Our 7-year-old middle son was having a tough week. He had woken up at night crying, stressed about “everything.” His brothers were annoying all the time, school was too ‘every day,’ the dog kept bothering him, and everything was just ‘too busy’ and ‘too loud.’ Sometimes, it’s all just too much, isn’t it? I decided he needed a day off. One Friday in May we dropped his older brother off at school, his younger brother off to play with cousins, and Middle Little and I skipped town (and school). Where did we go? To the MN Zoo! Our middle is a sweet soul who has loved learning everything he could about animals since he was very little. What better place to recharge his batteries than at the Zoo, looking at and learning about animals all day?
I kept where we were going a surprise until we were on the way. He was so excited! A little over an hour’s drive seemed like forever to him, but we talked about everything he wanted to see when we got there. And the Zoo didn’t disappoint! It was exactly what he needed: a date day with Mom, and all the time he wanted to look at the animals. I let him determine our pace; we stayed for a long time looking at some things and moved more quickly past others, and in general, didn’t rush. All told, we spent almost 5 hours at the MN Zoo and enjoyed every minute.
The weather threatened rain in the afternoon, so we decided to do the outdoor trails first, while it was still clear. With water bottles and snacks in my bag, and comfortable shoes on, off we went! Signage was very clear, directing us on the one-way traffic through the trails. If anyone needs to take a little rest break, there are many benches for resting and watching the animals along the way.
Russia’s Grizzly Coast
Outdoor speakers set the mood with the sounds of waves crashing and seagulls. We saw sea otters splashing, swimming, and playing. One of the grizzly bears was right up next to the window, half in the water, playing with a big rock with his HUGE claws. The window provided clear viewing of him above and below the water! The wild boar and a napping Amur leopard were next on the trail, but the next big highlight was the tiger. The tiger was roaming much closer than we had ever seen before! We stood out on the lookout bridge and just watched him stroll in all his magnificence.
Continuing on, the trail transitions into larger roaming animals. Takin, pronghorn, and bison are all clearly visible from the trail. Next to the bison, a colony of prairie dogs is right next to the trail, behind glass. It’s so fun to hear them chatter, squeak, and chirp, pop in and out of their holes, and grab food with their little paws. A little further on, we stopped and read the signs for the Bactrian camel and Asian wild horse. The last leg of the Northern Trail is the dhole, moose, and caribou.
Wells Fargo Family Farm
This trail is an offshoot from the middle of the Northern Trail and is full of fun farm cuteness. Baby goats climbing, jumping, and butting heads, piglets, chicks, calves, lambs, rabbits, and baby llamas (the eyelashes on a baby llama…I mean, come on! Cannot handle the sweetness!!) make for a whole farm experience. There are also a bunch of picnic tables, where we took a welcome rest and snack break.
Before you head back indoors, don’t forget to take a look at the snow monkeys! We counted 17, but there were almost certainly more. There are indoor and outdoor viewing areas where you can watch them climbing, napping, eating, grooming, and playing.
The first trail that we did inside was the Tropics Trail. Here, suddenly in the rainforest, you will see all manner of tropical animals: birds flying overhead, lemurs, monkeys, armadillos, tortoises, crocodiles, tapirs, red panda, bats, python, and so many more. Middle Little’s favorites were the Komodo dragon and the flamingos. After reading so many books about Komodo dragons at home, watching one walk around and flick his long, forked tongue was pretty awesome.
This partially indoor and partially outdoor trail highlights animal native to Minnesota. You’ll see river otters swimming, black bears, huge wolves up close, lynx, and others. We watched the puma roaming and jumping for quite some time. There are amazing animal facts at each viewing space, that were right up his alley. We practiced reading the signs and learned all about the incredible animals we have right here in Minnesota.
By far, we spent the most time here, as sharks are by far one of Middle Little’s favorite animals. The big aquarium has a coral reef, and dozens of varieties of tropical fish, eels, rays, and of course, SHARKS. Middle Little could have stayed there all day…and we nearly did. We spent over an hour watching the sharks swim, the rays gracefully glide by, and tracked the stealthy Morey Eel. Pro Tip: On the side of the main aquarium, there are smaller concave viewing portholes, that are just the right size for kids to sit in. They can look up and all around and feel like they are inside the aquarium. We spent a looooong time going between the portholes and watching the sharks swim by.
Other tanks contain seals, smaller sharks (not open for touching at this time), sea anemone, sea stars, sea horses & sea dragons, and the funny little garden eels.
On the way back to the main concourse, don’t forget to see the Penguins! It was fun to watch them totter and flap awkwardly about, then gracefully glide and zip in the water. Since we spent the whole day at the Zoo, we got to see the zookeepers feeding the penguins toward the end of the day. The silly little guys eating fish was a fun way to end our day.
- Current (May 2021) MN Zoo COVID-19 protocols require reserving an entry timeslot. I reserved ours the night before, and there were still plenty of slots available, though as we move into summer, they will likely fill sooner. Plan a few days ahead just to be sure you get a slot!
- Parking is ample. For non-members, $7.00 parking is added to your ticket.
- Strollers are available for rent, but of course, you are welcome to bring your own. The entire zoo is completely stroller-friendly.
- Food is available at the cafeteria and snacks at the outdoor kiosks but is more limited than normal. Pack a lunch and snacks, and eat a picnic outside! Outside food is welcome at the Zoo. Of note: re-entry is not allowed once you leave the Zoo, so bring a backpack or pack the lunches in a stroller.
- Water fountains are mostly closed, so make sure to bring your own water bottles
- Bathrooms are open and available
- Trails have been adjusted to be one-way traffic throughout the zoo, and some of the viewing areas have been adjusted or temporarily closed altogether. Bird shows are not happening at this time.
- Masks are required indoors for visitors ages 3 and up, and are not required outside.
For more information, visit the MN Zoo website.
Tell us! What is your favorite part of the MN Zoo?
Want some other fun ideas for a day trip? Check out our Field Trip Friday guide!