John Ball Zoo 2023: Best Animals, Events & Attractions at the Grand Rapids Zoo

Discover the Wonders of John Ball Zoo in 2023

Nestled in the heart of the city, John Ball Zoo is one of Grand Rapids, MI most beloved attractions.

Over 2,000 animals call this 100-acre park home, including tigers, monkeys, lions, penguins and more.

And now, we’re giving you the chance to win an up close and personal ANIMAL ENCOUNTER with some of the animals at John Ball Zoo! (Click the link to jump to the entry form or keep reading, you’ll get there.)

john ball zoo new entrance path

Head to John Ball Zoo for the perfect combination of exotic animal exhibits, special events and experiences that have visitors coming back to this place again and again.

Use this guide to the zoo and you may just find yourself buying a membership by the end!

John Ball Zoo Map

1300 W. Fulton, Grand Rapids, MI 49504.

From the amusing tamarins and the new pygmy hippo exhibit to the high-flying zip line, this place is brimming with adventure!

John Ball Zoo Map
Map of John Ball Zoo Attractions

John Ball Zoo Tickets & Hours 2023

Open dates for 2023: March 24 – November 19, 2023

HOURS: The zoo’s hours vary with the time of year. During the summer they are open from 9 am – 6 pm seven days a week. However, there are exceptions so be sure to check their calendar before going.

TICKETS: Tickets can be purchased at the gate or in advance online.

John Ball Zoo Ticket Booth

Admission Rates for John Ball Zoo

May 7 – Sept 25Spring/Fall
Adults (ages 13 – 61)$19$14
Youth (ages 3 – 12)$15$12
Seniors (ages 62 +)$15$12
College Students (with valid student ID)$15$12
Military (with valid military ID.
Available to active & Veteran US Military
personnel and their spouses)
Kids under 2FreeFree

For more information on tickets and memberships, visit John Ball Zoo’s website. You can also call (616) 336-4300 or email [email protected].

WIN a Behind-the-Scenes Animal Encounter at John Ball Zoo

This giveaway has closed.

Are you ready to go deeper at the zoo? John Ball Zoo is giving away a close encounter to one lucky reader!


  • Prize includes choice of penguin feeding (1 person, 13 years and older), penguin encounter (Up to 4 people, aged 6 years and older) or bear encounter (2-4 people, aged 6 years and older).
  • Must be claimed by 9/25/2024.

Enter Here

FINE PRINT: This giveaway will close on September 25, 2023 at 11PM EST and the winners will be notified via email. The winner will have 24 hours to respond by email accepting the prize. No purchase necessary to enter the contest. This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook. You are providing your information to and not to Facebook. Entrants will release Facebook from all liability. Entrants must be at least 18 years of age and reside in Michigan. Only one entry per household or IP address. GRKIDS’ liability is limited to the value of the prize.

Animals at John Ball Zoo

Popular animals at the Grand Rapids zoo include:

  • Pygmy Hippos
  • Red Pandas
  • Chimpanzees
  • Spider Monkeys
  • Tigers
  • Snow Leopard
  • Meerkats
  • Lemurs
  • Bears
  • Otters
  • Penguins
  • Wallabies
  • Capybara
  • Anteater
  • Bongos
  • Warthogs
  • Hornbills
  • Sharks
  • Flamingos
  • Lions
  • Tamarins
  • Barnyard Petting Zoo
  • Frogs & Snakes
  • Budgies
  • Mountain Lion
  • Bald Eagle
  • Porcupine
  • Bobcat

New at John Ball Zoo for 2023

Every year John Ball Zoo brings in new exciting exhibits to teach and entertain. Here’s what we are looking forward to in 2023!

Pygmy Hippo Exhibit Opens

Grand Rapids Lantern Festival

Breakfast with the Animals

Grand Rapids Lantern Festival

Our Grand Rapids Zoo will host the inaugural Grand Rapids Lantern Festival in 2023.

Featuring featuring interactive displays, fun activities, and endless enchantment, this is a completely new concept for our area.

Handcrafted Asian lantern displays will illuminate the Zoo, telling the intersecting story of wildlife and Asian culture.

