Can we really be only a 90-minute drive from the best zoo ever?
by Rachael MacMillan
Editor’s Note: Because of COVID-19, many public attractions may be closed or operating under restrictions. Please check the website or social media for the Peoria Zoo before planning your trip, and be aware of any safety protocols or travel restrictions currently in effect.
The Peoria Zoo re-opened to the general public on May 30, 2020. It will limit attendance and require timed reservations and tickets in order to enter the Zoo, and will require all guests over the age of 2 to wear masks/face coverings while visiting. See a full list of modifications here. The Zoo will be open seven days a week, and guests can make reservations at peoriazoo.org/tickets-2-2/.
I’ll admit it; I’m a hyperbole junkie. I am always and forever overstating things (see–I did it right there!).
However, I truly believe the Peoria Zoo deserves the title of Best Zoo Ever. The main reason is this: they’ve packed a lot of great animal exhibits into a space you can navigate in a lean hour and 30 minutes.
This is probably so important to me because after an hour and a half of walking around a zoo, I am All. Zoo-d. Out. I’ll bet you could set a timer for ninety minutes, set me free in a zoo, and be guaranteed that when the bell dings my eyes will glaze over and I will cease to care what fabulous creature lies around the bend, because at that point I am only thinking about my air-conditioned car and a cold beverage.
Don’t get me wrong; the size of the Peoria Zoo is not the only thing I like about it. Really, it’s what they do with the square footage that matters.
While they lack the variety of many larger zoos, there is a little something for everyone. My son loves the Chinese alligator, and my daughter thinks the meerkats and green tree snake are pretty cool. As for me, I’m a giraffe kind of person.
Speaking of giraffes, the Africa exhibit is the crowning jewel of the zoo: it features a large, open area where various animals that roam the African plain are all visible at once. This lends authenticity to these animals’ habitats–granted, they keep the lions separate by means of a large pit (so the king of the jungle can look at, but not touch, its would-be dinner).
I guess if I had to state another thing about the zoo that I love, it’s that the animals also seem to love it there. They’re often active: we’ve seen a rhino happily use its horn to mine mud out of a big pit, giraffes strip leaves off of trees with their long, black tongues, spider monkeys swing busily from trees, and takins wrestle (“takin wrestling” has since become a thing in our house).
Check out this video of a lion at the zoo “playing” with young kids (hilarious!).
A few years ago, the tiger couple welcomed four cubs. We got to see the first-time momma rolling around with her little ones, and let me tell you, that’s a sight that will never get old.
The summer season features Daily keeper chats, Education Programs, Giraffe Feedings, our Australian Walk-About, as well as outdoor concessions.
Where: From I-74, take exit 92A (Knoxville I-40). Proceed north on Knoxville; turn right on McClure. McClure empties into Glen Oak Park at the intersection with Prospect Rd. Once in the park bear right; the zoo entrance will be just ahead.
When: Open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (last admission at 4:00 p.m.)
Cost: $10.50 for ages 13-up, $7.50 for ages 2-12. Children under 2 are admitted free. (Tip: a family membership, which costs $95, is good for admission for one year and gets you benefits here as well as at these other zoos.)
Dining: The Zambezi River Lodge, situated at the start of the Africa exhibit, has a nice menu of lunch/snack items. It’s a decent value, but if you’re looking to save money, pack a picnic lunch.
Rachael McMillan teaches sixth and seventh grade history at Campus Middle School for Girls. She also tutors at The Reading Group and serves as the education coordinator for Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade retailer in downtown Champaign. She is totally in love with her Chambana life, which she shares with husband Scott and three kids.