By far the largest zoo within a few hours of Champaign-Urbana, Brookfield Zoo is a wildly good time for family fun
Literally all you could ask for and more in a zoo, Brookfield Zoo is located just outside of Chicago and packs a full day of animal fun for kids of all ages
Brookfield Zoo‘s unique position in the Chicagoland area makes it a very easy drive from Champaign-Urbana, able to be made without venturing into the actual downtown area itself. It’s an expansive animal playground to say the least, and you’re going to want to bring wheels for your kids (strollers, wagons, etc.) to navigate the day. Think Disney World size — OK, only a slight exaggeration — when you think of how many steps you will rack up. Read on to find out 10 things we think you should know about Brookfield Zoo before planning your next visit.
Note: Due to COVID-19, some public attractions may be closed or operating under restrictions. Please check the website or social media for Brookfield Zoo before planning your trip, and be aware of any safety protocols or travel restrictions currently in effect.
10 Things to Know about Visiting Brookfield Zoo
- The zoo is huge … REALLY huge! You will get in tons and tons of steps while walking around. And so even if your kids are a little older, you may want to bring wheels for them when they get tired (which they will). Some quick Google research tells us this zoo is larger than the Magic Kingdom at Disney World, so we’re not kidding you on the size. Parking is a bit of a walk from the admission area, which means you’ll also want to pack with you what you want to take into the zoo (cooler, snacks, etc.). Get in and stay in for the duration of your visit.
- Building on No. 1, you won’t be able to do it all in one day. Really, we don’t think it is possible. We’ve been known to spend nearly two hours just in the primate house on a visit, so it is really important that you pick a couple of top picks and if you’re really wise, pick things in the same general vicinity as the others so that you can get in what your family most wants to see. Conveniently, the zoo has put together a walking map if you’d like some tips on organizing your visit.
- Consider membership, if you plan to visit twice in a year. For a family of four, one-day admission to Brookfield Zoo plus parking comes to $76 (and that doesn’t include any extras, like the carousel or others). A membership is going to cover your whole family plus parking plus guest tickets and attraction passes for $158 (or more, depending on the plan). While we live in Champaign-Urbana, we have had Brookfield Zoo passes multiple years and never regretted it, always getting our money’s worth out of this great day trip. And since you won’t be able to cover the whole zoo, having two or more visits is sounding like a great idea!
- Choose the route to Brookfield Zoo that takes you on I-294 over other options. Not only is this the fastest trip at just over two hours, but you will avoid the entire downtown area of Chicago. Don’t be mistaken, you can see the skyline off in the distance but this zoo is located far enough away from the congestion of the city to make it an easy-peasy drive for your family.
- The Hamill Family Wild Encounters wins our pick for favorite attraction at Brookfield Zoo. You’re going to be up close to reindeer, wallabies, and so many more animals when you get tickets to this attraction. If we had to pick just one, this would be it.
- Also an additional cost, the train really doesn’t fit in the same category as the other attractions. Because here, the train is a matter of necessity for everyone’s tired legs. There’s a catch though — you can’t take strollers on the train. So either take it to the other side of the zoo and walk around there for a bit, and then catch it back to your stroller or if you can, consider baby-wearing in addition to a stroller.
- Great Bear Wilderness might win the prize for most unique area. Many of the animal exhibit areas are ginormous and impressively designed, but the bear area is top of the list for us. Highly recommend venturing into this exhibit area and taking your time to walk through the many different components.
- There are no elephants at this zoo. You won’t find elephants in as many zoos nowadays as there were when we were kids. And while this zoo is huge, you won’t find this huge animal in its residence. (You can find them at Indianapolis or Saint Louis if that’s what you’re really looking for.)
- It’s hard to get a spot for a giraffe feeding, as they often sell out! Not to keep drawing comparisons to Disney World, but this is similar to Jedi Training at Hollywood Studios. Head to the giraffe feeding station relatively early to see if you can get a spot for the day. Note: The policies on giraffe feeding vary from season-to-season and year-to-year, so your best bet is to just check with them in person when you arrive if you’re unsure how this will work.
- You can bring your own food into the zoo, including coolers, but please, no alcohol. (However, it is worth noting that you can purchase adult beverages throughout the zoo, especially during peak months and special events.) If you dine at the zoo, there are an abundance of food carts all over (open seasonally) and a pretty large food court by the dolphins.
Looking for more about our favorite zoos and places to see animals near Champaign-Urbana?
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- Best Places to Get Close to Animals in Champaign-Urbana and Beyond
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- 10 Things to Know About Henry Vilas Zoo in Wisconsin
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- 10 Things to Know About Indianapolis Zoo
- 10 Things to Know About Brookfield Zoo
- 10 Things to Know about Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago
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