The Best Zoos In The Midwest USA

I think zoos are a great way to educate visitors about the millions of animal species that we share this planet with. Some establishments can be harmful…just look at Tiger King. Please don’t support places like this…It’s best to look for ones that have been accredited by boards like the ‘Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ and support global conservation efforts. These zoos are held to a high standard of regulations, so are a good place to start. I’ve collaborated with other Midwest travel writers, to bring you a list of some of the bests zoos in the Midwest!

Best Midwest Zoos

Zoos in Illinois

Lincoln Park Zoo – Chicago

Lincoln Park Zoo is located in the heart of Chicago, along the shores of Lake Michigan and is free to visit! They hold many different paid special events throughout the year to help fund the zoo, such as ‘Breakfast With The Animals’ and donut and beer festivals. Some of their larger animals include: rhinos, giraffes, polar bears, gorillas and chimpanzees. Daily activities give guests an insight as to how the keepers care for the animals, through enrichment programmes and target training for ‘stress free’ health checks.

Chicago Skyline from Lincoln Park Zoo

Niabi Zoo – Coal Valley, Illinois

Niabi Zoo is located just outside of the Quad Cities (Davenport & Bettendorf in Iowa and Rock Island & Moline Illinois). A fun way that Niabi Zoo raises awareness of conservation is through the Coins for Conservation project. $0.25 of the entrance fee goes towards wildlife conservation and each visitor receives a token. When you enter the park there’s a conservation kiosk where you can see the 4 global conservation projects that Niabi Zoo have partnered with. Guests can then select which project they’d like their entrance fee donation to go towards!

Entrance is $9 for an adult and $6.50 for a child, which isn’t badly priced. However visitors can choose to add additional paid experiences to their day, such as: budgie feeding ($3), giraffe feeding ($6), koi pond feed ($0.50) etc.

Budgie Feeding at Niabi Zoo Illinois

Zoos in Indiana

Indianapolis Zoo – Indianapolis, Indiana

By Lori, Maps Memories and Motherhood

Ever had orangutans swinging 80 feet over your head? No? Check out the Indianapolis Zoo. Their orangutan exhibit is one of the most incredible of any animal enclosures you’ll ever see. Many of the orangutans were rescued from bad situations, but they now live in a state-of-the-art facility that includes 80-foot canopied towers designed to mimic their native Borneo and Sumantran forests. While that part of the Zoo is enough to keep you mesmerized for hours, there are also some incredible experiential offerings – you can touch dog sharks and rays in a petting pool in the Oceans building; watch a dolphin show; feed lorikeets, flamingos and giraffes; and their newest experience – getting up close with an elephant at the Tembo Camp. Education is a key part of the Zoo’s mission. Their Animal Chats are great ways to learn more about cheetahs, lions, lemurs and many other zoo residents.

The Indianapolis Zoo is engaged with a lot of conservation work to preserve and save species. Their Indianapolis Prize is the world’s leading animal conservation award, which provides $250,000 to the most successful animal conservationists in the world.The Zoo is currently open, but requires a timed ticket for entry, and masks must be worn in all buildings and places where social distancing cannot occur.

Indianapolis Zoo - Photo credit: Lori, Maps Memories and Motherhood
Photo credit: Lori, Maps Memories and Motherhood

Zoos in Michigan

John Ball Zoo – Grand Rapids, Michigan

By Erin Klema, The Epicurean Traveler

During a 2-4 hour visit, you’ll see Chilean flamingos, African chimpanzees, and more wild animals from around the world at John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids, Michigan. First, set off on the wooded Wild Way Trail past adorable wallabies, howler monkeys, and parrots to the interactive children’s zoo at Red’s Hobby Farm. There, kids can pet farm animals and even brush a goat! Nearby, the Budgie Aviary offers another hands-on experience for young animal lovers – feeding the 200 colorful Australian birds. Then, continue your zoo day along the wooded Forest Realm Trail. You’ll want to keep your eyes open for sightings of maned wolves, grizzly bears, and perhaps even a tiger along the way to the Crawford Tigers of the Realm exhibit. In addition to seeing animals, the zoo has children’s play areas, a zip line, camel rides, and ropes course.

Some exhibits, activities, behind-the-scenes tours, and close encounters may be closed for safety precautions for the foreseeable future, but there is always something to see at John Ball Zoo.

Wallaby at John Ball Zoo Michigan - Photo credit: Erin, The Epicurean Traveler
Photo credit: Erin, The Epicurean Traveler

Zoos in Minnesota

Como Park Zoo – St Paul, Minnesota

By Theresa, The Local Tourist

Como Park Zoo in St. Paul was established in 1897 with a gift of three deer and is the only free zoo in Minnesota. Its 450 acres offer a full day, or days, of fun. There’s the zoo, of course, and there’s also a golf course, lakeside trails, an amusement park, and the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory. Open since 1915, the latter is a full acre filled with more than 50,000 plants. 

