Of all the places to walk in the Milwaukee area, my favorite is probably our zoo. If you’re not a fan of zoos, this isn’t going to be your favorite post.
Even now, as an adult in my 30s, I love going to zoos. We have a ZooPass for the Milwaukee County Zoo (aka Milwaukee Zoo), which gets us discounts at zoos in other parts of the country. Most recently we took a trip to the Cincinnati Zoo to visit Fiona the hippo! (If you’re wondering… yes, she is just as cute – if not cuter – in person.)
Growing up in Madison, the Milwaukee Zoo was the ultimate in zoo experiences. Sure, we had our own Henry Vilas Zoo, which is certainly not without merit (it’s a free zoo, for crying out loud). But when your go-to zoo as a kid is smaller than 30 acres, an almost 200-acre zoo is quite the upgrade: HVZ was a nice way to kill a few hours while going to Milwaukee’s zoo was a day-long, fun-filled adventure of epic proportions. While perhaps not quite as exciting as it once was, I still love trips to our zoo, so why not use it as a place to get some walking in?
While the summer months seem like the ideal time to visit the zoo, there’s much to be said for making a trip during the “off-season” as well. First, there are fewer people around, which not only makes walking a lot easier, it also means you have a better chance to get a front-row view of the more popular animals. Next, the animal experience is different. Some of your favorites will be off-exhibit, but others will be more visible and more active in the cooler weather. The red pandas, for example, aren’t fans of the hot summer temperatures, but they were definitely out and about during our late-February visit when temps were in the 40s.
When you’re visiting a larger zoo, like Milwaukee Zoo, winter trips are made more bearable by the many buildings and indoor exhibits on the grounds. Offering a reprieve from the cold, places like the Aquatic & Reptile Center or Small Mammals building are easy to skip over when the weather is nice but are home to some incredible animals. If you’re particularly chilled (and don’t mind the smell), the Aviary, with its tropical inhabitants, is an especially good place to warm up a bit. Just watch out for low-flying birds (or, worse, their droppings).
Originally established in Washington Park, the zoo has existed since 1892, though it wouldn’t reach its current location until 1958. The last 60 years have seen a lot of changes to the Milwaukee Zoo; the biggest project currently underway is the development of a new elephant habitat (as the current enclosure does not meet the captivity standards set by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums). While this massive undertaking may not be completed until 2019, other (smaller) projects are also in the works, such as a new parking area and an upgraded otter exhibit.
On this particular Saturday, the highlights of our trip were the red pandas (obviously), the seals (who were being fed as we wandered by), the newest addition to the gorilla family (little Zahra, born in September 2017), and Big Cat Country (because the big cats are just always so beautiful). We visited a few buildings on our first lap of the zoo and then took another lap to get some extra steps in once we had seen everything we came to see. We managed to get about three miles of walking in, so I’d say the trip was a success.
The Milwaukee Zoo is always going to be one of my favorite places to walk in Wisco, no matter what time of year it is. We will undoubtedly be back (probably soon!) and look forward to every trip, whether it’s just a few hours to walk around or something a little more structured, like a special event (such as the MDA Muscle Walk or the summer’s Sunset Zoofari concert series). Every trip to the zoo is time well spent. You might just learn something, too!
If you’re in the area, and zoos are on your to-do list, I strongly suggest you stop by and walk awhile. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- The zoo closes earlier on weekdays in the off-season, so make sure to get there first thing in the morning and hit up your favorites to make sure you don’t miss out. Arriving early also helps ensure a better parking spot (whether you pay to park in the lot or are planning to park on the street and walk in) and means you’re getting the most out of your money. Check the Milwaukee County Zoo website for current ticket prices and hours of operation, as well as information on Family Free Days!
- Concessions are limited in the cooler months, so there may only be a handful of places to grab some grub. Fortunately, the zoo allows you to carry in your own food (except for alcohol or anything in a glass container) and there are plenty of benches and tables around the zoo for your picnicking pleasure (as long as the weather is somewhat cooperative).
- One of the things the Milwaukee Zoo is really stepping up their game on is animal enrichment. Some of the items they use are pretty straightforward, like dog toys or balls, and others are a bit less obvious, like perfumes or paints. If you’re interested in supporting this endeavor, the zoo has an Amazon Wish List from which you can purchase items that have been pre-approved by the staff.
- Want to become a Milwaukee Zoo regular? Consider getting a Zoo Pass. Not only will it pay for itself in just a few visits, it also gets you a 10% discount at the zoo’s souvenir shops AND gets you discounted (or even free) admission to a ton of different zoos and aquariums across the country. Zoo Pass members also get early access to certain exhibits and events, and frequently get discounted tickets for events like Zoo Brew. Totally worth it.
And now, I leave you with some additional links. 🙂
Milwaukee County Zoo
Zoological Society of Milwaukee
Milwaukee County Zoo (Visit Brookfield)
Milwaukee County Zoo continues work on west entrance, otter exhibit (Journal Sentinel)