Mule-Drawn Canal Boat Experience

Canal Experience, where education and fun collide! As a mom, I am always on the lookout for events and activities that are educational. Meanwhile, the kiddos hunger for fun. The Canal Experience at Providence Metropark in Grand Rapids, Ohio is jammed pack full of educational fun! It is literally a floating history lesson!



Canal1We arrived at Providence Metropark and enjoyed the modern amenities (plumbing, flushing toilets, running fresh water, etc.) and then made our way across the bridge where we were taken back to the year 1876. Canal2The flux capacitor could not have done a more superior job! As we strolled up to purchase our ticket for The Volunteer, the mule-drawn canal boat, the attendant was dressed in 1876 period costume with a long prairie dress, apron, bonnet,…the works!Canal3

Canal4Before boarding The Volunteer, we received some background information on the time period from one of the crew members who was also dressed in a period costume circa 1870s. As we boarded the canal boat we were officially submersed in 1876, just as Marty McFly was asked about his “life preserver” I feared I might be questioned about my pants! Lol! The canal crew stayed 100% in character, it was fascinating!!Canalex15


Canal5We learned so much about canal life while aboard the 60-foot replica of a “state-packet” boat. First and foremost the pace of life back then was extremely slow compared to our modern-day Wi-Fi speeds and instant gratification addictions. The two-mule team pulled The Volunteer at a whopping 4 MPH. I must admit there was something inviting, comforting, and even enjoyable about slowing down our speed and soaking in a glimpse of what life was like back in the 1870s.Canal8


The children enjoyed learning about canal life, particularly the fascinating amenities like the “thunder bucket”, meals of Muskrat, and how one would sleep aboard the boat, but by far their favorite part of our 1-hour tour, was the restored lock. Canalex1Lock #44 is one of the last functioning 19th-century limestone locks!! It was fascinating watching the crew spring to action to open and close the lock. To be able to literally view and feel The Volunteer, being lifted 4 feet and then lowered was amazing. Canal10And to think, these 19th-century canal boats carrying passengers and freight from Toledo to Cincinnati were where it all began, was the modern-day means for transporting materials for commerce back then…that is until those “metal monstrosities” (railroads/trains) which eventually replaced the 4MPH canal boats.  Canal11

We were sad to see our canal boat experience end but super excited to pet the mules that towed the boat on the towpath and to tour the Ludwig Mill!Canalex


The Isaac Ludwig Mill is an authentic, functioning, turn-of-the-century grist and flour mill. It has a turbine-powered, functioning sawmill. It is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Canalex11Canalex6The staff/ volunteers manning the mill were also in period costumes and did a remarkable job illustrating how the antique milling equipment operates. Canalex8Canalex5The gentleman expressed the process so fluently that even my kindergartner was fascinated. Canalex2 Canalex4We were able to witness the mechanics involved with the process of milling used in the 1800s and there were products produced at the mill available for purchase.  Canalex7Kiddos can’t wait to go back and see artisans demonstrate crafts like tinsmithing, candlemaking, blacksmithing, etc.Canalex9


Canalex14Plan your trip today….go back to the future!!


Address: 13801 S River Rd, Grand Rapids, OH 43522

Phone: 419-407-9741

Website: For Boat & Mill Schedule Click on link

Hours: Vary (see website)

Admission: $7 adults, $6 seniors (60 and over) and Metroparks members, $4 children (3 to 12); ages two and under free.

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