John Ball Park Playgrounds: Explore all 4 Playgrounds, Including One that’s Hidden and One that’s Universally Accessible!

john ball zoo park playground

John Ball Zoo Park Playgrounds

John Ball Zoo
1300 Fulton W Grand Rapids, MI

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John Ball Park Playgrounds

John Ball Parks at a Glance

  • Parks are adjacent to John Ball Zoo
  • Free parking and free park admission (zoo requires fee)
  • Connects to Kent Trails
  • 4 Playgrounds, 1 is Universally Designed

John Ball Zoo is a gem. Inside the zoo, there are animals of all kinds, a zipline, ropes course, treetops play area, and on and on.

But did you know that John Ball Park (1300 Fulton W, Grand Rapids, MI) is more than the zoo?

My family loves doing this on our lunch break at the zoo. We can hit up the zoo in the morning, and then pop over to one of the many shaded picnic tables and playgrounds so the kids have lunch and let off some extra steam before we head back in for more zoo adventure.

Tucked away on the west side of Grand Rapids are four playgrounds sitting just outside of John Ball Zoo in John Ball Park.

Many people trek to the zoo to see the animals, but the playgrounds, especially the new Universally Designed playground, are worth a stop in themselves. These are wonderful places where families can picnic and play.

Here’s a little bit about each playground:

The Playgrounds at John Ball Park

First, it’s helpful to get a feeling for the parks are on the John Ball Park map.

We’ve outlined the four park locations below.

John Ball Zoo Park Playground Map
Map highlighting playground locations at John Ball Park in Grand Rapids, MI

Universally Designed Playground Near Valley Avenue

This playground debuted in 2019 and includes features of universal design. This nature-inspired play space uses natural materials and includes sensory features for the visually impaired.

If you visit, you’ll find multiple slides, swings, and climbing features to play on. Sections of the playground have a rubber surface, while other parts have woodchips underfoot.

john ball park universally designed playground (1)
Multiple Slides
universally designed playground john ball park
Climbing Structures
universally designed playground john ball park
Integrated Baby & Standard Swing

Valley View

This playground is closest to the John Ball Zoo entrance is surrounded by mature shade trees.

There’s a large play structure, ample parking right next to the playground, and loads of shaded picnic tables.

Restrooms in the administration building are within walking distance.

Valley View East and Valley View West are available for rental for $150 each.

Valleyview Playground at John Ball Zoo Park
Valleyview Playground is Nearest to the John Ball Zoo Entrance

Picnic Acre

Tucked just south of the park (to the left if you’re facing the zoo entrance), is a sweet little playground away from the hustle and bustle of zoo traffic.

There are many picnic tables here and the bonus of this playground is that there’s an indoor bathroom right there!

Tennis courts and a basketball court are also near this playground.

John Ball Zoo playground picnic acres wide Hunt
Playground at Picnic Acres at John Ball Park

Hilltop Park aka The Hidden Playground

Have you discovered the Hidden Playground yet?

Before the zoo constructed a new entrance in 2020, there used to be an old staircase through the woods (by the bandshell) that would take you up to the secret Hilltop Playground.

While the staircase is no longer there, the beautiful pavilion overlooking John Ball Park woods remains. 

If you visit, you’ll find a large grassy area surrounded by woods with a small play structure in the middle.

To access this playground area, you will need to drive up the access road off of Butterworth

John Ball Zoo playground hidden hilltop park
The Hilltop area contains a playground and picnic pavilion
John Ball Park Playground secret stairs
The old staircase through the woods at John Ball Park has been torn down

Tips for Your Trip from other Parents

  • Consider when your kids would best enjoy the playground–before heading into the zoo, when they have more energy? During a lunch break? Or after the zoo, before you head home?
  • Have little ones take a potty break before playing at Valley View–the restroom is not close by.
  • Hilltop Park is heavily wooded and may be buggy, depending on the time of year.
  • Hilltop Park is only accessible by car or a long walk.

John Ball Zoo has graciously let us share their map that marks picnic and play areas, as well as where you can find the restrooms (always so important with kids in tow!).

john ball park playgrounds

FAQ’s for John Ball Park Playgrounds

Are the John Ball Park Playgrounds good for toddlers?

Valley View is more toddler accessible, but can also be very crowded on busy zoo days. Picnic Acres seems quieter, but the play equipment is limited to a couple of slides and smaller swings.

How are the bathrooms at the John Ball Park Playgrounds?

Picnic Acres and Hilltop have indoor restrooms on site. Restrooms near Valley View are at the Admin Building. There are no restrooms close to the Universally Designed playground.

Are there picnic tables and grills?

John Ball Zoo playground picnic Hunt

John Ball Zoo has over 100 picnic tables!! Hilltop and Valley View also have single charcoal grills and there is potable water available at Picnic Acres.

Is there any shade?

John Ball Zoo playground hidden hilltop park

Hilltop provides the most shade, with Picnic Acres providing decent shade, and Valley View being in full sun. There are trees everywhere, though, so it’s easy to get out of the sun.

Can I fly a kite here?

John Ball Zoo playground Picnic Acres wide Hunt

The best spot for kite flying would be at Picnic Acres.

Is there an admission fee?

No admission fee for the zoo playgrounds but there is admission if you choose to visit the zoo (and we really hope you do-it’s so much fun!) 

When is this park open?

John Ball Park playgrounds are open from until 9 PM or dusk, whichever comes first.

What is Parking like?

John Ball Zoo playground Valley View boy parking

John Ball Park Playgrounds offers acres of parking. The main lot extends into the grass during the busy season, which is right next to the Valley View playground. Picnic Acres is just a short walk from the southwest corner of the parking lot, while the Hilltop Playground is a bit of a hike from the parking lot. (There is parking at the Hilltop Playground if you drive up Butterworth and access the Hilltop driveway, but the fun is in the hike to discover the playground!)

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5 thoughts on “John Ball Park Playgrounds: Explore all 4 Playgrounds, Including One that’s Hidden and One that’s Universally Accessible!”

  1. I brought my 4 year old and 18 month old up the stairs to Hilltop Park today. Thank you for sharing this gem! It’s beautiful and so peaceful today. It’s like a little peace of country in the city. The playground is in excellent shape and my oldest loved the idea of “exploring” a secret place. The stairs are many, and they are in worse shape as you get higher, but still my little one maneuvered them with little trouble. I would do a birthday party up here for sure if they weren’t in the winter.

    1. I love that you could share this gem with your kids! Great observations on this secret park. May you have many more trips to this special spot in GR. 🙂

  2. Thanks for this post. I had no idea that the Hilltop playground was there any more.
    In the 50’s and 60’s we had our church picnics at the top park. There was a shelter there also. And we had a very fun time there, although I remember it being very buggy.

    Then as the years passed we quit going up there because it had a reputation for being a hangout for homeless people and if my memory is Correct, there were some not so nice activities going on up there. Kind of ” out of sight, out of mind”. With everyone including the police.
    I’m sure the police and park security have much better control of things these days, and it is a very nice place.
    That’s my memory of this park..

    Arlene Helder
    Grand Rapids

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