8 Wonderful Reasons to Visit John Ball Zoo in 2023

John Ball Zoo Tiger

John Ball Zoo

1300 Fulton St W, Grand Rapids, MI 49504

Why make the drive to John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, MI?

At about an hour north of Kalamazoo, this AZA-accredited zoo is worth a day trip (or two!) this spring and summer.

With tigers, penguins, red pandas and a new Lantern Festival, John Ball continues to delight families each year with fun experiences.

There are quite a few reasons your family will enjoy a trip to one of Michigan’s better-known zoos.

Take a look at our top eight reasons to make the trip in 2023:


Why You Need to Visit John Ball Zoo

1 – The Penguins in the Aquarium are a Treat

Get close to the penguins in the aquarium – and enjoy the tidal wave pool, too!

If you time your visit just right, you may witness a penguin feeding with the zookeepers.

But regardless of when you see them, they are active, adorable, and you can view them both on top of the water and under.

Their full tank is in view.


As you venture through the rest of the exhibit, you’ll see the Pacific Northwest fish and aqua-life along with the awesome simulated tidal wave pool.

2 – You Can Visit Animals from around the World

The main reason we go to the zoo is to see the animals, right?

Some of our favorite animals at John Ball Zoo are the tigers, the meerkats, the red pandas, and the grizzly bears.

We also love that the zoo is divided into world regions. This really helped us connect the animals to what the kids have been learning in school.

Can you spot the (sleepy) red panda?

3 – The New Lantern Festival is Amazing

The Lantern Festival at John Ball Zoo is the only one in Michigan and worth the trip.

Visitors will find over 50 Asian-themed lanterns displayed throughout a one-mile stretch at the zoo.

Catch the lantern festival this summer through June 11, 2023.

4 – It’s Fun to Walk Under a Waterfall

Not only can you walk behind their large waterfall, but you can also climb the stairs to several other lookout points to the top.

This is so much fun and for sure an entire family highlight. 


5 – Fun Experiences Like Zip Lining & Gem Mining are Waiting for you

A couple of other really fun attractions you can do here include the zip line, rope course (and mini-course) wood walkway/boardwalk, camel rides, and bird feeding.

Find the many John Ball Zoo experiences here.

John Ball Zoo ropes course
John Ball Zoo Gem Mining

6 – The Zoo Food Options are Delicious

You can’t plan for a day walking around without kids without having a solid snack plan.

We brought in our own snacks, but it was great knowing that there was lunch available and plenty of food options.

We were especially excited to see Gluten-Free Pulled Pork Nachos, Garden Salads and even a vegan Herbivore Bowl on the list for our GF and vegetarian family members!

I was also happy to find a Dole Whip Sundae served in a pineapple on the premises. I haven’t seen these anywhere since Disney!

john ball zoo food

7 – It’s Literally a Walk in the Park – With Playscapes!

Meander through the forest and up wide wood-planked boardwalks to a lovely hillside view of Downtown Grand Rapids.


Rest at the lookout spot and take in the beauty of the elevation and cityscape. 


Then head to one of the nearby, naturally themed play areas.

John Ball Zoo hilltop playground

8 – You Can Level Up Your Visit with a Scavenger Hunt

Of course, any zoo offers the chance to learn about animals, but we were extra impressed by the educational resources provided by the zoo to add to the visit.

Their Resources for Learning page had so many options for enriching the learning experience.

We chose the Who Am I Scavenger Hunt, and the kids had fun searching out the different animals and learning more about each one. Next time we’ll do one of the Classification Tours for a whole new learning experience. 



Our family loved visiting zoos and we know that if you’ve seen one, you have NOT seen them all.

There are some pretty unique things about visiting John Ball Zoo, from views of downtown to the zip line.

Have fun fellow zoo lovers, we bet you’ll enjoy it thoroughly!

John Ball Zoo Map

Looking for more fun at John Ball Zoo? Use this map from the zoo’s website to plan your animal adventures:

1 thought on “8 Wonderful Reasons to Visit John Ball Zoo in 2023”

  1. I would love to come back since I was there a long time ago when my oldest daughter was little. I would like to take my youngest now.

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