12 Best Zoos in the Midwest USA - Make the Best of Everything (2023)

When taking road trips with our kids, we always check out local zoos! When we are on a long road trip is nice to get out of the car for a few hours to stretch our legs. All three of our kids love animals, so visiting zoos is a family activity that we can all agree on. Our family has been to zoos all over the country, and going to zoos became a “social distance” travel activity for our family during Covid. Kids love learning and seeing animals when we travel. All of these zoos have local animals, plus a few exotic ones. If you’re searching for the best zoos for families in the Midwest, you’re in the right place! Here are my family’s top zoos and aquariums in the midwest! Whether you’re looking for a zoo close to home or looking to stop at a zoo while on a road trip around, I have compiled a list of tested and tried zoos across the midwest!

12 Best Zoos in the Midwest USA - Make the Best of Everything (1)

Plan your zoo visit in advance

I like to check out the website ahead of time to know the hours of operation, price, and if the zoos require tickets for timed entry.

Pack Snacks

Most zoos let you bring coolers in for lunch or snacks. Check out their website to see what their policy is before you go!

(Video) Top 10 Best Weekend Getaways To Visit In The USA

Remember to Check out the perks of becoming zoo members at each zoo.

In many cases, it makes sense to become members of these zoos even if you’re not local. In many cases, if you become a member at a zoo, it can give you free admission or discounts at other zoos around the country. You can get discounts on food or unique attractions within the zoo. And, if you take your family to a zoo just twice, your membership probably will have been paid for already.

12 Best Zoos in the Midwest USA

St. Louis Zoo St. Louis, Mo

We visited the St Louis zoo last fall during Covid. The St Louis Zoo gets hundreds of thousands of visitors each year! We had plenty of room to walk around outside and enjoy the exhibits, all while staying socially distant from others. St. Louis Zoo is one of the only Free Zoos in the Midwest, and it does not disappoint! Our family spent about 3 hours at the St. Louis zoo before seeing everything we wanted to see. The St Louis Zoo is rated one of the best free attractions in the entire country! A few of the St Louis zoo highlights for my family was the Bear exhibit, specifically the polar bears, and the penguins, and we were pleasantly surprised to see Elephants at the St. Louis Zoo! If you’re going to head down to St. Louis for a family weekend, a visit to the St. Louis zoo should be mandatory!

12 Best Zoos in the Midwest USA - Make the Best of Everything (2)

Brookfield Zoo Brookfield, Illinois

I grew up just a few minutes away from Brookfield Zoo, so I happen to love everything about it. I have been to Brookfield zooso many times, and It never gets old. I like to visit Brookfield zoo every few years to see what new exhibits they have. Brookfield Zoo is just a few minutes outside Chicago, and If you’re taking your family to Chicago for the weekend, I highly recommend you visit. If you live in the Chicagoland area, it is worth getting a season pass to the zoo. I also recommend going to Brookfield Zoo around Christmastime because the zoo lights are beautiful. Some exhibits highlighted for me are the Dolphins, the Deep underwater exhibit, and the Primate House. The conservation efforts at Brookfield Zoo are impressive!

12 Best Zoos in the Midwest USA - Make the Best of Everything (3)

National Mississippi River Museum and AquariumDubuque, Iowa

I know that the National River Museum and Aquarium technically isn’t a zoo. Still, suppose you happen to be in Dubuque, Iowa ( near the field of dreams) or passing by on highway 20. In that case, I highly recommend you stop at the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium. This is such an impressive museum for a small town, and it has so much to see! Some highlights at the National Mississippi River Museum are watching the river otters, petting the stingrays, and watching the water snakes. My kids also love watching the electric eel in the saltwater portion of the museum. If you purchase a membership to the National Mississippi River Museum, you can get 50% off your admission to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago! Make sure you check out the Otter habitat while you’re there!