Handcrafted Lantern Festival display

Lantern Display at a Past Festival

The lantern festival runs April 19 – June 11, 2023
Wednesday to Sunday from 7 – 11 pm

Timed tickets will be available in half hour increments starting at 7 pm.

15 Things to Do on a John Ball Zoo Day Trip

It’s easy to spend hours at John Ball Zoo and still not experience it all. Here are a few visitor favorites to help you narrow it down:

1 – Brush a Goat

Give the sheep and goats a comb down in the Petting Corral at Red’s Hobby Farm. But be sure to remove dangling items and keep an eye on your skirt – goats love to nibble on them.

john ball zoo boardwalk
Brush the goats and sheep at the petting coral at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, MI

2 – Visit Penguins and Fish at the Aquarium

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

Watch the tide go in and out, in and out, in the tide pool.

3 – Attend a Daily Animal Program

Animal trainings, animal feedings, and animal enrichment are all on the calendar at John Ball Zoo! Checck the board when you arrive or the online event calendar to see what’s scheduled for that day.

4 – Take a Turn on the Ropes Course

Brave the four-story tall Sky Trail Ropes Course, open on weekends. With over 15 obstacles, you’ll spend your turn seeing just how high and how far you can go.

See the zoo from new heights on the Sky Trail Ropes Course – John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, MI

Guests must be 48 inches tall, wear closed-back shoes, and be wearing pants or shorts.
$10 per ride. (Ropes Course and Zip Line Combo is $16).

5 – Got Kids? Find This Rope Playground

Want a tamer ropes course to try? Explore the ropes and nets along the Wild Way Trail
John Ball Zoo mini ropes

Anyone can monkey around on this smaller rope course and net tunnels all along the Wild Way Trail.

6 – Ride the Zipline

Don’t Look Down! Soar over the zoo as you cruise down the 600-foot Zip Line. The Zip Line starts above the waterfall and ends on the Wild Way Trail.

Zip line at John Ball Zoo
Guests must be 48” and weigh 65-250 pounds. Closed-back shoes and pants or shorts required. $10 per ride. (Ropes Course/Zip Line Combo $16). Currently open weekends only.

7 – Strike it Rich at the John Ball Zoo Gem Company

Pan for treasure at the John Ball Zoo Gem Company.

Choose from 3 different Gem Bags and then pour them into your screen to reveal your treasures. Use the provided Gem ID card to figure out what treasures are now yours.

Treasure bags range from $8.99 – $29.99.

8 – Feed the Budgies in the Aviary

Head to the bottom of the waterfall to find the Budgie Aviary, normally open mid-late May.

Feed the parakeets at the Grand Rapids Zoo
Buy a feed stick ($3) and get some of the over 200 budgies to feed right out of your hand!

9 – Tune Into the Frog Hut

Don’t skip the Frog Hut!

Find all the frogs in the Frog Hut at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, MI

Inside this little place, you’ll find 50 or so frogs, toad, and salamanders. Press the buttons to listen to native Michigan frog songs so you’ll be able to identify them at home later on.

10 – Watch the Bears Eat Breakfast

Hightail it to the bear habitat when the zoo opens and you might just get to see the bears eating breakfast.

Keepers give bears their food in a clever, enriching way that is often entertaining to watch.

11 – Discover the Zoo’s Play Areas

Let loose as you run, climb, and explore at the Treetop Outpost play area and Children’s Nature Play Zones in the Idema Forest Realm.
JBZ Treetop Outpost
Treetop Outpost at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, MI

To reach these play areas, you’ll need to take the boardwalk or the funicular to the top of the hill in the back of the zoo. Good to know: Just outside of the zoo there are several playgrounds in John Ball Park.

12 – Ride the Funicular for the Easy Way Up to the Top

Admire the view as you ride the Idema Funicular. Fee
Board the funicular near the zoo entrance at the bottom of the hill.

Funicular at the Grand Rapids Zoo
Strollers and wheelchairs are allowed on the funicular. This is a great option if you’d like to walk downhill for the bulk of your visit.

