Champaign-Urbana area families have numerous options when it comes to visiting the zoo
We list the top options when you’re looking to visit the zoo with your kids
Do your kids love the zoo? Maybe you do, too. While Champaign-Urbana has options on where to find animals, we don’t have a true zoo in our immediate area. Thankfully, when you’re looking for a zoo to visit either as a day trip or overnight getaway in a big city, we have several options a relatively short drive away.
Let’s go over the basics on area zoos and help you decide which one to visit.
Please note that admission rates were accurate as of the writing of this article. Rates subject to change at any time and some attractions may have an additional cost. Our “cost for family of four” numbers include two adults and two children plus any additional parking charge.
Miller Park Zoo
Distance from Champaign-Urbana: 50 minutes
Cost for Family of Four: $24
Highlights: The closest zoo to C-U has some great exhibits including the resident tiger, the wallaby walkabout and a lively otter area. Miller Park Zoo has the designation of the first certified sensory friendly zoo in the state of Illinois, too! Pack your swim clothes during summer because an impressive splash pad and playground are located right outside the zoo.
Click here for a detailed chambanamoms review on Miller Park Zoo.
Distance from Champaign-Urbana: One hour
Cost for Family of Four: $29; visit for FREE on Thursdays all summer
Highlights: There are a whole lot of favorites at Scovill Zoo. The penguin exhibit is truly fantastic and we love the reptile house, too. Don’t skip the petting area as your child will get lots of great opportunities to love on adorable baby goats. If you spring for one extra attraction, we recommend buying train ride tokens to see the animals from the train.
Click here for a detailed chambanamoms review on Scovill Zoo.
Distance from Champaign-Urbana: One hour, 30 minutes
Cost for Family of Four: $36
Highlights: The closest giraffes to Champaign-Urbana you can find — and feed — are in Peoria. Other highlights are budgie encounters in the aviary, and a slew of farm animals.
Click here for a detailed chambanamoms review on Peoria Zoo.
Distance from Champaign-Urbana: Two hours
Cost for Family of Four: $91 (may cost more on peak days or weekends)
Highlights: This zoo is a Midwest favorite, that’s for sure. The shark-touch pool is a year-round staple and the orangutan center is one-of-a-kind. A lot of attractions cost extra, so expect to spend upwards of $100 for a family of four once all is said and done.
Click here for a detailed chambanamoms review on the Indianapolis Zoo.
Distance from Champaign-Urbana: Two hours, 15 minutes
Cost for Family of Four: $101
Highlights: This zoo is the largest in size on our list, and your feet will agree! Everything is big, big, big at Brookfield Zoo so treat your preparations like you would a day at Disney. Bring wheels, even for older kids that might not otherwise need a wagon or stroller anymore, and you’ll be glad you did. You can literally spend an entire day here, open to close, meaning you might want to pick somewhere to stay overnight or just plan on a really full day if you’re doing a day trip. Our favorite exhibits are Great Bear Wilderness, Wild Encounters (additional fee), watching the dolphins underwater and feeding the giraffes.
Click here for a detailed chambanamoms.com review on Brookfield Zoo.
Lincoln Park Zoo
Distance from Champaign-Urbana: Two hours, 30 minutes
Cost for Family of Four: FREE (but plan to pay for parking, ranging from $20-$35)
Highlights: Yes! We said this zoo is FREE. Your best bet when visiting this zoo is to just park in the zoo parking lot so you don’t have to worry about getting ticketed on the nearby Chicago streets. This urban zoo is in two separate spaces in the heart of Chicago, connected by a bridge with a view of the skyline. You can find all the zoo animals you’re looking for in the main part of the zoo, and then take a short walk over to the farm for up-close encounters with farm animals. You can also take a longer walk (but still totally do-able) to North Avenue Beach for your picnic lunch or a dip in Lake Michigan.
Click here for a detailed chambanamoms review on Lincoln Park Zoo.
Saint Louis Zoo
Distance from Champaign-Urbana: Three hours
Cost for Family of Four: FREE! Parking is $15 in the lots.
Highlights: Saint Louis Zoo is a big one. This is the only location on our list that has elephants residing in an expansive exhibit area, so if you’d like to introduce your children to these majestic creatures, Saint Louis is where it is at. Some attractions are free during the first hour the zoo is open, but require a fee the rest of the day.
Click here for a detailed chambanamoms review on Saint Louis Zoo.
Looking for more about our favorite zoos and places to see animals near Champaign-Urbana?
- Zoos Within 3 Hours of Champaign-Urbana
- Best Places to Get Close to Animals in Champaign-Urbana and Beyond
- Road Trip: Visit St. Louis as a Family
- 10 Things to Know About Henry Vilas Zoo in Wisconsin
- A Champaign-Urbana Favorite: Prairie Farm
- 10 Things to Know About Indianapolis Zoo
- 10 Things to Know About Brookfield Zoo
- 10 Things to Know about Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago
- 10 Things to Know About Peoria Zoo
- 10 Things to Know About Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington-Normal
- Head North for Family Fun: What To Do On Your Chicago Trip
- Frugal Family Fun: Get Wild and Head to the Saint Louis Zoo
- 10 Things to Know About Scovill Zoo in Decatur
- The Best Area Attraction You’ve Never Visited: Wildlife Prairie State Park