Oxbow Park & Zollman Zoo are such treasures for our region. Nestled in a valley just northwest of Rochester on the Zumbro River, the scenery is peaceful and therapeutic. It is a place where childhood imaginations can flourish in the setting of both the Zoo and the Playscape. It is hard to decide where to go first, to see the animals, or to play at the park. Let’s start with the park…
The Playscape is not a typical playground. It is named The Path of Imagination and it is easy to see why when you get there. Think of it like a Children’s or Science Museum exhibit hall but outdoors in this wide-open green space with room to run, climb, slide, and tunnel around as you explore the natural environment around you. This is easily my absolute favorite Rochester-area park!
There are picnic tables conveniently located underneath the shade of the trees so you can sit back and watch your kids explore the world with the creative additions the park has to offer. My 3-year-old’s favorite spot in this area is the sandbox- but it is not just any sandbox. It is a Geo-Dig! The huge sandpit is full of toy trucks, shovels, and picks so that kids can find fossils and unique mineral formations that have been hidden in the sand. Your little future archeologist will love it!
There is also a pond with a bridge where tadpoles live and grow. The sound of croaking frogs and toads can be heard from the other end of the park. Your youngsters have the freedom to get up close and personal with these creatures to discover where their natural habitat is and how they live and grow.
When it is time to head to the Zoo be sure to stop through the Nature Center where you will get to see other animals such as snakes, turtles, and fish. You’ll be able to get maps and other flyers about upcoming events, programs, or unique information about the history of the zoo or the animals. The nature center is open to the public daily, 10 AM – 4 PM.
The original nature center was built in 1981. Currently, the new nature center is scheduled to be complete by the end of Summer 2022! The new center will will have the space and capability to deliver the right programming needs to the community. It is going to be amazing and we cannot wait to visit when it’s open!
The Zollman Zoo houses only animals that are native to Minnesota and most of the animals in the zoo have injuries that prevent them from being released. At the heart of the zoo’s history is Dr. Paul Zollman, the zoo’s namesake. He was dedicated to Olmsted County Parks and had a strong belief in providing the community with environmental education as well as protecting and caring for the wildlife.*
They offer classes and programming to help foster a love for the natural world and inspire people of all ages to care for our environment in this quaint country-zoo. Here is a picture from a recent ‘Feed the Bear’ class field trip. The naturalist taught the kids all about the black bear, where it lives, how it hibernates, and what it eats. Then they got to watch her actually feed the bear which was exciting!
Besides the Zoo and the Playscape, Oxbow also has campgrounds. The campsites are semi-primitive and have bathrooms and running water. Hiking trails also surround the area and take you into the woods and around the Zumbro River. Oxbow Park has approximately 8 miles of trails that weave through undeveloped prairies and wooded hills. There is truly something here for any outdoorsy adventure.
So, pack a nice big old-fashioned style picnic, water bottles, good hiking shoes, and a stroller if you have small children, and enjoy one of Rochester’s best outdoor family day trips. Don’t forget your camera to capture all the memories you will make.
Oxbow Park & Zollman Zoo
Located in Byron, MN: 5731 County Road 105 NW
Zoo hours: 10 am to 4 pm
Park hours: 5 am to 10 pm
Camping is open from April 30th to October 24th, 2021
*Information sourced from the Olmsted County Parks website.