The harsh and arid environment of Arizona may look like a hostile place for wildlife. It’s covered in deserts, rugged mountains, and inhospitable areas that are too hot even for us humans. But surprisingly, there are a lot of zoos and animal sanctuaries in the state.
Thanks to our understanding of animal biology and the environment, we are able to create facilities where creatures from all over the world can live in comfort. Most of Arizona’s zoos serve as rehabilitation and breeding centers fitted with many modern advancements. So aside from being attractions, the facilities play a key role in helping endangered or vulnerable species recover.
But of course, most of us regular folk visit zoos to see exotic animals from all over the world. It’s a great way for kids to learn new things and for the kids at heart to broaden their horizons. So, if you’re planning to tour the best zoos in Arizona, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s a guide to some of the most well-known in the state. Read on!
While the state has several regional and local zoos as well as petting farms, here are the more famous ones from each city.
Zoos Near Tucson AZ
Tucson is home to a wide variety of activities including two amazing zoos for you to explore.
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum
Nestled in the mountains east of Tucson is the gorgeous Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The name might not have any indication of it being a zoo, but this attraction contains animal exhibits and even an aquarium. It also has a natural history museum, an art gallery, and a botanical garden. It’s the ultimate, all-around experience!
Within a 98-acre high-elevation area, you’ll find several sections that divide the attractions of the park. The ones nearest to the road are buildings that house the museum and art gallery. Head over here to learn about the ancient inhabitants of the Sonoran Desert and nearby areas. And don’t forget the gallery with intriguing artworks that focus on the Sonoran Desert wildlife and landscapes on display.
Now, it’s time to see the animals! There are several species living in enclosures, most of which are native to the region. These include fierce mountain lions, desert grassland mammals, hummingbirds, and mountain woodland predators. At the aquarium, you’ll find stingrays, tropical fish, and other aquatic species housed in large tanks.
As you explore, you’ll see the animal enclosures interspersed with the gardens. The plants growing are mostly species adapted to the harsh Sonoran Desert, so you’ll find plenty of cacti, hardy wildflowers, agave, and low bushes. Slow down for a few moments and smell the flowers as they bloom under the Arizona sun.
Address: 2021 N Kinney Rd, Tucson, AZ 85743 | Phone: (520) 883-1380 | desertmuseum.org
Reid Park Zoo
In contrast to the isolated location of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, the Reid Park Zoo is situated right at Tucson’s city proper. Accessing it shouldn’t be an issue, especially if you’re bringing a large group. Since the city is blessed with a milder climate, the zoo is also able to host a more diverse set of animals from all over the world. The 24-acre attraction is housed within the larger Reid Park, one of the favorite green spaces in the heart of Tucson. Since it started in 1967, the zoo has steadily become one of the most prominent local attractions for visitors and residents. So, expect a large crowd during the weekends and holidays.
Within the property, there are four zones separated by the habitats and types of animals they have. Flight Connection is a large aviary containing birds from Asia, Australia, and Africa. Cockatoos, macaws, bulbuls, and hornbills are just some of the colorful birds you’ll see. Then there’s the South America zone, housing animals from the Amazon and nearby regions. So watch out for spectacled bears, tapirs, and jaguars.
The African Animals zone contains the beasts of the Safari, like elephants, gazelles, rhinoceros, and towering giraffes. Lastly, the Adaptation Zone is where you’ll find animals like giant tortoises and grizzly bears living in comfort and engaging with visitors.
Address: 3400 E Zoo Ct, Tucson, AZ 85716 | Phone: (520) 791-3204 | Website: reidparkzoo.org
Zoos Near Williams AZ
Williams, Arizona has one of the best wildlife zoos in the entire state where it’s just you and the wilderness. Definitely an attraction worth visiting if you are in the Northern part of the state.
Bearizona Wildlife Park
The majestic Kaibab National Forest sits in the heart of Northern Arizona, blessed with a more diverse climate thanks to the high-elevation area. Within this destination is the gorgeous Bearizona Wildlife Park. It belongs to the city of Williams, which is dubbed the gateway to the Grand Canyons. So if you’re planning to visit the world-famous landmark, why not make a stopover at the Bearizona Wildlife Park?
The facility covers an area of 160 acres and is surrounded by Ponderosa Pine Forest. One of the experiences offered by the zoo is “Drive-Thru Bearizona” where you can see North American animals as you drive your private vehicle along the road. And you can do it at your own pace, giving you more time to see the mountain goats, elusive wolves, and curious black bears.
If you want a more interactive time with the animals, then the “Walk-Thru” experience is the best option. This is the preferred activity in Fort Bearizona, a separate area that functions like your regular zoo. Take a self-guided walking tour to see the more exotic species such as jaguars, Burmese pythons, African crested porcupines, and Alaskan Tundra wolves.
