Hearing nothing but praise as being one of America’s top zoos, we packed into the wagon and headed to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium. We weren’t disappointed in the least. In fact, after 8 hours our feet gave way in the summer heat and we missed exploring a few areas. All the better reason to come back again and experience all the zoo has to offer.
Located near the beautiful town of Dublin, in central Ohio, it is the perfect place to launch a few days of exploring the area in and around Columbus. Even on its own, the Columbus Zoo provides plenty of activities in addition to watching and learning about the animals. Let’s take a look at what there is to do during your visit.
Why Visit the Columbus Zoo?
Jack Hanna, well known for introducing audiences to all sorts of animals on talk shows, became the director of the Columbus Zoo in 1978. Over the years he worked to modernize the zoo and make the experience for both animals and visitors more enjoyable. Today he is still involved with the zoo and its many outreach programs. The success of his work is evident. Compared to our local zoo, Columbus has a much more natural feel from the pathways and educational displays to the the animal habitats.
The zoo is divided into regions of the Earth, ranging from oceans to continents. Each region has a distinct feel that draws you in and gives a better sense of the ecosystem where the animals live. This also allows a narrower focus in the educational aspect of the displays and lectures. When you enter each region, the change in setting is immediately clear. You won’t find a koala habitat sharing space with the polar bear exhibit.
The pathways are generally wide and easy to navigate. There are plenty of areas where you can step away from the crowds for a break and places for kids to play. The Columbus Zoo is very large, so being able to rest and grab a snack helps get through a long day.
Touring the Columbus Zoo
The Columbus Zoo is huge. Over 7000 animals from 800 species live in eight distinctive geographical regions. Each area becomes a showcase for the natural environment of the animals. This makes it easier for guests to both navigate and focus on learning about the creatures. Instead of trying to track down your favorite animals, you can choose which order to wander through the regions.
Our two favorite areas were Asia Quest and the Shore and Aquarium. Both are somewhat newer and definitely designed for the best guest experience. The to Asia Quest leads guests through a peaceful temple themed garden and building to immerse you into the ecosystem. Once inside, you get your first glimpse of the animals and there are kiosks with notes on the wildlife. One room has a glass wall allowing you to get right up to the tigers. Visitors will also find elephants here and take a walk through an aviary full of beautiful birds.
The Shore and Aquarium region begins with a large outdoor play and splash area; perfect for letting the kids blow off some steam while you relax. Inside the exhibit, there are a vast array of animals from different regions of the world. Penguins, tortoises, and tanks full of fish. Columbus Zoo is the only place outside of Florida you can find manatees in captivity and the huge viewing tank gets you up close and personal with these friendly giants. A touch tank gives kids a chance to learn about life on the sea shore.
Other Fun Activities at the Columbus Zoo
As if this huge zoo wasn’t enough, they also offer extra activities and experiences both inside and out. Several free activities are located right within the zoo exhibits, such as walking through the kangaroo and lorikeet pens and the animal encounters pavilion where zoo keepers bring creatures out to meet visitors. Giraffe feeding and the giant stingray touch tank are worth $3 fee for such unique experiences. The zoo has a 4D theater, but I can’t imagine taking any time away unless you spend two days there.
Located adjacent to the zoo are Jungle Jack’s Landing and Zoobezi Bay. Jungle Jack’s is the remains of an older amusement park purchased by the zoo. It includes a swinging pirate ship, Matterhorn spinner, and a few other carnival type rides. The main attraction is the old Sea Dragon wooden roller coaster. We were lucky enough to be there on a slow day and rode several times. Tickets for the rides can be purchased individually, but the best value is the Zoo-It-All wristband, which I’ll explain in the tips section.
Zoobezi Bay is a 22 acre water park with enough fun to fill another day of adventure in the summer months. The park features several huge water slides, two lazy rivers, a tide pool, and a giant water play area with 1,000 gallon spill bucket. There is also a separate water play area for younger kids. Zoombezi is owned by the Columbus Zoo and profits go into supporting the zoo.
Tips and Info for Maximizing Your Columbus Zoo Visit
Admission prices for the Columbus Zoo are surprisingly affordable at around $20 for adults and $15 for kids. A 2 day Zoo and Zoombezi Bay package is also available.
The Zoo-It-All Wristband is a very good deal at $15; especially for visitors with kids. This add-on includes the 4-D Theater, Dinosaur Island, Grand Carousel, the North American Train, Jungle Jack’s Landing rides, Stingray Bay, Camel Ride and Pony Ride.
Guests are allowed to bring food and non-alcoholic beverages into the Zoo. Wagons are also allowed, which makes for a great way to save some money and keep little ones happy during a long day at the zoo. Even if not packing a lunch, I recommend bringing a backpack to stow your gear and pack a few snacks.
Know before you go. Take a look at the Zoo map (available online) and decide on a touring plan. We were a bit overwhelmed by just how big the zoo is and missed out on a few areas.
Look into purchasing an annual membership to your local zoo. If you’re travelers like us, you can take advantage of the AZA Accredited Zoo reciprocal privileges. Over 100 zoos across the country are partners in the program and offer half price admission to other zoo members. Partner zoos offer either 50% or 100% admission discounts, which easily makes up for the membership cost. For more information and a list of partner zoos, visit the AZA Zoo website.
For more information on hours, prices, and special programs visit the official Columbus Zoo website.