Every summer we make the hour drive from Detroit to northern Ohio for a family road trip to the Toledo Zoo. Primarily because my kids want to take a hike along the zoo’s Tembo Trail which provides remarkable views of some amazing animals from Africa. Visitors weave their way through a variety of exhibit areas that provide unique observation points of exotic animals including African spotted-neck otters, dromedary camels, white rhinoceroses, and meerkats. We’ve had some incredible close-up experiences trekking through the Tembo Trail which is why we continue to come back for visits year after year.

The zoo opens daily at 10 a.m. and closing hours vary throughout the year. During the peak summer season (Memorial Day through Labor Day) it closes at 6 p.m.. Check their website toldeozoo.org for specific operating hours during other seasons of the year, a calendar of special events taking place at the zoo, and an informational section for out of town visitors. Admission to the zoo is $19 for adults (12 – 59), and $16 for children (2-11) and seniors (60+). Children under 2 years old are free. Local residents of Lucas County, which supports the Toledo Zoo with a dedicated millage tax, receive discounted ticket prices plus free admission every Monday and on certain holidays.


The mob of meerkats that call the Toledo Zoo home love to interact with the visitors who stop by to see them. They’ll often come right up to the glass observation window and are very curious to get a good look at the strange creatures that are staring at them. These feisty creatures will often be chasing each other around their enclosure and playing games out in the open for people to see. It is always entertaining to spend some time meerkat watching while walking along the Tembo Trail.

Tembo means elephant in the African language of Swahili and the Toledo Zoo is home to three of these gigantic animals: Renee, Lucas and Twiggy. As you walk around the Tembo Trail there are numerous vantage points both indoors and outdoors providing very nice views of these elephants. From one spot, a visitor can potentially see elephants on three sides around where they’re standing. Renee and Twiggy are the adults of the bunch standing close to 9 feet tall and weighing close to 8,000 pounds while Lucas is a youngster who was born in 2011 but is quickly growing up. Seeing an elephant right in front of you really highlights just how big they truly are.

The Toledo Zoo enlarged and renovated the elephant habitat in 2012 providing more stimuli for the African elephants including elevated feeders, enrichment walls and trees to provide a dynamic space for the animals. Renee and Twiggy tend to focus on interacting with these elements of their environment primarily to search out and get at food.  It can be interesting to observe them problem-solving ways to get themselves a snack. You’ll often see Lucas on the other hand playing with his “toys” by banging tires hanging from a wall, pushing barrels, or kicking a ball across the ground.

Whenever my daughter brings up a visit to the Toledo Zoo the first thing she talks about is wanting to see the elephants at the Tembo Trail. Walking along the trail really provides an excellent opportunity to see elephants in real life for yourself. It is always an incredible sight!

While Renee, Twiggy and Lucas are incredible to see and are considered to be the highlights of exploring the Tembo Trail, our family’s most memorable moments while visiting have actually involved another giant animal – the Nile hippopotamus. The Tembo Trail treats visitors to a fabulous view of the underwater world of the hippopotamus. The Hippoquarium allows you to walk right up to a glass wall where people can look into a 360,000 gallon pool that has an advanced filter system which provides clear views of the Toledo Zoo’s hippos in the water.

My kids have had some remarkable encounters at the Hippoquarium. They’ve had some thrilling up close encounters with these humongous creatures during our Tembo Trail treks. Hippos don’t get a lot of fanfare when it comes to members of the animal kingdom but they really are impressive to behold. The Toledo Zoo provides one of the best places in the whole world for people to learn about hippos with the Tembo Trail’s Hippoquarium.

After a hike along the Tembo Trail, we like to get a bite to eat in the Carnivora building. This restaurant is actually in a refurbished building that once was the exhibit space for the zoo’s big cats including lions, tigers, leopards and jaguars. Now people sit within the remnants of the cages that held these animals while they enjoy a meal from the Carnivore Cafe. It provides a really nice spot with its unique atmosphere for enjoying a lunch or snack during a visit to the Toledo Zoo.

If you are going to be in the Toledo area, don’t miss out on visiting the city’s fantastic zoo. A hike along the Tembo Trail is an experience you won’t want to miss out on. You are sure to have a wonderful time viewing the meerkats, elephants, and hippos.  Plus,  the zoo also has a great aquarium, beautiful gardens, historic Depression-era WPA-project buildings, and numerous other animal exhibits to explore.

** Pictures courtesy of Tim Burns. Copyrighted 2017. All Rights Reserved. **