The Best Zoo in Every State in America
Lions, tigers, and bears, oh my! From the largest to the oldest to the most fascinating, these are the best zoos in each state across the United States. Road trip, anyone?
Alabama: Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, Gulf Shores
Come for the beaches, stay for the Gulf Coast Zoo. With a creepy-crawly reptile house (you can even hold the snakes!), baby kangaroos, and over 500 unique exhibits, it’s an animal lover’s paradise. Don’t miss the fan-favorite sloth exhibit, where you can play with and pet the cuddly creatures. Can’t make it to the zoo, but love four-legged friends more than people? Add one of these animal-themed gifts to your Christmas list.
Alaska: The Alaska Zoo, Anchorage
There’s something beary special about the Alaska Zoo: Not only is it the only zoo in the northern state, but it also features a new polar bear Transition Center. This special facility, completed by the nonprofit zoo in 2016, is solely dedicated to rescuing orphaned polar bear cubs from the wild and nursing them back to health (there’s also a den just for pregnant mama polar bears!). While you’re there, say hello to Cranbeary, the newest addition to the zoo’s bear brigade.
Arizona: Reid Park Zoo, Tucson
TripAdvisor calls this small-but-mighty zoo a “hidden gem” of the Grand Canyon State. The zoo first opened in the 1960s and has evolved and expanded over the years. For instance, in April 2019, a new Mayan temple-inspired exhibit opened as a habitat for a quartet of spider monkeys. In 2014, Reid Park Zoo made history as the birthplace of the first elephant ever born in the state of Arizona. Find out 50 astonishing facts about the 50 states.
Arkansas: Arkansas Alligator Farm & Petting Zoo, Hot Springs
Channel your inner Steve Irwin at the Arkansas Alligator Farm in Hot Springs, where you can pose for the perfect picture with a baby gator. If you aren’t ready to actually hold one of the reptiles (and we don’t blame you!), you can still get hands-on by feeding meat on a stick to the alligators or head to the petting zoo for all the fluffy feels with baby goats, emus, and more.
California: San Diego Zoo
Ever wondered what it’s like to be a zookeeper? Now you can know, thanks to the “Keeper For A Day” program at the San Diego Zoo. Pick whether you want to care for koalas or giraffes, then shadow a zookeeper as they feed and play with the animals and set up their habitats. You’ll even get to go inside the animal enclosures and get your hands dirty—literally. Cargo pants and safari hat recommended, but not required.
Colorado: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Colorado Springs
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Denver may be the Mile High City, but Colorado Springs has something equally impressive: The largest herd of giraffes in the United States! Watch the 16 long-necked gentle giants frolic in their savannah habitat, take home a piece of artwork created by the animals themselves (hint: it’s a painted hoofprint) or even hand-feed them romaine lettuce. Just don’t be freaked out by their purple-black tongues, which can be up to 20 inches long! Check out the U.S. state facts that everyone gets wrong.
Connecticut: Beardsley Zoo, Bridgeport
Good things come in small packages. Like the Beardsley Zoo in Connecticut (the state’s only zoo!). It may not be the biggest in terms of area, but has more than enough to offer in terms of animals and entertainment. Walk through the tropical rainforest as birds swoop by overhead, fawn over Reka and Zeya, the two new Amur tiger cubs, or take a spin on the indoor carousel, where you can even adopt one of the merry-go-round animals to have your name engraved on it.
Delaware: Brandywine Zoo, Delaware
“New year, new zoo” is the motto at this Wilmington family-friendly attraction, where they recently unveiled a new red panda exhibit for zoo favorites Rochan and Meri complete with a bamboo forest and swings for the critters to play in. It’s all part of the zoo’s $13 million Master Plan, which includes 17 new exhibits, more events for visitors and even an animal hospital for rescued or injured wildlife. Looks like you know where you’ll be heading next summer…
Florida: Zoo Miami
The only sub-tropical zoo in the United States, this Miami must-see is home to over 500 species of animals and 1,200 unique plant species. Highlights include the Kaziranga Camp Rhino Encounter, where you can feed and pet the zoo’s one-horned Indian rhino, and the Mission Everglades exhibit, where you can take a boat ride through Florida’s natural swampy habitat. You might even spot a bald eagle soaring overhead, or a gator swimming next to the riverboat! Check out the most charming small town in each state.
