The Best Children’s Zoos In The World

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Autumn is a great time to visit a children’s zoo, given the number of special programs geared toward kids. For instance, the Henry Vilas Zoo has trick-or-treating, a fun house and music. Fort Wayne Zoo has a mystery maze, meet-Broomhilda-the-Witch, a petting zoo, pumpkin bowling, carnival games and a haunted train ride. The National Zoo in Washington DC has haunted trails, trick-or-treating, animal encounters and festive decor. Your family can get fall discounts at the National Aquarium in Baltimore ($8 instead of $29.95) and kids are free at the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park for the entire month of October (down from $26/$18). The Indianapolis Zoo also reduces their prices during the month of November. Additionally, “Crowds are down and animals are more active due to cooler temperatures,” says Allen Nyhuis, co-author of “America’s Best Zoos,” a guide book for families.

The top children’s zoo, according to Child Magazine, is the 56-acre Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida, where your child can see 1,614 exotic animals. The Australian-themed petting zoo lets the kids feed pet kangaroos and wallabies, mimic sheep herding and visit a water-play area with animal fountains and statues. Your kids will love the Safari Africa exhibit, featuring giraffes, elephants, zebras, warthogs, bongos and African ground hornbill birds. The “Spirit of the Skies” show features high-flying hawks, bald eagles, vultures and owls. Kids can hold lorikeets and feed them nectar, pet koi fish, ride on a camel, feed sting rays and act at a summer camp. With 35 educational programs designed to leave lasting impressions on youngsters, you can be sure your kids will never forget this trip to the zoo. For more information, visit www.lowryparkzoo.com.

The Oklahoma City Children’s Zoo was another top contender in the Child Magazine “Top 10 Zoos for Kids.” With 1,520 animals on 110 acres, you will see one of the best butterfly gardens amid 15,000 plants and a “Great EscApe” animal exhibit containing a realistic tropical rainforest complete with waterfalls and fallen trees. Their free family activity packet gives you a fun list of activities for kids to complete, including finding colors and patterns throughout the zoo. Their monthly stroller safari is designed especially for toddlers, who can see insects, leaves, plants and animals at eye-level. Their brand new Jungle Gym is a stunning $1.1 million playground that includes underground burrowing tunnels, a snow leopard climbing wall, a giant bird’s nest and an elephant trunk slide. Kids will enjoy the array of artistic sculptures throughout the park as well. For more information, visit www.okczoo.com.

The Phoenix Zoo is another great stop on your children’s zoo tour. While it’s only 125 acres with 1,300 animals, there are a lot of special programs your family will enjoy. The “Wilderness Experience Night Camp” is a lakeside tent sleepover experience, complete with s’mores, nocturnal animal presentations, guided hikes and astronomy lectures. Here you’ll see the rare Arabian oryx antelope and spectacled bears at the “Forest of Uco.” Kids can learn about archaeology or visit one of many play areas including Critter Creek, Papago Buttes, Busy Bee Toddler Play area or the Enchanted Forest. Thanksgiving weekend offers a 2-million-light display and they have a fun “Breakfast Tortoise-Style” program that includes a meal, songs, games, crafts and tortoise visiting. If you get hungry, you’ll be happy to know there is healthy dining at the zoo too. Visit www.phoenixzoo.org for more information.

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