Your Family-Friendly Guide to the Saint Louis Zoo
The Saint Louis Zoo is an incredible large (and FREE!) zoo that will quickly become a family favorite
When you live in Champaign-Urbana, you’ve got plenty of great local spots to see animals up close. But sometimes you want to pack the kids in the car and find some BIG animals like elephants, hippos and giraffes. We certainly don’t have those in C-U! Just three hours down the road, you’ll find an incredible large (and FREE!) zoo that will quickly become a favorite in your family at the Saint Louis Zoo.
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 St. Louis Zoo before planning your trip, and be aware of any safety protocols or travel restrictions currently in effect.
On May 20, 2020, the Zoo announced plans to re-open on June 13, 2020. It will restrict attendance through a timed reservation system, and ask visitors over age 9 to wear cloth face coverings. The Zoo will be open seven days a week, and guests can make reservations at stlzoo.org beginning at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, June 8, 2020.
Yes, admission to the Saint Louis Zoo is FREE every day. Shows and certain attractions will have a cost, but it’s easy to spend an entire day at this zoo without spending any money. You can even park on the street to save money on parking, but be prepared to walk a little ways if you’re visiting during peak season/hours. As you drive through Forest Park and towards the zoo, you’ll see where you can legally park on the street.
This zoo is HUGE, so if you have littles with you, bring the wagons and strollers with. You’re going to get to experience a lot of perks if you visit the zoo during the first hour of opening, so plan accordingly. This may mean leaving Champaign-Urbana as early as possible, or even driving down and staying in St. Louis the evening before if you’re not making it a day trip. The stingrays, for example, are free the first hour the zoo is open, but cost a few dollars per person after that (and are only open seasonally, as an FYI). The carousel and children’s zoo also have free admission the first hour the zoo is open. Always check the Saint Louis Zoo website before your visit, as offers/specials may change seasonally.
The zoo’s exhibits and attractions are some of the best we’ve seen. The elephant area will simply take your breath away. If you sometimes have a hard time visiting zoos because you feel badly for animals living in small enclosures, we don’t think you’ll experience that at the Saint Louis Zoo. The areas of the zoo are expansive and wisely constructed, with both the animals’ quality of life and the zoo visitors’ experience in mind.
If you are going to shell out a few dollars during your zoo visit, we highly recommend the Wild Wonder Outpost Discovery Room. Designed for kids ages 0-8 to grow their love and appreciation for nature, you’ll be able to spend hours in this area alone. The insectarium is located near this area too, and we think you and your family will LOVE the butterfly wing. Admission to the insectarium is free.
The Saint Louis Zoo has so many scheduled feedings and “meet a keeper” happenings on a typical day at the zoo, that you can plan a visit led partially by you and partially by the zoo. It’s always great for kids to hear from the zookeepers firsthand so they can pick up some interesting facts to take away from your visit with them. Just check in with the zoo for that day’s schedule when you arrive. Food is available for purchase at the zoo, but of course you can plan a picnic during your visit, too.
The Zoo is located in the Forest Park area of St. Louis. This sprawling city park is a must visit if you have more time in the area! Catch performances at The Muny, take a stroll through the Saint Louis Art Museum, rent a paddleboat or canoe at the boathouse and so much more. But be prepared to do a LOT of walking as this park covers a LOT of ground!