Address: 1500 E Rte 66, Williams, AZ 86046 | Phone: (928) 635-2289 | Website: bearizona.com
Zoos Near Prescott AZ
Up in Northern Arizona you can also enjoy another great zoo. Prescott still gives you that wilderness setting where you don’t even feel like you are in Arizona.
Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary
Prescott is located about an hour away from Williams, but it’s on much lower grounds. Still, the harsher climate hasn’t stopped people from creating a zoo for native and exotic species. So in 1985, the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary was born. It’s a 10-acre attraction with plenty of exhibits and creatures living in comfort.
The zoo specializes in non-releasable animals: those that are too injured to survive in the wild and those who no longer have a home to return to. While that may seem like a sad situation, these animals are perfectly content with their current homes thanks to the efforts of the zookeepers and conservationists.
One of the most significant roles of the sanctuary is being a participant in the American Zoo and Aquarium Association’s Species Survival Plan. Under this involvement, the zoo takes care of the critically endangered Mexican gray wolf, breeding and training them before they’re released to the wild. But these aren’t the only animals you’ll see here. As you explore the zoo, you’ll discover many enclosures and open sections where animals from all over the world reside. There are majestic tigers, playful birds, small mammals, and intimidating reptiles like constrictors. For those with kids, you can join interactive activities like breakfast feeding or Easter egg hunts.
Address: 1403 Heritage Park Rd, Prescott, AZ 86301 | Phone: (928) 778-4242 | Website: heritageparkzoo.org
Zoos Near Valentine AZ
Keepers of the Wild Nature Park
Valentine is not a city per se, but it serves as the home to a beautiful zoo that is very much worth the visit: Keepers of the Wild Nature Park. It’s set in a canyon flanked by two rugged mountains and has an area of 175 acres. Thanks to its high-elevation location, the nature park enjoys a milder climate that’s perfect for its inhabitants.
Conservation is the prime purpose of this zoo. Over the years, they’ve gathered abandoned, injured, and abused animals from all over so they can be treated with care and love. The zookeepers truly raise the standard of humane treatment for these creatures. To further its mission, the zoo regularly works with organizations like IFAW and PETA. It’s also a member of the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance.
Reaching the attraction might take a little more effort on your end due to its location, but the experiences you’ll have are well worth the trip. You can join either one of three tour programs: self-guided walking tour, guided Safari tours, and guided feeding Safari tours. The guided tours are ideal if you want to get around quickly and without much effort. The walking tour is great if you want to slow down and interact with the animals.
There are around 130 creatures in the nature park, including native American species like black bears, lynxes, and wolves. Animals from around the world also thrive in the zoo, such as Bengal tigers, African lions, and raptors.
Address: 13441 AZ-66, Valentine, AZ 86437 | Phone: (928) 769-1800 | Website: keepersofthewild.org
Zoos Near Window Rock AZ
Navajo Nation Zoo and Botanical Park
Right where Arizona meets New Mexico is a small community called Window Rock, famed for the stone formation from which it’s named. It’s also the capital of the Navaho Nation, so it’s not surprising that the facility here is called Navajo Nation Zoo and Botanical Park. This is, in fact, the only tribally owned zoological park in the country.
Set in the high-elevation area near the Chuska Mountains, this attraction enjoys cooler temperatures than the other parts of Arizona. That’s why the zoo’s animals enjoy relative comfort even during the summer days. In addition, they have plenty of space within the 14-acre area of the facility.
Just to set expectations, you won’t find creatures from other parts of the world here. The zoo focuses on the animals that are significant to the Navajo Nation. So, there are mostly native species living in the park. Take a walking tour and see them for yourself! Elks, black bears, coyotes, lizards, and raptors are just some of the creatures to behold. And, of course, don’t forget to check out the botanical gardens, which also focus on culturally important flora for the Navajo Nation. Desert species like cacti and agave, wildflowers, and shrubs used for ceremonial traditions are planted in various sections of the facility.
Address: 34 AZ-264, Window Rock, AZ 86515 | Phone: (928) 871-6573 | Website: navajozoo.org
Zoos Near Camp Verde
Out of Africa Wildlife Park
The rugged town of Camp Verde is the home of the Out of Africa Wildlife Park, a scenic attraction that focuses on Safari-like experiences. It’s one of the most visited Arizona zoos thanks to its diverse activities and exotic animals. In addition, it has conservation and adoption programs that involve the whole community as well as visitors.
Since the wildlife park is Safari themed, you can expect lots of beasts and creatures from the African continent. The area has a relatively mild climate, with temperatures similar to the savannas of Africa. So, these animals are comfortable in their manmade habitats.
To see them, you can join the Safari tours where you can interact with free-roaming giraffes, zebras, and other docile herbivores. It’s like being in the wild grasslands but without having to travel overseas! For those who want to see the more fearsome predators, you can watch the feedings sessions. Zookeepers will throw slabs of meat over the fence while lions, panthers, and tigers pounce and devour them.