13 – Ride a Camel

Make any day a hump day when you take a ride on a camel at the top of the Western Valley Pathway. Up to three riders per camel ride. Must be 34″ tall to ride without a guardian. 300 pound weight limit. Opens early May. $8

Camel rides at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, MI

14 – Pop Up Into the Meerkat Habitat

The meerkat exhibit has little tunnels for kids that invite you to pop into plastic viewing bubbles, just like the meerkats!

15 – Take an Iconic Photo with John Ball Himself

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. iconic John Ball statue at John Ball Zoo
Iconic John Ball statue – John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, MI

2023 Camps & Classes at John Ball Zoo

John Ball Zoo Summer Camps

For over 25 years, West Michigan kids have flocked to John Ball Zoo’s Summer Zoo Camp, and JBZ is excited for the 2023 season!

Camps fill up almost instantly when registration opens.

So how do you even land a spot in a JBZ Summer Camp? Be a member and book your spots the minute registration opens.

john ball zoo summer camp campers

Member summer camp registration starts March 31st at 8:00 am.

Non-member registration begins on April 12th at 8:00am.

What Zoo Summer Camp is Like

There are fascinating animals galore at John Ball Zoo, lots of hands-on adventures, and teachers who consistently bring the zoo to life with each class.

John Ball Zoo understands kids – and the staff intentionally crafts camps that inspire wonder and learning in kids.

Kids ages 4 years – 9th grade are placed in small classes by age and spend the summer exploring different animal themes through activities like games, zoo tours, park exploration, behind-the-scenes sneak peeks, keeper talks, hands-on animal demonstrations, songs, stories, and art projects.

2023 complete schedule and class descriptions. 

For full details on registration and camper information packets, visit the summer camp site.

Preschool Classes

John Ball Zoo doesn’t leave preschoolers out of the fun! 3 and 4 year olds can enroll in the Sprout Series classes in the spring or fall.

These 2.5-hour classes are designed for the child only and offer a fun, enriching learning environment where 3 &4 year-olds can explore the animal world.

Sprouts Registration

**All children must be completely self-sufficient in the bathroom. Diapers and pull-ups are not permitted. 

Kids Night Out

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

Once a month, John Ball Zoo gives parents a break.

Kids Night Out gives children ages 4 – 10 time to have at the zoo, make crafts and enjoy pizza and snacks.

Classes are announced seasonally and fill up quickly.

Experiences at John Ball Zoo

Go beyond a typical daytime visit to the Grand Rapids Zoo with these immersive experiences:

Close Encounters

Winter, spring, summer, and fall, John Ball Zoo’s close encounters can get you up close and personal with multiple different animals. Be aware that availability changes with seasonal animal behaviors, like bear hibernation or penguin molting.  

Close Encounter options are:

Animal ExperienceMin Age & Number of People
Penguin Feeding13 years, 1 person
Penguin Encounter6 years, Up to 4 people
Brown Bear Encounter6 years, 2-6 participants
Red Panda Encounter (on hold)8 years, Up to 2 participants
Chimpanzee Encounter (coming soon)6 years, 2-6 participants
Ambassador Animal Encounter (coming soon)8 years, 2-4 participants
Hippo Feeding (coming soon)13 years, 1-4 participants

Sneak a Peek Tours

Get a special look at the zoo on a sneak peek behind-the-scenes tour of the habitats.

Groups of up to 16 people join zoo staff to see where the animals spend their time while not on exhibit and learn how the animals at the zoo are cared for.

Choose Under the Sea to learn how John Ball Zoo keeps an aquarium up and running for the fish, penguins, sharks, and marine invertebrates that you see in the habitats.

You will also have an opportunity to touch a sea star and an urchin while behind the scenes. Available 7 days a week, year round.

Guided Tours

Start your day with a guided tour of your favorite area of the Zoo.

Have the whole place to yourself while also having a Zoo Educator guide to answer all of your Zoo questions.

Each tour lasts about 45 minutes.

Tour options are North American & Aquarium, Natural Treasures & Chimpanzees, or Red Pandas & Meerkats.

