There’s nothing your wild bunch loves more than a trip to the zoo. After all, it’s where your kids get to hang out with their favorite furry, scaly and feathered friends, in between play stops at Zoomazium and the Bamboo Play Forest. Add in a dash of learning and a splash of conservation and you’ve got a day that can’t be beat. If you’re ready to have a wild time with your little monkeys, read on for our tips on planning the ultimate day at Woodland Park Zoo.
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photo: Woodland Park Zoo
What to See & Do with Tots
Making the rounds at Woodland Park Zoo means lots of walking, so strollers are a must for the tot lot. But as every parent knows, these little movers and shakers want time to roam too, so here’s where to take them when they want to get out and explore at the zoo.
Just inside the zoo’s south entrance is the African Savanna, where visitors will find grassland natives like African lions, giraffes, zebras and ostriches roaming the land. And lucky for you and your sidekick, you can keep an eye out for these wild animals from the comfort of the African Village, a replica of a modern rural East African Village. It’s the perfect spot for tiny tykes to abandon their strollers and explore the fully equipped Nyika schoolhouse, large hut and small home to get those wiggles out. There are also spots to climb, sit, rest and engage in pretend play for kids of all ages. Psst…you might even find a program going on when you visit, too.
photo: Kseniya S. via Yelp
Just inside the south entrance, you’ll also find the Temperate Forest. While the animals here are super engaging (who doesn’t love an encounter with a Maned Wolf, Chilean Flamingo or Kunekune Pig?), it’s the Family Farm & Contact Area that’s the big draw for the Littles. The area opens May 1st each year and features meet and greets with some of Old MacDonald’s favorite farm animals, like mini cows, sheep, chickens and friendly goats who can’t wait to eat straight form your hand. Be sure to stop by here when the kids want to reach out and touch what they see, before wandering through the rest of this exhibit space.
photo: Woodland Park Zoo
Humboldt Penguin Exhibit
If ridiculously cute and playful is what you’re looking for, the penguin exhibit just inside the west entrance is the place to start. The Littles love it because there are plenty of spots to stroller lounge and watch the penguins swim by at the viewing glass. And the tiny boat just outside the exhibit is a favorite place for kids to play and pose in between bursts of penguin viewing. Don’t forget the penguin feedings that happen daily from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. (weather and appetites pending). For just $5 kids can feed fish to their favorite feathered friends.
photo: Woodland Park Zoo
Another hot viewing spot for your tiniest visitors is back in the Northern Trail, where visitors will find native Alaskan animals at their most majestic. Pop into the Taiga Viewing Shelter and park your kiddo’s ride right in front of the trout-filled pond where the big brown bears come to “hunt” and swim. Watching them is mesmerizing for kids and adults alike. Then, wheel your tots over to watch the sea otters on the opposite viewing wall. We guarantee they’ll “chase” these critters back and forth, back and forth until they’re ready to crash for nap time. Add in the otter sculptures on the steps, and you’ve got one cool spot for tots.
photo: Kristina Moy
Trail of Adaptations
If you’ve got toddlers in tow, be sure to make a trip down this trail part of your zoo experience. The Adaptations building is where you’ll find the completely adorable, fun-to-watch meerkats who will keep your crew entertained as they try to spot them popping up for a look from their sandy dune homes. It’s also where you’ll find the Komodo Dragons that will surely remind your cutie of the dinos he so loves to learn about. And don’t forget to let your toddler climb the Komodo statue right outside and climb through, around and on top of the meerkat maze found on the opposite side.
photo: Julie R. via Yelp
Big Kid Activities
These kids can really put in the miles! And that means a more comprehensive must-see list at Woodland Park Zoo. Here are our top picks for your visit.
The first stop for any big kid is everybody’s favorite, Jaguar Cove. It’s where visitors line up to watch the jaguars lounge near the viewing glass or cross the stream and roam their jungle habitat. Kids will also enjoy exploring the naturalists’ tent, journal notes and campsite for signs of life. When you’re done, be sure to head into the South American Dome (psst…no strollers allowed). The tropical breezes will warm you up on a spring day as you check out the snakes, ocelots and tropical birds housed inside. Psst…don’t forget to follow the Rainforest Loop through the trees to greet the gorillas. They’ll school your kids in family dynamics like you’ve never seen.
photo: Stan Y. via Yelp
While the little ones love the African Village, big kids are all about finding the hippos, lions and giraffes as they explore the Savanna Trail in this exhibit. The climbing rocks, right by the Aviary, are a good place to start this safari because big kids can usually spot zebras, gazelles and ostriches roaming through the grasslands beyond. Next up is the hippo pond. Watching these guys lumber around is always on everyone’s zoo bucket list. The trail eventually weaves through the giraffes and dumps out at the lion viewing area. Take a load off while your kids watch for lions on hill, or if they’re lucky, right at the glass enclosure.