Georgia: Zoo Atlanta
There’s a lot to love about Zoo Atlanta, like the giant panda exhibit (it’s one of only four zoos in the U.S. with the cuddly creatures!) or the Wild Encounters, where you can go behind-the-scenes and feed your favorite animals, like elephants or even lions. But one of the newest additions that people of all ages will love is the Treetop Trail, a swinging rope bridge over the zoo that ends with an adrenaline-pumping zip line to the bottom.
Hawaii: Panaewa Rainforest Zoo, Hilo
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Think you have to book a trip to South America to venture through a rainforest in real life? Think again. As soon as you step inside this Hawaii hotspot, which is the only tropical zoo in the United States, you’ll feel like you’re in the Amazon, surrounded by giant orchids, walls of bamboo, and 80 different animal species. Wander through the rainforest (it gets over 125 inches of rain per year!) as you watch spider monkeys and lemurs swing from the trees and listen to the caws of colorful parrots.
Idaho: Yellowstone Bear World, Rexburg
No trip to Yellowstone is complete without visiting this drive-through—and we aren’t talking about the kind where you order a Happy Meal. Here you can drive across Rocky Mountain wilderness and watch bison, white-tail deer, wolves, and even grizzly bears roam the terrain. After your excursion, brave visitors can pet and bottle-feed one of the bear cubs, too!
Illinois: Brookfield Zoo, Brookfield
Along with these 20 treats you’re never too old for, no one outgrows the zoo experience. Case in point? At Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo, you can snag a beer to sip while you stroll. After all, you’ll need to stay hydrated as you trek through 250 acres of amazing exhibits, like the renowned Tropic World, where you can spy primates like orangutans and gorillas, or the Australia House, where—yikes—bats fly freely overhead.
Indiana: Indianapolis Zoo
You might not think of Indiana as a hotspot for playing with dolphins, but that’s exactly what you can do at the Indianapolis Zoo, where you can feed and pet the marine mammals. While you’re there, don’t miss Aurora and Pakak, the Pacific walruses who are two of only 11 in North American zoos. Want to actually swim with dolphins? Here’s where to do it, plus 17 other bucket-list adventures.
Iowa: Blank Park Zoo, Des Moines
If you’re looking for the best zoo (and actually, the only accredited one) in Iowa, look no further than Blank Park Zoo, just outside of Des Moines. First up on the agenda? Hub Harbor for the sea lion show, where you’ll watch the pups jump out of the water and perform incredible tricks. Then roam the rest of the park, breaking for a spin on the old-fashioned carousel or, better yet, a $10 camel ride.
Kansas: Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita
Dumbo, is that you? With the world’s biggest elephant pool at a whopping 550,000 gallons, the Zambezi River Valley habitat at this Kansas zoo is the third-largest in the country and is home to a family of seven massive African elephants. If you fall in love with one of the rescued safari mammals, you can become a Zoo Pal and “adopt” one to call your own!
Kentucky: Kentucky Down Under Adventure Zoo, Horse Cave
G’day mate! Go down under at this Australian-themed park in the middle of Kentucky, where you can pet kangaroos, feed rainbow lorikeets, and lay eyes on a super rare white bison. Then explore cave cauliflower (it’s a real thing!) and stunning stalactites in Mammoth Onyx Cave with a guided tour. If you leave feeling inspired to visit the real Australia, here are the most popular travel destinations in the country.
Louisiana: Audubon Zoo, New Orleans
You might be right in the heart of New Orleans, but as soon as you step inside the gates of the Audobon Zoo, you’ll be instantly transported to the Lowcountry swamp. Stroll underneath dripping Spanish moss as the world-famous white alligators swim through the murky waters nearby and highly endangered whooping cranes soar overhead. Stop by the Jaguar Jungle on your way out, too, for a glimpse of cats and bats.
Maine: York’s Wild Kingdom
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Talk about a one-stop shop. The town of York’s Wild Kingdom on the New England coast has everything you could ever want in one place: A zoo, an amusement park, an 18-hole miniature golf course, paddle boat rides, and even a haunted house; there’s something for everyone here. But if you had to choose one thing you couldn’t leave without seeing, it’s Rewa, the zoo’s white Bengal tiger and the only one in the state.
