School’s out, sun’s out, and your little monkeys are climbing the walls. What’s a parent to do? Take them to the zoo, of course! The Oregon Zoo is an award-winning institution for good reason: it’s deeply committed to conservation and sustainability, and it’s a top family-friendly destination because of its accessibility for all ages, abilities, and interests. We’ve put together your go-to guide for getting the most out of your visit. Read on for all the insider tips.
photo: Michael Durham, © Oregon Zoo
Start your adventure with a scenic route on foot. Combining stunning views and forested trails with a quick ride on Portland’s only subway, Metro’s 5-mile Portland Heights to the Zoo trail is just one of many loops available through its Walk There! book and online guide.
Why walk when you can bike? Pedal to a MAX station or bus stop to catch a ride up the hill, then hop off at the zoo. After a long day of adventure, the breeze will feel amazing as you coast back downhill toward downtown and onward. Leave a little time to linger in Washington Park on your way home, with a quick stop at the International Rose Test Garden.
Take a break from being behind the wheel and let TriMet get you there. Ride the bus or MAX to Washington Park station, using the Trip Planner to find the best route. Kids under 7 ride free, and adults can get a day pass for $5. Plus, riding transit into Washington Park gets you $1.50 off zoo admission!
Need to factor in a car nap? The zoo’s pay stations and mobile app make it easy to pay for parking, so your tired-out explorers can go straight from zoo to zonked out.
Cost: $2/Hour, $8/All Day
Pro-tip: Get there early to nab a spot in the main parking lot. Signs at the entrance indicate if the lot is full, in which case you’ll use overflow parking and take a free shuttle to the zoo.
photo: frarytd via flickr
Must See Animals, Exhibits & Events
From Elephant Lands and Penguinarium to the tigers of Discovery Plaza and the lions at Predators of the Serengeti, there’s a wealth of animal exhibits to explore at the Oregon Zoo. Browse the full list on the zoo’s website to find out more, and use the zoo map to plan a route through all of your favorites. This is also a great way to double-check which exhibits are currently under construction as part of the final phases of the zoo’s upgrade, finishing in 2020. While you’ll have to wait to see the polar bears, for example, the giraffes and rhinos are ready and waiting for you!
Visit the Insect Zoo at the Education Center, located next to Discovery Plaza and filled with ways to get up close and personal with the zoo’s commitment to conservation and sustainability. Visit the Species Conservation Lab, and get inspired with tips for being part of restoration efforts in your own neighborhood. You can even find out how your family can sign up to volunteer at the zoo, with summer programs for kids ages 10 and up, and group volunteering opportunities for adults and kids 12 and older.
Animal Encounter Tours
Not content to observe the animals from a distance? Go behind the scenes with one of the zoo’s Animal Encounters, a way for smaller groups to see zoo residents up close accompanied by keepers. The 20-minute Family Farm Experience is an affordable option for younger children, with opportunities to pet and feed goats, chickens, and ducks. Or choose the Elephant Encounter for a chance to feed and take a photo with a pachyderm! Check website for changing availability and descriptions.
Pricing: varies by tour
photo: Jeff Wandasiewicz via flickr
A perennial favorite with kids of all ages (and the grown-ups who carry them), the zoo train offers a six-minute loop to the edge of the zoo and back, depending on the weather.
Infants (under 2): free
Daily at 10:30 a.m. (weather permitting), big and little kids can choose a seat on a horse, dragon, or rabbit and take a spin. Located right next to the elephant exhibit (and often, an ice cream cart), it’s a perfect way to take a break between exhibits.
Once again, the zoo is in full swing this summer with an impressive lineup of musicians both kids and parents will enjoy. Check out the Indigo Girls, Feist, Herbie Hancock and Kamasi Washington, and the B52s. Pack a blanket and picnic and pick a spot in the tiered grass around the main stage. There’s room for little feet to dance and run around while you enjoy the music.
photo: Oregon Zoo via Yelp
11 Tips & Tricks
Tip #1: Today at the zoo. Visit the zoo’s summary page for a heads-up on the day’s programs and events, whether or not the train is running, and any animal habitats closed due to construction. A few minutes of planning can go a long way!
Tip #2: Rain rain you can stay. Don’t let a surprise summer shower ruin your day! Just duck into the Aviary, located inside the Africa exhibit. Stay warm and dry while you check out the fun birds and wait for the rain to pass.
Tip #3: Who’s who at the zoo. Use this list of all the animals in the zoo to see if your favorites are in town. You can learn a little about them ahead of time, and plan a route that starts with your must-see creatures so you don’t miss them.
Tip #4: Stroller or no stroller? Even if you don’t usually use one for your kids you’ll thank yourself (and so will the kiddos) that you brought it when little legs need a break. But if you don’t want to lug it on the bus or MAX, Safari Strollers are available to rent. One seat: $8 Two seat: $11. Both require a $20 refundable deposit.
Tip #5: Discount Days. Admission at the Oregon Zoo is only $5.00 per person on the second Tuesday of every month. But, beware – these days, as well as school-holidays, are some of the most crowded. Check out other deals here.
Tip #6: Think like a salmon! Avoid crowds by moving against the usual flow of traffic. Tour the zoo counter-clockwise.
Tip #7: Save time. Non-members can buy tickets online in advance, to avoid waiting in line.
Tip #8: But what about the food. You can bring your own snacks and picnic lunch (yes, it’s allowed), and there are plenty of spots to stop and refuel. But never fear! If your provisions don’t quite last or you’re in the mood for a treat, there are food options galore at the Oregon Zoo. There’s the Cascade Grill, AfriCafe, Cascade to Go, Coffee Crossing, Bearwalk Café, Black Rhino Hut, elephant ears (be prepared for long lines), and food carts. Souvenir drinks often come with free or affordable refills!
Tip #9: Seasonal events. Plan your trip around one of the many events held year-round, from summer concerts to trick-or-treating at Halloween, and the popular zoo lights during the holidays. Check the Oregon Zoo website and Facebook page regularly to stay up-to-date.
Tip #10: In the know. The zoo is getting close to the 2020 completion date of a major upgrade initiated in 2008! Habitats for rhinos, polar bears, and primates are part of the last stage of improvements. Check out “A New Zoo” tab to learn how volunteers, donations, and a ton of work continues to grow the Oregon Zoo into the beloved space it is for kids both young and old.
Tip # 11 Sensory-Inclusive Initiative. In partnership with Kulture City, the zoo recently received certification as a sensory-inclusive facility, which means it’s a more welcoming place for people with autism or other sensory-sensitive conditions. Free sensory-inclusive bags are available with noise-cancelling headphones, sunglasses, fidget tools, non-verbal cue cards and weighted lap pads. Before you visit, you can download the free KultureCity app to learn what resources are available and how to access them. There’s also a feature called Social Story that gives visitors a preview of what to expect during their visit.
4001 SW Canyon Rd.
Hours vary based on the season – please see the website for a detailed schedule
Adult (12–64): $17.95, Senior/Military (65 and up): $15.95,Youth (3–11): $12.95, 2 and under: Free