For years I thought that Rockford was just another nice small town north of Grand Rapids. I didn’t grow up in West Michigan, so even though I kept hearing about this “cool dam” and great ice cream and fun parks, I didn’t understand what they were talking about.
I mean, Grand Rapids has those things, too. Ok, except for the dam.
Now, though, I’m a Rockford tourist pro. We are regularly up there to check out the dam, walk the trails, and shop stores like Rockford Shoe Depot. And for a smaller town, they’ve got a lot of food options.
My friends have moved to Rockford and they love it. It’s the small town everyone dreams of – an “everyone knows everyone” kind of feel, mixed with all the amenities us modern people are used to, including a highly rated public school system.
My kids’ favorite place in the worldmight be Cedar Springs, where they’ve experienced the wonder of Deer Tracks Junction. In their minds, nothing else can compare to a train ride to see exotic (to them) animals and a playground made straight from the owner’s big imagination.
Me, I’m hoping to make it to the iconic Red Flannel Festival this fall. (That’s right – the Midwest can turn anything into a reason to celebrate. Even those old fashioned one-piece pajamas with the butt flap.)
Pickerel Lake is another favorite place if you prefer the Belmont/Cannonsburg area. Stop by at Trailside Treats in Belmont afterward for their Grasshopper Sundae. Or, really, anything from their menu is delicious.
Winter lovers don’t fret – if a set of skis is more thrilling to you than ice cream, you’ve got Cannonsburg.
If you’re looking for some wide open spaces, affordable homes and easy access to the city (but also living a bit closer to “up north”), you might fall in love with Rockford, Cedar Springs and Belmont.
What it’s Like to Live in Northeast Grand Rapids
Life in Rockford
Why people love to live here: With all its amenities, Rockford feels like it should be a bigger city, but the small population reveals the truth: residents love their close-knit community and friendly neighbors vibe. There is an array of housing options, a top-rated school district, and an emphasis on outdoor life. Parks and trails like Myers Lake Park (swimming!), Memorial Park, Glen Park and the White Pine Trail keep residents outdoors year round.
You should know: The Rockford Dam overlook is an iconic part of Rockford, and hooks up to the White Pine Trail. Foodies will not starve in Rockford. Bostwick Lake Inn is a favorite West Michigan dinner destination in summer, as well as many ice cream shops and more.
Why people love to live here: Residents can enjoy rural life coupled with access to bigger towns like Muskegon and Grand Rapids by their proximity to US 131. True to the nature of small towns everywhere, residents brag friendly neighbors and a community that helps each other out.
You should know: You’ve got the edge on getting “up north” on weekends. While 131 is backed up for miles south through Grand Rapids, you’re right at the top of the metro area and can hit the road without wait.
Listen to the rushing water, walk along the boardwalk, see the ducks and watch the fishermen – and if you’re lucky you may even get a chance to see some trout trying to jump up the dam! Plus, there are playgrounds, ice cream shops, restaurants and shops all within walking distance!
Get outside, explore Rockford, learn new things and challenge your minds with some puzzling riddles! A great activity for the whole family, from preschoolers to grandparents. Check out their website for more information. (Rockford riddler has suspended activities for 2020, but hope to return in full force in 2021!)
Buy a wristband and play all day on up to 12 different pinball machines. Wanna play, too, mom? Come on Mondays, aka Momday, where mom plays for free with the purchase of a child’s admission.
6) Experience Kid Friendly Hikes at Pickerel Lake Park
6001 Ramsdell Rd NE, Cannonsburg, MI 49317
Adults can go on just about any hike, but when you add a kid or two to the mix, everything changes. Is it stroller friendly? How far is it? Are the trails well marked?
Pickerel Lak Park, also known as the Fred Meijer Nature Preserve, is a destination for families because of its shorter length, and beautiful paved boardwalk over the lake.
With over 80 acres to explore, explorers with stronger endurance can hike, fish or birdwatch to their heart’s content.
7) Grab Your Plaid and Head to the Red Flannel Festival
The Red Flannel Festival put Cedar Springs on the map back in the 1930’s, and this annual fall event is still as popular as ever. Whether you want to revisit your old 90’s grunge phase, or can extol the greatness of a good flannel shirt, you will love the Red Flannel Festival.
Not only does Cannonsburg Ski Area offer downhill skiing and tubing, but it also has miles of trails for fat biking, cross country skiing, snowshoeing and mountain biking. And if you’re up for an adventure, be sure to check out Cannonsburg’s Zip Line Tours!
9) Swing, Slide and Run at all the Playgrounds
If your kid is a fan of playgrounds, then northeast Grand Rapids is the place for you!
With so many playgrounds in Rockford and the surrounding area, your kiddos will never get bored!
If you are near Rockford in the beginning of June, be sure to stop by for the Start of Summer Celebration. This fun annual festival welcomes the start of summer with a parade, carnival rides, food, crafts, music, live entertainment and family fun. You won’t want to miss it – mark your calendars now!
14) Get in Shape and Watch the Kids Have Fun at Rockford MVP
515 E Division, Rockford, MI 49341
Learn, Laugh, Cheer and Play in MVP Athletic Club Kid’s Stuff! Kids will love this awesome fun zone while you work out, or enjoy an evening away and bring your kids to Kids Night Out. Kid’s Stuff is THE PLACE for active FUN!
Your little one will have lots of fun with all that the library has to offer including the LEGO table, puzzles, toys – and of course… lots of books! But KDL libraries also offer story times, classes and special events for ALL ages, so be sure to check their website for upcoming classes and events.
Your kids will love Myers Lake! They can swim and play in the sand (while you relax on the grassy part of the “beach”). Then you can head to the playground for even more fun and a picnic lunch. Other pluses: restroom facilities, changing areas, picnic tables and lots of shade trees.