This 2.5-Mile Walk Takes Your Family to the Hidden Gems in Downtown Grand Rapids, for Free

GR Hidden Gem Walk free things to do

Free Fresh Air Fun in Downtown Grand Rapids

Heading downtown can be a little intimidating if you’re not familiar with the city.

That’s why we put together this easy-to-follow walking tour for you and your family that will take you places you might not otherwise discover.

And – as an added bonus – only stops that are fee-free are included.

So, load up your kids and set the GPS for downtown Grand Rapids. You’re going to love these truly free activities that will help you fill up a spring, summer, or fall afternoon, no problem.

Pro Tip: Bring along a backpack filled with a few snacks, a couple of water bottles, a blanket or towel, frisbee and/or soccer ball, and maybe a few favorite children’s books.

Now you’re really ready for some free fun!

Free Things to do in Downtown Grand Rapids With Kids

Route Map

free downtown grand rapids discovery walk

Click for an interactive map.

Start & End Here: Fish Ladder Park

Fish Ladder Park
560 Front Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504

This is an oldie, but a goodie!

The fish ladder is functional artwork that provides an opportunity to see fish jump up water steps.

Spring and late summer are your best chance to see fish jumping, but it’s beautiful year-round.

If the fish are biting, you’ll likely see anglers trying to land a catch both from shore and in the river.

Fish Ladder park Grand Rapids
Springtime anglers fishing at Fish Ladder Park
Favorite West Michigan Instagram Spots Fish Ladder on the Grand River 1
Watch the water cascade at Fish Ladder Park

With free parking and bathrooms, this is a great spot for your “home base” for the day!

Grand Rapids Fish Ladder park
Be sure to explore the many different levels of Fish Ladder Park

While you’re at Fish Ladder Park, be sure to look to the south end of the property for the really long “A to Z” Walphabet Mural. Kids love running up and down the wall to find the letters in their names.

walphabet mural fish ladder park
Walphabet Mural by David Battjes is at Fish Ladder Park in Grand Rapids

Walking Instructions: From Fish Ladder Park, head north on the riverside walkway to 6th St. Cross the 6th Street Bridge (photo op!) and head to the adjacent 6th Street Bridge Park.

Stop Two: Sixth Street Park

Sixth Street Bridge Park
647 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

To reach Sixth Street Park you’ll need to cross the historic Sixth Street bridge.

6th street bridge
You’ll Walk Across the Historic Sixth Street Bridge
Sixth Street Bridge Marker
Sixth Street Bridge is the Longest, Oldest Remaining Metal Bridge in Michigan

Perched along the river, this grassy park is a great place to stop for a quick snack, play frisbee, or read a book with your kids.

Sixth Street Bridge Park Grand Rapids

Walking Instructions: Head north on the Riveredge Trail. It’s about 2 blocks to Canal Park.

Stop Three: Canal Park

Canal Park
941 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Canal Park is an optional stop on this walking tour. We’ve included it because it’s not far from Sixth Street Bridge and it has a playground.

Canal Street Park Playground
The Playground at Canal Street Park, Grand Rapids, has a Great View of the Grand River
canal street park grand rapids
The small playground packs a big punch with climbing equipment & a slide.

Also, as you walk along the Riveredge Trail, you’ll find several pieces of outdoor exercise equipment that kids love to test out.

Outdoor Stairstepper at Canal Park Grand Rapids
The Outdoor Elliptical Machines are Part of a Collection of Exercise Equipment Lining the Riverwalk

Sidenote: This area is where City Built Brewing Company is located. They have expanded their outdoor seating into the park area. If you’re looking for a refreshment stop along the way, they might be the most convenient. Order online or call 616-805-5755

Walking Instructions: Head back the way you came on the Riveredge Trail (you’ll be going south). Continue past the Sixth Street Bridge along Monroe Avenue til you reach 555 Monroe NW.

Stop Four: Skate Park & Fun Finds

Downtown GR Skate Park & Site Activation
555 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids MI 49503

You never know quite what you’re going to find when you stop in at 555 Monroe Ave NW.

That’s because the city’s vision for the space is to bring activations to the area sandwiched between a highway, Monroe Ave and the Grand River.

In it’s time as a special event venue, 555 Monroe has played host to outdoor movies, an installation of glowing seesaws, dance performances, and more.

Currently, you’ll find a large swath of giant colored palm fronds to mingle with for selfies.

Ground Murals along the Monroe North Corridor
The old parking lot at 555 Monroe Ave NW has seen many transformations

One corner of the address does have a set use, though: It’s a skate park and it’s aptly named 555 Monroe.

Local dad @brianduey suggests bringing helmets and pads — and to keep in mind that the park is open to all ages, so younger kids will likely share the space with bigger kids and adults, too.

More Details:

🛴 The Skate Park is FREE and open to the public.

🛹 It’s open year-round (weather permitting).

🚲 Daily hours: 8 AM – 10 PM.

🎥 @brianduey

Walking Instructions: Return to the Riveredge trail and walk south. The trail will take you under the highway, past the post office, and to Michigan Street where you’ll need to get to the sidewalk.

