Attractions Destinations

The Best Zoos in Minnesota for Fun & Unique Animal Encounters

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on
January 1, 2023

Experience amazing animal encounters and good ol’ family fun at the very best zoos in Minnesota!

There are very few things as universally loved as animals, and seeing them up close is always a thrilling experience!

In this post, I’ll share our list of the very best zoos in Minnesota, as well as 2 gigantic Minnesota aquariums to round off the list!

We include the must-see zoo attractions, zoo admission prices, and one-of-a-kind animal encounters available at each Minnesota zoo.

You’re in for a roarin’ good time!

This post may contain affiliate links, which means that we may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. For more info, see disclosure.

Here's our list of the best zoos in Minnesota from top U.S. family travel blogger, Travel With A Plan!
A Minnesota zoo experience

A Note About Minnesota Zoos

Zoos sometimes receive a bad wrap with concerns about animal welfare while in captivity. 

Luckily, the zoos in Minnesota are part of a worldwide effort toward conservation, ethical animal care, and other best practices.

In other words, you and your family can feel good about your visit to any of these zoos. 

Minnesota zoos offer some of the best animal encounters in the United States with behind-the-scenes tours, educational programs, and feeding opportunities!

Kids and adults alike will enjoy learning more about animal welfare while visiting their favorite animals. 

Oh, and psst…we LOVE Minnesota travel and activities! Here are several other guides to help you plan a Minnesota getaway:

Tips for visiting Minnesota zoos
Take your time viewing each animal

Tips for Visiting Zoos with Kids

Visiting a zoo can be such a fun and enriching experience for kids!

After many years of visiting zoos with our kids, these are the tips that we find helpful in making it most enjoyable:

  • Consider purchasing a zoo membership if you live nearby and plan to visit more than once.
  • Get to the zoo early before it gets too hot, and in order to avoid your child’s nap time.
  • Pack sunscreen, sunhats, and items to help stay cool if you’ll be there during the afternoon heat.
  • Bring a picnic lunch, as well as snacks and water bottles to save time and money.
  • Plan for a lot of walking and make sure that everyone is wearing comfortable walking shoes.
  • Bring a stroller or kid’s wagon for small children and for extra storage of your belongings.
  • Take your time and observe each animal for at least 1 minute.
  • Encourage your children to ‘touch’ when at the ‘hands-on’ exhibits.
  • Take lots of photos!
  • Watch your children closely so that they do not fall into an exhibit or place their hands into an off-limits cage.

The Best Zoos in Minnesota

Zoos make wonderful family activities because family members of all ages can find engaging exhibits, shows, and activities – as well as get up close and personal with cute, cuddly, unique, and often hairy zoo animals!

As Minnesota natives, we’ve spent hours exploring each and every one of these Minnesota zoos with our 3 children as they grew up.

Here’s our list of the best zoos in Minnesota to help you plan your next Minnesota zoo outing!

Here's our list of the best zoos in Minnesota from top U.S. family travel blogger, Travel With A Plan!
Minnesota Zoo

1. Minnesota Zoo

  • Minnesota Zoo, Apple Valley, MN
  • Adult admission: $19.95
  • Children ages 3-12: $13.95
  • Online, timed-entry tickets are required, so do plan in advance.
  • Food, concessions, and picnic areas are available.

As the largest and most popular zoo in Minnesota, you’ll enjoy seeing over 2300 animals at Minnesota Zoo!

Their 8 unique exhibits and ecosystem displays include:

  • Discovery Bay – Visit a variety of stingrays, sharks, and other sea life with colorful exhibits and touch tanks.
  • Medtronic Minnesota Trail – View the local Minnesota wildlife with coyotes, wolves, beavers, turtles, and more!
  • Northern Trail – Explore Minnesota’s northern life with amur tigers, woodland caribou, and moose.
  • Russia’s Grizzly Coast – Experience grizzly bears amongst an awe-striking scenery inspired by the rocky coastline, volcanoes, and forests of the Russian wilderness.
  • South Entry – Begin your zoo visit in the chilly south with penguins and snow monkeys.
  • Tropic Trail – Visit monkeys, flamingos, crocodiles, and more in this lush rainforest exhibit.
  • Family Farm – Learn about local farmers and their efforts to protect natural resources.
  • World of Birds Show – See a thrilling show including hawks, owls, and other birds from around the world!
  • Zoomobile – Learn about nature through accessibility-focused programs.

And if you’re concerned with animal welfare, rest assured on your trip to the Minnesota Zoo.

Their conservation efforts and animal care model are both nationally recognized. 

They are committed to worldwide animal conservation initiatives, with particular programs designed to protect prairie butterflies, freshwater mussels, bison, and black rhinos. 

Additional planning tip: A 1.5-mile elevated pedestrian loop trail (32 feet high in the air – the first of its kind!), is set to open in the summer of 2023!

