The Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley is the Largest Zoo in Minnesota. Home to many different species, they have some of the best trails and exhibits in the country. The only place that compares, is the San Diego Zoo.
I’ve been an active zoo member since my daughter was a baby. We’ve made friends with animals and even found out a few hacks along the way to get the most of your trip.
Weather you’re a seasoned zoo-goer or a first timer, this guide will show you the ropes and help you make the most of your visits.
What is the Minnesota Zoo?
How was Minnesota Zoo founded?
The Minnesota Zoo was founded in 1978, with a mission to “connect people, animals and the natural world”. Located in Apple Valley, MN, the zoo sits on 485 acres of Minnesota landscapes and features 18 cutting-edge exhibits that provide exciting experiences with animals and their habitats from around the globe.
It all started with a group of visionaries who believed that Minnesota had the potential to create a world-class zoo that would offer a unique opportunity to connect visitors to the natural world through close encounters with animals living in their habitats.
What exhibits are at the Minnesota Zoo?
The Minnesota Zoo offers a variety of exhibits, each showcasing a different animal habitat and conservation program.
Some of the most popular exhibits include the Wells Fargo Family Farm, Northern Trail Exhibit, and the Tropics Trail. The Zoo is also home to Discovery Bay, an indoor aquarium that features bottlenose dolphins, sharks and other marine mammals.
What makes the Minnesota Zoo unique?
What sets the Minnesota Zoo apart from other zoos is its focus on animal conservation and education.
It partners with organizations all over the world to help save animals from extinction and has a variety of animal conservation programs, including the Medtronic Minnesota Trail, where you’ll see animals native to the area; and the Russia’s Grizzly Coast, an exhibit that showcases the beauty of Russian wildlife.
The zoo also feature a number of interactive and educational programs for visitors of all ages.
Things to Do at the Minnesota Zoo
There are a ton of great things to do at the Minnesota Zoo. Take a spin on the carousel, cool off at the splash pad, and enjoy a walk through the zoo many trails.
With plenty of animal encounters and exhibits to explore, there’s never a dull moment. The zoo features many exhibits, including one dedicated to Minnesota’s local wildlife. Plus, the zoo is open daily!
Stop by for animal feedings or learn more about the different animal by talking with the volunteers.
Make sure to enjoy the play structures throughout the zoo.
Things to See at the Minnesota Zoo
From Discovery Bay to the Tropics, there’s no shortage of fascinating creatures and exhibits to discover. Don’t miss the Wells Fargo Family Farm or the Medtronic Minnesota Trail, where you’ll encounter farm animals and Minnesota landscapes.
Journey through the Northern Trail to see gray wolves, coyotes, and more, or explore the tropics in the Tropics Trail, home to sharks, monkeys, bats, gibbons, camels, leopards, lemurs, and more.
Let’s dive into the different sections of the zoo a little more.
What is the 3M Penguins of the African Coast?
Near the entrance to the zoo, you’ll find the African Penguins. This area is always a crowd favorite, probably because it’s one of the first exhibits. You’ll get the chance to view them on both land and in water.
They have a section of rocks that kids can climb on to get a better view of the Penguins. Kids absolutely love it.
What is the Wells Fargo Family Farm?
The Wells Fargo Family Farm is one of the most popular exhibits at the Minnesota Zoo, especially for children. The exhibit showcases a working farm where you can see and sometimes even pet cows, pigs, goats, chickens, and other farm animals.
The Wells Fargo Family Farm is the furthest out Northern Trail. Home to farm animals and exhibits.
Spring is the best time to visit the farm because of Farm Babies. You can usually hold a chick and see the newest additions to the zoo.
What is the Medtronic Minnesota Trail?
The Medtronic Minnesota Trail is where you’ll learn all about the animals that are found in our backyard. It’s almost scary to think about what’s there. The Wolf Woods and Coyote Exhibit are some of the favorites.
If you have children, make sure they grab a passport sheet that they can stamp at various animal enclosures along the way. If you have really small children, make sure to help them because they can pinch little fingers.