$100 per group of up to 6 people ($75 for zoo members). $10 for each additional person. Maximum of 20 people per group.

Tips for Navigating John Ball Zoo

  • A stroller is highly recommended if visiting with little kids. The zoo is built on a hill, so there is lots of uphill walking. The zoo offers pull-wagon and tiger stroller rentals.
  • Pack hand sanitizer. The zoo has several hand sanitizer stations throughout, as well as many bathrooms, but having your own stash of sanitizer is helpful.
  • Bring or buy lunch. You can bring a brown bag lunch and eat it inside the zoo at the picnic pavilion. There are also several concession stands serving everything from ice cream to sandwiches to slushies and beer.
Roaring Nights Event at John Ball Zoo

John Ball Zoo Memberships

If you live in West Michigan, a membership can often the best way to experience the Grand Rapids zoo.

In addition to free admission for a year, the membership comes loaded with bonus perks.

Memberships start at $85 and usually pay for themselves by the third visit.

Seven Reasons a John Ball Zoo Membership is a great idea for West Michigan residents

1 – You get free regular admission for one calendar year.

2 – You don’t feel bad about making short trips to the zoo, letting you see different animals at different times of day.

3 – You get first dibs on zoo events, zoo camps, and zoo classes. Some of these sell out, so membership is a serious perk.

4 – Special member nights and event invites will come your way.

5 – Discounts are a thing if you have a membership. Save on special events, birthday parties, concessions, and at the zoo gift store. And more.

6 – The zoo’s print magazine is delivered to your mailbox.

7 – Your membership gets you bonus priveleges at many other zoos and aquariums in North America. For example Potter Park Zoo in Lansing is free with your John Ball Zoo membership. Admission to Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek or the Detroit Zoo is 50% off with your card. (Consult John Ball Zoo’s reciprocal membership FAQ for the most up-to-date information.)

IllumiZoo at John Ball Zoo will not Return for 2023

This mile-long magical nighttime Light Show at John Ball Zoo will not return in 2023, but we will share here if we learn of any new fall programming at JBZ. Stay tuned for more details!

In the meantime, here’s a look back at Illumizoo from years past.

illumizoo at john ball zoo 2022

The “invisible” animals sped up and run away when guests get too close to their footprints. The night sky will also be illuminated with animal constellations and more

IllumiZoo screens at night at John Ball Zoo in 2020

John Ball Zoo Goes Boo 2022

We can’t wait for Zoo Goes Boo to return in 2023. We will share details as they come out.

Wondering what to expect? Here’s how it went in 2022:

John Ball Zoo’s time-treasured Halloween Zoo Goes Boo event will once again transform the zoo into the ultimate Halloween destination.

Find amazing decorations, costumes, and candy.

And, of course, the Zoo’s amazing animals will be there, too.

john ball zoo goes boo

Treat stations will once again be set up throughout the zoo.

John Ball Zoo Goes Boo

Strolling entertainment is back for 2022 — plus some villains may be stopping by to mix things up.

Guests are highly encouraged though to get in on the Halloween fun and wear costumes to this Grand Rapids Halloween event.

**Please, keep costumes appropriate for a children’s event. The zoo also asks that no masks cover faces.

John Ball Zoo Goes Boo Costumes

And of course, don’t forget to visit the animals while you’re making you’re way through John Ball Zoo Goes Boo – they might just be having treats of their own!

John Ball Zoo Goes Boo animals

Also, John Ball Zoo is always looking for ways to be a friend of the environment, so they request that guests bring their own reusable treat bags or purchase one from their gift shop.

Zoo Goes Boo Feature 1

John Ball Zoo Goes Boo 2022 Details

10 am – 5 pm each day

Adult tickets: $16 (Ages 13-61)
Senior tickets: $14 (Ages 62+)
Youth tickets: $14 (Ages 3-12)
Child tickets: FREE (Under age 3)

Non-members will need to purchase dated tickets for this event, but there is no longer a specified entry time.

Members are free and do not need to pre-purchase tickets.

john ball zoo goes boo

John Ball Zoo

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