Updated Jan 2014
Here is a virtual tour from 2013
Hours: 9:00 – 6:00 daily May 28 – Sept 5 & Sat/Sun Until Oct 31
9:00 – 4:00 weekdays Sept 5 – Oct 30 and daily Nov 1 – May 1
Prices: $12 for children under 12 and seniors, $18.50 for adults
Location: Apple Valley
Parking:$7 for cars, $15 for motor coaches – members get free parking
The Minnesota zoo is a favorite family activity for many and they are constantly making changes and upgrades. Right now the tank that used to hold dolphins is undergoing an upgrade and will not be open again until sometime in 2014. The Minnesota Zoo is located in Apple Valley on almost 500 acres of land. This attraction is a fun and educational destination for the whole family any time of year. Open 363 days of the year the zoo has indoor exhibits as well as outdoor trails.
There are two main exhibits that are completely inside. The tropics trail and the aquarium exhibit where there are tanks for kids to actually touch sea animals as well as an observation tank for a tropical reef. The Minnesota trail is covered for the entire trail, but sections are open to the wind and cold so this trail is not truly a winter trail unless everyone is wearing their coats. The tropics trail has such animals as the lemur, komodo dragon and a tropical reef where many colored fish are on display. The fish are fed at least once a day and the show is worth seeing if you can get a good seat. Check the times for daily feeding upon arrival at the zoo.
The aquarium exhibit has a tide pool where kids and adults can touch starfish and other tidal creatures. There is also a large shallow pool with leopard sharks and rays that people can touch. Beware the water is very cold and salty so it is important to wash hands when finished. There are sinks available next to these exhibits. There is also a large reef viewing area where spectators can see sharks, fish and other marine animals. See if you can find the sea turtle as it swims slowly around the back of the pool.
Update Dec 2012 – The Dolphins are no longer at the zoo – their tank is in need of repairs which will take at least 1 year – after the tank has been repaired a new exhibit will be created.
There are many animals to see on the outdoor trails and at the Wells Fargo Family farm. The Russian trail has sea otters, grizzly bears and a dinosaur play area for kids. The northern trail has tigers, wolves, and two outdoor playgrounds. There is a third play area inside the grain silo on the way to the farm. This is a great place to get inside out of the heat or the rain. The paths are wide and paved with animal information displayed next to each habitat.
The Wells Fargo Family Farm can be reached either by walking or by taking a short ride on a tractor pulled trailer. The farm has the usual animals expected, pigs, horses, cows and chickens. Seasonally there are also bunnies. The farm has picnic areas and its own snack store. There are milking demonstrations daily as well as an area where kids can feed goats and sheep. The goats can be very aggressive when trying to get at the provided food so it may be a good idea to stand outside the fence to feed them when children are young. There are also brushes available to brush the animals, though they may not stand still for it if there are others with food to give. The chicken house also has a small play area inside as well as an incubator where eggs are hatched regularly. The farm exhibit is a great way to introduce kids to the source of their food.
There is one more seasonal exhibit that is actually a play area for the kids. In the central plaza just outside the entrance to the Russia trail are giant water fountains that spray water down over a large circular area. Kids can play in this and get completely soaked. It is a good idea to bring a change of clothing or a swimming suit for the kids to change into if they want to play here. There are bathrooms nearby so it isn’t hard to change quickly and let them have some fun. The water is not on all year so visitors in late fall through early spring don’t have to worry about trying to keep their kids dry, but summer visitors should be prepared.
It is a good idea to read through the pamphlet of information received upon entering the zoo. This sheet will have information on daily shows and any special events that may be happening at the zoo. The zoo is a popular place to visit and crowds may be thick. If possible it is best to visit in the morning before others arrive. I highly recommend this attraction as a family favorite. Kids and parents will want to return again.
Additional information is available at www.mnzoo.com
Tips and Tricks for the Minnesota Zoo
1. Bring your own snacks and food – the onsite vending is good, but expensive.
2. Bring a change of clothes for the kids after they play in the water fountains
3. Bring change to purchase goat food at the farm to feed the goats
4. Plan to spend some time at one or more of the play areas. There are two main playgrounds in addition to the large water play area
5. Ride to the Farm area. In the summer the cart is pulled by two horses who live at the farm.
6. Visit early in the day or late in the afternoon. This helps avoid crowds and is when the animals are most active.
7. Bring a stroller for younger kids. The zoo is large enough they may tire before the day is over.
8. Visit the grain silo on the way to the farm. There is a large indoor climbing structure for kids to play on and it is air conditioned.
9. Watch for employees standing next to carts. These often have live animals or other interactive displays for kids to get up close and explore.
10. Visit the new and improved toddler play area next to the penguin exhibit. This is part of the newly completed area and is designed for kids aged 1 to 3 years.
11. If you plan on attending the zoo more than once or twice a year consider getting a family membership. This eliminates the parking fee, gives discounts at stores and will pay for itself in three visits.
Use these tips to make your next visit to the Minnesota Zoo more fun for everyone. More reviews of fun family attractions are available at www.thingstodowithkidsmn.com