Thursday, April 4, 2013

Best time to go to the zoo: try a winter road trip!

It wasn't a busy work week for me following the Easter weekend so I took a day off and decided to enjoy a trip to the local zoo with my kids on one of the nice Spring days we were blessed with.  I was surprised as we pulled into the zoo driveway to see the parking lots closest to the entrance crammed full of cars and to find ourselves parking in one of the outer lots with a trek to the entry gates.  I shouldn't have been shocked because as the weather becomes warmer and it is more enjoyable to be outside the zoo is a great family day trip.  It's just that our family has become used to having the zoo as our own private place the last few months because we regularly go during the winter and during those colder months we practically have the place to ourselves.

Yes, it may be a little cold out but not only are there no crowds to bump up against for a good view but without the noise and distractions created by all the human visitors many of the animals are much more comfortable and are more active while you watch them during a winter visit compared to a trip in the spring or summer months.  Going to the zoo with my kids has actually become one of my favorite WINTER activities. Most zoos are open to the public all year long - check with your local zoo and see what they have to offer during the months of November - March.

Here's a video from a trip we took to the Detroit Zoo in February that shows some of my kids favorite animals to view: lions, rhinos, lemurs, and meerkats:

We have an annual pass to our local zoo and go throughout the year.  The Detroit Zoo is actually open 362 days per year.  There are fun things to do in the warmer months that you can't do in the winter like riding an animal themed carousel, hand-feeding giraffes or playing on the kids playscape but there are a lot ot fun things that you can do in the colder weather too!
The Detroit Zoo's Reptile House (aka Holden Reptiles Conservation Center) is kept a warm tropical 80 degrees all winter long to keep its 250 residents happy and comfortable.  During the summer when the place is crowed with visitors it often seems as if the snakes, lizards, turtles, and alligators who call the reptile home hide out in their exhibits.  If you can brave a frigid run or walk through the zoo's grounds in the winter months you'll find without all the motion and sound created by crowds these animals are very active slithering and swimming around their display areas.  My kids really enjoy racing the turtles along the window in their tank everytime we go ... they aren't as fond of the snakes though. 

A visit to the Giraffe Encounter during the colder months is always a treat for the kids, and parents, because you can get closer to the animals than when they are outside.  You can walk right up to a glass partition and see the giraffes up close and wow does that really let you get a feel for how tall these animals are!
If you're going during the cold weather than that is the perfect time to stop by the Artic Ring of Life where you can see foxes, seals and polar bears.  While it is a little bit of a trek through the outside of the exhibit you eventually will be able to observe the seals and polar bears from indoors either through an underwater tunnel or a mock up of a north pole scientific exploration station.  We've seen the polar bears from the underwater observation area more often during the winter months than during the spring, summer or fall and the only times we've seen the artic foxes out on the grounds of the Ring of Life where we could get a good view of them has been in the fall and winter months.
You can also get out of the winter air and explore the National Amphibian Conservation Center ( aka Amphibiville ) at the Detroit Zoo which my kids love to go and look at all the multi-colored varieties of frogs they have on display.

Like the Reptile House, the zoo also keeps the Matilda Wilson Free Flight Aviary & Butterfly Garden at a nice tropical 80 degrees all year long and we can't go for a visit without stopping by to see the butterflys and parrots.

Other animals with indoor buildings where you can get out of the cold and observe them include the chimpanzees and gorillas in the "monkey house", the meerkats have their own building as well as the lemurs, the otters may be outside all year long but you can view them from indoors in the heated Mardigian Otter Habitat building, and you can even go indoors to view the rhinos up close.
Depending on the temperature outside you never know what might be outside roaming around during the winter months and you could get an upclose unobstructed view of a lion, tiger, kangaroo, or grizzle bear.

You can't leave the zoo without one final stop which is a visit the the Penguinarium, this building was the first facility ever built in the United States to specifically house penguins and has been a highlight of a visit to the Detroit Zoo since 1968. It is located right before you get to the exit and is always the last stop we make before heading back to our car to head home so we can enjoy a nice mug of hot chocolate to warm up with and discuss our adventures at the zoo over.

If you haven't taken a trip to your local zoo when it's cold outside I urge you to give it a try!
For more information about planning a zoo roadtrip visit the Association of Zoos & Aquariums at

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