John Ball Zoo Park Playgrounds
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.
John Ball Park is one of over 85 parks with playgrounds in west Michigan.
The Playgrounds at John Ball Park
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
- Open until 9:00 PM or dusk, whichever comes first
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.
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.
Plan ahead: there are no restrooms nearby this playground.
Valley View Playground
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.
Valley View is the most 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.
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.
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 up into 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.
Hilltop Park has its own restroom.
Parking at John Ball Park Playgrounds
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.
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 over 100 picnic tables!! Hilltop and Valley View also have single charcoal grills and there is potable water available at Picnic Acres.
- 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.
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!).
Map of Grand Rapids Parks and Trails
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