(Video) 10 Hours of Forest Animals - Videos for Pets - Oct 4 2020

12 Best Zoos in the Midwest USA - Make the Best of Everything (4)

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo Omaha, Nebraska

Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, is rated one of the best zoos in the entire world! Whether you’re looking to spend a weekend in Omaha or looking for an activity for your family on your way out west, I highly recommend checking out Henry Doorly Zoo. Henry Doorly zoo is massive, and you can easily spend an entire day there. This zoo is rated the top family fun activity to do in Omaha. My family visited Henry Doorly Zoo during the summer of 2020 when we were driving out to Colorado. A few highlights for us included the aquarium, the elephants, and the indoor rainforest! My kids loved the tigers, cheetahs, zebras, and the snow leopards. It was so neat seeing so many animals in their natural habitats.

12 Best Zoos in the Midwest USA - Make the Best of Everything (5)

Henry Vilas Zoo Madison, Wisconsin

Henry Vilas zoo is the second free zoo on this list! Trips to the zoo can add up, especially for larger families, so it’s nice to know there are some free zoos to visit! Henry Vilas Zoo is a 28-acre zoo that is free and has no parking fees! We often drive to Door County, Wisconsin, so when we stop in Madison to stretch our legs, this zoo is perfect for us! Some highlights of the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison include the seals, the otters, and the large cats!

12 Best Zoos in the Midwest USA - Make the Best of Everything (6)

Blank Park Zoo Des Moines, Iowa

Blank Park Zoo is a smaller zoo and excellent for younger children, but it has enough to hold the interest of older children. It is located in Des Moines, and it will take about 2 hours to go through the zoo. Des Moines is a very family-friendly mid-sized city with a lot of other activities for families as well. There are several hands-on activities for kids at this zoo. If you live within driving distance of Blank Park zoo, I highly recommend purchasing a membership. If you purchase a membership to the Blank Park Zoo, you will get 50% off admission at the Henry Doorly Zoo, the Niabi Zoo, and the Mississippi River Museum ( all also on this list). Our family loves watching the sea lions and the red pandas! I

(Video) Affordable Cities: 10 US Metro Areas With Underrated Livability, Walkability and Transit

Bear CountryRapid City, South Dakota

Bear Country USA is a drive-through zoo with a small, more traditional zoo you can walk through after the drive-through. A few years ago, my family took a trip to South Dakota, and our visit to Bear country was a highlight for my kids. Bear Country is open from Spring to late November, and the idea is that you drive – with the windows up, and you will have animals right outside your car, the majority of them bears. You will also see wolves, badgers, bobcats, reindeer, and river otters. If you are taking a top out to South Dakota, you will want to check out Bear Country! This is a really unique animal encounter, one of the best places in North America to see bears!

12 Best Zoos in the Midwest USA - Make the Best of Everything (7)

Lincoln Children’s Zoo Lincoln, Nebraska

Last summer, we attended the Lincoln Children’s zoo while we were driving back to Iowa from Colorado, and because it was called a “Children’s Zoo,” I figured it would be more of a petting zoo. We were so pleasantly surprised with everything this zoo had to offer! A few highlights for us were feeding giraffes, lettuce leaves, the penguins, and flamingos! If you are planning a trip to Omaha, I highly recommend you also make the small trek over to Lincoln to check out the children’s zoo as well! 12 Best Zoos in the Midwest USA - Make the Best of Everything (8)

Topeka Zoo Topeka, Kansas

The Topeka Zoo is a medium-sized zoo located in Topeka, Kansas. Even though it is a smaller zoo, it has some neat exhibits. We enjoyed the Lion exhibit, the tropical birdhouse, The golden lion tamarins, and I should also note that this zoo does have elephants. If you are spending a weekend with your family in Kansas City, the trip over to Topeka zoo is worth it as it is much less crowded than the Kansas City zoo, and there are some neat animals to see there! 12 Best Zoos in the Midwest USA - Make the Best of Everything (9)

Niabi ZooCoal Valley, Illinois

If you ever find yourself passing through the Quad Cities, I highly suggest visiting the Niabi Zoo in Coal Valley, Illinois. Niabi Zoo is a mid-sized zoo that is delightful to walk around and has some excellent exhibits to see. If you are local to Iowa, I suggest becoming a member! Your membership to Niabi zoo will get you admission to several zoos across the country, including Blank Point Zoo in Des Moines, Iowa, The National River Museum (both on the list). Some highlights of this zoo that my kids’ love are being able to feed the giraffes, the rhinos, and the Meercats. There is also a carousel and a train that your kids will enjoy!

