How to Explore the Zoo with Kids This Winter

Some tips to enjoy a winter visit to the Brookfield Zoo and Lincoln Park Zoo.

Have cabin fever? Embrace winter by going to the zoo. When the temperature drops, many forget that the zoo is open year-round. Unlike a summer visit, a trip to the zoo during the winter can be quite different but in a good way.

Here are a few tips to enjoy Brookfield Zoo and Lincoln Park Zoo in the winter.

Insider tips

Bundle up. This goes without saying, but make sure you’re protected from the elements! Hey, if it’s cool outside, bust out the snowpants. Just remember to dress in layers, especially if you plan on heading inside at any time. You’ll want to be able to easily remove any layers if needed.

It’s more peaceful. Visiting during winter is a lot less busy than the warmer months, so it can feel like you have the zoo to yourself! Less crowds = better views of animals.

Spend time inside. In the summer you may be accustomed to being outside, but during the winter you’ll likely want to spend time looking at all the indoor exhibits. And believe me, there are plenty. Who knows? You may find an animal or two you’ve never seen before!

Go at the right time. Visit in the late mornings or late afternoon to find the animals most active.

Winter tips for visiting Brookfield Zoo

Say hello to the cold-hardy animals

Many animals like the Amur tiger, bison, snow leopards, polar bears, Przewalski’s horses and Amur leopards are in their natural element.

Learn about the animals

With fewer people around, docents can spend more time with guests sharing interesting facts and stories about the animals.

Warm up indoors

Head to the indoor habitats such as Tropic World, The Living Coast or Clouded Leopard Rain Forest that will make you feel like you’re a continent away from Chicagoland. Other indoor buildings are heated as well.

Save money by visiting on a free day

General admission to Brookfield Zoo is free on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays in January and February. Hamill Family Play Zoo and Hamill Family Wild Encounters are free to all guests through February. Just pay for parking.

Best place to eat

There’s always a restaurant open during zoo hours, but locations may change so check before going. Also, you can pack your own food.

New habitats coming this year

  • Sandhill crane aviary on the south side of Tropic World
  • A toucan aviary at Hamill Family Play Zoo
  • A habitat for the Eurasian eagle-owl, one of the largest owl species in the world with a wingspan of 5 to 6.6 feet wide.
  • A native turtle habitat for Blanding’s and ornate box turtles at Hamill Family Nature Plaza
  • Macaw habitats near the southwest corner of The Swamp and on the south side of the Mary Ann MacLean Conservation Leadership Center

Winter tips for visiting Lincoln Park Zoo

Winter paradise

Many animals are fans of the winter weather. For instance, the grey and harbor seals at Kovler Seal Pool prefer icebergs and ice shelves and can be seen swimming about. Watch for male polar bear Siku playing in the snow, or with his favorite enrichment toy, empty barrels. Some animals that unexpectedly prefer the winter include Chilean flamingos, Bactrian camels and Japanese macaques.

Know where to look for lions

With 16 temperature-controlled micro-climates, the lion habitat at Pepper Family Wildlife Center allows lions to enjoy the outdoors even in the winter. Some of their favorite heated spots: large “pride rocks” in the east and west sides of the habitat, the rocks on the ground next to the glass in the east and west outdoor viewing shelters and the “window” in the middle of the kopje rocks in the west habitat. Observe them from inside or outside the building.

Escape the cold

Take a journey through tropical Africa in the Regenstein African Journey where you’ll spot pygmy hippos, giraffes and meerkats. Visit the humid tropical ecosystem in the Regenstein Small Mammal and Reptile House where you’ll find sloths, rare Puerto Rican parrots and snakes.

Play at the Houston Family Play Treehouse

Featuring accessible and inclusive features, the structure offers a year-round indoor nature-based play space.

Best place to eat and warm up

Park Place Café.


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