13 Unique Animal Experiences Your Kids Will Go Wild For

If your family love animals, Chicagoland offers plenty of zoos, farms and other institutions that members of the animal kingdom call home. There are a lot of opportunities to learn more about various animals and make friends with creatures big and small. Make their day with these unique animal adventures.

Note: We’re updating our website as quickly as we can, but changes may occur due to COVID-19. Please double check before heading out for the most updated information on safety precautions and any last-minute cancellations. Stay safe!

Chicago

Touch stingrays at the Shedd Aquarium

  • Address: 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago
  • Cost: General admission is $39.95 for adults, $29.95 for children 3-11; Chicago resident admission is $19.95 for adults, $14.95 for children 3-11. Stingray Touch is included.

The Shedd is a fun place all year round, but summer visits are extra special because the seasonal outdoor Stingray Touch exhibit is open. (It operates between late May and mid-September.) Guests of all ages can reach (gently) into the 78-degree water habitat and touch cownose rays.

Even if kids aren’t looking to get their hands on the rays, the close-up view offers a new perspective and appreciation of these mesmerizing creatures and the way they move through the water. Sea star touch and sturgeon touch session are other hands-on activities included with admission.

Feed some peckish penguins at the Lincoln Park Zoo

Photo Credit: Todd Rosenberg 

The Lincoln Park Zoo offers an opportunity to meet some of the African penguins living at Pritzker Penguin Cove with the Malott Family Penguin Encounter. This animal encounter lasts approximately one hour, during which time guests learn about the penguins and what their daily routines involve both at the zoo and in their natural habitat of along the southern African coast.

For the in-person experience, participants spend time both inside the exhibit with the penguins and in a behind-the-scenes area.

North/Northwest Suburbs

Feed alpacas at SafeHouse Farms Alpaca

SafeHouse Farms Alpaca, Photo Credit: Cheryl Eugenio

Do you love alpacas? For more alpacas that you’ve ever seen (43!), head to SafeHouse Farms Alpaca in Barrington where they offer a private tour to feed Renata, Jodie, and Bambino as well as their fellow alpaca friends.

While the alpacas are munching on the hay you feed them, you’ll learn more about alpacas, cousins to the camel and llama, from the friendly guides, Linda and Kevin. Meet and feed other animals, many of which are rescues including bunnies, chickens, Red the horse, the miniature horse Snow Queen and her buddy a Sicilian donkey named Lucca (look out for the cross on his back). Read more tips from O the Places We Go.

Watch a camel training session at the Randall Oaks Zoo

  • Address: 1180 N. Randall Road, West Dundee
  • Cost: Zoo admission is $4.25 for nonresidents, $3.50 for residents, children under 2 are free. Reservations are required for all visits. Book here.

Elmer the camel is a fan favorite at the Randall Oaks Zoo, and every day at 3 p.m., you can watch an animal training demonstration with him. Animal feed is $1 per cup. A schedule of additional training demos will be posted each day. Guests can get up close to a variety of animals for viewing, petting, and feeding. Animal feed is $1 per cup.

Feed bison at Elgin Public Museum

  • Address: 255 Grand Blvd., Elgin
  • Cost: Feeding starts at 2 p.m. on the last Saturday of the month. Fee is $5 per adult, $2 per kid 3-12, free to under three but not especially recommended for so young. Free for Museum Members.

Did you know that Elgin has a zoo? The Lords Park Zoo invites visitors to learn about bison, deer and elk at the Lords Park Zoo. The fun starts at the Elgin Public Museum for a short “lesson,” then a quick walk to the bison shed where you can meet the bison, Becky, Drew, and Takoda, and feed them. Guests will also see elk and deer. Registration required. Space is limited to 12 people.

South Suburbs

Walk goats at Nature’s Trail Yoga

Nature’s Trail Yoga, Photo Credit: Cheryl Eugenio

For something a little bit different, try walking goats. Because who couldn’t resist an experience like this? Wally from The Mending Muse Goats joins Nature Trail’s Yoga for a fun walk on the farm. The hour-long experience includes a short walk through the farm grounds then one-on-one time with the goats.

Another fun option for goat lovers is their goat yoga.Adults take note, they also offer a BYOB goat yoga experience.