Wonders of WildlifeSpringfield, MO

Last spring break, we were in Springfield, MO, and it was raining. At the last minute, my husband purchased tickets online to the Wonders of Wildlife. When we got there, and I saw that the aquarium and zoo were located inside a Bass Pro Shop, I thought it would be a fun little adventure, but I didn’t expect that there would be much there. My family spent about 5 hours adventuring through this indoor museum, aquarium, and zoo. Wonders of Wildlife was so well done. I have been recommending it to anyone and everyone ever since we went there! We saw one fantastic exhibit after another! There was so much to see at the Wonders of Wildlife. A few highlights for us were the aquarium, the alligators, and the penguins!

(Video) Michigan Places | Top 15 Best Places To Visit In Michigan | Travel Guide

12 Best Zoos in the Midwest USA - Make the Best of Everything (10)

Shedd AquariumChicago, Illinois

Because I grew up in Chicagoland, I have been to the Shedd Aquarium many times throughout my life and have watched it expand throughout the years. In my opinion, the Shedd Aquarium is the one museum I always recommend to friends who are going to Chicago for the weekend. It is really well done. Our favorite thing at the Shedd Aquarium is the sharks. 12 Best Zoos in the Midwest USA - Make the Best of Everything (11)

Have you visited any of the zoos on this list? What is your favorite zoo in the midwest?

Runners Up

Columbus Zoo

Cincinnati Zoo

(Video) Cafe de Rene LIVESTREAM #33 | ASK RENÉ ANYTHING!!!

Indianapolis Zoo

FAQs

What is the #1 zoo in the USA? ›

1. San Diego Zoo | San Diego, CA. Renowned across the country, San Diego's zoo, founded in 1916, is home to over 12,000 animals of more than 650 species and subspecies. Among them are red pandas; African elephants; and bonobo apes.

What is the largest zoo in the Midwest? ›

Kansas City Zoo, Kansas City, Missouri

The 200-acre Kansas City Zoo is one of the largest in the country, with more than 1,300 animals.

What are the top 5 visited zoos in the US? ›

Best US Zoos to Visit in 2022
  • San Diego Zoo — San Diego, CA.
  • Brookfield Zoo — Chicago, IL.
  • Bronx Zoo — New York City, NY.
  • Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium — Omaha, NE.
  • Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden — Cincinnati, OH.

What is the oldest zoo in the US? ›

Philadelphia Zoo, America's first zoo, is renowned for innovation in animal care and unwavering commitment to wildlife. A zoo of firsts, Philadelphia Zoo has been a leader since opening its historic gates on July 1, 1874.

What is the 2 biggest zoo in the world? ›

A non-profit zoo located just north of Columbus, Ohio the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is the second largest zoological park in the world. Built-in 1905, with a total surface area of 2340000 square meters the zoo is home to over 900 animals representing over 793 species divided into geographic regions of the world.

What is the best zoo in the U.S. in 2022? ›

CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden was just named the best zoo in the U.S. The Queen City's zoo earned the No. 1 spot in the Best Zoo category of USA Today's 2022 10Best Readers' Choice poll, according to our news partners at WCPO-TV in Cincinnati.

Which is the oldest zoo that can still be visited? ›

The Vienna zoo, however, is the one that endured—today, it's the world's oldest.

What is the number 2 zoo in the US? ›

2. San Diego Zoo (San Diego, California)

What is the #1 aquarium in the US? ›

Georgia Aquarium | Atlanta, GA

Not only a top aquarium in the USA, the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is also the largest in the country at an astounding 10 million gallons.

What is America's biggest zoo? ›

The largest zoo in the United States is Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in Ohio, measuring 406.30 acres for the zoo alone and 580 acres in total. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has more than 7,000 animals and over 800 species of animals living within its borders.

What is the rarest animal in a zoo? ›

The Javan rhino is the rarest large mammal on the planet, and none are in captivity, according to the World Wildlife Fund. They're a shy species used to living in dense tropical forests, which are tough to replicate in captivity, Mizejewski says.

What is the greenest zoo in America? ›

“Even though it is the second oldest zoo in the country, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden is also the greenest – proving that old infrastructure, strong commitment, and practical innovation can lead a Zoo, or any institution, to a green, efficient, and sustainable operation,” says Sophia Cifuentes Sustainability ...

