As we have said on numerous occasions, we are zoo people. We rarely pass up an opportunity to visit a new location, and enjoy returning to ones we have already seen. The ever changing exhibits usually offer a new view on something or at least a different perspective. When we planned our St. Louis trip, a visit to their world famous park was a must. For those who are unaware of this amazing destination, the St. Louis Zoo is regularly voted as one of the top parks in the U.S. and certainly the best FREE zoo. Let’s check it out!
We want to thank the St. Louis Zoo and Explore St. Louis for their hospitality. Rest assured that all opinions are our own.
Our visit to the St. Louis Zoo occurred on the last weekend in March, so we knew going in that the weather would be a little unpredictable. The previous day had been cold and rainy, but on the morning of our visit the sun broke free of the clouds. While the temperatures started in the 50’s, the forecast was for a quick warm up, which we would certainly relish. We arrived just before opening time, so we could get some shots around the entrance. While the zoo is free, parking can be a little of a challenge. They have a couple of pay lots ($15 per car) or you can take your chance trying to find a spot on a nearby street. We decided that the cost of the pay lot was less than we would usually spend on admission, and it was quite convenient.
After orienting ourselves with the layout of the zoo, we decided that it would be best to locate some indoor exhibits. Fortunately, the St. Louis Zoo has a few to choose from. The zoo is broken into six main zones, (We are only focusing on five of them for this article.) and since we entered on the North side, we began our exploration in the Discovery Corner. The Insectarium offered a chance to get indoors, while exploring the life of the tinier species. The area is well designed and guides visitors on a discovery of the world of insects. We began by learning what designates a creature as an insect and eventually worked our way to the area that explains the important roles that insects play in our ecosystems. The whole exhibit is presented in a way that is appealing to all ages with many displays set at heights that allow younger guests eye level viewing.
Braving The Wild
Back outside, we discovered that the temps were still on the chilly side. (Fortunately it wasn’t windy!) We doubled back toward the entrance to visit The Wild. This zone was very popular with the other guests who were beginning to flow in. We viewed the outside of the penguin exhibit, but decided to skip a visit inside. We have been through it recently and knew the crowds would make for a slow procession. A few of the birds were lingering around the outside pool, so we watched them preen themselves for a few minutes, before moving along.
A flurry of commotion signaled it was time to head to the polar bear exhibit. Sure enough, a crowd had gathered to watch the antics of one of the local residents. We aren’t quite sure which is more entertaining, watching the bear or the crowds reaction. Both made for some enjoyable moments, which we relished for a while. As some in the crowd would depart, new visitors would join the throng of eager viewers. Cell phones and cameras snapped shots of the splishing and splashing entertainer. Every once in a while we would hear someone remark about the massive size of the bear’s paw. To be honest, it is quite entrancing to watch the interaction between species.
Heading Up The Hill
We walked past the grizzly exhibit, and caught a quick view, before deciding to look for more indoor exhibits. Crossing the railroad tracks led us on the path to the Historic Hill area. At this point it is worth mentioning that obviously not everything at the zoo is free. There are a variety of snack and dining options available, which we found to be priced in line with most zoological parks we have visited. There are also a few special events and shows throughout the day that come with an additional fee. You can check the zoo’s website for a list of these. (The link is near the beginning of this article.)
Back To The Beginning
The St. Louis Zoo can trace its origin to the 1904 World’s Fair. While much of the original construction has been revised, Historic Hill remains the most historic portion of the zoo. Seeking warmth, we headed for the herpetarium, since we were sure it would be quite tropical. Sure enough, the crowds had also sought out this climate, so we decided to embrace them into our exploration. (It works well, since we like to people watch.) The herpetarium is broken into four distinct zones; desert, tropical, temperate, and montane (mountain forests). As we passed through the exhibits we noted the large number of families using the experience for education. It was fun to watch the looks of discovery on the faces of the kids, as they pointed out an interesting tidbit about a creature they were observing.
Sometimes, it is best just to take a moment to pause and reflect. Clearly these kids found the slow and purposeful motion of this snake to be entrancing. Throughout the building this theme repeated itself over and over. It was nice to watch the engagement and know that this was a learning exercise disguised as well as a fun activity.
