Looking for some opportunities for fun, learning, and up-close experiences with animals? A whole world of learning fun waits for kids - and adults - at John Ball Zoo. Visitors can get guided tours of different zoo exhibits and animals, experience the Zoo after dark on a Twilight Tour and even step inside a red panda or brown bear habitat. The Zoo also hosts a variety of classes and camps.

While most activities are available during the Zoo’s regular season (March-November), others are offered while the Zoo is closed to the public. So you can have an animal adventure in spring, summer, winter and fall!

John Ball Zoo

Participate in an early access tour to see the Red Pandas at John Ball Zoo.

Photo by Courtesy of John Ball Zoo

Guided Tours

Start your day with a 45-minute-long guided tour of your favorite area of the zoo. You’ll have the whole place to yourself while a Zoo Educator guides you along and answers all of your zoo questions. There are three tours available:

  • North America and Aquarium
  • Natural Treasures and Spider Monkeys
  • Red Pandas and Meerkats

The cost is $100 per group of up to six people. These tours are only available when the Zoo is closed for the season (December through March.) Email the zoo education department (education@jbzoo.org) if you’re interested.

Under The Sea

You and up to nine other people ages 6 and above can join Zoo staff for a behind-the-scenes tour to see where animals spend their time while not on exhibit and learn how much goes into caring for the animals at the Zoo. The Under the Sea Tour shows you how the Zoo keeps aquarium habitats up and running.

Advance registration is required for this tour, which is conducted for a minimum of four people and costs $20 per person.

Close Encounters

Have you ever wanted to feed a hippo or red panda? How about meeting penguins up close? Join zookeepers for one of these unique experiences:

  • Pygmy Hippo Feeding: enjoy a brief tour of the Pygmy Hippo’s habitat and go behind the scenes to give one a treat. Cost is $750 for up to four people and participants must be at least 13 years old.
  • Red Panda Encounter: step inside the red panda’s indoor habitat and feed one out of your hand. Cost is $310 person with a two-person maximum. Participants must be at least 8 years old.
  • Penguin Feeding: one person can venture onto the penguin deck with a zookeeper to feed the penguins and learn what they do to care for the animals in aquarium habitats. Participants must be at least 13 years old and cost is $190 per person. Unavailable April-June, limited availability September-October.
  • Penguin Encounter. Meet up to two Magellanic Penguins and their zookeeper in a personal, behind-the-scenes encounter space. Cost is $375 per person and participants must be at least 6 years old. Unavailable April-June, limited availability September-October.
  • Brown Bear Encounter. Step into the bear habitat with a zookeeper to disperse the bears’ morning diet and enrichment. Cost is $60 per person for 2-6 people ages 6 and above. Unavailable December-March.
  • Sloth Encounter: Enter the two-toed slot’s habitat and learn what it takes to care for him. Bring your camera for a photo with him! Cost is $125 for up to two people and participants must be at least 13 years old. Not offered during peak season.

Advance registration is required for these programs.

Twilight Tours

Bring your family, flashlight and a sense of adventure for this guided tour of the zoo as the sun goes down. You’ll learn how to use your senses at night and how animals are adapted to life in the dark. The program includes an animal encounter and hands-on activities for children ages 5 years and above.

Twilight Tours are conducted in early spring – 2025 dates will be announced here when available.

Family at the John Ball ZooPlay Their Way 2023

Summer camp at the John Ball Zoo gives children the opportunity to go on behind-the-scenes tours.

Photo by Aly Zuiderveen for Experience GR

Zoo Summer Camp

Summer camp at John Ball Zoo is unique and always very popular. Classes often will sell out in early spring.

If you are lucky enough to score a spot in a Zoo Summer Camp, your child will be treated to a hands-on learning experience on a specific theme. Campers get behind-the-scenes tours, play games and do activities related to their camp theme. Summer Zoo camps are available for kids as young as three and up through ninth grade.

Spring Break Day Camps are also offered – 2025 dates will be announced on the Zoo Camp page.

