Detroit Zoo Trip Planner: Fantastic Things to Do on Your Visit

Detroit Zoo Rhino and flowers hunt

Detroit Zoo: A Lovely Park with Incredible Animal Views

Detroit Zoo
8450 W 10 Mile Rd,  Royal Oak, MI 48067

Located 14 miles north of downtown Detroit, the Detroit Zoo is a Michigan staple.

With over 3,300 animals of 280 species, you could spend an entire day at the Detroit Zoo and still not take in all of the exhibits.

And its cageless mission means you’ll get some stunning animal sightings and pics.

You literally feel like you’re getting a peek at animals in their natural habitats.

When the zoo’s current 125-acre location was built back in 1928 it was the first in America to use barless exhibits. Its creators wanted a wildlife refuge that also felt like a big park.

Walking the Detroit Zoo is so relaxing and beautiful. In between exhibits, there were wide pathways lined with lush trees and beautifully landscaped grassy areas.

Add in attractions like the carousel, the Wild Adventure Zone, and a mini railroad, and it’s a recipe for one of the best days ever.

open walking spaces at Detroit Zoo
Detroit Zoo has wide walkways and a park-like feel.

How Long Does it Take to Go Through the Detroit Zoo?

Be sure to plan for a full day at the Detroit Zoo. There’s a lot to do and you won’t want to miss any of it!

All ages enjoy the Detroit Zoo carousel.
The carousel is a fun break in the middle of the park.

Favorite Detroit Zoo Animal Exhibits

Let me repeat: this zoo is huge.

The animals are found in seven different sections.

detroit zoo map
  • Light Green: Conservation Campus. This campus includes the Penguins, River Otters, Beavers, Reptiles, Amphibians, and more.
  • Red: Asian Forest. Home to the Pandas, Tigers, and more Asian forest animals.
  • Teal: African Forest. Includes Great Apes of Harambee.
  • Orange: African Grasslands. Find lions, zebras, giraffes, rhinos, warthogs, flamingos, and more.
  • Light Blue: Arctic Ring of Life. Polar bears, arctic foxes, sea otters.
  • Light Red: Australian Outback Adventure. Kangaroos, wallaby, kookabura.
  • Tan: American Grasslands. Bison, bald eagle, wolf, farm animals, vultures.

The animals were out in the open and easily visible. Some were kept in by simple fences.

Others necessitated deep stone moats around their home so as to keep them from getting too close to visitors.

Zebra at the Detroit Zoo

While the animals are more than an arm’s length away, it feels like you can reach out and touch them.

giraffe at the Detroit Zoo

No zoom needed – you can stand this close to the giraffes at the Detroit Zoo!

Detroit Polar Bears located in the Arctic Ring of Life

Arctic Ring of Life is a section of the Detroit Zoo and is at the top on my list of zoo experiences anywhere.

You can walk through a glass tunnel inside the polar bear’s pool and watch him swim over, under and around you.

It’s as close to a polar bear as you can ever get, and it’s thrilling.

Don’t forget to look for arctic foxes and sea otters!

Detroit Zoo Arctic Ring of Life Patti Truesdell
Polar Bear in the Arctic Ring of Life. Photo credit Patti Truesdell.
Detroit Zoo polar bear Hunt

Polk Penguin Conservation Center

This Penguin Conservation Center allows you to interact with penguins like never before.

Like the Arctic Ring of Life, you can walk through tunnels into the penguins’ habitat and watch them swim all around you!

This is also where you can get an immersive Antarctic experience and learn about the intense conditions early explorers faced. See videos of soaring icebergs and maybe even get sprayed with some sea mist.

Wondering where to find the penguins at the zoo? You can’t miss it – it’s the building shaped like an iceberg!

Polk Penguin Conservation Center Detroit Zoo Patti Truesdell
Polk Penguin Conservatory is incredible. Photo credit Patti Truesdell.

The Aviary & Butterfly House

At the Wildlife Interpretation Center
The Wildlife Interpretation Center architecture is something to behold in itself, but step inside and be amazed by birds, butterflies and more.

This is where you’ll find the Free-Flight Aviary and Butterfly House.

Yeah, you can walk around among these amazing creatures. Watch birds and butterflies fly, walk and swim all around you as you walk through their tropical habitat.

There’s also the Science on a Sphere exhibit, where you can see a 6-foot globe hologram spin right before your eyes. Learn about global weather and environmental phenomenons in a fascinating way.

Detroit Zoo Butterfly Garden Johshua Hanford
Butterfly Garden at Detroit Zoo Aviary. Photo credit Joshua Hanford.

Australian Outback Adventure

You can walk among the wallabies at the Australian Outback Adventure.

You can stroll the sidewalk through their yard and catch them snoozing or having a snack.

We met a docent who was super knowledgable about them and could probably answer any questions a curious kid has about these guys.

Wallaby path at the Detroit Zoo
Walk among the wallabies! No barriers!

Detroit Zoo Attractions

Super fun attractions are found between all of the amazing animal encounters.

Some attractions are free, and some come with a cost, but all are sure to entertain your whole crew.

Carousel

In the center of it all is the carousel, which in addition to being whimsical fun, is a welcome shaded activity.

Open daily from 10 AM – 4:30 PM, and is only a few dollars per ride. (Bonus, they have an ADA compliant peacock bench on the carousel as well!)

