More than 2,000 animals populate John Ball Zoo, crawling, swimming, and flying from five different continents and more than 250 different species. The zoo has some other impressive stats: in 2013 alone, for instance, more than 500,000 visitors flocked to John Ball Zoo to marvel at its collection of creatures. Animal-lovers can spot critters big and small, from lions and bears to lizards and lemurs. In the North America section, they come nose-to-nose with grizzlies, and on the Far Side of the World Trail, they get close enough to smell the wallabies' cologne.
At some exhibits, the view is even closer. Visitors can pet stingrays and sharks, ride atop the humps of a camel, and stop by the petting zoo at Red's Hobby Farm. For an adrenaline fix, zoo adventures include the zip line, offering bird's-eye views of the farm from a four-story, 300-foot line.
Rick the Reptile Guy, the resident reptile connoisseur of Boulder Ridge Wild Animal Park, guides visitors through interactive reptile shows followed by tractor rides through the rest of the park’s sweeping expanse. During each private 45-minute reptile show, guests can pet and cavort with slithering wonders such as giant pythons, boa constrictors, and bodybuilding earthworms. Giant turtles and life forms of the crocodilian variety also preen for audiences. Outside the boundaries of the cold-blooded extravaganza, visitors can relax on a tractor ride through 80 acres of exotic creatures such as zebras, monkeys, and parrots that have retired from their careers as extremely blunt telemarketers. Groupon customers can bring additional guests to their private reptile show for an additional fee of $8 per person (the cost of park admission).
The Coopersville & Marne Railway Company whisks riders back in time aboard passenger cars from the early 1900s, a diesel locomotive built in 1952, and tracks laid in 1858. Trained volunteers dressed in period uniforms welcome passengers, who then set out on a route through scenic fields and family-owned farmlands as a soundtrack of 1800s train music plays in the background. Throughout the ride, the conductor shares stories about the train and its route, filled with glimpses of deer, wild turkeys, and eagles, as well as several flowing creeks. Upon request, passengers may join the engineer in his cab to see how the train works or perform duets of “The Ballad of Casey Jones.”
The railway company regularly hosts special events aboard its trains, including the Great Train Robbery, a Wild West–themed escapade with volunteers playing Jesse James, the Earp brothers, and other legendary figures. To celebrate the holidays, the company operates a Santa train where kids can meet Kris Kringle; a bunny train with a walking, talking Easter bunny; and a fall-themed ride that includes a visit to a pumpkin patch.
Cleaved through 5 acres of towering corn stalks, Harvest Moon Acres' sprawling corn maze sends journeyers through an ear-walled labyrinth filled with disorienting twists and tricky clues that lead the way. The maze shares the expansive farm with a variety of other kid-friendly, bucolic attractions, including a petting zoo and an outdoor fun zone. There, guests soar down a 40-foot slide or take aim at targets from behind the pumpkin slingshots, originally used to knock enemy witches from their brooms during World War II. Hayrides surround guests with the cool, fragrant autumn air as they cruise over the 20-acre grounds on a soft bed of hay. Harvest Moon Acres also sells pumpkins, indian corn, and other fall staples for those looking for seasonal decorations or ingredients for autumnal recipes.
Binder Park Zoo hosts an exotic coterie of more than 140 animal species, all administered to in accordance with the exacting standards of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Navigate the map of habitats, or hop on the free Wilderness Tram for rapid transit straight to the Wild Africa portion of the grounds to glimpse an impala's prancings, a mangabey's antics, or an ostrich's rude refusal to acknowledge visitors. Fans of gargantuan gullets can drop some food into the stretched esophagi of seven reticulated giraffes at the Twiga Overlook, and a red kangaroo displays its preternatural quad strength by jumping and deadlifting a tree trunk. Once casual backpackers work up an appetite on the 1.3-mile hiking trail, they can refuel with the two combo meals from either Beulah's Restaurant or Kalahari Kitchen. Use the two tokens for rides on either the Z.O. & O. Railroad or the Binda Conservation Carousel.
Woldumar Nature Center greets visitors with a coterie of trees, flowers, and grasses that populate 178 acres of diverse environs representing the region's larger ecosystem. Visitors explore the center's trails spanning 5 miles of lush scenery, which treats them to a prairie of wildflowers waving their vivid heads in the breeze, the Grand River flowing throughout 1.25 miles, and a hardwood forest that casts cool shade in the shadows of beech and maple trees. Deer peacefully forage in the apple orchard, and a butterfly garden hosts a feast for the gentle winged insects. The herb garden showcases common household herbs such as rosemary alongside oft-forgotten useful plants such as calendula, which pinky swears it goes well in potato soup. The nature center's knowledgeable staff lead educational programs year-round that fill brains with experiences in geocaching, exploring the Grand River, and watching live owl presentations.