Henry Vilas Zoo-Wisconsin
· · · · · · · · · · ·

Enjoy a Day of Family Fun at 20 of the Best Zoos in the Midwest

Surrounded by monkeys, lions, elephants, and other majestic animal species, a trip to the zoo appeals to visitors of all ages. For zoo-goers young and old, the Midwest is home to some of the country’s best zoos, and we bet you won’t want to stop after visiting just one.

From the heart of Chicago to the shores of Lake Erie to the plains of Kansas, these zoos offer sights of thousands of animal species, interactive experiences with animals, unique points of view, and much more to make a trip to a Midwest zoo a fun and memorable experience.

Lincoln Park Zoo-Illinois
Lincoln Park Zoo | photo via compassandtwine

Lincoln Park Zoo | Illinois

This beloved zoo in the Windy City has delighted visitors for more than 150 years with a unique combination of exhibits and habitats. Visitors of all ages can see over 1,100 animals representing nearly 200 species from around the world as they explore different parts of the zoo.

Visitors can explore diverse exhibits such as the Regenstein African Journey, where they can encounter majestic lions, playful gorillas, and graceful giraffes. The Kovler Seal Pool provides an opportunity to observe the antics of energetic seals, while the Kovler Lion House offers a glimpse into the lives of big cats.

Brookfield Zoo | Illinois

After you’ve soaked up the sights and sounds of the Lincoln Park Zoo, head just outside the city for an unforgettable journey. As a home for more than 2,000 animals, visitors can see creatures both familiar and exotic — from towering giraffes and majestic elephants to playful dolphins and elusive big cats.

Brookfield Zoo’s innovative exhibits are designed to both entertain and educate. The Tropic World immerses visitors in the sights and sounds of tropical rainforests, showcasing animals like primates, sloths, and birds. The Hamill Family Wild Encounters allows guests to interact with various animal ambassadors up close.

Indianapolis Zoo | Indiana

Nestled in the heart of downtown Indiana, the Indy Zoo is a vibrant, world-class zoo for all types of animal lovers. From the rolling plains of the Plains biome, where bison roam and prairie dogs play, to the lush forests of the Forests biome, home to orangutans and tigers, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Whether you’re watching a dolphin show at the Dolphin Pavilion, feeding giraffes at the Encounters Trail, or exploring the underwater world at the Oceans biome, a visit to the Indianapolis Zoo promises unforgettable encounters with the wonders of the natural world.

Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium | Nebraska

The Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is a world-renowned destination, celebrated for its diverse collection of more than 17,000 animals and innovative exhibits. Visitors can walk amidst free-flying birds and cascading waterfalls in the Lied Jungle or explore the African Grasslands, where elephants roam

DID YOU KNOW: For a unique POV, ride the Skyfari aerial tram to enjoy panoramic views of the zoo

In addition to its impressive array of land animals, the Zoo is also home to a spectacular aquarium that showcases colorful coral reefs, graceful sharks, playful sea turtles, and other marine life from around the world. 

Saint Louis Zoo | Missouri

The city known for the Gateway Arch and mouth-watering barbeque is also home to one of the Midwest’s best zoos. Visitors can enjoy more than 600 species and 16,000 animals while exploring areas like River’s Edge, Big Cat Country, and Penguin & Puffin Coast.

For an extra fun experience, hop aboard the Emerson Zooline Railroad for a 20-minute tour that weaves past different exhibits and through tunnels on a 1.5-mile journey. It’s an easy way to see more of the zoo and get to different areas without having to make a long walk.

Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden-Ohio
Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden | photo via clairem402

Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden | Ohio

If you can’t get enough of seeing animals at a zoo, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden has plenty to offer. The Africa exhibit features majestic creatures like lions, giraffes, and cheetahs, and Hippo Habitat and Gorilla World provide a fascinating glimpse into the underwater world of hippos and the unique world of primates.

Looking for more? The Manatee Springs exhibit provides an opportunity to observe gentle manatees up close and Wings of the World aviary showcases a variety of exotic bird species. The botanical garden offers a tranquil retreat with themed gardens showcasing a diverse array of plant species.