Detroit Zoo carousel wide hunt

Rackham Fountain

It’s not a visit to the Detroit Zoo without a stop at the iconic Rackham fountain, the zoo’s most popular photo op.

The bear fountain forms the centerpiece of this impressive 175,000 gallon pool that also features life sized sea lions, turtles and frogs.

Find it in the center of the zoo, near the carousel. You can’t miss it.

Rackham Fountain at the Detroit Zoo
Detroit Zoo’s historic Rackham Fountain

Tauber Family Railroad

Take a relaxing ride through the zoo on the Tauber Family Railroad.

And this isn’t any old train ride. These are two legit trains donated by Chrysler Corporation (thanks, Motor City!) traveling on their own miniature railroad.

It’s a great way to travel from the front to the back of the zoo (and visa versa) and is only $3/person for a one way ride. Hop on near the admission booths at the front of the zoo, or at the Africa Station near the rhinos.

A quick look at the Detroit Zoo Train

Wild Adventure Zone

There’s a lot of walking involved at the zoo, and ducking out of the sun and into the Wild Adventure Zone is a great way to rest your feet.

Step into the giant simulator ride that moves and sways your cabin with the action on the screen.

You can also go on some incredible oceanic experiences in the 4 D theatre. There are usually a couple of films to choose from, but I think the most thrilling is when a shark swims up to you in 3-D!

Fee.

Detroit Zoo 4 D theatre rhino

Interactive Detroit Zoo Map & Schedule

The interactive Detroit Zoo Map & Schedule will take your visit to the next level.

You’ll likely be given a paper map of the zoo at the ticket booth when you enter, but the online version provides more up-to-date details, is exo-friendly, and is accessible by anyone in your group with a smartphone.

Open the Detroit Zoo Treks Visitors Guide on your phone to get not only a map of the zoo, but also current information on animals, attractions, restroom locations, food, gifts, safety info, and more.

Detroit Zoo Map
The Online Detroit Zoo Map is Interactive. Click image to access.
baby chimpanzee animal update detroit zoo
Clicking on “Animal Updates” gives visitors a closer look at the status of baby zoo animals.

You can also use the online Detroit Zoo Visitor’s Guide Guest Services section to locate the Mommy and Me Nursing Station (It’s by the Arctic Ring of Life), Charging Stations (by the carousel & events pavilion), an ATM, and picnic areas.

Detroit Zoo Guest Services
Detroit Zoo Guest Services Tab

Detroit Zoo Boo

The Detroit Zoo Boo is “merry-not-scary” and is a very family-friendly event.

Dress the kids in their costumes and head out to see great entertainment (past years have featured aerialists, mimes, superhero reenactments, a juggler, and stilt-walkers.)

Amazing pumpkin displays, a treat trail, and fall activities round out the fun.

Held on select weekends in October.

Detroit Zoo Lights

Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo, commonly called Detroit Zoo Lights, is an annual holiday tradition.

For a month or longer, the front half of the Detroit Zoo’s trees and buildings, along with hundreds of sculptures, are decked out with millions of LED lights.

Tips for Visiting the Detroit Zoo

The Detroit Zoo is a great day trip for every age and these tips will help you make the most of the adventure.

  • Bring a stroller or wagon if you have young kids. This zoo is large! (You can even rent strollers and wheelchairs from the zoo.)
  • Concessions are available, but you can also bring your own.
  • Periodically, some exhibits will be closed for repairs or to care for the animals. You can see what habitats and indoor exhibits are open at the zoo here.
  • The Tauber Family Railroad can give you a quick ride to the back of the zoo, where you can take your way walking back. Or, if you’ve made your way to the back of the zoo, you can hop on at the Africa Station (past the rhino habitat) and ride back to the beginning to end your day.

Food at Detroit Zoo

The zoo has a LOT of dining options. Pizza, coney dogs (it’s not Detroit without a coney dog!), Mediterranean, ice cream, snacks, burgers, and more.

Check the dining options page for open times for each vendor.

Buddy’s Pizza is a Detroit classic and a family favorite. Open daily, 11 a.m. to close. You can even order online!

You can also bring your own food and eat at any of the picnic tables around the park. (Fair warning: you’ll likely attract a peacock friend or two who’s interested in your lunch. They’re harmless and very beautiful.)

Detroit Zoo Zaatar Mediterranean Brooks
Za’Atar is open on weekends at Detroit Zoo.

Parking and Admission

It’s easy to find the Detroit Zoo – just look for the iconic Detroit Zoo water tower high in the sky!

Detroit Zoo Parking

Parking at the Detroit Zoo is $8 per vehicle.

The zoo entrances are bordered by I-96 and Woodward Ave, so parking offsite and walking over to the zoo is not an easy option.

Detroit Zoo Admission

If you buy your tickets online, you’ll likely get a better price and a guaranteed admission time.

A limited number of general admission tickets will be available at the gate each day. The best way to guarantee your Detroit Zoo visit is to book your visit in advance online.

Admission to the Detroit Zoo ranges from $10-19, but if you are a member of another zoo, you could get 50% off your admission. John Ball Zoo members get 50% off, and you can check the entire list here.

All guests ages 2 and up are required to have a reservation prior to their visit.

 

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