John Ball Zoo entrance in Grand Rapids

For my kids, there aren't many things that top a visit to John Ball Zoo. Their favorite thing about the zoo changes daily; some days it is a visit to the stingrays, on others, it is watching the penguins or monkeys. It's easy to understand why it's hard to pin down a favorite; there's a great variety of animals, attractions, and activities to enjoy at John Ball Zoo.

child holding map of John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids

Our most recent visit gave us two new reasons to be excited, though... the new Grizzly Bear exhibit and Treetops Outpost play area!

Children watching Grizzly Bear at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids

The old Grizzly Bear exhibit had a moat in the front that prevented getting close to the bears. Now the only thing separating visitors from the bears is a pane of glass. You can literally get nose-to-nose with the grizzlies if you want to!

Grizzly Bear at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, MI

Now the bears have a new pond to swim in plus lots of dirt (mud) to dig up. One bear dug a monstrous hole while we watched and then jumped right in!

Grizzly bear in mud at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, MI

Grizzly bear exhibit at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, MI

The signs in the new grizzly bear exhibit are there to help you answer questions for your kids...and to give a life-like backdrop to your photos.

child at the grizzly bear sign at the John Ball Zoo

We went straight to the the bear exhibit when the zoo opened at 9am because the bears are most active early in the day and we wanted to catch them in action.


We also knew, from the sign near the bald eagles, that there would be special feedings throughout the day and wanted to try to catch one of those.

John Ball Zoo special events board

After watching the bears for a long time, we trekked to the back of the zoo and up the hill to the new Jandernoa Treetops Outpost play area.

Jandernoa Treetops Outpost at the John Ball Zoo

We stopped to slap on a bit of bug spray and then the kids got busy playing.

girl on bridge at the tree outpost play area at the John Ball Zoo

The big net out front was the perfect place to practice bouncing.

Children playing on the net at the tree outpost play area at the John Ball Zoo

It was really hard to pull ourselves away from the Treetops Outpost, but the kids decided a camel ride would be a perfect special treat for the day.

Children riding a camel at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, MI

Camel rides are one of the extra experiences available for purchase at the zoo. Other experiences you can add on include stingray touches, a ropes course, zip-line, feeding the budgies, and riding on the new Funicular.

Feeding parakeets at the John Ball Zoo

Let me tell you, mom to mom, a few things you'll want to know before your first visit to John Ball Zoo:

  1. The zoo is built on a hillside. There are lots of stairs. We take a stroller, but sometimes find it easier to use a backpack carrier or walk on the unpaved sections.
  2. Many animals nap in the afternoon. Go early when the zoo opens or stay late to see animals on the go.
  3. Take note of any special feedings or activities when you arrive and plan accordingly.
  4. The funicular is a fun way to get to the Treetops Outpost play area and strollers are allowed to ride along.
  5. Concessions are available throughout the zoo, or you may bring a snack of your own along.
  6. The zoo has many shade trees, but you will still want sunscreen and perhaps bug spray.
  7. The zoo gift shop is full of wonderful things. Save a few dollars for a fun trinket as you leave.
  8. Consider buying a membership to the zoo. Chances are you will be able to use the reciprocal membership benefits at the zoo or aquarium in your hometown or on future travels. For a family of 5 with 2 adults and 3 children, regular admission for one day would be $36.50. A household membership is $70 for the year. If you came back to the zoo for just one more day that year you'd break even. You'd also get the member discount on concessions, experiences and gift shop purchases, too.
  9. John Ball Zoo is located in John Ball Park. John Ball Park has a great playground and lots of picnic tables, as well as open green space. On Monday evenings in the summer (June 3 - August 12), John Ball Park hosts Jazz at the Zoo from 6:30-8:30pm.

Chimpanzee on a bridge at the John Ball Zoo

Guest Blogger Melody VanderWeide is a self-professed idea lover. Now a parent to three young children, she delights in late-night Netflix viewing, driving carpool and coordinating the happenings at Grand Rapids premier parent resource,