4 Ways to Play at Lincoln Park Zoo

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my? Oh, yes.

Lincoln Park Zoo, which celebrates its 145th anniversary this year, offers animal excitement along with enough entertainment—rides, rowboats, story time, summer concert series—to keep the tots tantrum-free for hours!

And while it costs more than $60,000 per day to feed the animals and operate the zoo, it doesn’t cost you a thing. Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the only major free admission zoos in the country—boasting more visitors than any other with 3.5 million guests per year, according to Public Relations Director Sharon Dewar.

4 tips to make the day

Navigating Lincoln Park Zoo isn’t tricky thanks to detailed maps and incredible personnel, but these insider tricks to make your visit a breeze. “We come down from Highland Park all the time. It’s a quick trip in the car, and the payoff—hours of outdoor animal viewing and learning—is huge,” says Pam Rosenberg, mom of two. Here’s how to take your zoo day from great to get-out-of-town grand:

Make it a date: Kids + animals + free fun for hours = best play date ever.  Invite friends—even host a monthly group outing—and experience the zoo differently each time. “I’m amazed at how much my kids see and do each time we go. It never gets old,” says Deerfield mom Erin Rutman. “The exhibits are constantly changing, and every visit marks a chance to explore again!”

Have (a bit of) cash on hand: Every kid wants a joyride (or ten). And luckily, Lincoln Park Zoo has the most adorable, affordable ride-on train (the LPZoo Express, located near the main entrance) and the beloved AT&T Endangered Species Carousel, which runs along the back end of the zoo. Have cash ready for quick on-and-off appeal ($2.50 for a ride on the train; $2.75 for the carousel).

Make a pit stop at the petting zoo: Touch, feel and even feed some of the animals at the farm-in-the-zoo barn area, which is located at the zoo’s southern end. There is weekly kiddie entertainment, as well as hands-on learning station.

Pack a Picnic: Luckily, food is always at your fingertips. Cart vendors selling ice cream, popcorn and frozen lemonade (to name a few) line the walking paths. There are two sit-down restaurants, as well as a food court. “I always let my kids pick one treat to buy, but we pack a picnic lunch and eat on the big field near the flamingos. The lawn is great for the kids to run around, too,” Rosenberg says.

Know Before You Go

The zoo isn’t just home to more than 200 species of animals, many of them endangered, and some already extinct in the wild. It also works around the clock to save endangered wildlife. Just this past February, Baby Nayembi (pictured above) suffered a serious injury requiring emergency surgery and 24-hour rehabilitative care. Caregivers “mother” the baby gorilla, around the clock while she heals. Thanks to the zoo’s expert medical and keeper staff, her life has been saved, and they are now working to reunite the little one with her gorilla family, explains Dewar.

How You Can Give Back

To keep Lincoln Park Zoo as fabulous, kid friendly and economical as possible, funding and support is crucial. There are many great ways you can donate to the zoo, such as shopping their wish list or donating to the Annual Fund. If a party is more your style, you don’t want to miss the Zoo Ball.

On Friday, July 12 from 6:30 p.m. to midnight, The Women’s Board of Lincoln Park Zoo hosts a delightful evening of dining, dancing and entertainment. The highly anticipated annual Zoo Ball presented by Guggenheim returns as “Wild at Heart,” an ode to Chicago’s beloved landmark and its animal inhabitants. Proceeds from Zoo Ball will support The Women’s Board pledge to provide critical support to maintain this community landmark of Chicago. Individual tickets cost $600 per person; table packages begin at $6,000.

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