Breakfast with the Animals

Start your day off with breakfast on the Zoo’s South American Boardwalk, followed by a guided tour of two animal exhibits of your choosing. One group will take a stroll through North America and Otters, while the other goes to hang out with the Chimpanzees and Meerkats. Breakfast dates for 2024 are June 19, July 10, July 17, July 31 and August 14. Visit the John Ball Zoo events page for ticket info.

2024 Grand Rapids Lantern Festival at John Ball Zoo

In addition to learning programs, the zoo offers many special events for both children and adults, including the popular Grand Rapids Lantern Festival.

Photo by Bryan Esler for Experience GR

Special Events

The Zoo’s 2024 schedule also includes a number of special celebrations that also serve as learning opportunities. It all starts with the Grand Rapids Lantern Festival (April 10-June 16), which features handcrafted Asian lantern displays that illuminate the Zoo and tell the intersecting story of wildlife and Asian culture. Get tickets here.

A month later, Dino Adventures (July 15-November 10) comes to the Zoo’s Forest Realm with 20+ life-size replica robotic dinosaurs. Embark on a dinosaur safari and learn about these creatures that once roamed the earth.

Other special events include:

  • Party for the Planet is an Earth Day celebration encouraging guests to help save native habitats for wildlife. April 20th.
  • Michigan Wildlife Day gives Michigan’s native turtles and songbirds the recognition they deserve. May 25.
  • World Ocean Day includes appearances from your favorite Disney sea characters. June 20.
  • World Chimp Day features animal programming, keeper chats, Disney characters and more. July 14.
  • Pink Flamingo Day introduces you to these iconic birds through keeper chats and activities. July 19.
  • WGVU Kids Day at the Zoo is a day featuring discounted admission, plus extra fun, adventure, and entertainment for all. August 1st.
  • World Lion Day is a “feline festival” that includes authentic African dancers and musicians. August 10.
  • Safety Celebration 2024 shows how fun safety can be! Join real superheroes to help celebrate our local ones. August 16th.
  • Monarch Day enlists guests to assist in releasing Monarch butterflies every hour to help improve their population in the natural environment. September 14.
  • STEAM Day 2024 offers fun activities to learn more about science, technology, engineering, art and math. September 21st.
  • Zoo Goes Boo is an annual tradition featuring bewitching decorations and twisted treat stations in addition to animal fun. October 11-13, 18-20 & 25-27.

Click here for a schedule of these and other events.

Plan Your Own Field Trip

John Ball Zoo is a great place for a customize-your-own field trip adventure. Whether you’re homeschooling or you want to provide your kids with a fun but educational break during the summer, the Zoo lets you tailor an experience for you and your kids.

Take a cue from Grand Rapids photographer Brian Craig and his two children: “Before we went, we spent a few minutes on the John Ball Zoo website deciding what we’d like our day to look like,” Brian says. “First, we looked at the Resources for Learning page, where activities were divided up by topic and age. We decided to do the Scavenger Hunt and an Ethogram animal study sheet.”

The Craigs also chose to sign up for a Brown Bear Encounter. “The three of us were a little nervous when we showed up at the bear exhibit and were handed a bucket of apples and sweet potatoes. We relaxed a little when our zookeeper for the morning, Tom, told us we would disperse food in the exhibit, leave, and THEN they would let the bears out to eat. Phew. My kids had a great time, running around all over the inside of the bear exhibit, tossing fruit and vegetables in all directions. Once they’d set out all the bear food, we moved to the viewing side of the exhibit (where WE would not become bear food) and watched with excitement as Yogi and Boo Boo were let out of their den.”

The day also included two stops of special interest to Brian’s kids: the red panda exhibit for his son and the budgie aviary for his daughter, where she fed the colorful birds right out of her hands.

A little pre-planning can give your family an experience they’ll never forget!

Rock, Roar & Pour

Adults (21+) who’d like to explore the Zoo without children present can take advantage of this popular concert series. Guests can stroll through the Zoo to see animal activities, while enjoying live music, themed entertainment, food trucks and specialty drinks. Dates for 2024 are June 27, July 25, August 8 & 29, and October 24. Visit the John Ball Zoo events page for ticket info.


The prices quoted above are for non-members. You can become a John Ball Zoo member to enjoy discounts to these programs as well as free general admission to the Zoo, reciprocal admission to other AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, and additional perks.