Large zoos are a fun all-day adventure. But there are times that you don’t have all day. Or perhaps you have little ones in tow who can’t yet handle a full day outing. You hate to pay the full price for a major zoo, deal with the hassle of a large parking lot, and leave after a few hours. Here are six Midwest zoos that are great for short visits.
Columbian Park Zoo
This small, six-acre free Columbian Park Zoo is great for a couple of hours with little ones. In fact, we adults enjoyed the Wallaby Walkabout for a close encounter with wallabies. And, although it was a tight squeeze, I couldn’t resist crawling into a tunnel and popping up in the midst of the prairie dog town. Leave it to Skip to scratch the head of a goat in the petting zoo. After that, the goat wouldn’t leave Skip alone—he wanted more! The Butterfly Garden Party is open Memorial Day and Labor Day, as are a few pre-school age rides just outside the zoo. The Columbian Park Express Train, for all ages, travels through Columbian Park, weather permitting. Future expansion plans include an Africa area, walk-through aviary, carousel, and more.
Open mid-April through mid-October
Dickerson Park Zoo
Approximately 500 animals represent 160 different species at Dickerson Park Zoo. The zoo was built in the 1930s as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project. It almost closed in the 1970s. Instead, a Friends of the Zoo organization was formed. The Friends organization adopted a 25-year master revitalization plan. Today, like most modern zoos, exhibits are themed around geographical areas: South America, Australia, Tropical Asia, and Africa. For a local touch, a fifth area, Missouri Habitats, showcases wildlife indigenous to Missouri, including black bear, bobcat, and mountain lion. A small train (extra fee) gives you a break from walking. In addition, a water play area lets kids cool off on a hot Ozarks day.
Open year round, except Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, and New Year’s Day
Admission $12 ages 13-59; $8 ages 3-12; $8 Seniors 60+; Free age 2 and younger
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Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo
Fort Wayne, Indiana
The Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo was designed with kids in mind, but we adults love it, too. With many of the same features as a large zoo, but on a smaller scale, it’s easy to spend several hours here. Approximately 1,000 animals cover the gamut from penguins to leopards, peacocks to orangutans. Lush landscape, full of greenery and fountains, add to the zoo’s appeal. Four rides (extra fee) add variety and fun. The newest ride, a narrated Crocodile Creek Adventure, takes you down an Australian river in a log boat. Parents Magazine consistently rates the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo among the top zoos for kids.
Open late April through early October
Admission $14 adults 19-61; $10 ages 2-18; $12 seniors 62+; Free age 1 and under
Like the Dickerson Park Zoo, the Peoria Zoo adopted a master revitalization plan to bring the zoo up to date. In the Africa exhibit, large animals include white rhinoceros, African lion, and giraffe. Walk among wallabies in Australia Walk-About, open Memorial Day to Labor Day. Purchase a seed stick and feed the parakeets in the aviary. Kids get a kick out of petting the animals in the Contact Barn.
Open year-round, except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day
Admission $9.50 ages 13-64; $6.50 ages 2-12; $8.50 Seniors 65+; Free age 1 and younger
South Bend, Indiana
The oldest zoo in Indiana has grown considerably from its 1902 beginning, and it’s about to get even better. In July 2015, about the same time we visited, the Potawatomi Zoo unveiled its new master plan for revitalization. The plan includes closer interaction with the animals, additional attractions, and more interactive experiences. That said, there is currently plenty to see. The Potawatomi Zoo is home to over 400 animals on 23 acres, including big cats, zebras, and chimpanzees.
Open April through November
Admission $10 ages 15-61; $8 ages 3-14; $8 senior 62+; Free age 2 and under
Washington Park Zoo
Michigan City, Indiana
Michigan City’s Washington Park Zoo is location on the Lake Michigan shore. The 90+ species in this 15-acre zoo include Bengal tigers and grizzly bears. The Australian Adventure features a walk-through aviary. Lure colorful parakeets with a feed stick, and they’ll perch on your hand. Climb to the top of a 70-foot lookout tower for a view of the beach and Lake Michigan below. Plan a couple of hours in the zoo. Afterward, spend some time at the beach, across the parking lot.
Open April 1 to October 31
Admission $7 ages 12-61; $6 ages 3-11; $6 seniors 62+; Free age 2 and under
Parking $7 per day for cars; $14 per day for trailers and motorhomes
What small Midwest zoos do you enjoy?
Let us know about your favorite small Midwest zoos in the comments below, and tell us a little about them.
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