What is the Northern Trail Exhibit?
The Northern Trail Exhibit is a unique opportunity to see animals from the boreal forest region of Minnesota, as well as from the tundra and taiga habitats found in Asia.
Highlights of this exhibit include Amur tigers, grizzly bears, and a variety of other animals that live in these northern regions.
What is the Discovery Bay Exhibit?
The Discovery Bay Exhibit is one of the most exciting and popular exhibits at the MN Zoo. This exhibit offers visitors a unique opportunity to see and interact with an incredible array of marine life.
The exhibit features several different species of fish and marine mammals, including dolphins, sea dragons, gentle seahorses, and the awe-inspiring leopard shark.
One of the highlights of the exhibit is the Southern Stingray Touch Pond and the Leopard Shark.
Additionally, the exhibit features a stunning Tropical Reef, which is home to a diverse community of marine life, including colorful tropical fish and beautiful coral formations.
The Tropics Trail Exhibit is a favorite of mine at the MN Zoo. This exhibit offers visitors an opportunity to walk through the rainforest. It showcases various species of animals, notably lemurs and gibbons, which are native to the forests of Madagascar and Southeast Asia.
The exhibit is also home to a vast array of aquatic life, and visitors can witness the popular Shark Feedings, which provides an opportunity to see sharks up close and personal.
This is always warm year round. Plus the trail has multiple areas where kids can crawl through tunnels allowing kids to get a different perspective on the animals.
Minnesota Zoo Treetop Trail
At the end of July, guests will be able to walk on the world’s longest elevated pedestrian loop at the MN Zoo. It follows the old monorail trail.
It’s a 1.25 mile walking path, 32 feet above the ground.
Dolphins at Discovery Bay
The MN Zoo welcomed back the Dolphins to the Discovery Bay in late 2022. They are on temporary loan from another zoo while their home aquarium makes renovations to their tanks.
This means Minnesotan’s will get to see these beautiful mammals up close and personal.
Tickets to the dolphin training must be reserved in advanced. If you can’t get tickets, you can still see them. They have a huge underground viewing area. When the dolphin training show is not going on, you can go up to the stadium area and see them from above too.
Daily Zoo Activities & Entertainment
The Minnesota Zoo offers a variety of daily activities and entertainment for visitors of all ages. From watching live animal feedings to exploring the exhibits and attending educational programs
Wings and Things!
The Bird Show has changed in 2023 to include four legged animals too. They have redone the show completely. You can now see owls, porcupines, and more.
During the winter months, you can see this daily performance in the Zoo’s indoor amphitheaters, at the Target Learning Center. In Summer Time, it’s outdoors at the Weesner Family Amphitheatre.
The MN Zoo has a splash pad just outside the main building area’s before you get onto the main trails.
The splash pad is a series of fountains. Bring a change of clothes if you think your kids will go crazy. Trust me, I’ve seen my fair share of soaked kids.
The Llama Trek is a unique experience, allowing visitors to walk inside an exhibit with the animals. You must stay on the dirt trail.
But you’ll get closer to the animals compared to any others.
The conservation Carousel is open during the summer time. This indoor carousel is beautiful. All proceeds for rides goes towards conservation efforts.
The Minnesota has exceptional play areas for children.
The Hanifl Family Wild Woods and the Woodland Adventure are both outdoor areas that will let your kids’ imaginations run wild. They are elaborate nature themed playgrounds.
The indoor area is the BeeHive. This is designed for younger preschool aged kids.
Programs and Events at the Minnesota Zoo
In addition to the daily animal encounters, the zoo offers a range of programs and events that provide even deeper insights into the animals and their habitats, making for an unforgettable experience.
Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at Minnesota Zoo
Every October you can experience a glowing trial of 5,000 illuminated jack-o-lanterns. The trail is about a 40-50 minutes to walk through the pumpkin displays, all while the zoo animals are sleeping. Discover Bay is will also be open.
The Wild Nights is an adult only fundraising event that happens all summer long. Get tickets for this after hours entertainment. It’s filled with live music, art vendors, food and drinks. All the while you can explore the trails.