You can also join the feeding programs, snake shows, or playtime encounters. These activities give kids and adults a chance to interact with animals more intimately as opposed to just seeing them from enclosures. Just be gentle and don’t startle them!
Address: 3505 W State Route 260, Camp Verde, AZ 86322 | Phone: (928) 567-2840 | Website: outofafricapark.com
Zoos Near Phoenix AZ
Arizona’s capital city is bustling with activity, being home to more than 1.6 million people. In it lies one of the most-visited zoological parks in this region of the US, the grand Phoenix Zoo. It’s considered the largest privately owned facility of its kind nationwide, covering an area of 125 acres next to the Salt River.
It’s a major animal conservation hub, with many programs that help endangered species recover their populations. Of course, the main reason that people come to the attraction is to see the animals. There are around 1,400 individual creatures in the facility, housed in four major themed sections: Arizona Trail, Africa Trail, Tropics Trail, and the Children’s Trail.
As their names imply, the first three trails contain animals from their respective continent or climate zone. The Arizona Trail contains native animals like bald eagles and bobcats, while the Africa Trail contains the classic Safari beasts. On the other hand, the Tropics Trail has animals from the rainforests of the Amazon and Asia. The most diverse section is the Children’s Trail. This zone brings together creatures from all over that children can play with. Some of these animals are golden lion tamarins, gibbons, emus, and an ocelot. Kids can play and feed the creatures under the watchful eyes of zookeepers.
Address: 455 N Galvin Pkwy, Phoenix, AZ 85008 | Phone: (602) 286-3800 | Website: phoenixzoo.org
Zoos Near Litchfield Park
Wildlife World Zoo
Litchfield Park is part of the Phoenix metro area, located a few miles west of the capital. And while it stands much closer to the Sonora Desert, it still has a manageable climate that allowed the creation of the Wildlife World Zoo. While this one doesn’t hold the prestige that Phoenix Zoo has, it still is much larger with an area of 215 acres. So, there’s plenty of room for the 600+ species living in the facility.
The zoo has several sections housing animals from various habitats and ecosystems. While the facility specializes in South American and African species, there are many other creatures from here all over the world. In fact, Wildlife World Zoo is considered to have the largest collection of exotic animals in all of Arizona.
It comes as no surprise that the most popular attraction in the facility is the Safari Park, which offers rides that replicate the Safari experience in Africa. While on the tour cars, you get to see lions, Red River hogs, baboons, ostriches, and other animals living their lives in their enclosures. Aside from the Safari rides, the zoo has an aquarium filled with marvelous aquatic creatures. So, prepare to see friendly sea lions, hundreds of colorful fishes, and amphibians chilling in the cool water.
Address: 16501 W Northern Ave, Litchfield Park, AZ 85340 | Phone: (623) 935-9453 | Website: wildlifeworld.com
Tips for the Best Zoo Visit
Traveling and visiting zoos may seem like a fun road trip (and it is), but you could face a few issues along the way. So, it’s best to be prepared before hitting the road. Below are some tips and advice you’d want to take note of when planning your zoo visit.
- Route: Check the distance and roads you need to take before you drive to a zoo. You need to know if there are roads with tolls, ones under repair, or ones that are currently closed. That way, you won’t encounter any issues on the way.
- Research the Zoo: Knowing zoo opening times, holiday and weekend hours, and safety protocols currently imposed will help you prepare better. Zoos typically have websites where they post updates. You can also check out their social media pages or contact them directly.
- Best Time To Go: Now that you know their opening hours, you have to plan the best time to visit them. Some zoos can get too crowded during certain days or time slots, or the roads on the way could be heavily trafficked. For in-depth information, you can contact the zoo or research reviews or blog posts.
- Prepare for the Kids: If you’re bringing kids to your Arizona Zoo adventures, you’d want to prepare items that will keep them comfortable. The days in Arizona can get hot, which can make children antsy. For the best zoo experience, keep them entertained and relaxed.
- Get Your Tickets Online: Purchase day passes or tickets online to avoid the long queues. You’ll enter just as soon as you arrive and enjoy more time marveling at the exhibits.
Be Ready for Some Hiking: Some of the zoos have expansive grounds that you’ll need to walk or hike. So, bring a good amount of water, wear comfortable clothes and shoes, and apply sunscreen as protection from the sun.
Visit the Arizona Zoos on Your Next Vacation!
Now that you have a basic knowledge of the zoos in Arizona, it’s time to get packing! If one or two catches your attention, then plan with the whole family and start booking your tickets! And be sure to check out their websites for any updates that could affect your trip. Hopefully, visiting these wildlife parks and sanctuaries will give you a renewed appreciation of the flora and fauna of Arizona and the rest of the world.