Along with connecting the north and south ends of the zoo, it will give visitors a bird’s-eye-view of the zoo’s bison, tigers, moose, and other animals. 

Here's our list of the best zoos in Minnesota from top U.S. family travel blogger, Travel With A Plan!
Como Town (Photo courtesy of Explore Minnesota)

2. Como Park Zoo Conservatory

  • Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, Saint Paul, MN
  • Admission: Free for everyone!
  • Online, timed-entry tickets are required, so do plan in advance.
  • Food, concessions, and picnic areas are available.

Our favorite Minnesota zoo is the Como Park Zoo Conservatory, mainly because along with being an amazing zoo – it is entirely free to visit!

Located in Saint Paul, Minnesota, this conservatory is home to 1700 animals from around the world!

Some of the incredible animals that live here include polar bears, gorillas, snow leopards, giraffes, seals, and more. 

You can also enjoy special events, stunning gardens, and dozens of educational programs. 

Rotating events include options for live music, family photo hours, and Lil’ Explorers Thursdays (perfect for families with young children!). 

They even have “Sensory Friendly Mornings” designed for individuals with autism and their families to comfortably visit the zoo without overwhelming crowds and stimuli. 

Como Town

There is a small amusement park named Como Town located adjacent to Como Zoo.

Como Town is geared towards toddlers and small children and is home to more than 20 rides and attractions, a splash zone, concessions, and a General Store.

Points and/or a daily wristband must be purchased in order to ride the rides in Como Town, however, these passes do not reserve a scheduled time to visit the zoo (this must be scheduled online ahead of time as mentioned above).

Como Town is a great activity to pair with a visit to the free Como Zoo!

Lake Superior Zoo is one of the best zoos in Minnesota
Lake Superior Zoo tiger

3. Lake Superior Zoo

  • Lake Superior Zoo, Duluth, MN
  • Adult Admission: $15.00
  • Children ages 3-12: $8.00
  • Advanced tickets are not required.
  • Food, concessions, and picnic areas are available.

Not only do we love the Lake Superior Zoo located in Duluth, MN, but we love visiting Duluth in general!

As one of our favorite family-friendly places to visit in Minnesota, we totally recommend adding a visit to the Lake Superior Zoo to your Duluth family vacation itinerary!

Our favorite animals at Lake Superior Zoo include black bears, lions, tigers, cougars, and kangaroos.

We also love The Barnyard exhibit which is full of your favorite farm animals including goats, sheep, chickens, ducks, and pigs. (Barnyard animal feedings are available during the summer months.)

Other must-view attractions include the Primate Conservation Center, the Australia Building, and the Nocturnal Building. 

Families traveling with young children can also take advantage of the onsite playground as well as the zoo train (Ages 2 & under are free, and Ages 5+ are $4.00).

Heading to Duluth? Check out our family-friendly Duluth, MN guides:

Here's our list of the best zoos in Minnesota from top U.S. family travel blogger, Travel With A Plan!
Giraffe feeding at the zoo

4. Hemker Park and Zoo

  • Hemker Park and Zoo, Freeport, MN
  • Adult Admission: $20.95
  • Children ages 2-12: $18.25
  • Advanced tickets are not required.
  • Food, concessions, and picnic areas are available.

Hemker Park and Zoo is a lesser talked about Minnesota zoo that is actually quite amazing and fun!

In fact, part of what makes this one of the best zoos in Minnesota is the opportunity for ultra-unique animal encounters including:

  • Red Panda Experience – Meet the red pandas and learn more about this endangered species. 
  • Giraffe Feeding – Hand-feed a giraffe!
  • Give an Otter a Snack – Toss the otters a fish while you watch them swim.
  • Hand Feed a Rhino – Assist a professional in feeding a rhino and learning more about worldwide rhinoceros conservation.
  • Buddy to the Budgies – Hand-feed swarms of budgies with seed sticks.
  • Feed the Colorful Koi – Feed the beautiful koi as they swim about.
  • Cuddle with Cookie – Brave enough to hold a boa constrictor? Have a cuddle with Cookie, complete with a souvenir photo.
  • Alligator Experience – Learn all there is to know about alligators while meeting Gator, the resident American alligator.
  • Pet Ruby the Penguin – Guests can pet a penguin, take photos, and learn more about these amazing creatures.

Though the animal feeding experiences are not included in your admission ticket they can be bundled with a daily zoo pass or purchased individually at the zoo.

Lastly, this zoo is also home to Tio, the only living rhinoceros in Minnesota.

As Tio is part of an endangered species, Hemker Park and Zoo put a specific emphasis on their contributions to worldwide rhino conservation.

Zoos in Minnesota:  Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo
Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo

5. Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo

  • Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo, Byron, MN
  • Admission: Free for everyone; no reservations required
  • No food or concessions are available for purchase, however, there are outdoor picnic areas

Located in southern Minnesota just outside of Rochester, MN, Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo is one of the state’s hidden gems!