More Learning Opportunities
One of our favorite things about zoos is their desire to help educate the public about a variety of topics that affect our planet. Some exhibits are designed to showcase a specific region’s ecosystem, like this area we discovered in the River’s Edge region of the park. The signage helps explain the species that can be found in and around the water’s edge. Many of the displays sprinkled around the park are obviously there primarily for these educational chances, and are designed to draw visitors in and spark conversations. By creating a desire to learn more about the other creatures that inhabit our world, it may foster a more caring attitude about our daily activities, and how they affect our planet.
We were pleased to see many families using these displays to help bring a better understanding to the next generation. In this base camp style setup, we watched a father share some of his knowledge with his daughters. Even though we were not accompanied by our kids or grandkids, we could still relate to this style of parenting. I’m sure there may have been a few “dad jokes” interspersed in the lessons, but that’s what makes them so memorable.
It is important for people to understand the role of zoos. They are a public education institute focused on the survival of species. Many zoos are breeding places for endangered species or host rehabilitation services for animals that have suffered injuries. Most zoos also serve the role of endearing foreign species to the public in an effort to help create an attitude of preservation. The St. Louis Zoo includes many informational placards describing the steps they take, as well as the ones we can take, to help perpetuate our planet’s native species.
They don’t just focus on the animals that we see everyday, but also the ones that we have no interaction with. The River’s Edge area has a lot of African species. Obviously, this takes up a lot of space, since many of these animals are huge. As we passed hippos, rhinos, and elephants we thought about how well their exhibits are designed to reduce stress on the animals. At the same time, the designs also allow visitors some amazing views of creatures they will unlikely see in their natural habitat.
Wrapping It All Up
After examining the map, we realized we had overlooked an important section of the zoo. Red Rocks is home to many of the hoofed animals that populate the planet. We made our way over to the zone and observed giraffes, zebras, gazelles, and one of our favorites, the okapi. Our closest encounter with an Okapi occurred at Tanganyika Park near Wichita, Kansas. (You can read more about that park here>) With the day beginning to warm up, we decided to fast forward through these exhibits and make our way to the big cats. We have to limit our time at each stop, since we try to fill our itineraries with as many possible articles, as possible. As we came up to the cat section, we found a jaguar out and about. These are amazing creatures to watch, as they move so fluidly. He stayed outside for a little while, and we even got to see it rolling around in the leaves. Too soon it moved back inside to escape the rising temperatures and glaring sun.
We moved over to the other exhibits, but found the occupants had already come to the same conclusion. Clearly, it was nap time! With all of them taking their midday breaks, we decided it was time for us to make our exit. Lunch was calling and we still had plenty of St. Louis to explore before our chance to sleep. Have you ever visited the St. Louis Zoo? Which area of the park is your favorite? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section below. Thanks!
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6 thoughts on “Five Zones Of Free Fun At The St. Louis Zoo”
Just visited with family members from Latheop and Turney, MO. Had a great time, even though it was rainy. I don’t think I can just pick one favorite. The apes/orangutans were pretty entertaining and I could sit in Sea Lion Sound and watch them swim forever.
The sea lion exhibit was amazing. I wanted to grab some video of them swimming, but they are elusive creatures.
Little known even to locals is that several of the features you pay extra for are free the first hour that the zoo is open. So the “Conservation Carousel” which is normally $3/person is free the first hour. That’s awesome if you have several kids who want to ride on it again, again, and again … and again. The Stingrays at Caribbean Cove (seasonal) is a $4 extra, except the first hour when it is … free! The Children’s Zoo is normally an extra $4 … but the first hour? You guessed it: free.
So here’s some handy hints if you’re coming on a hot summer day and you’re a morning person (or morning family!). Get there early, say about 7:30 am with the zoo opening at 8am. First, you can get on street parking very close (we’ve even parked right across from the entrance). The zoo entrance has always been open well in advance of official opening time (at least since I moved here in 1991) so you can walk around the grounds before opening. Second, there are almost no crowds that early. If it’s going to be in the 90’s and you spend three to four hours, you’ll be leaving right when the peak crowds are starting, and right when the classic St. Louis humidity is starting to make life miserable. Third, that first hour you can check out the Carousel as much as you want, play with the stingrays, and then head over to the Children’s Zoo, with all three being free. Empty nesters now, we did this routine for years with our two kids and sleepover friends and it was wonderful.
Thank you for these extremely handy tips.
This looks like a fab time Jeff and Crystal. I dig the emphasis on preservation too. More zoos these days stress how making responsible decisions now gives many of these beautiful animals a future. I dig it. I love jaguars; fave big cat and fave animal too. So muscular, lithe and graceful.
We couldn’t agree more. Jaguars are so sleek.