What state has the smallest zoo? ›

The Charles Paddock Zoo is a small 5-acre (2.0 ha) community zoo located in San Luis Obispo County, California, in the City of Atascadero, California. It is the only zoo in the Central Coast area of that U.S. state.
...
Charles Paddock Zoo.
Charles Paddock Zoo logo
Meerkats at the zoo
MembershipsAZA
Websitewww.charlespaddockzoo.org
7 more rows

What state has the best zoo in the world? ›

San Diego Zoo, San Diego, USA

One of the best zoos in the US and possibly the world's best zoo, or at least the most famous, is the San Diego Zoo in California. Since opening in 1916 in Balboa Park, San Diego Zoo has grown to become the most visited zoo in the country and a main attraction of the city.

What is the second oldest zoo in the United States? ›

The Zoological Society of Cincinnati was founded in 1873 and officially opened its doors in 1875, making the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden the second oldest Zoo in the United States.

What was the 1st zoo? ›

The first modern zoo, built in 1793, opened in Paris, France. The menageries of French aristrocrats, including the king and queen, were taken by leaders of the French Revolution and relocated to the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes. The facility is still a busy and popular zoo in downtown Paris.

Where is the oldest zoo? ›

Tiergarten Schönbrunn – Schönbrunn Zoo – was established by the Habsburgs in the park of Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna's 13th district of Hietzing in 1752 and is today the world's oldest zoo that is still in operation.

Where is the smallest zoo in the world? ›

The world's smallest zoo according to Tripadviser is probably Charles Paddock Zoo in Atascadero, California. It is 5 acres.

Which president owned a zoo? ›

Calvin Coolidge (30th President, 1923-1929) had a small zoo at the White House, which included a bear cub, two lion cubs, a wallaby, an antelope, pekin ducks, and Billy the pygmy hippopotamus. He also received a raccoon as a gift to be served as part of Thanksgiving dinner.

When was the last human in a zoo? ›

The last was in Belgium in 1958. The organisers of Inventing the Savage claim that these "human zoos" were seen by 1.4 billion people overall - and that they therefore played an important, and so far unacknowledged, part in the development of modern racism.

Who made the 1st zoo? ›

The first real zoo was established by Queen Hatshepsut in 1500 B.C. in Egypt by collecting animals from all over Africa. Later, Emperor Wen Wang of China built a zoo to show his wealth and power. Spread over 1,500 acres, it had animals from all over his empire and was named the Garden of Intelligence.

Which zoo has most animals? ›

Currently the world's largest zoo in terms of number of species in residence is Moscow Zoo (Moskovsky Zoo-park) in Russia.

Which is the longest zoo? ›

The Arignar Anna Zoological Park is something which I always recommend to people visiting Chennai.It is India's largest zoo covering about 1300 acres with rare species of flora and fauna which includes mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, fishes, insects etc.

What is the longest zoo in the world? ›

Summary of the Largest Zoo in the World
RankZoo NameLocation
1The Wilds Safari ParkCumberland, Ohio
2Sri Venkateswara Zoological ParkIndia
3North Carolina ZooAsheboro, North Carolina
4San Diego Zoo SafariSan Diego, California
6 more rows
31 Oct 2022

Where is the biggest zoo in USA? ›

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is located in Liberty Township, Ohio, which is north of Columbus. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is known as the largest zoo in the United States for good reason: it covers a massive area of 582 acres.

What is the largest free zoo in America? ›

1. Cape May County Park & Zoo, Cape May Court House, New Jersey. Located on a finger of New Jersey that points across the bay at Delaware, the Cape May County Zoo spreads across 200 acres within the Cape May County Park.

What is the biggest zoo in the world 2022? ›

Largest Zoos in the World
  • Berlin Zoological Garden, Germany.
  • Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, California, USA.
  • Arignar Anna Zoological Park, India.
  • Chester Zoo, Cheshire, England.
  • Miami-Dade Zoological Park and Gardens.
  • North Carolina Zoo, USA.
  • National Zoological Park, Delhi, India.
  • Oakland Zoo, California, USA.
2 Nov 2022

What is North America's largest zoo? ›

Sprawled across an area of 5.548 km², North Carolina Zoo is situated in North Carolina and is considered the biggest zoo in North America. Therefore, exploring this zoo at its best usually takes more than a day. It is one of the largest zoos in the world. This zoo is home to more than 1800 diverse animals.

