Minnesota Zoo

minnesota zoo



I got a call from an old high school friend last week and we set up a play date at the MN Zoo so our kids could meet and we could catch up on, oh, just everything that has happened in our lives for the past 15 years. I get to the zoo maybe once a year, but every time I go I find things that are new and fresh and so much fun! And, this time was no exception – with kids at ideal “walking” ages and a day filled with sunshine and no crowds, I left pretty darn pleased with where I live and all that we have to offer families. I also left sweaty and exhausted, with one kid on my shoulders while pushing the other – who was screaming something about dolphins and crying out of sheer overtiredness – in a stroller. But isn’t that usually a sign of a job well done? Mission Accomplished.

What is it?

The Minnesota Zoo is 485 well-kept acres filled with hundreds of animal habitats and some great trails to walk on a sunny day. There are plenty of indoor exhibits for cold days, including the Discovery Bay Aquarium and the balmy Tropics area with a “rainforest” feel. Many shows and feedings take place every day, and animal education is around every corner. That’s what makes this zoo so wonderful!

Through April 30, the farm area is showing off its spring babies and they are SO worth seeing. Little chicks and sheep and piglets – (sigh) I die! Enjoy the wide variety of daily shows – allowing kids to take a rest, decompress and learn a little while regaining energy for their next round of walking. I’ve always been impressed with the bird show, and have heard the shark feedings and tropical dive show are supposed to be entertaining as well.

minnesota zoo

Fit for what ages?

The Zoo is most definitely intended for ALL ages. It’s stroller-friendly, yet not so daunting that little toddler legs can’t make the full way around the zoo. Big kids (who like animals, obviously) will get a kick out of the “real” environments each animal is given. The MN Zoo does a really good, volunteer-driven job of keeping each and every animal clean and happy. As an adult, that is my favorite part!

How much are we talkin?

If I’m being perfectly honest, the price of the zoo is a huge reason we only go once a year. I’ve heard from others that it is not bad in comparison to others of similar size, but if I really loved zoos and I lived a little closer to Apple Valley, I would most definitely invest in the membership. Memberships range from $55-155 and it covers admission and parking, including discounts on education programs and the gift shop – details available here.

Without a membership, zoo admission is $12 for kids 3-12 (and seniors) and free for 2 and under. Adults are $18. Biggest con of the zoo? You pay for parking too – $7/car. They do offer a military discount and 9 times out of 10, you can find a $2-4 coupon online somewhere. Also, some local libraries offer free day passes, so check there too if you want to save money! Make the most of your admission and get a re-entry stamp to come back later in the day if mid-day naps are needed.

For additional fees, the Zoo also has an on-site IMAX theater and Amphitheater which offer some seriously phenomenal big-name outdoor concerts and films (including $5 family night at the IMAX).

Want some tips?

Weekends are crazy, but the place is so big, it almost doesn’t matter. Sunday mornings are best if you have to go on a weekend (anytime before 11). Even in the summer months, that is the slowest time. Bring your own food. Just like all child-friendly venues, the food and drink here is overpriced and only mediocre in taste (personal opinion of course). There’s a million places to sit and enjoy a little picnic in the sun, plus it’s a good way to rest and refuel so you can keep going. If you have a membership, you can skip the admission line (especially helpful in the summertime when it’s busy) and go through the membership lane to enter. There are family restrooms spread conveniently throughout the grounds, and should you have trouble finding one, it’s always incredibly easy to locate a volunteer or zookeeper (who are also spread conveniently throughout the grounds…in matching blue or dark green T-shirts).

Stroller rentals are offered for $5-8/day and don’t miss the “tractor ride” that takes you from the grain elevator to the farm during the summer months.

Oh, and let’s not forget the giant treehouse playground and splash pad for those warm months. It’s incredible how quickly a child can get soaked to the bone and dry off entirely when it’s 93 degrees outside. Plus, in the works right now is a huge indoor carousel, located back by the farm. Cannot wait for that to open!

Adorable Bonus: Come winter, when there’s snow on the ground and the drive to the Zoo sounds dangerous and dreadful, sit back and watch the monkeys on one of the awesome Zoo webcams. It’s free and hilarious: http://mnzoo.org/webcams/gibbonrCam.html

mn zoo

Hours and Location

13000 Zoo Boulevard  |  Apple Valley, MN 55124

The Zoo opens at 9:00am every day, and is open until 4 or 6pm, depending on the time of year. Specific hours are listed here. Located in clean, serene Apple Valley, the Zoo is tucked back away from the cars, highways and noise of the metropolis, making it an ideal spot for animals and animal-lovers alike.

facebookFollow the Minnesota Zoo on Facebook to stay in-the-know about special events, discounts, concert announcements, and more. Plus, whoever’s in charge of their social media is pretty entertaining when it comes to captioning their animal photos. I dare you not to laugh. Enjoy!

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  • Mandak
    04/11/2014 at 4:03 pm

    Have toddlers? The bee-hive, just past the main gift shop, before you get to the penguins) is a safe, toddler play area and has child-sized restrooms (which are not well known – and typically wait free). We head here when it’s one parent and multiple kids (easy to leave the stroller in the play area). Going when it’s hot? The rest-rooms at the Farm are air conditioned and a great place to cool off. The classroom in this building is usually unlocked and offers a private area for breastfeeding (again, air conditioned) if you need that kind of thing.

    You mentioned the splash pad, we love that in the summer – and with our membership, often go just to get wet. (We used to enjoy the playground, but that’s been torn down to make room for the carousel).

    For a family of 4 (or more) requiring admission fees – 2-3 visits (depending on your numbers) is all it takes to make the membership worth it.

    • Nicki
      04/14/2014 at 12:55 am

      Thanks Manda! This is good information. Forgot to mention the Bee Hive (and those lovely potties) 🙂 I was sad the playground was torn down too. At least they still have that big treehouse one by the splash pad. But, the other one was smaller and better for younger kids. Oh well! Yes, membership is totally worth it. Wish we went more to make it worth it. Someday…Someday…. 🙂

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