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Minnesota Zoo: 363 Days of Dolphins, Tigers, Bears and Wolves

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Meerkats at Minnesota Zoo

Meerkats at Minnesota Zoo

Clara James

Minnesota Zoo is in Apple Valley, about fifteen minutes south of downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul. Over 2,300 animals call Minnesota Zoo home.

Minnesota Zoo is open every day of the year except Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day.

Animals and Birds at Minnesota Zoo

  • The Tropics Trail is always balmy and warm, and one of the nicest places to be on a winter day. Tropical trees, animals, birds and insects inhabit the jungle, and unless you are an expert, there will probably be several you've never heard of before. The white-cheeked gibbons, tapir, sun bear, komodo dragon and the visayan warty pigs are some of the most popular animals to see here.
  • The Coral Reef is in the middle of the Tropics Trail. The path leads past an aquarium, then down to viewing windows to admire the sharks and fish of the Coral Reef. Following the Coral Reef is a special dark room for a group of nocturnal animals. Let your eyes acclimatize to the very low light to see the bats, small cats, and a gigantic python.

  • The Minnesota Trail is my favorite, for reminding us that although exotic animals like tigers and lions need conservation, Minnesota has plenty of exceptional animals, and many of them need protection too. The raccoon, eagle and coyotes are highlights of the Minnesota Trail, and the otters and wolverines are especially fun to watch.
  • Discovery Bay is for the Zoo's aquatic animals. Sinister sharks and rays, a tidepool with crashing waves, and everyone's favorite, the dolphins. Dolphin shows and training sessions entertain visitors in the Dolphin Stadium a couple of times a day. Arrive early to get a seat. The later afternoon shows are usually a little less crowded than the morning ones.
  • The Northern Trail takes visitors to see the animals who live outside. A 1, or 1.4 mile walking trail visits animals like Amur tigers, groundhogs, moose, prairie dogs, meerkats, and bactrian camels. Small children will likely need a stroller.
  • The Family Farm is is half-way round the Northern Trail, at the furthest point from the zoo entrance. The Family Farm is only open in the summer, when it has all children's favorite barnyard animals, and farm tractor-pulled wagon rides.
  • The Bird Show is also seasonal, and is quite spectacular, featuring hawks, eagles and talking parrots.
  • Russia's Grizzly Coast is the Minnesota's zoo's newest attraction, scheduled to open in early June 2008. Three grizzly bears, wild boars, and Amur leopards are the highlights of this exhibit.

Non-Animal Attractions

  • The Monorail follows the route of the Northern Trail, plus an extra mile through the back woods. The train travels on elevated rails for a bird's eye view of almost all the outdoor animal enclosures. It's the best way to see several of the animals, like the musk ox. The train travels slowly and stops frequently to give visitors a good view of the animals. The monorail doesn't run in very bad weather, so call ahead to see if it's running if it's snowing or icy.
  • IMAX Theatre has an extra admission charge on top of regular zoo admission. The six-story Great Clips IMAX Theatre shows animal-themed films.
  • Central Plaza and Splash Pad links together the different parts of the zoo. The Central Plaza is bright and colorful, with a fountain in the center that jets up water from under the ground. Children are invited to play in the water, so bring a change of clothes!

Visiting Minnesota Zoo

  • Driving to Minnesota Zoo. Minnesota Zoo is about 15 minutes south of downtown Minneapolis or St. Paul on Interstate 35E. The zoo is clearly signposted from the freeway. Enormous parking lots surround the zoo, and fill up rapidly in summer. Remember the animal label of the lot you parked in!
  • Food and Drink. There is a food court at the zoo, with several outlets selling all the standard fast-food fare. The zoo makes a small concession to the health-conscious with color-coded tags on vegetarian and healthy meals. For those bringing their own food, there are many indoor and outdoor picnic tables.
  • Visiting Minnesota Zoo in the Winter Going to a zoo is traditionally a summer activity, but Minnesota zoo has plenty to see and do in cold weather. The Tropics Trail, Minnesota Trail, Discovery Bay and the dolphin show are all indoors. The food court has large windows overlooking the Japanese Macaque monkeys, who don't seem to mind the cold. The Monorail is climate-controlled and runs in all but the worst weather.
  • Admission Unlike Como Zoo in St. Paul, there is an admission charge, and extra charges for the Monorail and some other attractions. There is also a charge to park a vehicle at the zoo.
  • Zoo Membership is excellent value if you plan to visit more than once. Members receive unlimited free admission to the zoo, free parking, and discounts on the Monorail and in the zoo store. A memberships will pay for itself after just two or three visits. The zoo is too large to all be seen in one day, and it's certainly worth a return visit or two, or three. Any family with small children in the Twin Cities will certainly want to go more than once.
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