With over a dozen zoos in Illinois, visiting one or all of them should be on your family’s bucket list. It’s a great way to introduce new animal species to your kids and reinforce the ones they’ve learned about in school. Many places also allow you to interact with the animals safely, which is great for increasing your kids’ awareness of the world’s ecosystem.
You and your loved ones can view as many as 450 species across these establishments. In this article, you’ll discover the best zoos in Illinois and ways to make your excursion enjoyable for everyone involved.
While you’ll see many species that aren’t native to Illinois, these zoos also put spotlights on their local wildlife. Common mammals in the state include Black Bobcats, Black Bears, and White-Tailed Deers, so you’ll surely find them in your zoo visits. For bird enthusiasts, Meadowlarks, Bluebirds, and Northern Cardinals abound in the area. Scarlet Snakes and Snapping Turtles are the state’s most iconic reptiles, while Tiger Salamanders and American Toads are notable amphibian residents.
Map and Cities with Zoos in Illinois
Brookfield Zoo, Brookfield IL
Brookfield Zoo is one of the best zoos in Illinois. It houses 450 species of animals on 216 acres of land. This zoo has been around since 1934, and has been recognized for its use of moats and ditches to separate animals from each other and visitors instead of cages.
Its north gate is located at 8400 31st Street (1st Avenue and 31st Street), Brookfield, IL. You can also use the south gate at 3300 Golf Rd, Brookfield, IL if it’s more convenient. On weekdays, they’re open from 10 AM to 5 PM, and they close at 6 PM on weekends.
The admission fee for adults is $24.95, while seniors 65 and over only need to pay $19.95. Children from 3–11 years old can get in for $17.95, while kids below 3 get free admission.
In this zoo you can view exotic animals like the Burmese Python, Bennett’s Wallaby, Great Horned Owl, Prehensile-Tailed Porcupine, and Red-Tailed Hawk. You can also see animals native to Africa and Australia up close, such as the African Painted Dog, Nyala Antelope, Short-Beaked Echidna, and Western Gray Kangaroo.
The zoo offers interactive activities, like the Hamill Family Wild Encounters, where you’re allowed to touch and feed animals like parakeets and goats. However, note that these attractions have additional costs.
Cosley Zoo, Wheaton IL
Cosley Zoo is an ideal starter zoo for first-timers. The place has 20 exhibits of over 200 wild species native to Illinois and domestic farm animals. It’s a great way to ease your children into the idea before they see exotic creatures.
Situated at 1356 N. Gary Ave. Wheaton, IL, Cosley Zoo is in the heart of the suburbs, and those with a Wheaton Park District Universal Resident ID can get in for free. The admission fees (not including the processing fee) are $9 for non-residents aged 18–54, $8 for non-residents aged 55+, and free for anyone below the age of 18. This makes it perfect for families.
The zoo is open from 9 AM to 5 PM daily. For holidays and peak seasons, make sure to check their website to determine their holiday hours.
Each exhibit allows guests to interact with nature in an educational, safe, and fun way. You can view animals like the Black Angus Cow, Himalayan Rabbit, Red Fox, and White-Tailed Deer. You can even find invertebrates, including the Annam Stick Insect and Chaco Golden Knee Tarantula, among these exhibits. Cosley Zoo also has a large picnic area where you and your family can enjoy your lunch. They also offer interactive activities, such as the Coyote Connection, where you can see coyotes up close and observe their training. If the weather permits, you can also feed ducks and chickens.
Henson Robinson Zoo, Springfield IL
Henson Robinson Zoo is a government-operated zoo. It’s a private, non-profit establishment established for the people of central Illinois and its nearby areas. At the Henson Robinson Zoo, you and your family can get up close and personal with animals native to Australia, Africa, and Asia, as well as North and South America. The creatures are housed in naturalistic exhibits. You can find the African Wild Dog, Arctic Fox, Black Vulture, Cougar, Galapagos Tortoise, Red-Ruffed Lemur, the Sandhill Crane, and more in this zoo.
Other activities you can do in this zoo include feeding goats and riding the train around the facility. They also offer educational programs, like Zoo Tots, Zooper Edventures, and Project H.O.W.L. to teach kids about wildlife. This could be a great educational opportunity for your children!
If you’d like to visit Henson Robinson Zoo, you can find it at 1100 E Lake Shore Dr, Springfield, IL. The admission fee for visitors aged 13+ is $7, while visitors aged 3–12 or 62+ can get in for only $5. Children below 2 years old can get in for free.
Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago IL
Lincoln Park Zoo is another one of the best zoos in Illinois. Fascinatingly enough, it’s the fourth oldest zoo in all of North America since it was founded in 1868. The best thing about Lincoln Park Zoo is that there are no admission fees; it’s one of the few zoos in the United States that doesn’t charge for admission. If you’d like to visit, it’s located at 2400 N. Cannon Drive, Chicago, IL, and their gates are open from 10 AM to 5 PM.
Housing thousands of animals from about 200 species, you can meet a wide array of creatures from all over the world. Get a close look at the African Lion, Black-and-White Colobus Monkey, Chinese Hwamei, Green Tree Python, Jamaican Iguana, Red Panda, and more!
You can even go on self-guided tours, which include the Must-See Highlights Tour, Big & Furry Tour, and Weird & Wonderful Tour. These last for about two hours each and allow you to see the zoo according to your interests, whether you like seeing the most popular attractions, large beasts, or the most fascinating and unique creatures.
Miller Park Zoo, Bloomington
Miller Park Zoo is a public park in Illinois that is run by Bloomington City’s Parks and Recreation Department. The zoo’s entrance building and education center opened in 1992, which paved the way for further additions that made the establishment what it is today.
It’s located at 1020 S Morris Ave. Bloomington, IL, and it’s open daily from 9:30 AM to 4:30 PM. The admission fee for adults aged 13–59 is $6.95. Military personnel and visitors who are 60+ get a discounted price of $5.95. Children aged 3–12 can get in for $4.95, while kids who are 2 years old or younger can enter for free.
Residents of the zoo include the Sumatran Tiger, Galapagos Tortoise, Amur Leopard, River Otter, Sun Bear, Sea Lion, Bald Eagle, and Pallas Cat. You can also enjoy large exhibits, like the Wallaby WalkAbout, ZooLab, Animals of Asia, and the Katthoefer Animal Building. Miller Park Zoo has also developed a very unique Animal ZooDoption program, which allows guests to “adopt” an animal to continue the exceptional care and support they receive at the zoo. You can choose from a few different ZooDoption levels, starting at $50. Animals available for adoption include the American Alligator, Cotton-Top Tamarin, Greater Flamingo, and Snow Leopard.
Niabi Zoo, Coal Valley
Niabi Zoo started as a private-owned Wild Animal Farm and was later deeded to the Rock Island County Forest Preserve District. You can find the zoo at 13010 Niabi Zoo Road, Coal Valley, IL.
It’s open to the public for spring and summer from 10 AM to 5 PM daily. During the fall and winter months, it follows the same operating hours, but only from Tuesday to Sunday. There are free admission days as well for August, September, and October, so make sure to check out the zoo’s official website for the exact dates.
Advanced online bookings are encouraged. You can get discounted prices when you purchase your tickets online by 9 AM on the day of your visit. The online admission fee for adults aged 13–61 is $9, while seniors aged 62+ only pay $8. Admission for children aged 3–12 only costs $6.50, and admission for children 2 years old and younger is free. Active military personnel who buy tickets online can also get in for free.
However, if you buy your ticket at the gate on the day of your visit, you will have to pay $2 more than the online booking for each age bracket. Military personnel also have to pay $8 to enter when purchasing their tickets at the gate.
You can find a wide variety of mammals, invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians, aquatic animals, and birds at Niabi Zoo. Some of them include Burchell’s Zebra, Fennec Fox, Gooty Sapphire Tarantula, Baja Blue Rock Lizard, Bi-Colored Poison Dart Frog, Longhorn Cowfish, Eurasian Eagle Owl, and White-Bellied Caique. It’s no wonder Niabi Zoo is considered one of the best zoos in Illinois — they offer a giraffe feeding activity daily at 11 AM and 2 PM if the weather permits. You can also go on a train or carousel ride, which can serve as a much-needed respite from walking around.
Peoria Zoo, Peoria IL
Peoria Zoo is a remarkable place because it is one of the few zoos in Illinois that operates 360 days a year. It’s only closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day.
It opens from 10 AM to 5 PM daily, so you can visit whenever you want at 2320 N. Prospect Rd. Peoria, IL. Guests who are 13+ years old will pay an admission fee of $10.50, those between 3–12 pay $7.50, and kids who are one year old or below can enter for free. Guests aged 65+ and active military personnel can get in for $9.50.
Some of the inhabitants of Peoria Zoo include Thomson’s Gazelle, Colobus Monkey, White Rhinoceros, Alligator Snapping Turtle, and Leopard Gecko. They also have exhibits that focus on native animals in various continents, such as Africa, Asia, and Australia.
Phillips Park Zoo, Aurora IL
Phillips Park Zoo is also open daily and operates with no admission charge. If you’d like to check it out for yourself, you can find this zoo at 1000 Ray Moses Drive, Aurora, IL, with operating hours of 10 AM to 6 PM.
