Frederik Meijer Gardens is one of our TOP favorite destinations in Grand Rapids. We’ve had a membership since my oldest was around 9 months old. If you have a young baby and think you need to wait until your child is older to really enjoy the facilities, think again! There are miles of clean, beautiful and serene paths for you to enjoy while pushing a stroller. As your child learns to crawl and walk, those same paths become excellent exploration opportunities for your child.
For toddlers and older children, our favorite destination is the Children’s Garden. What’s not to love about a giant wooden tree house and archeological sand pit? There’s also a butterfly maze, sensory garden, log cabin, puppet hut, and scheduled story times. The highlights in warmer weather are definitely floating boats down the Great Lakes water exhibit and running through the dancing children sculpture fountains. So be sure to bring dry clothes in the summer!
We also enjoy the Michigan Farm Garden, especially in the fall when they have their field of GIANT pumpkins to climb on. While at this garden, my kids make sure to pump water from the well, ring the big bell, and see what crops are growing in the garden.
The Japanese Garden is one of the newest gardens. My truck loving children LOVED watching the construction of this garden for two years. Sometimes we would spend our entire visit parked at the fence watching the bulldozers and cranes. Now that it’s open, they like wandering the paths and stopping at all the waterfalls. My oldest spends his time searching the water and keeping track of how many fish he sees as we circle the lake. The path route is long and winding, so don’t expect a quick trip through this garden. But it is gorgeous in spring with the flower blossoms and fall with the changing leaves.
I should also note that there are bathrooms and drinking fountains conveniently located in all three of these main gardens. The Children’s Garden also has vending machines and a snack patio.
When the weather is too dreary to be outside in the gardens, there’s still a lot to entertain young ones indoors. Year round, you can burn off some energy in the play room by interacting with mini sculpture exhibits or mastering the printed scavenger hunts. Exploring cactus, carnivorous and tropical rooms are an option as well. Walking behind the waterfall and seeing the venus fly traps are must-dos for each of our visits.
Seasonally, Meijer Gardens offers Butterflies in the spring and Holiday Traditions in the winter. In March and April, hundreds of butterflies invade the indoor rooms. Kids can hunt for caterpillars and chrysalises in the caterpillar room, and then be wowed (or terrified depending on the child) by all the butterflies flying freely around them in the tropical room. Notes for first timers…1. The butterflies are VERY popular, even during the weekdays. Most area schools have field trips during this exhibit. 2. It’s HOT! The heat and humidity are increased for the butterflies. Dress in light layers. If you dress for the 35 degrees outside, you will be miserable in the butterfly room. 3. They don’t allow strollers in the butterfly room. So plan accordingly with a baby carrier if needed.
Holiday Traditions usually runs around Thanksgiving to early January. My kids’ favorite part of the exhibit is definitely the train room. There are usually 3-4 different trains running through various Grand Rapids area scenes that are made completely from natural materials. While visiting you can see over 40 decorated international trees and learn about their specific holiday traditions. Santa, reindeer and carolers also make appearances on various days throughout the season. This exhibit is popular with general visitors, but not so much school field trips. So going during the day is a good option to avoid crowds. However, I would also make sure to go after dark as the lighted trees and train villages are much more magical at night.
I really could go on forever about our love for Meijer Gardens. These are just a few kid-friendly highlights. In addition to these, they offer tram rides, creative classes, summer camps, member parties, summer concerts, and more. You should definitely plan a visit, and probably just buy yourself a membership while you’re there.