Where is the best zoo in the world? ›

World's Best Zoos
  • Philadelphia Zoo. ...
  • Sao Paulo Zoo. ...
  • The Singapore Zoo. ...
  • Edinburgh Zoo. ...
  • St. ...
  • Toronto Zoo. ...
  • Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. ...
  • Beijing Zoo.

What 4 zoos in the US have pandas? ›

Giant pandas currently live at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.; Zoo Atlanta in Atlanta, Georgia; the San Diego Zoo in San Diego, California; and the Memphis Zoo in Memphis, Tennessee. These zoos participate in the Giant Panda Species Survival Plan, overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Is the death zoo still open? ›

The Surabaya Zoo is a massive zoo that has been in business since 1916, and is “home” to between 2,800 and 4,000 animals. The zoo is still in business — but if a new petition is successful (combined with years of protests from local activists), the Indonesian Death Zoo could finally shut down in the near future.

What was the first animal in a zoo? ›

The oldest known zoological collection was revealed during excavations at Hierakonpolis, Egypt in 2009, of a ca. 3500 BCE menagerie. The exotic animals included hippopotami, hartebeest, elephants, baboons and wildcats.

When was the last human zoo closed? ›

On Monday, 8 September 1906, after just two days, Hornaday decided to close the exhibition, and Benga could be found walking the zoo grounds, often followed by a crowd "howling, jeering and yelling."

What is the #2 zoo in the US? ›

2. San Diego Zoo (San Diego, California)

What is the #1 Aquarium in the US? ›

Georgia Aquarium | Atlanta, GA

Not only a top aquarium in the USA, the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is also the largest in the country at an astounding 10 million gallons.

Where is the smallest zoo in the United States? ›

The Charles Paddock Zoo is a small 5-acre (2.0 ha) community zoo located in San Luis Obispo County, California, in the City of Atascadero, California. It is the only zoo in the Central Coast area of that U.S. state.
...
Charles Paddock Zoo.
Charles Paddock Zoo logo
Meerkats at the zoo
MembershipsAZA
Websitewww.charlespaddockzoo.org
7 more rows

What zoo has white tigers in the US? ›

White tigers have been at the Cincinnati Zoo since 1974 and have been very popular with visitors. The Cincinnati Zoo is committed to tiger conservation.

Which is the oldest zoo that can still be visited 1 point? ›

The oldest continuously operating zoo in the world – still open in the same place – is the Schönbrunn Zoo, which was built in Vienna in 1752. The zoo is famous for being the first to use many design innovations, such as keeping animals in naturalistic settings and putting several species together in one enclosure.

What city has the oldest zoo? ›

Tiergarten Schönbrunn – Schönbrunn Zoo – was established by the Habsburgs in the park of Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna's 13th district of Hietzing in 1752 and is today the world's oldest zoo that is still in operation.

Videos

1. The Blizzard of 1978
(Sean Anteau)
2. All My Trucks (Official music video) Ginger Billy x Brandon Hartt
(Ginger Billy)
3. Every Day I'm Hustlin - Katt Williams: American Hustle
(KUSH Comedy)
4. 5 Biggest Tsunami Waves in History
(Underworld)
5. Brush Me - Toothbrush Song - Toothbrush Cartoon - Healthy Habits - Nursery Rhymes - Brush your teeth
(Genki Park)
6. Which U.S. Cities Are Safest From Climate Change?
(CNBC)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Arielle Torp

Last Updated: 12/16/2022

Views: 5659

Rating: 4 / 5 (61 voted)

Reviews: 84% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Arielle Torp

Birthday: 1997-09-20

Address: 87313 Erdman Vista, North Dustinborough, WA 37563

Phone: +97216742823598

Job: Central Technology Officer

Hobby: Taekwondo, Macrame, Foreign language learning, Kite flying, Cooking, Skiing, Computer programming

Introduction: My name is Arielle Torp, I am a comfortable, kind, zealous, lovely, jolly, colorful, adventurous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.