pizzeria is a collaboration of Sicilian-born brothers Daniele and Davide Uccello, who debuted this concept in Rockford in 2011 and have since opened other restaurants in the area. Their signature wood-fired pizzas have won competitions across Michigan and the Midwest. Other authentic Sicilian foods on the menu include antipasti, pastas and sandwiches. Flo’s also shares space with St. Julian’s Winery & Distillery tasting room.
Rogue River Tavern is a family-oriented and kid-friendly sports bar offering an extensive food and drink menu as well as 15 television sets playing all your favorite sports. Enjoy live music every Tuesday, Trivia Night on Wednesdays, game machines and FREE popcorn.
Craving something sweet? Try Flavors on the Promenade for handrolled ice cream and handcrafted crepes, The Sweet Tooth for handmade caramel corn and Chicago-style popcorn, The Pump House for 18 flavors of frozen yogurt, or stroll up to the seasonal window at Rocky’s Dairy Depot for an ice cream cone to enjoy as you wander downtown.
Rockford Brewing Company was named Small Brewpub and Small Brewpub Brewer of the Year at the 2017 Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Five of its beers were honored at the 2019 World Expo of Beer Competition. Locals rave about the made-from-scratch food offerings, especially the wings and chili. In short, this Beer City Ale Trail destination is worthy of a trip to Rockford all on its own. The brewery also presents weekly live music concerts and other events, and it hosts a delectable Sunday brunch.
Third Nature Brewing is a newer addition to Rockford and the Beer City Ale Trail – it opened in 2019, less than two miles southwest of downtown. True to its name, the brewery is located in the midst of nature, on 7.5 wooded acres between the Rogue River and the White Pine Trail, and is dog-friendly. An outdoor beer garden and heated igbrews (8-person igloos) encourage guests to enjoy the view along with unique, creative beers and food dishes, no matter the season.
Kayla Rae Cellars serves up Michigan-made wines and ciders in a charming building adjacent to the Rogue River and White Pine Trail. It’s also the home of Depot No. 36 Brewery, a Beer City Ale Trail destination.
Herman’s Boy is a combination of five great shops in one location – a coffee roastery, bakery and deli, candy and fudge shop, kitchen gadget shop, and an outdoor cooking and smokehouse shop. It’s been perking up Rockford since 1982!
The Rockford Cheese Shop offers high-end cheese and charcuterie from around the world. Sample more than 70 cheeses as cheesemongers help you find just the right selections for your party, picnic or personal enjoyment. The shop also carries a variety of nuts, jams, marmalades, mustards, crackers and dried fruit.
Music & More
Rockford has a number of ways to entertain you:
Bostwick Lake Inn – “with the soul of a snow-covered lodge and the repose of a sun-soaked beach house” – offers seasonal entertainment from the best West Michigan has to offer. The four-season deck is a stunner.
Rockford Brewing Company is a music venue in addition to an award-winning brewery, hosting concerts by a broad range of local musicians on various nights each week.
Rockford Lanes & Gutter’s Sports Lounge hosts comedians on select dates throughout the year. Come for the show and stay for the bowling, big-screen TVs and great drink specials.
Rogue River Blues is an annual summer showcase of jazz, blues and folk music. Local artists serenade crowds in downtown’s Garden Club Park. Sets start at 7pm Tuesdays from June-August.
The White Pine Trail is a 92-mile path that runs from Grand Rapids to Cadillac, Michigan.
Photo by Matthew Medendorp
Rockford offers many options for exploring and enjoying nature – beginning with the Rogue River that runs through downtown. Designated “Country Scenic” by the state of Michigan, the Rogue is popular with trout fishers and devotees of canoeing, kayaking and innertubing.
The Rockford Dam Overlook provides a spectacular view of the Rogue just steps from downtown shops. The Overlook provides convenient access to the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail State Park, a 92-mile biking/hiking trail that extends from Grand Rapids to Cadillac, Michigan.
Follow the White Pine Trail north 7.4 miles to the community of Cedar Springs and enjoy a refreshing libation at Cedar Springs Brewing Company. Head south 4 miles to the community of Belmont and a quick stop at Trailside Treats Ice Cream (and one of the trail’s public bathrooms). Another 4.2 miles south will bring you to Comstock Park and a loop around Fifth Third Ballpark, home of the West Michigan Whitecaps baseball team. A public bike repair station is available at the Comstock Park trailhead.
Downtown Rockford is also home to Peppler Park, across the river from the Dam Overlook. Peppler offers an overlook of its own as well as a fishing platform and picnic spots. From the park, you can access the Rogue River Nature Trail, a quarter-mile boardwalk that winds north along the riverbank and provides scenic views of the river, downtown and unspoiled woods.