There are a few extra params you can do to give one on one experience. Things like a backstage pass for the llamas, where you can meet the llamas. Might night Yoga, naturally wild and preschool programs are also available.
How to Plan Your Visit to the Minnesota Zoo
The Minnesota Zoo can be a little intimidating. How do you know what to do first, to get the most out of your adventure?
Based on my personal experience, it will take you about equal time to visit the indoor exhibits as the outdoor exhibits. I’ve pushed kids, carried and walked the route with toddlers, it’s all the same.
Weather plays a big role. During the summertime, prioritize the outdoor portion first, before it heats up. This is when the animals are the most active. By the time you get to the indoor portion, you’ll all set for air conditioning.
In the winter, we tend to skip the outdoor portion, just because of all the extra clothing required.
Spring and Fall, it’s all weather dependent. If you are waiting for it to warm up to a manageable temperature, start indoors and save the outside for last.
What should I know before visiting the Minnesota Zoo?
Is there a map available for the Minnesota Zoo?
Yes, there is a map available for the Minnesota Zoo. You can download a free map from the zoo’s website or pick one up at the entrance of the zoo. The zoo also has clearly marked paths and a pedestrian loop that makes navigating the zoo easy and efficient.
What facilities are available at the Minnesota Zoo?
The Minnesota Zoo has a variety of facilities available for visitors, including restrooms, baby-changing stations, drinking fountains, and picnic areas.
The zoo is also wheelchair and stroller accessible. There’s even a stroller rental program available for parents with young children.
Strollers are $8 for a single, $11 for a double. Electric Wheelchairs are $30.
Is food available at the Minnesota Zoo?
Yes, there are several food options available at the Minnesota Zoo, including a cafeteria-style restaurant, snack stands, and ice cream stands.
You can also bring your own food and drinks into the zoo, making it easy to spend the whole day without having to leave.
What Payments types are accepted at the Minnesota Zoo?
The Minnesota Zoo expects Cash, and credit cards. They do not accept American Express. You can get your tickets online with American Express, you just won’t be able to buy anything on site with an American Express.
What are the Zoo’s hours and admission fees?
What are the Minnesota Zoo hours?
The Minnesota Zoo is open year-round, with seasonal hours. During the summer months, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, the zoo is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. During the off-season, the zoo is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.
What is the cost of Minnesota Zoo admission?
The cost of admission to the Minnesota Zoo varies depending on the day and time of your visit. Adults and children over the age of 13 can cost $19.95 for a general admission ticket.
Children aged 3-12 pay around $13.95, as well as seniors. Children 2 years and under can enter for free.
Special ticket packages are also available, including discounts for seniors, groups, and zoo members.
There is an additional $7 parking fee.
All tickets must be purchased online. They have timed arrival times.
What kinds of discounts are available at the Minnesota Zoo?
The Minnesota zoo has a Free To Explore Admission program. This program is available to Minnesotan’s holding a MN EBT Card, MN MHCP Card, MN eWIC Card, or a MN HeadStart Acceptance Letter. If you have these items, you and your dependents will get free admission to the zoo during daylight hours.
Is there a Minnesota Zoo Membership?
Yes, the Minnesota Zoo offers discounts for seniors, groups, and zoo members. Memberships start at just $68 per year and include unlimited visits to the zoo, discounts on special programs, and early entry to the zoo on select days.
Zoo members can also get into the zoo a full hour early on some days, plus they always get free parking.
What are the benefits of a Minnesota Zoo Membership?
At a basic level being a member gets you free admission to the zoo, as well as free parking. You’ll also receive a discount on all zoo merchandise and food.
If you are a zoo lover and like to travel, you can also get discount admission to other zoos, including the Duluth Zoo.
When is the Best Time to Visit the Minnesota Zoo?
The zoo is always a great time. My biggest recommendation is to get there as early as possible in the day. You’ll see the most active group of animals.
I also recommend going when no one else does. That is typically when it’s rainy and icky or when there is a lot of snow falling. You’ll have the zoo to yourself.