Zoos are always an exciting adventure for families and even solo travelers. There’s nothing better than being at one with nature. Here are Travel City, we’ve been to countless zoos before but we’ve found that the best ones are those that are still in touch with nature. Zoos are supposed to feel like natural habitats for animals. Our search for great zoos has led us to Grand Rapids, Michigan. Of course, we are referring to the acclaimed John Ball Zoo; a top attraction that’s situated in ravines and bluffs inside the John Ball Zoological Garden.

The 40 acres of land was donated to the city of Grand Rapids by pioneer and explorer John Ball after his death in 1884. The park was once again expanded by a massive 100 acres a short while later. The addition of the new land mass helped add new amenities to the park including ponds, a theater, a place for bands, trails, and of course, a spot for the John Ball Zoo itself.

While the zoo itself was successful during its early years, everything almost went to dust during the Great Depression. Aside from having most of the collection given to other zoos, the deer and buffalo had to be butchered to give food to the poor. All that was left of John Ball Zoo was a few aging animals.

In 1949, Katherine Whinery approached the city council in hopes of reviving the zoo through the creation of a group dedicated to restoring it. The bid was successful and as such, a man named Fred Meyer was named as the first director of the zoo. The zoo’s revival came when the Monkey Island Exhibit construction began. It opened on June 1, 1950 and thus began the rebirth of the John Ball Zoo.

In the following years, the John Ball Zoo continued to expand and it remained as one of the top tourist attractions not only in Grand Rapids, but in the entire state of Michigan. There’s a lot more to come to the zoo, obviously and we are all excited for what’s to come next. We’re sure that you are already geared up to go on this adventure but before anything else, here are some essential things for you to keep in mind.

How to Get to John Ball Zoo

The path to the John Ball Zoo isn’t complicated as the place itself is strategically located so that it is as accessible as possible. It can be reached via public transit through buses but if you are going to drive to the area, we recommend using GPS apps like Google Maps and Waze. That way, you can find the most efficient route to the zoo.

Alternatively, you can take the route given by the zoo’s management itself. When exiting off of I-196 at M-45 east; or Lake Michigan Drive, you can find the road to the zoo’s entrance right on Fulton St. Keep an eye open as there are construction barrels nearby. Anyway, this is one of the recommended routes to the zoo as it has the least congestion.

Operating Hours at John Ball Zoo

The operating hours at John Ball Zoo varies but the good thing is that the park operates 7 days a week. The typical operating hours are from 9AM-6PM but there are days when the park closes earlier than usual. Luckily, the zoo’s official website shows their schedule for the entire year so you can easily plan your trip ahead of the schedule.

When it comes to which times are best to visit, we recommend going to the zoo during its opening hours. Aside from finding parking easily, you can also get the most out of your trip and see all of its attractions within the day. Visiting any later could mean missing out on a few key attractions and animals.

Ticket Prices at John Ball Zoo

Prices vary on the John Ball Zoo depending on your age and what time of the year you are visiting. From March 9-April 16 and Sept. 30-Nov. 3, the rates are as follows: adults (13-61) $10, seniors (62 and up) $8, children (2-12) $8, college students and military personnel with valid ID $8.

If you are visiting from April 27-Sept. 29, the rates are as follows:  the rates are as follows: adults (13-61) $13, seniors (62 and up) $10, children (2-12) $10, college students and military personnel with valid ID $10. Keep in mind that these dates are the peak season for John Ball Zoo so expect more people than usual. Moreover, children under the age of 1 are free from admission regardless of the season.

Best Time to Visit John Ball Zoo

The John Ball Zoo gets a slew of visitors monthly. However, there are some months that are more crowded than the others. You may want to avoid visiting during the summer season as not only is the temperature hotter, you’ll also have to contend with families visiting with their kids who are on summer break. You should also note that some of the animals are not too keen on going out if the weather is too hot.

The best time to visit would be during the months of September and November. The weather is perfect for you and the animals, the rates are low, and most importantly, there aren’t a lot of people as well. It is the perfect time to visit so be sure to plan your trip ahead.

Things at John Ball Zoo that will Make your Visit Memorable

A lot of us often pass on the idea of visiting a zoon when traveling to a different place. It’s understandable, though, as zoos are one of the common attractions. Plus, zoos commonly don’t have anything unique in them besides having animals in a cage and they usually don’t have many activities to offer. However, John Ball Zoo is one of the few zoos that is a cut above the rest. This is because it offers more fun and activities for everyone. Check out our list of things to do and reasons how John Ball Zoo can redefine your zoo experience.

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1Close Encounter

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Kids enjoying the camel ride experience at the John Ball Zoo (Source)

Many zoos around the world usually only allow its visitors to see animals encaged. While it is often for safety purposes for both the visitors and animals this doesn’t make zoo experiences unique and fun. John Ball Zoo is different, though, as it allows you to get closer with the animals. You can give the goats and sheep a comb down, feed penguins, ride a camel, and even rub noses with wallabies which you don’t usually get to experience in other zoos.