Maryland: The Maryland Zoo, Baltimore
One part animals, one part history (it was founded in 1876), the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park is the nation’s third-oldest zoo. And while all 160 acres are worth wandering, any families with little ones will definitely want to venture into the award-winning Children’s Zoo, filled with educational activities, fun playgrounds to climb on and animal encounters like feeding giraffes or grooming goats.
Massachusetts: Franklin Park Zoo, Boston
Think zoos are just for kids? Think again. The Franklin Park Zoo in Boston, for instance, hosts a variety of adult-friendly (sometimes even adult-only) events throughout the year, including wine tastings and the annual Brew at the Zoo. If you’re bringing the kids, wander through free-flight zones like colorful Butterfly Hollow or the Aussie Aviary, where a bird might even land on your shoulder!
Michigan: Detroit Zoo, Royal Oak
There are normal penguin exhibits, and then there’s the one at the Detroit Zoo in Michigan. The Polk Penguin Conservation Center is the biggest penguin facility in the whole world, with over 75 birds from four different species living in the 326,000-gallon habitat, which you can observe via an underwater tunnel. If you’re just a little obsessed with penguins, here are 13 things you definitely didn’t know about the tuxedo-wearing birds.
Minnesota: Como Park Zoo, St Paul
The Como Park Zoo is exactly where you should be on any given Thursday if you live in the Minnesota region. That’s because every Thursday through April, the zoo hosts its Lil’ Explorer program where kids get a behind-the-scenes peek at the animals, read stories, and play educational games. Bonus: The entire zoo and conservatory are free, so afterward, you and the kiddos can explore the 25 different exhibits.
Mississippi: Hattiesburg Zoo
“I don’t like sloths,” said no one ever. Which is exactly why the Sloth Experience at the Hattiesburg Zoo is a major draw. Who wouldn’t want to feed and snuggle with the furry creatures in real life? You’ll also get to prepare the sloth’s food for the day and learn about the animal from an expert zookeeper. If you can’t visit, watch the Sloth Cam online, where you might spot Maple, the baby sloth who was born this summer.
Missouri: St. Louis Zoo
The best zoo in Missouri is basically a one-man show—or should we say a one-bear show. Visitors flock from all over the state to hang out with Kali (pronounced “Cully”), the 1,150-pound polar bear who was originally rescued from the Alaskan wilderness in 2013 as a cub. Now five years old, he’s become a St. Louis institution at McDonnell Polar Bear Point, where you and the kids can even spend a night in sleeping bags beneath the underwater viewing pool! Check out the 50 hidden gems in every state.
Montana: ZooMontana, Billings
Surrounded by Rocky Mountain beauty, ZooMontana prides itself on being what it calls more of a habitat than a zoo. This Montana must-visit focuses mostly on northern animals, like wolves, bears, tigers, and more, who live in environments as close to their natural habitats as possible. If you have a little one who has big dreams of working with wildlife one day, they can become a junior zookeeper for the day, where they’ll even receive a patch and certificate to take home.
Nebraska: Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Omaha
Two words—Desert Dome: This exhibit at the Henry Doorly Zoo is the largest indoor desert in the world (it’s also covered by the world’s biggest geodesic dome), so it should definitely be on your Midwest bucket list. Walk through the hot, arid habitats designed to replicate those of Africa, Asia, and the southern United States; you’ll see cobras, bobcats, rattlesnakes, and more. To cool off, go underneath the desert to the Kingdoms of the Night, where you’ll learn about all different nocturnal animals.
Nevada: Sierra Safari Zoo, Reno
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The only thing wilder than the Las Vegas strip in Nevada is the Sierra Safari Zoo. Featuring an array of exotic animals—such as six different kinds of monkeys and eight different wild cats—the Reno park gives homes to animals who wouldn’t otherwise have one, whether they’re from a research lab or from a zoo that’s closing down. Whatever you do, don’t miss the beautiful white tigers who love lounging in the sun on a warm day.
New Hampshire: Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, Holderness
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If any place can make learning fun, it’s the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center hidden away in New Hampshire. Start your visit with a walk through the exhibit trail (you’ll spend two to three hours winding your way through all of the animal hangouts so pack a picnic!), then take a boat tour on the nearby lake. If the kids have any leftover energy, let them burn it off at the children’s center, where they can climb on the giant spider web.
