Let’s Go to the Zoo! A Guide for Your Next Family Safari

Whether you’re new to the Midwest or looking for a new zoo to explore, this guide will help you plan your family getaway!  

Let's Go to the Zoo! A Guide for Your Next Family Safari

It’s Spring and one of the best things we can do right now is enjoy the great outdoors. Why not include a local zoo in your day trip or travel plans?

Here are some of our favorite zoos in the Midwest:

*If you are planning a trip in 2021, be sure to check the zoo (and other attractions) website for up-to-date information about closures, registration requirements, or restrictions due to COVID.  Many of the play areas or indoor exhibits are temporarily closed.  Rental stroller availability may be limited as well.*

Each listing is an accredited zoo around four hours or less from central Cedar Rapids, listed from nearest to farthest.

Des Moines, IA

Blank Park Zoo

Distance from Cedar Rapids: 130 miles (2 hours)

Hours: 10 AM – 4 PM

Admission: Children – $8, Adults – $14

The Blank Park Zoo is a 49 acre park, half of which is currently used for animals and facilities.  They have over 100 species of animals.  Visitor experiences include a train, carousel, camel rides, and opportunities to feed the animals.

More for kids in the area:

Science Center of Iowa

Peoria, IL

Peoria Zoo

Distance from Cedar Rapids: 180 miles (2 hours 45 minutes)

Hours: 10 AM – 5 PM

Admission: Children – $7.50, Adults – $10.50

The Peoria Zoo is a historic park located in central Illinois.  What began with a herd of elk in the 1800’s now has over 100 species of animals.  The family-friendly zoo includes a botanical garden, nature play area, and “nursing nook” for nursing mothers.

More for kids in the area:

Caterpillar Visitors Center, Peoria Riverfront Museum, The Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum  

Chicago, IL 

Brookfield Zoo

Distance from Cedar Rapids: 240 Miles (3 hours 40 minutes)

Hours: 10 AM – 5 PM (open until 6 PM on weekends)

Admission: Children – $17.95, Adults – $24.95

Home to over 2,000 animals, this world-renowned zoo is part of a 216-acre nature park.  Family attractions include the carousel, butterfly exhibit, Hamill Family Play Zoo, Motor Safari, playgrounds, and splash pads.  This year they also have a “Dinos Everywhere!” exhibit, featuring animatronic dinosaurs throughout the park.

Lincoln Park Zoo

Distance from Cedar Rapids: 250 miles (4 hours)

Hours: 10 AM – 3 PM (open until 5 PM starting in April)

Admission: Free

The Lincoln Park Zoo is part of a sprawling park on the shore of Lake Michigan.  It is home to hundreds of animals, including some species that are critically endangered or extinct in the wild.  For young children special features include the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, the Farm-in-the-Zoo, train, and carousel.

More for kids in the area:

Chicago is home to many museums and other family-friendly activities.  Some include the Field Museum, Museum of Science & Industry, Adler Planetarium, Chicago Children’s Museum, and Navy Pier.  If you would prefer to stay outdoors, you could tour the city by boat, visit the Bean, or go to a sporting event too!

Milwaukee, WI

Milwaukee County Zoo

Distance from Cedar Rapids: 230 miles (3 hours 40 minutes)

Hours: 9:30 AM – 3 PM

Admission: November – March: Children – $11.25, Adults – $14.25

April – October: Children – $13.75, Adults – $16.75

The Milwaukee Zoo is a 190-acre park with over 350 species of animals from four different continents.  Last year they opened their “Hippo Haven”, a large underwater hippo exhibit with a viewing tank.  Other family attractions include the Family Farm, playground, safari train, open-air tram, carousel, zip line, ropes course, and sky safari.

More for kids in the area:

Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, Discovery World, Milwaukee Public Museum, Harley-Davidson Museum, Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory 

Omaha, NE

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium

Distance from Cedar Rapids: 260 miles (3 hours 45 minutes)

Hours: 10 AM – 4 PM

Admission: March – April, October – November: Children – $13.95, Adults – $20.95

May- September: Children – $18.95, Adults – $25.95

While this may not be the biggest zoo overall, they do have the world’s largest indoor desert, largest indoor rainforest, and the largest aquarium in a zoo.  Other features include the Children’s Adventure Trails (with an air conditioned baby-care station), Alaskan Adventure Splash Park, Skyfari aerial tram, and the Stingray Beach interactive exhibit.  If you want to extend your stay, they offer many opportunities to go on a “Sleeping Bag Safari” and spend the night at the zoo.

More for kids in the area:

Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum, Omaha Children’s MuseumThe Durham Museum at Union Station, Joslyn Art Museum, Fontenelle Forest, Lauritzen Gardens 

Minneapolis, MN

Como Park Zoo & Conservatory St. Paul, MN

Distance from Cedar Rapids: 250 miles (4 hours)

Hours: 10 AM – 4 PM

Admission: Free (suggested donation of $4 for adults, $2 for children)

While Como Park is quite large, the zoo portion is only 17 acres.  Features include a weekly “Lil’ Explorers” activity, 2-acre indoor conservatory, carousel, Como Town amusement park ($15 per person), children’s gallery, and sea lion show.

Minnesota Zoo Apple Valley, MN

Distance from Cedar Rapids: 250 miles (4 hours)

Hours: 10 AM – 4 PM

Admission: Children – $13.95, Adults – $19.95

The Minnesota Zoo is home to over 4,500 animals from more than 500 species.    Family areas include the Splash Pad, Bee Hive, Woodland Adventure, Hanifl Family Wild Woods, the Conservation Carousel, and a private nursing area for mothers.

More for kids in the area:

Minnesota Children’s Museum, Mall of America (including a flight simulation center, aquarium, LEGO Imagination Center, Crayola Experience, and Nickelodeon Universe), Science Museum of Minnesota, Mill City Museum, Bell Natural History Museum & Planetarium 

St. Louis, MO

Saint Louis Zoo

Distance from Cedar Rapids: 280 miles (4 hours 15 minutes)

Hours: 9 AM – 5 PM (Closes at 4 PM on Weekends)

Admission: Free

The Saint Louis Zoo has over 12,000 animals from 500 species on its 90 acres.  The park is divided into six zones- River’s Edge, Discovery Center (including the children’s zoo), Lakeside Crossing (with an interactive stingray exhibit), The Wild, Historic Hill, and Red Rocks.  They also have a train, carousel, and 4D theater.

More for kids in the area:

City Museum, The Magic House Children’s Museum, Grant’s Farm, The National Museum of Transportation, Aquarium, Missouri History Museum, St. Louis Science Center, Missouri Botanical Garden, Myseum, HealthWorks! Kids’ Museum

Which of these zoos is your favorite? Let us know about your zoo experience in the comments or on our Facebook page!


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Katheryn is a Texas native loving life in the Midwest! Before settling down, she studied Media Arts at BYU and worked in the TV and film industries. She met and married her husband while back home in Texas and, after a stint teaching high school A/V classes, moved to Marion in 2018 where they had their son later that year. Now a stay-at-home-mom, she enjoys baking, biking, binge-watching, diy home improvement projects, and is an aspiring gardener.