Once at the corner of Michigan & Monroe, proceed to Calder Plaza by walking east on Michigan to Ottawa. Make a right on Ottawa and you’ll see Calder Plaza after you round the corner.

Stop Five: Calder Plaza

Calder Plaza
300 Monroe Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49503

Calder Plaza is as iconic as it gets for Grand Rapids.

The beautiful orange sculpture La Grande Vitesse was crafted for the city by famed artist Alexander Calder, giving the Plaza its name.

Your kids definitely need to get close to the Calder for all of the photo ops. The large concrete plaza is closed off to traffic, making that one less thing to worry about for parents.

Izzy Calder Kid
La Grand Vitesse Sculpture at Calder Plaza in Downtown Grand Rapids

While you can’t miss La Grande Vitesse, it’s easy to miss Motu Viget by Mark di Suvero (aka the di Suvero Swing), making it one of our GR hidden gems.

This giant tire swing is tucked behind the Gerald R. Ford Federal Building and overlooks the DeVos Hall Convention Center.

If you can find it, you’re in for loads of giggles with your kiddos.

Grand Rapids Tire Swing on Calder

Walking Instructions: From the Calder, head south on Ottawa Ave to Lyon St. Take Lyon west til you meet the river. Look north and you’ll see the Gillett Bridge for pedestrians. Cross the river using the Gillett Bridge. You will end up in Ah-Nab-Awen Park.

Bonus Walk – Rather than turning off on Lyon, continue one more block to Pearl. Stop at Rosa Parks Circle  to see if there’s something fun happening – as there often is. This is also where you’ll find Biggby Coffee and Kilwin’s Ice Cream if you’re looking for refreshments.

Stop Six: Ah-Nab-Awen Park

Ah-Nab-Awen Park
220 Front Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504
Ah-Nab-Awen Park
Grassy Lawn of Ah-Nab-Awen Park in Downtown Grand Rapids

Ah-Nab-Awen Park is good place for a game of tag (before loading everyone back in the car–you’re almost done).

There are also bathrooms located here if anyone needs a bathroom break.

The park is situated between the Grand River and the reflecting pool of the Gerald R. Ford Museum. The reflecting pool is pretty neat and worth a look.

Gerald R Ford Museum Reflecting Pool and Fountain
The Fountain and Reflecting Pool at the Gerald R Ford Presidential Museum During ArtPrize

This brings us to our final hidden gem of the day – Lorrie’s Button.

Lorrie’s Button is a giant, red button that kids can climb on. The Big Red Button is 14 feet across with 4 holes that kids can pop in and out of. To find it, you’ll need to head to the north end of the Gerald R Ford Presidential Museum. It’s tucked alongside Ah-Nab-Awen Park, a parking lot, and the presidential Museum.

downtown Grand Rapids for free

Walking Instructions: From here, it’s about a half-mile walk along the trail to get back to Fish Ladder Park where you started. Read the next section for help locating the river walk.

Cool Route Back: Take the Riverwalk

A scenic walking option instead of staying on busy city roads. This little trail will take you right along the river with some great views of the city all around you.

To find the Riveredge trail, head north along the pathway in Ah-Nab-Awen Park. You’ll see the Michigan Street Bridge. You need to get to the other side of the bridge, either by going under or crossing at street level.

michigan street bridge from ah nab awen park

After crossing Michigan St look for the pathway to continue near Bridgewater Place.

Note: the pathway here is seasonal and is closed in the winter or when conditions warrant. If that’s the case, you’ll need to use the sidewalk on Scribner Ave. to get back to Fish Ladder Park.

downtown GR riveredge trail
NOT YOUR PATH: The Ramp & Stairs down to the river will not take you back to Fish Ladder Park. Rather, stay on the upper level.
Riveredge Trail boy

Bonus Ideas to Customize Your Trip

  • Check and see when storytimes (after restrictions are lifted) are at the Grand Rapids Public Library for a cozy pitstop in a historical building.
  • Admission to the Grand Rapids Art Museum is free on Tuesdays. I took my two kids last year (at 4 years old and 1-year-old) and we had a surprisingly great time!
  • Check out this list of Instagram-worthy photo spots in West Michigan to add a few more stops during your trip (there are quite a few included already).
  • (Currently closed) Keep playing all night long–admission to the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum is deeply discounted on Thursday evenings from 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM. Just $1.75 per person for another couple hours of fun family time.
  • Resident of Kent County? Kids get free admission to the Grand Rapids Public Museum and grown-ups are just $5. As always, carousel rides are just $1 too. (Carousel is currently being refurbished and is not available.)
  • Reward yourself for being an awesome parent with a coffee on the way home (I would recommend a detour for Madcap–you won’t be disappointed).

If you embark on our fun, free afternoon, share a picture of your adventures with the the hashtag #grkidsfreeafternoon and maybe you’ll see your family featured on our social media.

Free Afternoon Feature boy river 2

More to Explore

Blandford Nature Center
1715 Hillburn Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504

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