Western Suburbs

Feed the giraffes at Brookfield Zoo

  • Address: 8400 31st St., Brookfield
  • Cost: Zoo admission is $24.95 for adults; $17.95 for children 3-11; parking is $14; giraffe feeding is $10

Kids love to join in animal care and they can do just that by helping feed the giraffes at Brookfield Zoo. Offered twice daily starting May 29 from 10:30 a.m. to noon and 1 to 2:30 p.m., it’s magical to see these creatures up close. The giraffes live in Habitat Africa! The Savannah.

Become better acquainted with coyotes at Cosley Zoo

  • Address: 1356 North Gary Ave., Wheaton
  • Cost: Zoo admission is $7 for adults, free for kids up to age 17, Wheaton residents and Zoo members; Coyote Connection costs $18/person

Cosley Zoo features 20 exhibits and more than 50 species of animals. It’s a great place to see wildlife native to Illinois, including deer, foxes, turtles and more. For a unique experience, Coyote Connection allows guests to join zookeepers for a behind-the-scenes look at these coyotes and to observe a training session.

It’s offered daily with check-in before 12:45 a.m. Reservations can be made by calling 630-665-5534 or signing up the day of at the Wild Side gift shop.

See the new residents feathering their nests at the Phillips Park Zoo

Phillips Park Zoo has gone to the birds, and you can do so, too, when you are among the first to welcome two new feathered residents. Iggy is a blue-throated macaw, which is a critically endangered species, and Iris is a green acari, which is a small toucan.

Mastodon Island features a playground, pavilions, paths and a small amphitheater where zoo staff will occasionally bring both animals (like the new guinea pigs who recently became zoo residents) and books for story time as well as a chance to pet and experience the animals.

Observe a baby animal nursery and say hi to sandhill cranes at Willowbrook Wildlife Center

  • Address: 525 South Park Blvd., Glen Ellyn
  • Cost: Free
  • COVID-19 updates: The visitor center, outdoor nature exhibit trail and surrounding forest preserve are temporarily closed.

Located in the Willowbrook Forest Preserve, the Willowbrook Wildlife Center is a place where animals are rehabilitated and where humans can learn more about the animal world. The visitor center has windows into both the kitchen where you can see staff prepare special meals for the animals and the nursery, where you can observe staff caring for baby animals.

Outside, there’s a butterfly garden, and a trail for animals with permanent disabilities who call Willowbrook Wildlife Center home, including owls, red foxes, groundhogs and raccoons. There’s also an enclosed wetland bird habitat where you can see two sandhill cranes.

Beyond Chicagoland

Spend one on one time with farm animals at Hephzibah Farms

Hephzibah Farms, Photo Credit: Cheryl Eugenio

If you truly want to see a working farm, then a visit to Hephzibah Farms is a must. Private tours allow guests to meet and hold many of their animals. For instance, on our family’s particular visit, we held baby chicks, chicken, and kids (baby goats). We even bottle fed one of the kids.

Although half the fun may be cuddles with animals, the tour guide Bekah was a treasure trove of facts and interesting tidbits about the animals. Don’t forget to stop at their farm store for farm fresh eggs!

Walk and shower alpacas at Nina’s Hands, Paws, and Claws

Photo Credit: Nina’s Hands, Paws, and Claws

At Nina’s Hands, Paws, and Claws guests are given a very unique, up close and hands-on and educational experience for every tour. Guests will meet their sanctuary animals where each and every animal is a rescue.

On any given tour, you will feed, hold, pet and have a special encounter with a variety of animals. For instance, you may feed ducks then watch them swim or feed chicken then collect ducks. Both instances would give you the chance to hold them.

Your group would then move to the barn and feed goats, our cow Ebony, horses and then walk and shower the alpacas. This family-run business hopes to make every tour a special experience. Stay tuned for more fun animal experiences like a horse camp and more.

Go on a drive-thru safari at Lake Geneva Safari

Photo Credit: Lori Orlinsky

Starting May 1st, Lake Geneva Safari offers an opportunity for you to meet a variety of animals … from the comfort of your car! This drive-thru safari allows you to see camel, llama, zebras, yaks, and more! Make sure to buy a couple cups of feed. That stuff goes fast!


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This article originally published on June 24, 2019. It has been updated with the most recent information. 

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