Reptile & Amphibian Discovery Zoo




Not much makes my skin crawl more than standing within six inches of a venomous creepy crawly {shudder}. The idea of finding a snake in my garden makes my skin crawl (shudder again}. I’m not the only person who suffers from Ophidiophobia, but I might be the only Ophidiophobiac who willingly purchased family admission to the Reptile & Amphibian Discovery (RAD) Zoo in Owatonna. All fears aside, I’m really glad we went. Only 40 minutes from the Twin Cities, I was under-impressed when we pulled into the parking lot. It looked like a shut-down warehouse with a banner reading “REPTILE ZOO” stretched across the metal siding. We walked hesitantly inside and, after getting over the cold-blooded stink in the air, we quickly discovered that this zoo was pretty awesome! Not only was it bigger than I expected, but the animal variety was great and they were all pretty active considering they are closely related to those jurassic reptilia that died out 65 million years ago.

What is it?

The RAD Zoo is the perfect family day trip from the Twin Cities, only 40 minutes from Minneapolis. What looks like a tire factory from the outside actually holds some seriously jaw-dropping animals inside. The first creature you see when you walk in is Big Al. This 12 foot gator is pretty incredible to see through a thin pane of racquetball glass. We got to watch it move from the land to the water and it made me feel better about my own gracefulness. The zoo is a giant open space (all indoors) with a few offshoot hallways lined with glass terrariums holding all different kinds of cold-blooded creatures. Some of our favorites were the Caiman Gators, the Blue-Tongued Skink (please don’t let me come back as this ugly creature in my next life), the Alligator Snapping Turtle (…or this one), and the turtle pool.  My daughter enjoyed tweeting at the exotic birds and my son spent a lot of time hissing at the 14-foot python. Some that I wouldn’t go near included the Hissing Cockroaches (cuz the non-hissing ones aren’t bad enough?), the Scorpions, and the Rattlesnakes. The zoo’s newest area is called “The Danger Zone” – a section that holds all the venomous, poisonous, most deadly characters in the building. Those pretty bright blue dart frogs? Yeah, they can kill you. Lessons I learned that day: Cute doesn’t always mean cuddly.

reptile amphibian discovery zoo

reptile amphibian discovery zoo

Fit for what ages?

Depending on your child’s level of interest in these creatures, the age I think the zoo favors varies greatly. I found great joy watching my almost-5-year old boy bounce from cage to cage hoping to see them slither around. He brought a pair of binoculars (not necessary, by the way) so he could see their scales up close. Since we’ve gone, he plays “snake capturer” around the house so I think he found some genuine joy in our day there. We saw a family with kids who were probably closer to 10 or 11 and they looked a little bored. Then again, they were girls in skirts with sequins purses, so I guess you just have to know your audience. Basically, if they have any attraction to this type of thing, take them. Worth it! My 2-year old daughter and 1-year old niece had fun, but mostly because it was wide open and running was not a problem. They also had a nice toy setup for kids their ages, so the girls spent most of their time playing with Fisher Price Little People.

Below is a photo of Johnson, the albino boa who once belonged to Justin Bieber. I’m not lying, baby baby. Coen’s face describes how he felt about the snake. It also describes how I feel about Justin Bieber.


How much are we talkin?

The Discovery Zoo is $9.50 for teens and adults (13+); $7.50 for kids (3-12) and seniors; Free for 2 and under. Special discounts are offered for military families, teachers and librarians, students, and groups. Check out their Admission page to get detailed rates. However, I purchased ours through LivingSocial, and I know I’ve also seen specials on Amazon Local. Watch for these deals because they will save you a ton (our total was $19 for a family of four and included the snake or gator sitting and 4×6 photo). Family and individual memberships are also available.

reptile amphibian discovery zoo

Want some tips?

As I mentioned above, look for family deals and discounts online. Bathrooms are easily accessible, but don’t have changing tables. Parking is a breeze (huge lot).  We went on a rainy Saturday and were the only ones there for the first hour. We got there near opening time, so maybe the key is to go early. But, it’s a pretty big space, and I can’t imagine it would ever get super packed. Bring a little extra cash to pick up a knick-knack in the souvenir section. We brought home a stuffed turtle named “Ribbit” and a disgustingly-realistic iguana who sits on my son’s shoulder morning, noon, and night. That was $8 well spent to see the smiles on their faces. If you have the means, arm each kid with a disposable (or, depending on your means, something fancier) camera. They can get so up-close and personal with these creatures, snapping photos of them would just be icing on the cake. If you go on a weekend, time it around their animal feedings (3-4pm on Saturdays; 2-3pm on Sundays). Depending on the strength of your stomach, you can see a tortoise eating lettuce or a gator eating a thawed pig (yes, I think that’s gross too).

Owatonna is a sweet little town with a small-feel downtown and unique dining options. Visit the Owatonna Tourism website for more information. We crossed the highway after RAD and spent an hour at the ginormous Cabela’s. With a small toy section, a fudge shop and a substantial fish exhibit, it was the perfect way to burn whatever energy was left in the kids.

Group ideas (for classes, camps, scouts, parties etc.):

Camping with Crocs! Spend a Friday night sleeping near the crocodiles to see their nocturnal habits firsthand.

Birthday Parties! You can host a party at RAD or RAD can come to you. There are a variety of party packages available, including the ARTventure package (which includes a homemade clay sculpture of the creature of their liking).

reptile amphibian discovery zoo

Hours and Location

3297 County Road 45 North  |  Owatonna, MN 55060

The RAD Zoo is very easy to find. From Minneapolis, it’s a straight shot down 35W South and you don’t turn until you see the Cabela’s on the right (Exit 45).

Monday-Friday  10am to 5pm
Saturday  9am to 6pm
Sunday  12pm to 5pm

Follow the RAD Zoo on Facebook to see local events, new articles, deals, and (if you’re lucky) you might see a photo of a Boa eating a chicken like I did last week. I’ll just end with another {shudder}.

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  • My First 12 Months | My Favorite 12 Posts - MinneMama Adventures
    02/04/2015 at 3:29 pm

    […] Snakes & Gators Galore: Reptile & Amphibian Discovery Zoo […]

  • NellieBellie
    02/10/2015 at 3:04 pm

    Nicki, you are one awesome mom! Seriously…being willing to spend the day around creatures you HATE. That’s true love. 🙂