New Jersey: Cape May County Park & Zoo
The number of acres: 200. The number of animals: over 550. Cost of entry: Worth it. Nothing makes for a better day trip than the exciting (and free!) Cape May County Park & Zoo. Open every day except Christmas, this zoo boasts favorites such as the ring-tailed lemur family, magnificent snow leopards, and endangered red pandas. The reptile and amphibian house are also worth a walk-through for brightly-colored poisonous tree frogs. Find out the best state fair or festival in each state.
New Mexico: Albuquerque Zoo
One of the perks of the Albuquerque Zoo is the variety of programming that they offer every day. Attend family-friendly activities like animal feedings, story time with zookeepers, and even meet-and-greets with alpacas and llamas. Make sure you visit the Carnivores exhibit, too, where you’ll see some of the world’s fiercest predators from polar bears to jaguars.
New York: Bronx Zoo
When it comes to the Bronx Zoo, the question isn’t what is there to do, but rather what isn’t there to do. With over 6,000 animals, the country’s largest urban zoo has a little bit of everything. Duck through the aviary as bright birds swoop by, ride the Wild Asia monorail to try to find the tigers hiding down below, or, if you’re into the creepy and crawly, brave the World of Reptiles exhibit, complete with a giant anaconda.
North Carolina: North Carolina Zoo, Asheboro
Who would have guessed that the world’s largest natural habitat zoo is hidden away in little old Asheboro, NC? You’ll definitely need an entire day to explore all that the park has to offer, from a tour of the grasslands aboard the Zoofari vehicle to the newly adopted Yura, a wild polar bear. And if you want to know what treasures other states are hiding, check out this list of the best-kept secrets in every state.
North Dakota: Red River Zoo, Fargo
While the Red River Zoo has over 300 critters in 75 different species, it’s most known for its endangered animals, like the Pallas cats and the brand new black-footed ferrets. As part of the Species Survival Plan, the zoo is the only one that’s able to breed certain rare species, so there’s never a shortage of adorable babies, like the litter of Pallas’ cats born last spring. Here are 11 wild animals you never knew were endangered.
Ohio: Cincinnati Zoo
The next time you’re in Cincinnati, you’ll probably hear the F-word a lot—that’s “Fiona,” the city’s favorite four-legged female who also happens to be a 1,000-pound hippo. Born six weeks premature and then nursed to health in the public eye, she’s an international celebrity and social media star who even has her own show at the zoo. Yes, really—it’s called “The Fiona Show.”
Oklahoma: Oklahoma City Zoo
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Journey through the misty rainforests at the Oklahoma City Zoo as you search for fiery orangutans, swinging chimpanzees and the real crowd favorite: the two troops of gorillas that live in the zoo’s Great EscApe exhibit. But if you’re more into the tropical Caribbean than bamboo-filled Asia, fear not—just make your way over to the Island Life exhibit, where you’ll find flamingoes, boa constrictors, and the great Galapagos tortoises.
Oregon: The Oregon Zoo, Portland
Portland is known for being a little quirky, so it’s no surprise that its zoo is equally unique. Instead of housing African elephants, the Oregon Zoo has dedicated the last 50 years to breeding and rescuing Asian elephants, which are smaller and rarer. Take for instance Chendra, the 25-year-old female who is currently the only Borneo pygmy elephant in the United States.
Pennsylvania: Philadelphia Zoo, Philadelphia
The Philadelphia Zoo has the honor of calling itself the oldest zoo in the entire country, opening for the first time over 150 years ago. And these days, it’s still going strong, with popular exhibits including Big Cat Falls, where leopards, lions, and tigers prowl and growl, and Carnivore Kingdom, home to the first white lion cub born in the United States.
Rhode Island: Roger Williams Park Zoo, Providence
Surprisingly enough, some of the coolest parts of Rhode Island’s only zoo aren’t even animal-related. Like Carousel Village, where kids can go for a spin on the historic merry-go-round, jump around in the bounce house, or take a pony ride through the park. And like the Museum of Natural History and Planetarium, spotlighting over a quarter million archaeological treasures and fossils.
South Carolina: Riverbanks Zoo, Columbia
Not all South Carolinians live off of sweet tea. Some, like the adorable marsupials at the Riverbank Zoo‘s Koala Knockout exhibit, prefer eucalyptus leaves. And others, like the harbor seals at Sea Lion Landing, like to chow down on slimy raw fish instead. Whichever critters you choose to visit, try to plan your day around the scheduled animal feedings and encounters if you want an up-close experience.
