If you’ve been around here the last few weeks, you know that we were recently traveling for my brother’s wedding. It’s was about 4 hours from our house and so we knew that we wanted to break the trip up. It was also really close to Little’s birthday so we knew we wanted to do something special for him.
Enter the North Carolina Zoo. Hubs and I had been before with just the two of us and loved it. Now that Little is around and LOVES all kinds of animals, I knew that the zoo would be the perfect place to take him. We talked about it for weeks leading up to our trip and he was really excited about it. To be honest though, I was a little bit nervous to take my not quite two-year-old to the zoo.
Before we had kids, I remember seeing so many parents pushing around sleeping kids in strollers at the zoo and thinking how not fun that looked. Now that I have a little kid, I know for a fact that watching their eyes light up when they see the animals up close is totally worth the chance that they might fall asleep. Without a doubt. Little still talks about our trip to the zoo.
So today, I want to share with you all some photos from our recent trip, some tips that I found helpful for enjoying the zoo with a toddler, and a few resources to help you plan your own trip.
The NC Zoo
The zoo itself is located in Asheboro, NC and is the largest “natural habitat” zoo in the United States. Believe me when I tell you it is absolutely gorgeous. The zoo is divided into two main regions – Africa and North America, coming together at “Junction Plaza”. It’s open year-round, except Christmas, and has tons of attractions in addition to just the animal exhibits. It’s super kid friendly. (I paid special attention to this now that I have kids) They’ve got kid friendly attractions, playgrounds, learning stations, and even fold down step stools in the restrooms for hand washing. It’s the little things.
They also place a big emphasis on conservation education, which is evident throughout the zoo.
Our Trip to the Zoo
Because we were traveling, we planned to spend the whole morning at the zoo and then head out after lunch so that Little could nap in the car for the majority of our trip. Because of that, we chose to stay in a nearby hotel Wednesday night and get to the zoo on Thursday morning. We knew we weren’t going to get the whole day there, so we tried to be really strategic how we moved through the zoo. We missed some things, but we also saw most of the animal exhibits and made it out in time for nap. I’d call it a success.
We parked at the Africa entrance and made our first stop at the Forest Edge exhibit. This is home to Acacia Station, home to giraffes, zebras, and ostriches. You can pay $2/person to feed the giraffes. We’d done this before and I really wanted Little to be able to get up close to the animals so we did it again on this trip.
He was a little hesitant at first, but did eventually feed one of the giraffes, which made him really proud. From there, we walked over to the tram stop and headed to the opposite side of the zoo, the North America region. Sounds crazy, but the walk from North America to Africa is mostly downhill. We knew we wanted to be walking that way to get back to the car in the afternoon.
The tram is really easy to use and the drivers are always willing to help you load your stroller on. It saved us lots of time to get to the farthest point and then work our way back toward the car.
Once got to North America, we made our way to the Rocky Coast to check out some of the colder weather animals. We specifically enjoyed the polar bear!
There are two observation points for the polar bear – one above the water and another below. We spent most of our time below because Mr. Polar Bear was swimming all around and it was fun to see him diving under the water.
We also got to take a look at the grizzly bear and black bear. Next, we took a stop by the desert exhibit as well as some of the learning stations. We opted to pass by the Kidzone and playgrounds just for sake of time. They would have been perfect stops if we had had the time, but we wanted to be sure not to miss some of the exhibits in Africa.
And of course, it did not disappoint! Side note: when Little saw the straw on the gorilla sitting by the rocks he looked at me and said, “that gorilla is messy.” Heart melted.
Tips to Make Your Zoo Trip a Success
Wear comfortable shoes
You’ll be doing a lot of walking and you don’t want to end the day with blisters and achy feet.
Consider the Weather
The zoo is open year round, but many of the warm weather animals aren’t able to be on exhibit during the winter months. The walkways are also really well shaded, but fall is my favorite time to go. The weather is nice and mild – especially in the mornings! I’d be sure to check for rain and/or storms if you are driving a long distance to visit the zoo.
Grab a Water Bottle
We made sure to take a water bottle that we could fill up at fountains throughout the zoo. This was a big help to keep us all hydrated throughout the day.
Check out the Map Ahead of Time
You can find the map online, here. The maps lists all the exhibits and attractions so you can make a plan for getting to everything you want to get to. You should be able to get to everything if you have a full day, but if you’re only going for part of the day, you’ll want to prioritize which attractions and exhibits you definitely don’t want to miss and make a plan to get to those.
We skipped several of the more feature attractions that would have been really fun had we had more time. Our main priority (and what Little cared mostly about) was seeing the animals. So that’s where we focused our time.
Don’t Forget the Extra Attractions
The zoo has several attractions that you can pay for separately. All are reasonably priced and well worth it if you have time. Some of the exhibits include a Zoo-fari (safari bus ride through 40 acres of grasslands), a ropes course with 23 challenges, Acacia Station Giraffe Deck (where you can feed the giraffes), paddle boats, a carousel, and a dino bus (think a safari with dinosaurs). One of the most popular ways to enjoy attractions is to purchase the Fun Pass, which allows you unlimited access to the Carousel, Dino-Bus, Paddle Boats, and Dino Island 4-D for just $8/person.
Think about Meal Time
There are many options for dining at the zoo. Lots of restaurants and snack options are available in both the North American and Africa regions of the zoo. Additionally, there are picnic areas by each parking zone just outside of the zoo. Food is not allowed in the zoo, but you may exit and re-enter with your receipt. We opted to pack a picnic lunch for our trip, since Little can sometimes be picky and we were planning to head out right after lunch anyway. It worked out great for us to pack a cooler and leave it in the car until lunch.
Pack a Change of Clothes for the Little Ones
If you plan to play in the play grounds or KidZone, it is possible that your little one will get quite messy. Also, a swim diaper is required for non-potty trained children in the splash area of the KidZone. I understand that you might not want to have a ton of stuff to carry around, but it might be worth it to pack at least clean pants/diapers for toddlers and younger.
Bring Your Camera
Or just have your camera on the phone ready. The animal exhibits are all beautiful and you don’t want to miss the opportunity to capture fun family memories!
That’s what it’s all about anyway, right? If you’ve got [little] kids, you know that even the best made plans rarely go exactly how you imagined them. I always try to plan well and then go with the flow.
Have you been to a zoo with your little ones? What tips or advice would you give to others? What was your favorite/least favorite part of the trip?
For more information about the NC Zoo and planning your visit, please visit the zoo’s website.
For more information about planning your trip to Asheboro, NC, visit here.
*This post is not sponsored. We just had a really great time at the NC Zoo and want to share that with others. We’ll definitely be back!