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Parks, Trails, Attractions, Historic Spots & More in Grand Rapids, Michigan

As Michigan's second largest city, Grand Rapids offers plenty of things to do. Whether you're a history buff, art/music lover, antique collector, shopper or sports fan, the city has something for everyone. Grand Rapids also has many parks, recreational trails, and attractions.

A Colorful Art Scene

Grand Rapids has been known as the "Furniture City" for years because of the numerous furniture manufacturers located in the community, but the city is also known for its arts community.

The Festival of the Arts features art, performances, food, and kids activities for three days in downtown Grand Rapids. The annual event in early June attracts thousands of visitors to Calder Plaza.

Since 2009, Grand Rapids has been home to Art Prize, an art competition that attracts entries from artists from the United States and beyond. The annual event happens each fall with venues around Grand Rapids displaying the artistic entries. The winner is determined by public vote, so you and your entire family can be part of the fun by casting a vote.

The Grand Rapids Art Museum is located at 101 Monroe Center in downtown Grand Rapids. Its permanent collection includes 19th century and 20th century art, as well as photos, drawings, prints, and artistic objects. The museum features special exhibits during the year and hosts art learning programs for kids, students, and families.

Butterflies, beautiful flowers, live music, and unique sculptures are some of what you can see at Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park during the year. Each spring, visitors can view breathtaking butterflies inside the Lena Meijer Tropical Conservatory. Frederik Meijer Gardens Amphitheater hosts an annual summer concert series that brings national acts to Grand Rapids. The park also features the largest tropical conservatory in the state of Michigan.

Live Music

For many years, Grand Rapids has been a town with a vibrant local music scene, supporting West Michigan-based bands and generally supporting all kinds of music. The city has several venues to see live music. Van Andel Arena regularly hosts concerts and events, while smaller clubs, such as the Intersection, The B.O.B., Flanagan's Irish Pub, and Billy's Lounge regularly host local and national acts.

Trails & Bike Routes

West Michigan's largest metropolitan area is home to many non-motorized trails and bike routes. Grand Rapids and its suburbs have miles of trails for bicycling, jogging, walking, and roller-blading.

The most popular trails in the area are Kent Trails, Fred Meijer M-6 Trail, Cascade Pedestrian Pathways, and Paul Henry Thornapple Trail, which are paved and easily accessible.

The area offers several smaller trails that are also worth visiting, including: Reeds Lake Trail in East Grand Rapids, Plaster Creek Trail in Grand Rapids, and the East Beltline Trail.

Just north of Grand Rapids, the White Pine Trail starts at Comstock Park and goes north to Rockford, Big Rapids, Reeds City, and Cadillac.

Grand Rapids Parks

Riverside Park is a large park in northern Grand Rapids that offers beautiful views and boat launch access on the Grand River. The park has a long, wide trail that's used for walking, jogging, and cycling. The trail winds through the park and connects to bike routes on Monroe Avenue, which can be used to access the Fred Meijer White Pine Trail on the north side of Park Street.

Riverside Park has an abundance of recreational facilities, including baseball diamonds, soccer fields, and a disc golf course. Several picnic areas and playgrounds can be found around the park.

John Ball Park is home to the John Ball Zoo, a family-friendly adventure that features a variety of wildlife, an aquarium, camel rides, a zipline, sky trail ropes course, swan paddle boats and much more.

John Ball Park has playgrounds and picnic areas, as well as a baseball diamond and tennis courts. The park is a short distance from Kent Trails, a paved recreational trail, and the southern parking lots for John Ball Park can be used as starting points for access to Kent Trails.

Sixth Street Bridge Park is located along the Grand River and is named for a nearby metal bridge that spans the river. The Sixth Street Bridge was built in 1886 and is the oldest, longest metal bridge in Michigan. The well-maintained park includes a small picnic shelter, paved path, and boat launch ramp. The park is located near a dam on the Grand River, and the area near the dam is very popular with local fishermen. During the summer months, a fish-cleaning station is accessible at the park.

Across the river and on the other end of the Grand River Dam is Fish Ladder Park. The park is named for the fish ladder that enables fish to bypass the dam and return to the Grand River. A walking path meanders through the park and continues three blocks south to Fulton Street.

Belknap Park features a unique landscaping art project/trail, called Project "X". The interesecting paved trail forms a giant "X" on the side of a hill overlooking Belknap Park. The view from the top of the "X" offers a panoramic view of northern Grand Rapids.

Belknap Park has baseball fields and tennis courts and an ice rink, called Griff's Icehouse, that serves as the practice facility for the Grand Rapids Griffins hockey team. Open skate and learn to skate programs are offered regularly at Griff's Icehouse.

Ah-Nab-Awen Park is located in front of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum and periodically hosts special events, such as concerts on the Fourth of July.