The Merrell Trail, a five-mile drive west of downtown Rockford, is a favorite with mountain bikers. This true flow trail features a number of fast descents, jumps, roots, rocks and elevated bridges and structures over its 7-mile length. Named for a brand of Wolverine World Wide, a footwear manufacturer based in Rockford since 1903, the Merrell Trail is also popular for hiking and running.
Travel two miles east of downtown Rockford to Luton Park and 9.7 miles of interconnected trails through native prairies, pines, hardwoods and marshes. Luton trails were designed for mountain biking and are also used for hiking, running, bird watching, cross country skiing and snowshoeing.
Ready to hit the water? Check out AAA Canoe Rental, just outside of downtown, to book canoe, kayak and innertube trips on the Rogue River. Trips include your choice of watercraft, paddles, life jackets or cushions, and transportation to your starting point. Both two- and four-hour trips end at downtown’s Rockford Dam.
The Upper Rogue, north of the Rockford Dam, is known as an excellent trout fishery. To the south, the Lower Rogue is a popular destination for steelhead and salmon anglers in spring and fall. Great Lakes Fly Fishing, three miles west of downtown, is a great source of fishing equipment and advice.
You can fish for bluegill, largemouth bass, northern pike, crappie and a variety of other species at a number of close-by inland lakes, including Big Pine Island, Bostwick, Brower, Lake Bella Vista and Myers. Big Pine Island and Myers offers swimming areas as well.
Need to give Fido some exercise? The Rockford Dog Park, one-half mile south of the Dam Overlook, is an enclosed, off-leash park with a separate area for small dogs. It sits next to a fitness course and softball field, and it’s across the Rogue River from a playground and picnic pavilion in Richardson-Sowerby Park. The two parks are linked by a pedestrian ridge across the river.
Ready to hit the links? Rockford is conveniently located within 10 miles of these public courses:
Distance from Downtown Rockford
- Boulder Creek Golf Club 5 miles
- North Kent Golf Course 6 miles
- Scott Lake Country Club 7.5 miles
- Thousand Oaks 8 miles
Stop by Paperdoll Boutique to shop for a gift or to add a new trendy piece to your closet.
Photo by Experience Grand Rapids
There are more than 25 retail shops lining the seven city blocks of downtown Rockford. Most are owned and operated by the people who’ll greet you as you walk through their doors. Here are some highlights.
Aunt Candy’s Toy Company is a family-owned business offering more than 4,000 sq. ft. of toys, books and games for all ages. A Rockford favorite for 25+ years, Aunt Candy’s is the place to find high-quality toys, meet children’s book authors and keep up with kid-friendly community events. Just look for the bright yellow-and-white polka dot awning out front.
Epilogue Books is one of a vanishing breed – an independent bookstore that caters to the tastes and interests of its local community. Owners Pat and Valerie Burkholder curate a wonderful selection of books for readers of all ages and interests, and they’re eager to share their recommendations with you. Even if books aren’t your thing, it’s worth a visit to meet Tommy, the golden retriever-in-residence – he’s a Rockford icon.
J.T. Stitchery offers an abundant selection of unique yarns, knitting and crochet supplies, and accessories for both beginners and experienced artisans. It’s also a great place to seek advice on your thorniest knitting dilemmas. An array of candles, lotions, and bath and body products complements the store’s main offering.
The Local Basket Case stocks the coolest Michigan-made apparel, gifts and accessories. Shop tees and sweatshirts emblazoned with Michigan idioms, hats and glasses adorned with the state map, and a diverse collection of items relating to Rockford and other Michigan towns.
Located in the heart of downtown Rockford, Paperdoll Boutique offers a curated selection of unique, affordable apparel, accessories, and gift items you won't find anywhere else. You can also utilize the Lookbook section of their website for inspiration before you stop by the store.
The Rockford Farm Market was voted “America’s Favorite Farmers Market” in a nationwide poll. Open every Saturday morning from May through October, the Market offers a dazzling variety of seasonal produce along with a cornucopia of made-in-Michigan foodstuffs, plants and fresh flowers.
Rockford Footwear Depot is owned and operated by Wolverine World Wide, a global company based in Rockford since 1903. Wolverine is home to some of the world’s best known lifestyle brands, including CAT, Chaco, Harley-Davidson, Hush Puppies, Keds, Merrell, Saucony, Sperry and Stride Rite – and the Depot offers factory-direct discount pricing on footwear, apparel and accessories from these brands.
WAR Chest Boutique is a retail program of Grand Rapids-based Women At Risk, International, a non-profit organization dedicated to freeing women and children from exploitation and slavery. The shop sells a variety of handmade gifts – including jewelry, ornaments, clothing, accessories, spa items and more – all made by at-risk individuals from around the world. Ninety percent of profits go to support WAR’s mission.
Whether you're looking for a unique shop, a new restaurant, or an outdoor adventure, you can find it all in Rockford.