photo: Mon L. via Yelp
Older kids can see many of the native Alaskan wildlife here that those in strollers can’t quite catch. It all starts at the very beginning with the white wolves and elk. Stop at the pretend play wolf den and let your kids explore inside before they try to spot the pack running wild in the forested field. Once you’ve caught a glimpse and snapped a pic or two of these over-sized creatures, it’s time to press on towards the bears, otters and mountain goats. While tots can most easily spot the bears at the viewing shelter, there are a few other spots the big kids can use to find them too. The first is outside the Tundra Center, and if the brown bears are up there, older kids will be able to watch their antics without a problem. Remember to follow the trail to the very end, so you don’t miss the eagles in the final viewing platform. They’re quite a sight to see up close!
photo: Katie Kavulla
With a focus on the species most endangered in Asia’s tropical rainforests, this exhibit spans two different trails—and you don’t want to miss either. The original trail, The Trail of Vines, leads visitors through the orangutan, python, and Siamang habitats, after everyone monkeys around on the statue that greets you. Big kids will love the challenge of spotting the adeptly camouflaged orangutans hanging out in the trees, and sometimes under cover (psst…they can be tricky to spot!). And who can resist staring at the python, waiting patiently for him to move? And if you’ve ever heard the Siamangs sing, then you know their volume can be a bit much for the tot lot, but provide just the right chorus to entertain your big kids until the end of the song. Back off the Main Loop is where you’ll find the newest addition to this exhibit, Banyan Wilds, home to ferocious tigers, sweet slots and playful Asian otters your kids won’t be able to resist.
photo: Ryan Hawk for Woodland Park Zoo
Beyond amazing animals, Woodland Park Zoo also has play options that are totally worth the trip.
We recommend starting at Zoomazium, it’s all the rage with the 8 and under crowd. And not only is it a great way to break up your zoo day, but it also makes for a great shelter from the sun, rain or windy weather. Inside, families will find two main play areas: one for the Littles and one for the Bigs. Toddlers can explore a small climbing structure, slide, drums and an over-sized nesting area, where they can enclose themselves in a foam egg before jumping out to surprise you while the big kids can climb up the massive two-story slide, cross rope bridges, climb over rocks and through caves right next door. Kids of all ages can also check out the Project Place (under the tent canopy) where learning experiences are often set up and staffed, or play with the large wooden building blocks that are always out for exploring. If you really want to plan like a pro, hit Zoomazium at 10:30 a.m. to experience the Creature Feature program; it’s where kids can get up close and personal with one of the zoo’s cuddly (or not so cuddly) creatures of the day. Then, stay and play for Shake, Rattle and Roar, a music and movement program offered each day at 11:30 a.m.
photo: Ryan Hawk for Woodland Park Zoo
Bamboo Play Space
The newest addition to Woodland Park’s play landscape can be found outside in the Banyan Wilds part of the Tropical Asia exhibit. Just inside the stone gateway, families will find a nature-inspired playground that boasts a bamboo obstacle course, hanging bridges, logs that require serious balance to get across and a zip line everyone wants to ride. Parents can take a load off and watch their kids run, jump and explore in this outdoor space.
Make your weekend trips to the zoo extra special when you take in the Earn Your Wings show at the Wildlife Theater. Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. are take off time for this show that features hawks, owls and vultures with a side of education and conservation to make the experience a memorable one. No need to register and the cost is included with your admission. Put it on your schedule and make it a date!
photo: Alyssa A. via Yelp
Not only is this the perfect distraction for those ZooTunes nights, but the historic carousel, just off the zoo’s west entrance, is a tradition your Littles will love. For $3 a pop, kids can choose their favorite hand-carved horse to ride on, from 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. on weekdays and 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. on weekends and holidays. It’s a spin you don’t want to miss!
When you visit the zoo between April 20 and October 7, 2018 you and your crew can marvel at the National Geographic Photo Ark Exhibit. The installation will include 56 over-sized photographs (we’re talking 8’x6’), taken by National Geographic photographer and Fellow, Joel Sartore. Each stunning shot captures rare and endangered species in action, and they’ll be spread out around the zoo’s 92 acres. Our favorite part? Some of Woodland Park Zoo’s own residents are included in the exhibit; keep your eyes peeled for the Matschie’s tree kangaroo, Sumatran orangutan, snow leopard and loveable Humboldt penguin when you visit.
photo: Kristina Moy
Good to Know:
1. Make navigating the zoo easy by downloading the Woodland Park app to your mobile device (Apple or Android) before you go. Not only will you find maps and schedules on here, but you can get cute animal vids and stories, too!
2. The zoo was made for strollering, so bring yours to make making the rounds a piece of cake.
3. It’s easy to grab a bite at the Rainforest Food Pavilion (just inside the west entrance), but there are also plenty of grassy spots and picnic shelters where you can layout your own spread. Pack a lunch and save some green if you’re game.
4. Rainy days don’t keep Seattle families away from much, and the Zoo’s recommended Rainy Day Building Hop makes a zoo day totally possible, even when it’s drizzly.
5. Keep up with your zoo faves when you can’t make a trip with the zoo’s live webcam feed. Tigers and bats and bears. Oh my!
55000 Phinney Ave. N.
Seattle, Wa 98103
Hours: Daily; 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Oct. 1 through Apr. 30; 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m., May 1-Sept. 30
Cost: $20.95/Adults; $12.95/Kids (ages 3-12); 2 & under Free
What do you love most about Woodland Park Zoo? Tell us in the comments below!