Beyond being a place for entertainment, the Como Park Zoo is also actively involved in conservation; they’ve got over forty species in the American Zoological Association’s Species Survival Program. The enclosures for the animals are designed to replicate the animals’ natural environments, and one of the most popular is the Polar Bear Odyssey, which mimics a Hudson Bay ecosystem. While admission is free, visitors can participate in special programs, like feeding the giraffes and creating enrichments for some of the residents, for a fee.

Polar Bear at Como Park Zoo - Photo Credit: Theresa, The Local Tourist
Photo Credit: Theresa, The Local Tourist

Zoos in Missouri

National Tiger Sanctuary – Branson, Missouri

By Katy, Flint and Co

Located just north of Branson, Missouri, you’ll find the National Tiger Sanctuary.  Here at this non-profit organization, they are rescuing cats of all sizes from all walks of life.  Some of the cats they’ve rescued were domestic cats that were abandoned by their owners or owners that realized they couldn’t care for them or provide the life they need.  Others are big cats that were injured or hurt and have come to live here.  The Sanctuary focuses on rehabbing animals, fostering a natural habitat, and teaching.  There are several ways to experience the sanctuary.  Pick from one of 5 experiences when visiting.  Visitors can select a basic tour or more detailed where they get to see big cats being fed, even feed them themselves, or take a tram tour in which you’ll get to see double the cats!  Adults and kids will also enjoy a visit here as there is so much to learn about these cats, plus they are beautiful animals.

National Tiger Sanctuary Branson Missouri - Photo credit: Katy, Flint and Co
Photo credit: Katy, Flint and Co

Zoos in Nebraska

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and aquarium – Omaha, Nebraska

The Henry Doorly Zoo dates back to 1894 and it started life as the Riverview Park zoo. It’s accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and is a member of WAZA (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums). The zoo has over 900 species of animals and some amazing enclosures that mimic their natural habitats. Some of my favourite enclosures are: The Desert Dome – features 3 desert landscapes from Australia, Africa and Southwest USA. The Kingdom of the Night is under the Desert Dome and is the largest nocturnal exhibit in the world! The Lied Jungle has a 50ft waterfall, swinging bridges and many rainforest trees and plants. I love the way that multiple species share these enclosures together.

Desert Dome at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo Nebraska

Zoos in Ohio

Cincinnati Zoo – cincinnati, Ohio

By Sage Scott, Everyday Wanderer

With large solar panels topping parking spaces and green LEED-certified buildings, it’s easy to see why the Cincinnati Zoo has been known as the “Greenest Zoo in America” since 2010. But it’s the success of its breeding program focused on saving endangered species that earned it the title of “the world’s sexiest zoo” by Newsweek magazine.

The Cincinnati Zoo was the first zoo in the world to successfully breed California sea lions and Sumatran rhinos. And when the first Nile hippo born in 75 years arrived prematurely in January 2017, dedicated zookeepers worked around the clock to provide her with veterinary care. Now thriving, Fiona is quite the celebrity, drawing visitors from around the world and sharing her story in a series of children’s books.

In addition to visiting the lions, tigers, and bears (oh, my!) don’t miss the opportunity to feed the giraffes. Throughout the zoo, watch for fun, educational exhibits like lines on the sidewalk that let you compare your leap to a cricket or rabbit. And if you love reptiles, you’ll leap at the chance to touch different snakes throughout the zoo. (But I’m going to stick with feeding the giraffes…)

Gorilla at Cincinnati Zoo - Photo credit: Sage, Everyday Wanderer
Photo credit: Sage, Everyday Wanderer

Zoos in Wisconsin

NEW Zoo & Adventure Park – Suamico, Wisconsin

By Lori, Lori Loves Paris

The NEW Zoo & Adventure Park is located just 10 miles from the city center of Green Bay, Wisconsin. It remains my favorite zoo in Wisconsin. We love getting up close to the animals, feeding the giraffes, and watching the prairie dogs scurry about.

This small-sized zoo sits on 43 acres within the Brown County Reforestation Camp. NEW Zoo features 90 species of animals in natural habitats from around the world. The number one goal of the zoo and adventure park is to provide guests with high-quality interactive experiences that promote conservation, recreation, and a connection to nature. With the addition of the adventure park in 2014 featuring zip lines, ropes challenges, and a climbing wall, the NEW Zoo and Adventure Park make for a great day visit for all ages. 

NEW Zoo Wisconsin: Photo credit Erin LeMere
Photo credit Erin LeMere
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7 thoughts on “The Best Zoos In The Midwest USA

    1. I wanted to go to that one but my schedule never had time for it when I was there! (And no one else offered it up in my collaboration call out 🙈 I didn’t want to include somewhere that I hadn’t got a first hand experience for!)

      Liked by 1 person

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