Rosa Parks Circle, which is at the corner of Pearl Street and Monroe, features a public ice skating rink during the winter months. During the summer, the band shell at the park hosts lunch-time concerts and other events.

Other Grand Rapids Parks
  • Briggs Park is off Lafayette Avenue and has a public swimming pool, basketball court, playground, restrooms, and picnic area. A football field and running track are located south of the park.

  • Coit Park features two basketball courts, a baseball diamond, playground and picnic area.

  • Highland Park has playground equipment, a soccer field, football field, and public swimming pool.

  • Ken-O-Sha Park is west of Kalamazoo Avenue, adjacent to Ken-O-Sha Diagnostic Center. The park serves as a starting point for the Plaster Creek Trail. The park has a baseball diamond, picnic areas, and playground equipment.

  • Lincoln Park is located off Garfield Avenue and has tennis courts, a basketball court, baseball diamond, and public swimming pool. A large playground is a short distance from the park's parking lot.

  • Mackay Jaycees Park is accessible from Kalamazoo Avenue and is home to the Southern Little League. The park has five baseball diamonds, soccer fields, picnic shelters, tennis courts, basketball courts and a large playground. A walking path winds around a pond on the west edge of the park. A wheelchair accessible course is accessible from a paved trail near the center of the park.

  • Martin Luther King Park on Fuller Avenue has tennis courts, a public swimming pool, picnic areas and a large playground.

  • Mary Waters Parks has a long narrow playground, basketball court, grassy play field, and a steep for sledding during the winter.

  • Richmond Park is north of Richmond Street, with a large parking lot off Tamarack Avenue. The park has a paved trail that winds around a pond, two baseball diamonds, a public swimming pool, a playground, picnic area, and restrooms.

  • Veteran's Memorial Park is on Fulton Street and features several monuments dedicated to those who served in the armed forces. Grand Rapids Public Library and the Grand Rapids Children's Museum are located near the park.

Suburban Parks

Grand Rapids has several suburbs with nice parks and recreational facilities. For more information see:

Area Museums

The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum hosts special exhibits throughout the year and features many displays that remember President Ford's days at the University of Michigan, his work as a U.S. Representative from Michigan's 5th congressional district, and his time serving as President.

Grand Rapids Public Museum is located along the riverfront in downtown, and its 1928 Spillman Carousel is a favorite attraction for visiting children. The museum features special exhibits periodically, and its regular collection of exhibits focus on Grand Rapids' past and role as the "Furniture City." The museum is also home to the Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium, which is named after the Grand Rapids-born astronaut who was killed during the Apollo 1 spacecraft fire.

Local Sports

Grand Rapids is home to minor league baseball and hockey teams with major league dreams. The West Michigan Whitecaps is the Class A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, and the Grand Rapids Griffins is the primary affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings.

A short distance outside of Grand Rapids, Grand Valley State University has fielded excellent men's and women's teams in several sports. The Lakers' football team is the winningest program in NCAA Division II history, winning the national championship in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006. In 2011, the women's cross country, indoor track and field, and outdoor track and field won national titles. Plus the men's baseball team won five regional championships and made five NCAA Division II World Series appearances.

Famous Residents

President Gerald R. Ford was raised in Grand Rapids and became a star athlete at Grand Rapids South High School. He continued his athletic career at the University of Michigan, playing on undefeated football teams that earned national championships in 1932 and 1933. He later became active in local politics and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1948 and served as the 5th congressional district's representative for 25 years. After the resignation of President Richard Nixon, he became the 38th President of the United States, serving from 1974 to 1977. In September 1981, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum opened in Grand Rapids.

President Ford was the longest living president (93 years and 165 days) at the time of his death on December 26, 2006. He was interred at the presidential museum in Grand Rapids in 2007.

Grand Rapids was also once home to Astronaut Roger B. Chaffee, who was born on February 15, 1935 in Grand Rapids and graduated from Central High School. Chaffee later earned the rank of Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy and was named as the pilot for the first manned Apollo mission. Virgil "Gus" Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Chaffee were preparing for the Apollo 1 flight at Cape Kennedy on January 27, 1967, when a fire broke out in the cabin, killing the three men.

Chaffee is honored in Grand Rapids with a boulevard that bears his name and at the Grand Rapids Public Museum's Roger B. Chaffee Planetarium.

More About Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids offers plenty of shopping, with locally-owned shops downtown and a variety of stores and malls on 28th Street and Alpine Avenue. Woodland Mall is a popular shopping spot on 28th Street. In the suburb of Grandville, Rivertown Crossings is a large, two-story mall.

The Grand Rapids area offers many choices for restaurants and lodging. You'll find a few choices in downtown and many more in the suburbs, especially near the 28th Street exits for US-131 and I-96.

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