What to see, what to skip at Brookfield Zoo

Brookfield Zoo is an iconic Chicago tradition, but it isn’t a cheap one. As the summer days wind down and back to school approaches, you may want to eek out one last sunny Polar Bear at Brookfield Zoosummer day at the zoo. Brookfield Zoo is huge, and it’s nearly impossible to see and do everything in one day.

In order to maximize your fun during your visit, take a few minutes to look over the zoo website and peruse the animals and exhibits that will be open. If your kids have a favorite animal, you may want to make that a priority. Make sure you consider how much time your kids will want to spend staring at particular animals as well. To help you plan your day, here is a helpful list of five must do attractions and five skipable attractions.

Don’t Miss Attractions:

1. The Great Bear Wilderness: This is the newest addition to the zoo and where you will see bald eagles, wolves, Alaskan brown bears (labeled as grizzly bears here) and polar bears. In the summer, it’s really a tossup as to how active the animals will be. Sometimes it will be a total wash with everyone sleeping, but more often than not you will see at least one polar bear frolicking in the water. Depending on the animal activity, this could be a quick walkthrough or somewhere you will want to linger for quite a while.

2. The Big Cats: If the weather is pleasant, you may want to skip the indoor house and enjoy watching the animals outdoors here. There are lions, tigers, sloth bears and snow leopards. The snow leopards are highly endangered but also spend most of their time sleeping. The lions frequently prowl around, and don’t miss the glass viewing window off to the side of this exhibit for an up close look. If you see a tiger without a tail, that is not how they look naturally. The zoo has one tiger that lost her tail in an accident when she was a baby.

3. Australia House: The Australia House is a don’t miss due to the free flying bat area at the end. While it always makes me squirm, the kids usually love seeing the bats flying and crawling around on the ceiling. Outside of this house is an emu and the zoo’s kangaroo mob including cute little joeys.

4. Tropic World: This is home to most of the zoo’s primates. It will likely take a fair bit of time to walk through this huge exhibit, and it is worth it. The monkeys are typically fairly active and you’ll have a great time watching them swing around and interact with each other. At the end of this exhibit is the mountain where the gorillas live, and there are walkways that lead up and around the gorillas for a panoramic view.

5. Habitat Africa (Savannah area): You probably won’t need to go inside to view the stars of this area. The Savannah area of Habitat Africa stars the zoo’s giraffes and African Wild Dogs. Keep an eye out for the baby giraffe that was recently born!

Attractions you may want to skip:

1. The Salt Creek Wilderness: This is a quiet, picturesque mini-hiking trail around a lake. There are birds to see as well as swans, but it is all local wildlife that can typically be seen elsewhere.

2. Feathers and Scales:  This house is home to a variety of birds and reptiles. While it’s an interesting exhibit with cool animals, it’s not quite as exciting as the top five exhibits listed above. Also, it can get pretty humid and smelly in this building in the heat.

3. Habitat Africa (Forest area): This is actually one of my favorite exhibits, but again it’s not quite as exciting as the other options. For this one, you walk down a small trail through a dense forest that leads to an area that houses Okapi and the Red River Hogs. Inside the building, there are duikers, a crocodile and a couple small lizards. This area is beautifully scenic, but it’s a bit out of the way and does not offer as many animals on exhibit as the bigger houses and exhibits.

4. The Pachyderm House: This one you will probably just want to walk by the outdoor yards briefly. This is the former location of the elephants, but since the loss of the elephants, this house is lacking in “wow” factor animals. The hippos and rhino are typically outdoors during the summer leaving not much to see inside.

5. Pinniped Point: This one is always a bit of a disappointment. You walk up a windy path, thinking your about to see something really cool. Instead, your lucky to catch a glimpse of a seal and when you do, its usually sleeping. It is also tucked away toward the corner of the park, so time spent walking back here could be better spent elsewhere.

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