South Dakota: Bear Country USA, Rapid City
Buckle up, bear-seeking adventurers. As you drive the three miles through the aptly-named Bear Country park, keep your eyes peeled for elk, wolves, and bears. If you’re lucky, you’ll even see a few cuddly cubs playing in the hills under the watchful eye of the mama bear.
Tennessee: Memphis Zoo
You’ll need to set aside almost five hours to get through the animal-filled oasis that is the Memphis Zoo. Be sure to check out the newest exhibit, Zambezi River Hippo Camp, where Nile crocodiles bask on the sunny banks while pretty pink flamingoes and hungry, hungry hippos frolic in the water. If you’re at the zoo in the winter months, slip on some skates and hit the ice rink underneath the one million holiday lights.
Texas: San Antonio Zoo
If there’s one thing this Texas zoo wants you to do, it’s to get outside and play. Home to Kronkosky Charitable Foundation’s Tiny Tot Nature Spot, which is the nation’s first children’s zoo specifically for kids under the age of five, this San Antonio destination offers all sorts of unique activities that will keep little ones entertained for hours. Go on a bug safari, make monkey treats (then watch the primates enjoy them!), or crawl through underground tunnels like a prairie dog.
Utah: Hogle Zoo, Salt Lake City
Imagine standing nose to whiskers with a rare snow leopard while a Siberian lynx lurks nearby. That’s exactly what you’ll experience at Utah’s best zoo, where the Asian Highlands exhibit spotlights some of the world’s most stunning (and most endangered) big cats. Watch as they leap and prowl through the recreated Himalayan Village, then head to Grandma’s House where you’ll learn about the fierce felines from, you guessed it, a hilarious grandma and hear a folktale or two. Don’t miss the strangest roadside attraction in every state.
Vermont: ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, Burlington
The closest thing that Vermont has to an actual zoo, the ECHO Leahy Center is more aquarium than animal kingdom. But what it lacks in furry friends, it more than makes up for in interactive learning experiences for the whole family. Watch one of the daily reptile feedings, splash around in the hands-on tide pool, or play an educational virtual reality game, where you have to save Lake Champlain.
Virginia: Metro Richmond Zoo, Mosley
Meet Kumbali and Kago, the unlikely duo who call the Metro Richmond Zoo home (along with over 2,000 other animals!) and who win over the hearts of every visitor. What makes the pair so unique? Kumbali is a cheetah cub and Kago is, well, a puppy. Both rescued by the zoo in 2015, they’ve been best friends ever since and are well worth the trip to the Virginia park. But if you can’t make it, here are 50 adorable puppy pics that are almost as cute.
Washington: Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle
Nestled in Seattle’s Phinney Ridge neighborhood, this 92-acre zoo is best known for its conservation efforts, helping to save animals and their habitats all across the world. At the zoo in Washington, you can watch the endangered orangutans swing from the jungle canopy overhead, celebrate your favorite animal’s birthday (the zoo gives all of their residents, even the rhinos, their own special “cakes!”), or meet the brand new rare red panda cubs, Zeya and Ila.
West Virginia: West Virginia Zoo, Kingwood
Formerly Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo, this animal attraction is as wild and wonderful as its home state’s slogan. Open from April to October each year, West Virginia’s best zoo is a must for anyone who wants to get up close and personal with the critters. Buy a bag of treats to feed the monkeys and giraffes (some of whom are national celebs, having starred in commercials, ads, and even movies), or get your picture taken with the lion cubs.
Wisconsin: Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison
When the Vilas family donated the land for the zoo as a gift to the city of Madison, they had one request—that it never charge admission in memory of their son. And so, whether you want to spend an entire day or just a few hours at the park, it’s completely free of charge, as one of ten zoos that offer no-cost admission. FYI: The zoo’s newest (and largest) exhibit is Arctic Passage, with underwater viewing of polar bears, seals, and grizzlies.
Wyoming: Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary, Hartville
Here’s a fun fact you probably didn’t know: There’s no official zoo in Wyoming. But there is a unique animal lover’s paradise found at Kindness Ranch Animal Sanctuary. Tucked away in Platte County, it’s the only sanctuary in the whole country that takes in all types of former research and lab animals, from cats to horses, and rehabs them to health. Note: You’ll need a reservation to visit and spend a night in one of the on-site yurts. Now, check out the strangest animal in each state.