Detroit Zoo butterfly garden ©WagonPilot

Detroit Zoo butterfly garden ©WagonPilot

The Detroit Zoo encompasses 125 acres off Woodward Avenue in southern Oakland county; just a stones throw from downtown Detroit. While not as big as the nationally renowned Columbus Zoo, it holds its own as a destination for animal lovers of all ages. In fact, there are over 2500 animals with 270 species represented within the zoo. Opened in 1928, renovations to some of the older enclosures and areas have been ongoing beginning with construction of a dedicated amphibian complex in 2000. Next, the Arctic Ring of Life polar bear exhibit debuted in 2001. The Ring of Life is the largest polar bear exhibit in the world and offers landscape views, an acrylic underwater tunnel for viewing bears and seals, and interpretive galleries. In 2006, the Australian Outback area was created as a barrier free zone where guests could interact with red kangaroo and wallabies. Most recently, the innovative Polk Penguin Conservation Center opened in Spring 2016 to rave reviews. Featuring floor to ceiling viewing areas, building replaces the old Penguinarium which had been innovative when it opened back in the 1960s. You can read more about the new penguin house here. Other highlights include a walk-through butterfly garden and a small scale train which travels to the back of the park.

Detroit Zoo penguins ©WagonPilot

Detroit Zoo penguins ©WagonPilot

Spending a Day at the Zoo

The Detroit Zoo is perfect for a day trip and can be covered completely at a leisurely pace. If the new penguin house is a priority, arrive at opening since timed tickets are given out. If not, you can take the train to the back of the park and finish your day at the front. Take a look at the map before you arrive and decide which animal habitats are the priority for your party and decide on a travel path. This will make meal breaks and other activities easier to plan. One of the highlights is giraffe feedings. For $5 up to 50 guests can get up to eye level and feed the giraffes.

Remember to keep the weather in mind. Hot sunny days will mean fewer animals as they try to keep cool in the shade. There are several trees around the zoo, plus air-conditioned buildings to escape the summer heat if needed. Most enclosures offer large habitats for the animals to wander, so you may have to seek them out if not in plain sight. During my last trip through the kangaroo area they were all sleeping in a shady spot off to the side, whereas other times we’ve had them come right up to us. Spring and Fall seasons are often the best with the cooler weather.

Strollers, wagons, wheelchairs, and ECVs are available for rental and guests are more than welcome to bring their own. Be advised that some areas of the pathways are uneven and can be awkward to get around. All areas of the zoo are accessible and generally easy to view.


Dining and Snacks

Concession stands are located throughout the park with the main eateries towards the center and far end of the zoo. Food variety ranges from classic Detroit style Coney dogs to the Pure Greens all-vegan menu. There are several picnic areas and guests are free to bring their own food. Note that the Detroit Zoo no longer sells bottled water. Guests can bring their own containers or purchase a souvenir bottle to use at the many filtered water stands around the park. This is something I’ve also experienced recently at national Parks and works well since so many people now carry their own reusable bottles.

Detroit Zoo train ©WagonPilot

Detroit Zoo train ©WagonPilot

Detroit Zoo Tickets and Hours

The zoo is open year round with daily hours April through September and intermittently during weekends and special events in the off-season. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for children 3-14, seniors, and active military members Children under 3 are free. Add-ons for items such as the 4D theater and train rides are also offered separately or as a package. Various levels of annual passes are also offered for frequent visitors. For the most current pricing and hours visit the official Detroit Zoo website.

Tips for your visit to the Detroit Zoo

  • The majority of the zoo is outdoors, be sure to check the weather before your visit.
  • Bring a reusable water bottle to fill at the filtered water stations.
  • A stroller/wagon is recommended for small children; there’s a lot of walking. Watch for uneven pathways.
  • The Zoo no longer provides plastic bags for gift shop purchases, so be sure to pack your own bag. Backpacks are always a good idea for day trips.
  • Don’t forget your camera! Lots of great picture opportunities.

Check the Midwest and Michigan Travel menus at the top of the page for more great local destinations!

Detroit Zoo Guide