This zoo is home to various birds, mammals, and reptiles, such as the Bald Eagle, Cooper’s Hawk, American Elk, Gray Wolf, Brown Basilisk, and California King Snake.
Something that makes this zoo unique is that their official website provides resources for a scavenger hunt to keep your kids fascinated as you visit the different animals. This is a great way to encourage your children to be excited to learn and explore.
Randall Oaks Zoo, West Dundee IL
Randall Oaks Zoo is one of the few zoos in Illinois that’s situated on top of a hill. It’s open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM, so make sure to visit it at 1180 N. Randall Rd., West Dundee, IL. Residents pay a discounted admission rate of $4.25, while non-residents have to pay $5. Children aged 1 and under, as well as active military personnel, can enter for free.
The zoo focuses on showcasing a wide array of farm animals. You can pet and feed the alpacas, goats, cows, ponies, sheep, emus, rabbits, and birds. The facility has three shelters and playgrounds along with eight picnic areas. Overall, it’s a lovely place to bring your children to learn more about farm animals.
Santa’s Village AZoosment Park, East Dundee IL
More than a zoo, Santa’s Village is an amusement park that aims to provide overall entertainment for families. You and your children can enjoy interacting with animals at their petting zoo along with a wide array of other activities.
Guests who are over 3 feet tall will need to pay the general admission fee. This zoo’s operating hours also differ each week, so it’s best to check its official website for the time and rates before you visit them at 601 Dundee Avenue East Dundee, IL.
Santa’s Village is home to wallabies, alpacas, donkeys, parakeets, Muntjacs, and reindeers. You can also find some Koi and tortoises in the area. Aside from checking out animal attractions, you and your family can explore and go on thrilling rides or slides. This zoo is truly unique!
Scovill Zoo, Decatur IL
Visiting Scovill Zoo is a must if you’re looking for a wild adventure. Located at 71 South Country Club Road, Decatur, IL, it’s perfectly situated along the eastern shores of Lake Decatur.
It’s open from 9:30 AM to 5 PM and features various animals, including cheetahs, lemurs, strutting peacocks, and pink flamingos. While you’re there, you should be on the lookout for the Argus monitor lizard. You can also take a train ride on the Z.O. & O. Express Train along Lake Decatur to rest your feet and enjoy the views.
Summerfield Zoo, Belvidere IL
Summerfield Zoo, located at 3088 Flora Rd in Belvidere, IL, aims to give families a fun day out as they learn about different animals. The zoo is open from 9 AM to 3 PM on weekdays starting May 18, and 10 AM to 5 PM on weekends, which will start on April 23. Note that the establishment is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Admission costs $13 for guests aged 12–64 while seniors 65+ get a discounted price of $11. Admission for kids aged 2—11 is only $9.
This zoo is home to mountain lions, zebras, alligators, wolves, reindeers, and monkeys. Many of the creatures at Summerfield Zoo are rescue animals from the Northern Illinois area. The zoo has scheduled animal shows as well as opportunities for private animal encounters.
Wildlife Prairie Park, Hanna City IL
Wildlife Prairie Park houses over 150 animals from 50 different species. It has been deemed as a jewel in the Midwest that promises an enjoyable experience for everyone. You can visit the park at 3826 N. Taylor Road, Hanna City, IL, from 9 AM to 4:30 PM daily.
Admission fees cost $9 for guests aged 13–64, $7 for seniors 65+, and only $6 for kids aged 3–12.
At the Wildlife Prairie Park, you can learn more about black bears, elks, cougars, bison, and waterfowl. Aside from animal trails, it also has other trails for fishing, hiking, and mountain biking. If you’re itching for more adventure you can check out their Adventure Trek, and if this leaves your feet sore, you can rest them with a train ride.
Guide to Visiting Zoos in Illinois
First things first, here are some tips to remember when visiting zoos in Illinois:
- Consider buying tickets online rather than on the day. You may find discounts and promos on the zoo’s website or third-party sites, such as the official website of Illinois’ office of tourism or local libraries.
- Wear comfortable clothes. You don’t want to put a damper on your visit by suffering from ill-fitting shoes or pants. Bring extra sets of clothes, especially if your kids want to pet the animals or the zoo has a water feature.
- Pack some snacks, lunch, and drinks. While most zoos have in-house restaurants, they can be a bit pricey and may not offer diverse menus. To save money and avoid headaches, it’s best to bring your own food — just make sure you clean up after yourselves!
Zoos in Illinois Recap
These zoos in Illinois offer unique experiences for everyone in the family. You can see the animals first-hand, learn more about their behavior and habitats, and demonstrate to your children the importance of taking care of these creatures and making a better world for them.