Turtles, Trails & Free Hands-On Nature Activities at Calvin Nature Preserve

calvin nature preserve grand rapids

Short Hikes & Fun Activities at Calvin’s Preserve

If you’re looking for a fun and educational outdoor excursion with your kids in Grand Rapids, the Calvin Ecosystem Preserve and Native Gardens should be on your list.

This 100-acre preserve, created in 1985, is a hidden gem where families can enjoy nature, learn about local wildlife, and get in a little hike.

calvin nature center bunker interpretive center

Stop in for Family-Friendly Facilities

Start your visit at the Bunker Interpretive Center (BIC), which is open Monday to Friday from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM.

Calvin Nature Center

The center has cool exhibits that can help your kids learn about the plants and animals they might see on the trails. (They also offer a range of programs for toddlers to adults, so check in to see what’s coming up for your nature-obsessed kid…or for yourself!)

One of the highlights for kids at the preserve is the hands-on learning activities available at the Bunker Interpretive Center.

Your kids can:

Calvin Nature Center animals
  • Visit the center’s turtles
  • Examine Animal Skulls: Get up close and personal with various animal skulls to learn about different species and their adaptations.
  • Feel Animal Skins: Touch and learn about the fur and skins of local wildlife, helping kids understand more about the animals that call Michigan home.
  • Do the Scavenger Hunt: This fun scavenger hunt has kids looking for clues and learning about the preserve’s turtle inhabitants. It’s a great way to keep them engaged and excited as they explore. (Pick this up inside before your hike).

Hike Easy and Fun Trails

The preserve has 1.7 miles of trails that are just right for families.

Covered in wood chips and mostly flat, this is a great spot for younger hikers (my preschooler thrived). Jogging strollers are welcome if you don’t mind a bumpy ride.

There are plenty of water features (streams, swamps, and ponds) with places to stop and look for wildlife.

boardwalk hiking trails calvin nature center

We love a good bridge and this stop had plenty of them.

tutles in pond overlook calvin nature preserve

Along the way, you’ll find interesting spots like:

  • Venema Plaza: See plants that have been around since before European settlers came to Michigan.
  • Bee Hotel & Bird Feeder Garden
  • Pond Overlooks: Multiple peaceful ponds where you might spot turtles, ducks, frogs, and other wildlife.
  • Numbered stations on the hiking guide

There are several different configurations of trails that you can take, making it a great place to go for a little hike or a big hike depending on your kiddos.

If You Visit

Hours & Facilities

Admission to the Calvin Ecosystem Preserve and Native Gardens is free, thanks to grants and donations.

The restrooms in the BIC vestibule are open daily from dawn to dusk, making it convenient for little ones.

The trails are open every day from dawn to dusk, too.

The Bunker Interpretive Center is open Monday to Friday from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM. (Closed on holidays.)

Location: Calvin University, on the East side of the campus. 1750 East Beltline Ave SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49546-5649

Calvin Nature Center bathrooms

Preserve Etiquette & Tips

To keep the preserve beautiful and safe for everyone, including the plants and animals, remember to:

  • Walk at a relaxed pace.
  • Leave pets at home.
  • Don’t pick plants or disturb the wildlife.
  • Trails are mostly wooded with lots of wetlands so come prepared with bug spray throughout the summer months. 
Calvin Nature Center Map

Will You Visit?

Overall, Calvin Nature Preserve is a nice place to let your kids run off some energy, learn about nature, and appreciate the beauty of the outdoors.

Pack a picnic, bring some binoculars, and enjoy a day of exploration and discovery with your family.

PS- Calvin College Ecosystem Preserve and Native Gardens are one of over 50 walking trails in West Michigan!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *