Minnesota Zoo in Winter

Escaping Winter at the Minnesota Zoo

The Minnesota Zoo is one of my families’ favorite adventures. We had a membership when my daughter was first born and went all the time. Our life had a few changes, so we decided to let our membership lapse a little. We just received a new membership this year for the holidays, and we had to take advantage of it right away.

Most people think that zoos are really more of a Summer activity. The only problem is, the animals are not seasonal attractions. Sure there are some that hibernate, but there are a lot of them that are still pretty active.

The other nice thing about the Minnesota Zoo in the winter, it the Tropic’s trail is 80 degrees year-round. While there are tons of things to do in Winter In MN, The MN Zoo is a family favorite.

This morning, we had our first substantial snowfall. Enough snow that will last on the ground for at least a full day before possibly melting. This made it the perfect opportunity to go to the zoo.

It’s a secret that we learned from one of the zoo keepers… if it’s a snowy day, you’ll have the whole zoo to yourself. Even with it being a holiday weekend. They were RIGHT. We had the Zoo pretty much to ourselves!

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The Minnesota Zoo

We pulled up to the zoo about 10 minutes after it opened (9am). It’s also one of the tips that they recommended. According to the Minnesota zoo’s staff, the animals are the most active early in the morning or late in the day.

We were able to walk right in without any wait. The snow monkeys out front were being lazy. I’m guessing it had something to do with the recent addition to the snow in their habitat.

I don’t blame them for their reluctance to play. The Penguins, on the other hand, were out and swimming.

Penguin at the Minnesota Zoo

The Tropics in Minnesota

After checking those out, we were off to the Tropics. I like to get there first this time of year because it’s usually the time of the day that the Gibbons are the most active.

We also got to see the otters playing on this trail too, a rare treat. One of the most entertaining for my daughter was one of the really big fish in the small tank across from the Gibbons. He was trying to eat her or anyone that got close up to the tank.

If you are ever on this trail and run into a volunteer, they are well worth the time to talk with. They have all kinds of stories about the different animals.

One was telling us about the Gibbon enclosure and how they had to remove some of the branches. One of the Gibbons is not a fan of women and actually leaped out of the enclosure to go after one of the Minnesota zookeepers.

After hearing about that, I’ve always kept an eye on them going through there. They can also get quite vocal early in the morning. While it can be kind of entertaining, it can also be a little scarier for the younger kids.

If you manage to get there at the right time, you may even see a thunderstorm complete with rain. It’s all contained so no need for the raincoats.

kamodo dragon

One of my son’s favorite exhibits was probably the coral reef exhibit. They recently remodeled it and there are tons of bright corals in there.

Every time I’m there, my husband always dream about how we really should just tear down a wall in our home and put up a giant aquarium there instead. It’s so peaceful.


Minnesota Animals

After we finished up with the Tropics, we headed off to the Minnesota Trail. A couple of things you need to remember about the Minnesota Trail.

  • First, it’s an open-air enclosure. They do put up some plastic sheets to help keep it a little warmer, but you will still need to bundle the kids up.
  • If you check the front desk there, they have a passport that the kids can stamp along the way on the trail. Please be careful with these. Many kids, and parents like myself, have pinched fingers in these stamps.
  • One other warning… they have a lot of buttons that your kids will love to press to hear all the different animal sounds. 
  • The nice thing about the trail is the fireplace they have for you to warm up at after you are finished.
  • It’s a giant loop, so if you have someone that wants to stay behind by the fireplace, they can. They also have zookeepers and volunteers in this area showing off different animals. Usually, you can pet one if you come at the right time.

Discovery Bay

Our last stop was Discovery Bay. This area allows the braver children and adults to touch stingrays and leopard sharks.

Another fun part about Discovery Bay is the Tide Pools. These allow guests to see what ocean adventures are like, and touch and interact with things like starfish and other sea creatures.

The largest tank is currently empty. Monk Seals and Dolphins have called this home while on loan from other zoos, but they are currently looking for new inhabitants.


Animal Encounter Shows

Because we got there so early, we did not get to see any shows. It had more to do with our timing of everything. We usually find that it takes us about 1hr to get through the Tropics and 30 minutes to get through the Minnesota Trail.

The Coral Reef show is at 10:30. The Bird Show is located in the theater right outside the Minnesota Trail, and it starts at 11. The Shark Feeding is at 11:30.

The Seal show started at 12. We were off in our timing by a good half hour on each of the different shows. If we had started our day closer to 9:30-9:45, we would have been able to hit them all.

If you can plan to hit a few of these shows, it will extend your fun at the MN Zoo. These shows are great, and you learn a lot.

With some of these shows, you will get to be a little more up close with the animals, especially with the bird show. We have also found that these shows can get really busy and when they let out, you are now in a crowd of people. It was just not the type of day we were looking for.

Outside Trails

Just because it’s winter, doesn’t mean they close their outside trails. Because our kids are so young, we did not brave the outdoor trails with them.

Something about juggling little boots, mittens, hats and pushing a stroller along the 3/4 mile path, doesn’t seem like too much fun. When they get out of stroller age, we’ll probably give it a try. Don’t let that discourage you. We did see several families make the trek.

Tips for the ZOO:

  • Bring a stroller
  • Wear good walking shoes
  • Bring a camera
  • Bring a snack or pack a lunch
  • Take your time and enjoy the animals
  • Check the showtime out before you leave
  • Get there early
  • Go on a snowy day
  • Consider doing a Birthday Party at the Zoo if your child has a winter birthday. They will take care of everything for you and give you a behind the scenes view of some of the coolest areas of the zoo.
  • Get a membership! If you are planning on going more than once a year, it will pay for itself. For those that are hesitant to make the commitment, hang on to your receipt. If you loved time, bring the receipt up to the guest services counter and use the price you paid towards a membership.
  • Make sure to check out the Zoo all times of the year. Farm Babies Have Arrived at the MN ZooKangaroo Crossing at the MN Zoo | Into the Outback and 10 Reasons You Need To Go To The MN ZOO this Fall
Winter at the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley is the most magical time of the year. The tropics are always warm and you can get up close and personal with most of the Animals.

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