By Amy Cunningham
Just a short drive from Champaign-Urbana, Scovill Zoo in Decatur has one of the best small-town zoos you have ever visited.
Not only do we have plenty of options for family-friendly places to visit in Champaign-Urbana, but there’s a multitude of even more options a short drive outside of town. Having visited a couple of the small-town zoos (read: not in Chicago, Indy or St Louis), Scovill Zoo ranks at the top of my family’s list! Here are a few reasons why:
They have “real” animals, according to my 3-year-old. Sometimes when we visit small-town zoos, my son is disappointed when he realizes there’s no giraffe. Not at Scovill! There are cheetahs, zebras, spider monkeys, a camel, alligators and an incredibly impressive penguin exhibit! You walk right up to a large glass wall where you can watch the penguins swim under water and come up to the surface. There are a number of places to sit so, if you’re like me, you can sit down and take a break while your children take in the entertainment. Of course there are many more animals you would expect to see at a smaller zoo, too.
Plenty of opportunities to interact with animals exist. The petting zoo at Scovill is incredible. I usually have a hard time pulling my son away. There are always lots of baby goats running around, along with your larger ones, too. You can also see chickens, cows, and pigs in their petting zoo area, though petting those animals is not encouraged. Also, when you arrive, staff will give you a list of the different activities happening that day at the zoo. We happened to be near the alligator exhibit for a hands-on activity, when a zoo staff member casually strolled up with a two year old alligator in her hands for the kids to touch.
It’s not just a zoo. When you first arrive, you can purchase tickets for the carousel or the zoo train for a small additional fee. There’s an impressive playground right outside the zoo that your kids will definitely want to visit. We visited over the weekend and they happened to have pony rides set up (once again, for an additional fee). There are scenic gardens right outside where you can have a picnic, and if you really want to make a day of it, the Children’s Museum of Illinois is right around the corner.
Once you visit Scovill Zoo this summer, your kids will be asking to return again.
The Facts (Updated for 2016 season)
Hours are currently 9:30-5, Mon-Fri and 9:30-6, Sat and Sun. Beginning May 28-Aug.14, the zoo is open 9:30 to 6 p.m. every day.
Admission: Adults $6.50, Seniors (65+) $5.50, Children 2-12 $4.00 and Children under 2 are free. Zoo train tickets are $2.50 per person 2 years and up and carousel rides are $2 per person (adults standing with young children are free).
Food: You can bring food into the zoo, as Scovill has several picnic areas through the zoo and the surrounding park. There is also a popular refreshment stand where you can buy hot dogs, popcorn, slushies and other typical zoo snacks. The prices aren’t too steep, either.