Blandford’s Sugarbush Festival is Just one of the Great Events They Offer Each Year

I can’t believe it took me this long to check out Blandford Nature Center.

This is a wonderful place for the nature enthusiast, which just happens to describe each member of my family!

My family stopped by there last weekend for their annual Sugarbush Festival, and we got all sorts of knowledge dropped on us about the making of maple syrup, Native American peoples, and primitive life.

If you’re looking for a fun, affordable early spring outing for the family, this is it. My kids aged 2, 5 and 7 all enjoyed themselves, and the grownups did, too!


Tips for Attending Blandford’s Annual Sugarbush Festival


There is food and music and horses and more in the open area between their buildings, but you’ll want to start your tour around the left side of the welcome center. (The welcome center is also where you can buy your tickets. $5 for members, $8 for non members.)

As you walk the path through the woods you’ll encounter volunteers giving various lessons about maple trees, syrup, Native peoples and wilderness animals along the way.

Many of the lessons are hands-on.

My kids loved trying to tap for syrup. I enjoyed the archaeology lesson.

Blandford Nature Center Archaeologist

Volunteers regularly pointed out the hard work that children did hundreds of years ago in these kind of woods. They had to work just like the adults.

Blandford Nature Center maple buckets

On our way home I asked my daughters if they’d like to live long ago like that. While the allures of being outside all day and interacting with animals were strong, they declined an ancient lifestyle. They preferred the carefree life of a kid who gets to be outside all day playing instead of working.

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You Can Go to School at Blandford

My favorite part of the Sugarbush Festival was the Blandford middle school students. These sixth graders clustered in different stations around the wigwam and taught visitors about early maple syrup making and Native American life.

Blandford Nature Center wigwam

They were so exuberant in their presentations! And so knowledgable!

Blandford Nature Center students

(Really, if you have a nature-loving child, you should consider a stint at Blandford School in their educational career.)

Maple Syrup, Treats and More!

Past the wigwam are more presentations, as well as the maple syrup making barn, where you can get a taste of the liquid gold. And in a little window at the back of the barn is the very important maple cotton candy. It’s $2/bag. Your kids will love it. You will love it.

Blandford Nature Center Maple Cotton Candy

Continue past the barn to the open area where you can try maple beer, Native American fry bread (with lots of topping choices), white pine tea, sap dogs (hot dogs cooked in sweet sap) and more. This year Furniture City Creamery was there, too.

At this point in our adventure we popped into the welcome center for a warm up. It was quite cold that day and we foolishly wore late fall gear, and not mid winter gear. Thus, my daughters hatless heads were cold.  Check the weather before you head out and dress for the temps and wind!

We loved the welcome center because you can

  • buy the ultimate maple syrup there
  • check out forest creatures behind glass and in cages (past the gift shop)
  • use the bathroom

Blandford Nature Center animal room

Blandford Nature Center Maple Syrup kids

As if we hadn’t had enough fun already, we found the “cherry on top” on our way out. Tucked in behind the food tent were three magnificent Belgian horses for children to sit atop.

Blandford Nature Center Belgian

Belgian Joe

This pleased my kids immensely, as all the other animals they had seen that day were protected by cages and thus untouchable.

We strolled back through the woods to return to our car, waving goodbye to the goats as we left.

Blandford Nature Center Goat

Parking for the Sugarbush Festival

When you approach Blandford (1715 Hillburn NW, Grand Rapids), parking may be packed out. We were a little hesitant when a parking attendant instructed us to park at the farm, as it seemed like a bit of a drive. But it was just the way the roads curved and turned. Our biggest mistake was made once we started walking. We were lured by the goats and after talking to them for a minute, we walked up into the farm and what was supposed to be an 1/8th mile walk felt more like .8 miles through the woods! That’s because we took the long path. It was a very nice path, but if you want a direct route to the festival because you have small children, look for the path over a small footbridge directly to the right of the farm. THAT path is 1/8th of a mile.

Blandford Nature Center kids walking

Blandford Invites you to Visit all Year Long

If you’re bummed because you missed out on the Sugarbush Festival this year, cheer up– Blandford offers classes and signature events throughout the year. Here’s a peak at a few classes this spring that I think you might like!  Check their website for complete program offerings.


Spring Break Camp | If spending 6th grade at Blandford isn’t an option for your kids, you can do the next best thing by sending them to Spring Break Camp, April 4-8, from 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM. Cost is $125 for members and $155 for non-members.

Meet the Blandford Animals | Here’s your chance to personally meet the animals of Blandford in this family program. April 23. $3 for members, $6 for non-members.


Mother’s Day Wildflower Walk | Explore the woods in springtime splendor with your guide, and enjoy tea and cookies for refreshment. Great idea for an outing with mom or grandma! Ages 7+, $9 for members, $12 non-members.

Spring Wild  Edibles | Discover the plants that humans have eaten from nature for centuries. Learn responsible ways for harvesting and enjoying. Ages 12+, $9 for members, $12 for non-members.

Blandford is located at 1715 Hillburn Ave NW, Grand Rapids | 616-735-6240 | WEBSITE | FACEBOOK

Have you been to Blandford? What do you love about it? Tell us in the comments!