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium | Ohio

In the heart of the Buckeye State, visitors can enjoy a little bit of everything here — from train rides and a wooden roller coaster to animal exhibits and kids activities.

Visitors can see over 10,000 animals, including many rare and endangered species they explore exhibits like the Heart of Africa (including the chance to feed giraffes) and Asia Quest. They can also catch shows at the park’s 4-D Theater, hop on the North America Train ride, or enjoy weekend-only amusement park rides.

Detroit Zoo | Michigan

A trip to the Detroit Zoo (it’s actually nearby in Royal Oak) is a must for any family near the Motor City. It features over 2,000 animals of more than 200 species and is recognized as a worldwide leader in conservation and animal welfare.

RELATED: Check out Michigan’s other AWESOME zoos

There’s a lot of ground to cover so a ride aboard the Tauber Family Railroad is a good idea to get to the far reaches of the zoo before walking to different exhibits. Visitors can explore the Arctic Ring of Life, Australian Outback Adventure, and Polk Penguin Conservation Center among other exhibits.

Minnesota Zoo | Minnesota

Nestled in the shadow of the Twin Cities in Apple Valley, the Minnesota Zoo features more than 5,000 animals and delights for visitors of all ages.

Zoo-goers can make their way to immersive exhibits like the Tropics Trail and the Discovery Bay, and thrilling bird shows at the Wings Financial World of Birds Show Dome. For a truly unique perspective, visitors can take behind-the-scenes tours or take the 1.25-mile Treetop route to see the zoo in a whole new way.

Kansas City Zoo | Missouri

This beloved zoo is a wildlife hub of activity that presents something that appeals to every visit. Zoo-goers can marvel at majestic African species like zebras and giraffes or explore the Tropics exhibit where colorful birds and playful primates can be found.

For those fascinated by big cats, the Tiger Trail provides an opportunity to observe majestic Amur and Sumatran tigers up close, while the Polar Bear Passage offers a glimpse into the icy world of these impressive Arctic mammals. The zoo has scenic walking trails, providing a tranquil path for visitors to explore all the zoo’s treasures.

Milwaukee County Zoo | Wisconsin

Residents and visitors in the Badger State can visit the Original Brew City’s unique zoo and enjoy the sites of over 2,000 animals in fun areas like the North America section, the African Savannah, and the Adventure Africa exhibit. The Zoomobile is a great way to see it all while enjoying a guided tour.

Animal enthusiasts of all ages can enjoy a world-class menagerie of animals, including cheetahs, bonobos, lions, tigers, elephants, reptiles, and much more. Visitors can also take train rides and sky safari rides to see everything from a birds-eye view.

Toledo Zoo-Ohio
Toledo Zoo | photo via zoo_tography

Toledo Zoo | Ohio

Recognized for its innovative exhibits and conservation efforts, the Toledo Zoo treats visitors to the sight of more than 10,000 animals representing 720 species. First-timers and frequent zoo visitors can explore the Arctic Encounter and the Kingdom of the Apes, among other exhibits, to see polar bears, seals, gorillas, and so many more.

The aquarium features more than 3,000 aquatic animals, including sea turtles, fish, and stingrays. Seasoned green thumbs can explore the zoo’s many gardens and enjoy a garden tour led by zoo staff that includes plenty of gardening tips.

Blank Park Zoo | Iowa

Nestled in the heart of Des Moines, the Blank Park Zoo amazes and piques the curiosity of all who journey here. For those intrigued by aquatic life, the Aquarium of the Discovery Center offers a mesmerizing underwater world, featuring a variety of fish, sharks, and other marine creatures.

Elsewhere, the Australian Adventure invites visitors to meet kangaroos, wallabies, and colorful lorikeets in an immersive setting. Visitors also won’t want to miss the Discovery Center, where they can encounter creatures of the rainforest, or the African Boardwalk to see lions, towering giraffes, and graceful antelopes.