2Keeper for a Day

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A young visitor working closely with John Ball Zoo’s keeper (Source)

Speaking of getting closer with animals, John Ball Zoo also allows its visitors to experience what it’s like to be a zoo keeper. You can get to feed them and learn more about the animals as you work side-by-side with the zoo’s official keeper as they go about their duties. You’ll not just get to see them up-close but you will definitely get a first-hand experience in caring for them.

3See Behind the Scenes

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Behind the scenes at John Ball Zoo (Source)

At John Ball Zoo, you can also get to see what happens behind the scenes. This means you can get to take a peek at what happens when they’re not on exhibit.  This activity also lets you learn more about them too. Get to know more information about their habitat and how they are cared for while they are at the zoo. However, note that you are required to wear closed shoes. You’re also not allowed to take photos. Still, it’s a fun experience that’s not to be missed, especially for kids.

4Twilight Tour

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John Ball Zoo’s entrance (Source)

John Ball Zoo also offers a different tour for a more unique experience and that is the Twilight Tour. Normally, we often visit zoos late in the morning or in the afternoon. But for this unique guided tour, you can get to explore the zoo from 7 or 7:30 PM to 9 PM and see the whole place in a different light. Here, you can get to learn how to use your senses at night in a different environment and get to see how the animals adapt to life in the dark too. Get closer with the animals and enjoy hands-on activities too. The schedule varies, though. So keep an eye out on the Twilight Tour calendar here.

5Overnight Tour

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A frog that you can also see during night tours at the John Ball Zoo (Source)

Speaking of a more unique experience, you can also go on an overnight adventure at the John Ball Zoo. Yes, you read it right. You can actually spend the night here and see nocturnal animals that are usually sleeping during daylight hours. There are several activities waiting for you as well. Whether you are with your friends or family, this activity will bring you joy and make your vacation all the more memorable. This adventure usually begins at 5:30 in the afternoon and ends at 9 in the following morning.

You are welcome to celebrate your birthday here and provide you cupcakes and fruit drinks. Check out more of their party offers here.

6More Animal Adventures

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Story time at the zoo (Source)

What makes John Ball Zoo even more fun compared to other zoos is that it also offers more animal adventures. Visitors, particularly the younger ones, can get to enjoy watching live animal presentations and listen to interactive animal stories. There are games and challenges waiting as well.  While this activity is perfect for kids aged 3 to 6, all ages are still welcome.

7Ropes Course

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A look at John Ball Zoo’s 4-story-high ropes course (Source)

Another thing to love about the John Ball Zoo is that it is also for adventurous visitors. Aside from feeding and getting closer to animals, you can also get to enjoy the zoo’s rope course. It’s not for the faint of heart, though. Here, you can get to enjoy a four-story course with two climbing levels. While it can be daunting at first, one you get the hang of it, you will totally have fun. If you’re planning to try this out, make sure that you wear closed shoes or bring an extra pair of closed shoes with you as it is what the attraction requires so you can fully be climbing and conquering the challenges waiting for you.

And if you’re not yet ready to face your fear of heights, don’t worry. You can monkey around the small rope course that the zoo has instead or warm yourself up here before you try get to the real deal.

8Zip Line

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John Ball Zoo’s zip line for the adventurous visitors (Source)

And if you’re feeling more adventurous and braver, you can soar over the John Ball Zoo with its zip line. It’s 600 feet in height, though, so prepare your heart for this if you are scared of heights. But once you conquered your fear of heights, you’ll enjoy the beautiful views from above. However, this activity is weather permitting and is not for everyone. Children must be 65 lbs. to participate. Also, hey must fit securely in the harness. Don’t forget to wear or bring extra pair of closed shoes too. You don’t want to lose it as you cruise down the zip line right?

9Treasure Hunt

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A young visitor panning for some gems (Source)

Another thing to love about the John Ball Zoo is that it also has an activity offered for those who want to pan for treasures. The zoo has a newly built Sluice where you can pan for some treasure. You can choose from three different Gem Bags that they have and pour them into your screen to see what treasures you got. It’s worth stopping by and kids will definitely enjoy them more so don’t forget to see what treasures you can find in John Ball Zoo Gem Company.

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John Ball Zoo’s funicular ride (Source)

Another unique thing that you can find at the John Ball Zoo is its Funicular. Basically, it’s just another way to get inside and outside of the zoo but it offers a different yet fun experience that you don’t usually get to experience elsewhere. If you take the funicular up, it will lead you to the lower depot when you enter the zoo. Once you disembark, you will find yourself at the zoo’s highest point. From there, you can get to explore the zoo as you walk downhill which is, by the way, more perfect for moms and dads with strollers.

On the other hand, if you take the funicular down, it will pick you up at the end of the Forest Realm Trail after you explore the zoo. This costs $3 per way, though. Still, it’s definitely a fun and unique experience.

If you’ve traveled to many places, you might just find zoos a bit boring. But John Ball Zoo is not just your ordinary zoo. It has so much to offer that no other zoos can give. And so, if you’re traveling to Michigan, don’t forget to add this to your itinerary as it will definitely give you the one of the best and unique travel experience. Kids will love it too.

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