20 Thrills for Kids at John Ball Zoo

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John Ball Zoo is a pretty special place for Grand Rapids families.

It’s got the perfect combination of exotic animal exhibits and pit stops for fun that has kids coming back to this place again and again.

JBZ Amur tiger

But how do you make the most of your visit? How do you avoid missing out on an iconic zoo activity?

Follow our guide to doing the zoo with kids, and you may just find yourself buying a membership by the end!

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What’s New at John Ball Zoo for 2021

Stand Near Towering Brick Sculptures Over 10 Feet Tall at BRICKLIVE Supersized!

This traveling exhibit is making its first US stop (straight from Great Britain!) to bring over 30 astonishing larger-than-life toy brick animal sculptures right here to West Michigan.

BRICKLIVE Supersized JOhn Ball Zoo

BRICKLIVE Supersized! was created using more than 2 million toy bricks.

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Supersizing nature’s small and mighty is the theme for this amazing exhibition.

From the small and stinky honey badger to the small and highly venomous blue-ringed octopus, all creatures have been chosen for their colorful appearance in nature, unusual natural abilities, and because they can be magnified to an eye-popping size.

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You’re going to have to see this in person to take it all in.

BRICKLIVE Supersized! will be on display at John Ball Zoo from when the Zoo opens for the 2021 season on Saturday, March 27, 2021 through September 26 and is included with general admission.

As guests make their way through John Ball Zoo, they will discover more about these often misunderstood creatures, including birds, reptiles, amphibians, arachnids, insects, mammals, and marine species that are truly small and mighty in nature.

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Each sculpture will have educational signage featuring facts about where they live in the world, what they eat, and their real-life size, along with how magnified the sculpture is, how many toy bricks were used, the amount of time and the number of builders it took to create.

Additional highlights include a brightly-colored common kingfisher who is small and territorial in real life is magnified over 30 times to a towering 11 feet tall toy brick sculpture.

The small and new Bornean neon blue-legged tarantula is a recently discovered species in nature that fits in the palm of a hand, but with BRICKLIVE Supersized! it is magnified 84 times to an astonishing 12 feet tall.

14 Things to Do on a John Ball Zoo Day Trip

1 – Give the sheep and goats a comb down in the Petting Corral at Red’s Hobby Farm.

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2 – Join the frenzy in the Living Waters Aquarium building during a penguin feeding.

3 –  Rub noses with the wallabies at the start of the Wild Way Trail.

4 –  Brave the four-story tall Sky Trail Ropes Course.

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5 – Not ready for the full ropes course? Anyone can monkey around on this smaller rope course and net tunnels all along the Wild Way Trail.

John Ball Zoo mini ropes

6 – Soar over the zoo as you cruise down the 600-foot Zip Line.

7 – Pan for treasure at the John Ball Zoo Gem Company.

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8 – Be a perch for a parakeet in the Budgie Aviary(Insider’s Tip: If the budgie area is full of people, come back in a little bit. More people = more treats, and the birds may not be hungry enough to land on your stick after a rush of people have been in.)

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9 –  Listen to the varying frog songs of native Michigan amphibians in the Frog Hut.

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10 – Meet an owl, armadillo, or maybe even a skunk when you learn what it takes to be a zookeeper at Tools of the Trade Animal Encounters. Located at the Forest Realm Amphitheater, this experience happens 3 times a day. 

11 – Let loose as you run, climb, and explore at the Treetop Outpost play area.

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12 – Admire the view as you ride the Idema Funicular.

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13 – Make any day a hump day when you take a ride on a camel at the top of the Western Valley Pathway.

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14 – See if you can jump as high as a snow leopard along High Street.

15- You have to do one thing as soon as you’ve entered the gates: get a pic with John Ball! A long-lasting symbol of the zoo, kids love saying hi to this friendly statue.

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Special Experiences at John Ball Zoo

There are even more ways to experience the zoo beyond your typical daytime visit.

School-age kids love zoo camp. Zoo Camp is so popular that they often sell out quick (membership perk: you can register for these before non-members).

Zoo CampsJohn Ball Zoo offers camps not only in the summer, but also during spring break and winter break as well, plus their popular Sprouts Series in the fall.

Close Encounters | Kids work with a zookeeper to provide hands-on caring for penguins, pelicans, chimpanzees, bears, or other ambassador animals.

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Kids Night Out | Parents enjoy a break while kids enjoy super fun zoo time and crafts at night!

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Keeper for Half a Day | Work side-by-side with a keeper as they go about their duties.

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Twilight Tours | Explore John Ball Zoo with your family after the sun goes down!

Sneak a Peak | Gather a group and get a behind-the-scenes look with either the Under the Sea Tour or African Savannah Tour.

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Pro Tips for Navigating John Ball Zoo

Families can easily spend hours at this zoo, between the animals and the activities and play structures interspersed. Here are some tips for being prepared:

  • A stroller is highly recommended. The zoo is built on a hill, so there is lots of uphill walking (and then downhill to get back to the entrance). LOTS of uphill walking. The zoo also offers pull-wagon or tiger stroller rentals at their Safari Supplies outpost near the John Ball Zoo statue .
  • Hand sanitizer. The zoo has several hand sanitizer stations throughout, as well as many bathrooms, but having your own stash of sanitizer is helpful. There are various animal encounters here that make you glad you brought it!
  • Pack a lunch. Did you know that you can eat lunch at the zoo? You can. There are picnic tables under a nice pavilion within the zoo, and some families enjoy the playground outside the zoo for picnicking/playing (have you checked out the hidden playground yet?). Don’t worry – there are also concessions if you find yourself starving and without a sandwich!
  • Use sun protection.  Despite the many shaded areas, there are also lots of sunny spots as well, so a layer of sunscreen or a hat can help avoid sunburns.
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John Ball Zoo Ticket Giveaway

Check back for ticket giveaways.

John Ball Zoo Tickets & Open Hours

The zoo is located at 1300 W. Fulton, Grand Rapids, MI 49504.

The zoo has varied hours, depending on the time of year. During the summer (June 1 – September 2), they are open from 9:00 AM – 6:00 PM seven days a week. However, there are exceptions so be sure to check their calendar before going.

Admission prices for the Zoo’s spring season is $10 for seniors and children (ages 3-12) and $12 per adult. Children aged 2 and under are free. Spring hours are Monday through Friday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

To reserve timed entry tickets and for more information, visit John Ball Zoo’s website at jbzoo.org/visitandtickets.

If you have any questions, call (616) 336-4300 or email [email protected]

Membership information can be found here. A household membership is $105 and many families choose add-a-guest for $30, so kids can bring a friend.

Did we miss any important tips? Share them with us in the comments!

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1300 W. Fulton St.
Grand Rapids, MI

FACEBOOK | WEBSITE | (616) 336-4300

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