We’re the kind of family that makes at least one trek to each of the zoos in the Twin Cities every year. We love both the Minnesota Zoo and Como Zoo, each for different reasons. When we’re in the mood for a more intimate day that involves less time and considerably less walking, we head to Como. And when we’re craving the full-blown, walk until you drop, all-day experience, we head to the Minnesota Zoo!
Situated on 500 rolling, wooded acres in Apple Valley, the Minnesota Zoo is home to 2,400 animals representing over 400 species. It opened in 1978, aiming to provide a wide open viewing experience for its visitors, with large naturalistic settings. The zoo was one of the first of its kind to organize its animals by their living environment as opposed to their species. There are three themed walking trails ranging from one to two miles in length, with exhibits arrayed in six themed areas:
● Medtronic Minnesota Trail, featuring animals native to Minnesota.
● Northern Trail, featuring animals living above the 45th parallel north.
● Tropics Trail, a warm and humid indoor area simulating the tropics.
● Discovery Bay, showcasing the zoo’s marine wildlife.
● Wells Fargo Family Farm, a seasonal exhibit featuring farm animals and a petting zoo.
● Russia’s Grizzly Coast, the zoo’s newest exhibit featuring animals from Russia’s Pacific coast.
My husband is all about getting to the zoo when the doors open in the morning. And if it’s a slightly cooler day, all the better. He has convinced us that earlier hours and cooler temperatures let us in on more animal activity. This has definitely held true for us the past two years. As we visited on mornings when it felt good to have a light sweatshirt on our backs, we saw more action from the bears than ever before. They were crazy fun to watch, making it hard to leave the Grizzly Coast, one of our favorite exhibits.
Another favorite area for my family is the Wells Fargo Family Farm. Our young kids like the petting zoo. I like riding on the trailer behind a tractor, between a corn field and pasture land, to arrive at a farm. A farm in the middle of the zoo! Having grown up on a farm in the Midwest, this part of the zoo just has a warm and welcoming feel to it, and it’s so well done. A highlight of this area for our kids is that we like to eat our lunch at the farm. Although we occasionally grab a bite to eat at the zoo’s food court, we more often pack a small cooler with sandwiches, fruit and some drinks. Then we sit next to the big white farm house to eat and take a break. There are also picnic tables available in other areas of the zoo, making it convenient to bring your lunch or a few snacks.
If you’re wanting to take a load off your feet, while still being able to see the zoo, then the monorail is a great transportation choice. It does have an additional charge ($4 for ages 3 and older), and we don’t ride it every visit, but it’s a nice way to get a little different perspective. Riding through the treetops, you get a bird’s eye view of the animals. And it’s narrated and air conditioned — a perfectly enjoyable way to relax and recharge on a hot summer day. This is also a great place for using your binoculars. Our kids pass back and forth during the ride, sharing closer views of the wildlife.
Besides slating extra time for a couple other choice areas, such as Discovery Bay and the Tropics Trail (great indoor exhibits for every visit, but especially if the weather turns bad), our family always takes in the World of Birds Show. Although the script remains basically the same year after year, the birds never fail to captivate us. From soaring hawks to talking parrots and majestic owls, the awesomeness of these beautiful feathered creatures is really something to behold.
At $18 admission for ages 13-64 and $12 for kids 3-12, a visit to the Minnesota Zoo is a commitment from the wallet for a family with a few kids in tow. On occasion, we’ve been able to snag a couple free Adventure Pass from our local library, a cost saving option for those with a Metro Public Library card. But even if the passes aren’t available, we still go. For us, a visit to the Minnesota Zoo has become an annual family tradition that we make room for in both our calendar and our wallet, and we all greatly appreciate the time we spend there. It’s a great place to see and learn about amazing animals and have fun at the same time.