Sedgwick County Zoo | Kansas

As one of the biggest zoos in the Midwest, Sedgwick County Zoo is a must-stop for anyone visiting Wichita. As visitors gaze over more than 3,000 animals, they can explore areas like the Downing Gorilla Forest, the Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley, and the Tiger Trek exhibit to see some of their favorite critters.

Visitors looking for a different kind of experience can take virtual tours of the zoo, where they can check on live-stream animal cams, enjoy behind-the-scenes animal encounters, and explore specific zoo areas via the web.

Como Park Zoo and Conservatory | Minnesota

Created in 1873, Como Park Zoo in St. Paul Minnesota gets nearly two million visitors a year and boasts a complex that includes a zoo, an amusement park, and a conservatory among other attractions.

DID YOU KNOW: Don’t miss the Sparky the Sea Lion Show for a fun and educational experience.

Admission to the zoo and conservatory is free (donations are suggested) and visitors can explore areas like the Primate Discovery Program, the Polar Bear Odyssey, and the sights within the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory.

Potter Park Zoo | Michigan

Michigan’s capital city is home to a nearly year-round zoo that stays open despite the up-and-down weather. Visitors can enjoy lions, tigers, bears, elk, red pandas, monkeys, and much more.

This Lansing Michigan zoo frequently hosts fun events during the year, including a Mother’s Day promotion where all moms get in free. Other events include the Ice Safari during the winter time, Night at the Living Museum, and a summer camp for young animal conservationists. 

Fort Wayne Children's Zoo-Indiana
Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo | photo via mamaof3mily

Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo | Indiana

A journey through northern Indiana should always include a trip to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo, which promises a delightful assortment of animal encounters for visitors of all ages.

Visitors can enjoy a ride on the Z.O. & O. Railroad to see the zoo from afar or walk to enjoy exhibits like petting goats at the Indiana Family Farm; encountering kangaroos and emus at the Australian Adventure, or cooling off at the park’s splash pad on a hot day.

Cleveland Metroparks Zoo | Ohio

On the shores of Lake Erie, visitors can enjoy a wide range of activities and attractions. Start at the entrance where visitors can pick up a Zoo Key and unlock fun facts and stories at various stations throughout the zoo. Continue to animal exhibits like the African Savanna or the RainForest to discover all kinds of interesting creatures.

Visitors can experience the zoo from a new perspective on the Treetop Trail, walking among the treetops and seeing animals from a unique vantage point. The Zoo360 system’s elevated pathways also allow for exploration of various exhibits like Primate, Cat & Aquatics Building, and the African Elephant Crossing.

Binder Park Zoo | Michigan

Travelers who like smaller zoos can enjoy this family-friendly immersion into the animal kingdom in Battle Creek. Visitors can see 500 animals, including the African Lion, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, and reptiles.

 Visitors can board a zebra-striped tram to the Wild Africa exhibit — set up like a safari with majestic African plains animals such as gazelles, lions, and cheetahs roaming around 50 acres. Ride back to the entrance and explore the original zoo layout, which includes a carousel and SkyLark Ridge — a high ropes course and zip line adventure.

Henry Vilas Zoo | Wisconsin

Zoo-goers won’t want to miss a trip to this beloved zoo in Madison — one of the nation’s only admission-free zoos. Guests can enjoy over 650 animals, including big cats, primates, and birds, and a new Wisconsin Heritage exhibit featuring two American badgers.

The zoo’s other exhibits span the globe and youngsters can enjoy the Children’s Zoo — which includes family-friendly exhibits — and a carousel and rides aboard the zoo’s electric train. From the colorful Tropical Rainforest Aviary to the majesty of the North American Prairie, the zoo has something exciting for everyone. 

Henry Vilas Zoo-Wisconsin
Henry Vilas Zoo | Wisconsin | photo via katyraearyain

Explore the Wonders of the Best Zoos in the Midwest

Whether you get up close and personal with giraffes and manatees, meander along treetop paths for an overhead look, or take a relaxing train ride, a trip to a Midwest zoo is fun for everyone. Make plans to visit one (or all) of the zoos in the Midwest and see for yourself the wonders that await you around every corner.