20 Thrills for Kids at John Ball Zoo

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John Ball Zoo is Loaded With Hours of Fun

John Ball Zoo is a pretty special place to 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!

Parents Guide to John Ball Zoo header


Now before we get into the details in the zoo, 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.

John Ball Statue Iconic Instagram feature image

Behind the Scenes VIP Experience
20 Things to do at John Ball Zoo

More Zoo Fun…

Be a Zookeeper for a Day
Camps & Classes for Kids
Membership Perks

14 Things You Can Do Any Day at John Ball Zoo

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

John Ball Zoo Goat Girl 2

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.

JBZ boys mining for gems

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.)

JBZ Budgie Mania

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

John Ball Zoo YOung Boy Looks Through Frog Habitat

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.

JBZ Treetop Outpost

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

JBZ funicular 1

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

JBZ VIP riding camel 1

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

6 (and a half) More Things You Can Do at JBZ

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.

JBZ VIP experience 1 boy bearded dragon feature image

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

JBZ face painting

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

JBZ VIP feeding pelicans

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 JBZ

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.

JBZ red panda

About John Ball Zoo

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.

Rates also vary depending on the season, with prices ranging from $8.00 – $13.00 per person; kids one and under are always free. There are discounts for students, seniors, and military.

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!

John Ball Zoo 4

1300 W. Fulton St.
Grand Rapids, MI

FACEBOOK | WEBSITE | (616) 336-4300

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