Looking for a fun family adventure in Grand Rapids? Head to Blandford Nature Center! Tucked away off Leonard Street in a residential section of the city’s West Side, Blandford’s mission is to provide a place for people in the community to enjoy, explore and learn in nature.

It’s just 15 minutes from downtown Grand Rapids, yet it feels like a world away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

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

Children have the opportunity to interact and learn about animals with Blanford's wildlife ambassadors.

Photo by Alina Albin for Experience GR.

The Mary Jane Dockeray Visitor Center

Begin your visit at the Mary Jane Dockeray Visitor Center, which is open 9am-5pm Monday-Friday. Dr. Mary Jane Dockeray was the Curator of Natural History at the Grand Rapids Public Museum and the driving force behind the Blandford family’s donation of the original 17 acres of land that started the Center. 

You’ll purchase tickets at the Visitor Center – admission is just $5 per person – which gives you access to both indoor and outdoor spaces. Blandford is an independent non-profit, and they use their admission and programming fees to keep the Center running.

You’ll encounter some of Blandford’s wildlife ambassadors around the Center. These animals live permanently at the Center because of injuries that make it impossible to survive on their own. Now, they help educate students and give families a close-up view that would not be available otherwise. 

The Visitor Center is also where restrooms, the gift shop and auditorium are located. 

Educational Programming

Blandford offers a variety of educational programming – everything from yoga, herbal tea tastings and birding opportunities to blacksmithing workshops, foraging classes and farm workdays. You can find Blandford's programming calendar on their website or Experience Grand Rapids’ events calendar.

For example, a June Saturday might start with a guided Birds & Bagels hike, segue into outdoor yoga, include a behind-the-scenes livestock chore experience for future farmers, and offer Blacksmith 101 and Wildlife Scavengers classes. Pre-registration is generally required for these events.

Several annual events are also learning opportunities, including the spring Sugarbush Festival (which includes demonstrations of the maple sugaring process) and the fall Harvest Festival.

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

Exploring the 264 acres of trails can be a great way to spend quality time with your family.

Photo by Alina Albin for Experience GR

Trail Options

No family trip to Blandford is complete without an outdoor experience. There are eight miles of scenic trails through woods and meadows for hiking, birdwatching, greeting wildlife and farm ambassadors, and just enjoying the peaceful sights and sounds of nature in Michigan.

The trails are located throughout the center’s 264 acres, which includes a naturalized former golf course, The Highlands. A comprehensive trail field guide is available online.  

The Wildlife Trail is perfect for young families because it’s just outside the Visitor Center and just 100 yards long. It’s accessible by stroller, yet you’ll be able to view all the flora and fauna of the woods on one side and a few more of Blandford’s wildlife ambassadors on the other.

Additional Experiences

In addition to its nature programs and scenic trails, Blandford offers other types of experiences, too, including a farm that offers gardening programs, a CSA (community-supported agriculture program), and animals to visit. The Farm is located a short walk west of the Visitor Center. There’s also a children’s garden perfect for exploration, and a farm-themed play area.

Seasonal camps, school field trips, private rentals and spring and fall makers markets add to the fun. With peaceful, tree-covered trails, interactive programs for people of all ages, and opportunities for up-close encounters with animals, Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids truly has something for the entire family.