This zoo is home to over 30 species native to the Minnesota area, including wolves, bobcats, bison, black bear, cougars, and lynx.

Most of these animals have found new life in this zoo after sustaining injuries that prevent them from being self-sufficient in the wild. 

On your visit, you can enjoy beautiful Minnesotan wildlife along with educational park programs, scenic walking trails, a large outdoor nature-themed play area, and covered picnic pavilions.

Also, be sure to check out the Oxbow Park Nature Center for fun activities and exhibits of regional snakes!

Find more things to do in Rochester, MN here!

6. Pine Grove Zoo

  • Pine Grove Zoo, Little Fall, MN
  • Adult Admission: $14.00
  • Children ages 3-9: $12.00
  • Advance tickets are not required.
  • Food, concessions, and picnic areas are available.

Immerse yourself in nature at the Pine Grove Zoo in central Minnesota.

Here, you’ll find awesome exhibits housing zebras, arctic wolves, Siberian tigers, and more. 

For a special event, visit the zoo for “Breakfast with the Animals” where you can enjoy breakfast at the zoo and get the opportunity to feed some of the resident animals. 

This option is exclusive to zoo members, volunteers, and “Adopt an Animal Parents,” so it’s ideal for Minnesota residents.

They also offer educational programs, zoo tours, and animal encounters with bears, kangaroos, monkeys, tigers, otters, and sloths!

Where else do you have the chance to feed a tiger a treat?

If you’re in the mood for a snack yourself, head over to the Cougar Cafe for classic fare, including hotdogs, pizza, and lunch boxes.

Minneaota aquariums:  SEA LIFE Aquarium
SEA LIFE Aquarium

7. SEA LIFE at Mall of America

While technically not a zoo, the amazing wildlife and interactive exhibits found at SEA LIFE earned them a spot on our list!

SEA LIFE Aquarium is one of the best attractions inside the Mall of America – the world-famous shopping mall which also includes an indoor theme park called Nickelodeon Universe!

Not only is SEA LIFE the largest aquarium in the state of Minnesota, but it is also one of the best things to do in Bloomington, MN for kids!

You’ll find sharks, stingrays, turtles, and sea creatures at SEA LIFE, as well as special events, educational talks, and feeding viewings to keep the entire family entertained.

Visit the rainforest exhibit to see ferocious crocodiles and piranhas, or swing by the Coral Caves for relaxing views of colorful fish and coral reefs. 

Additional planning tip: Mall entry does not require admission, but visiting SEA LIFE Aquarium does.

8. Great Lakes Aquarium

Great Lakes Aquarium is located on Duluth, Minnesota’s waterfront nestled along the shipping harbor of Lake Superior.

The aquarium is highly recognizable for its colorful exterior and enormous size that was built to house over 15 re-created animal habitats.

Upon entering, you’re greeted by a floor-to-ceiling water wall and the Merill Lynch Fine Arts Gallery.

The 1st-floor exhibits include Otter Cove, Amazing Amazon, Aquatic Invaders, and Isle Royale.

Once riding the escalator (or elevator) to the 2nd floor you’ll find Raptor Ridge, Critter Corner, and the Baptism and St. Louis River exhibits, just to name a few.

We loved the trout tanks, River otters, rehabilitated bald eagles, electric eels, jellyfish, and tide touch pools.

Not only do the animals and exhibits at the Great Lakes Aquarium provide fun and enjoyment, but they are entirely educational as well.

Find our tips for visiting Great Lakes Aquarium here!

Conclusion: The Best Zoos in Minnesota 

Zoos are such a cool way to interact with wildlife like you never have before!

On your trip to Minnesota, make sure to include one of their premier zoos or aquariums in your planning for a fun-filled day of animal education and amazing encounters. 

Time to get planning!

Which Minnesota zoo will you be visiting next? I’d love to hear from you!

-Jen

*Before leaving, be sure to check our Travel Resources Page to find exclusive travel discounts and to book hotels, rental cars, and guided tours.*

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Here's out list of the best zoos in Minnesota including their ticket prices, animal encounter experiences, and must-see animals at each place!  #Minnesotatravel #familyvacations #Minnesotazoos
Here's out list of the best zoos in Minnesota including their ticket prices, animal encounter experiences, and must-see animals at each place!  #Minnesotatravel #familyvacations #Minnesotazoos
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Hi, I'm Jen - founder of the award-winning travel blog, Travel With A Plan! I help families plan fun & fulfilling family vacations by sharing our exact itineraries and "best things to do" lists to popular US vacation spots. Take the stress out of planning a family vacation by using our detailed destination guides and ultra-convenient packing lists to help you travel better. We'll show you how hassle-free family travel is possible - when you travel with a plan!

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