Friday, February 3, 2017


When you think of a trip to the zoo probably a school year field trip or summer family outing is the first thing that comes to mind.  Most zoos are open throughout the entire year though and winter can be a great time for a visit.  While you might be in for a chilly time, some of my family's best trips to the zoo have been during the winter time.

If you are like me and don't care for being in crowds, a zoo during the winter months is a great place to be because they are fairly deserted places to stroll around.  While us humans don't want to be out in the cold, this time of year is when many of the animals are the most active, even ones that you wouldn't think would like being in the snow like lions from the African savanna and kangaroos from the Australian outback.   Some of our best close up views of wildlife running and playing in front of us have been during winter outings to the zoo. There have been plenty of times where it has felt like it was our family's own private park to enjoy because we practically had the place to ourselves.  It is a nice time to linger and view all the informational displays when there aren't a lot of other people getting in the way.  Plus while there may not be a lot of visitors, you'll still often find plenty of knowledgeable animal keepers, docents, and volunteers who will be excited to share with someone their insights about the animals that live there during this time when things aren't that busy.

Here are few tips on having an enjoyable trip to the zoo when it is cold outside:

+ Annual Memberships & Winter Discounts -- purchase an annual membership to your local zoo which often  provides unlimited visits to the zoo throughout the entire year for the same price as family admission would be for one or two trips without it.  Having one of these annual zoo passes will encourage your family to visit throughout the year to get the most out of your investment in it rather than just visiting during the peak attendance summer months. Some zoological parks will provide a discounted admission if you have an annual pass with another zoo so always remember to bring your membership card with you when traveling.  If you don't live close enough for an annual membership to be economical, check to see if a zoo you'd like to visit has discounted admission rates during the off-season to encourage attendance and utilize the deal as part of a fun winter road trip.

+ Check the Weather  -- A brisk stroll through outdoor exhibits is a great way to get kids who have been cooped up inside during the winter some exercise and release pent up energy. Be careful though because if it is too frigid out the experience will just be unpleasant and could even be dangerous as you risk hypothermia or frost bite if exposed to really low temperatures for too long.  Winter days when the animals are most active and you'll be the most comfortable to walk around bundled up are sunny ones with temperatures in the mid-30's or higher that have no wind chill to turn your nose and cheeks red.  Always dress appropriately for the weather conditions and check your local weather reports before you head out both for comfort and safety.

+ Online Zoo Maps -- most zoos have maps of their facilities online now.  Plot out routes between outdoor and indoor exhibits so you are giving yourself a chance to regularly warm up inside as you are exploring the zoo grounds.  It is nice to have your path planned out ahead of time instead of trying to figure out where you want to go while you are out in the cold.  Often time these online maps will highlight which exhibits are open and closed during the winter months to help you plan your visit in advance.  Also while visiting a zoo's website make sure to check out their hours as while most are open all year long they often have reduced operating hours during the winter season.  If they have an app add it to your phone or a mobile device to have access to the information as you are walking about.

+ Enjoy Indoor Exhibits -- when it is cold outside it is often possible to spend most of your time enjoying areas that are inside at many zoos.  My daughter's favorite animals are giraffes and there is a nice space where you can observe them inside so we go to see them a lot during the winter with our annual Detroit Zoo family pass.  We've had winter visits to our local zoo where we just went to the indoor butterfly and tropical bird garden, penguin exhibit, and reptile house staying inside almost the whole time.  Just because it may be frigid outside don't forget there may be interesting, warm spaces indoors at a zoo to enjoy.

Going stir crazy in your house? Maybe a winter road trip to a zoo is just the ticket to get out and about. A trip to the zoo is always an entertaining and educational experience that also provides some nice exercise.  While cold weather may be a detraction for some, my family has always found our winter visits to be enhanced by better visibility of the animals and accessibility around the exhibits.  Take advantage of the off-peak season and enjoy a family outing to a zoo.

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