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Washington Park Zoo

May 15, 2014

  • Washington Park Zoo115 Lake Shore Drive
  • Michigan City, IN 46360
  • (219) 873-1510
  • Website

I know it seems like we just did this a few weeks ago, but once again, we met our families in New Buffalo for a holiday.  Again, we met at the Stray Dog for lunch.  This time, my brother’s family didn’t come, so it was just the eight of us.

At first, we had thought about going back to the City Beach, but out of nowhere I had an idea.

On one of our many trips to the Lighthouse Place Premium Outlets in Michigan City, I noticed a sign on US-12 for a zoo.  I don’t know why I randomly thought of it, but I decided to look it up and see what exactly Michigan City was hiding away from the outlet mall.

The Washington Park Zoo, as it’s name implies, is in Washington Park.  It takes up about 15 acres on a pretty hilly sand dune near Lake Michigan.  The zoo has been around since the late 1920’s and for a small zoo, has a surprisingly large number of animals.

It took us a little while to figure out how to get in to the parking lot nearest the zoo.  You can see it across the street from the main entrance on Lake Shore Drive, but it’s gated, so there’s no way in.  You actually have to enter the park before you get to the zoo and travel the access roads to get to the zoo parking near the Oasis Splash Pad.  Once beach season hits (I’m assuming Memorial Day), there is a charge to park in the park, but since we were early the year yet, there was no attendant at the entrance gate.

After getting L loaded up on the sunscreen, we headed across the street to the zoo entrance.  Since it was Mother’s Day, and our parents paid for lunch, I rushed up to the window to pay for every’s admission.  There were 7 adults and a 2-year-old.  As I was pulling my credit card out, the lady working the window asked how many mom’s.  There were three and it turns out their admission was free, so it cost me $26 for the 8 of us to get in.  

Right away you notice the size of the zoo.  It’s not a big spread out zoo like we’re used to going to.  The space is pretty small and it actually goes upwards if that makes any sense.

As soon as you enter the gates, there are two really cool exhibits.  Off to the left is a large cage cut in half by an indoor area for the animals that houses large tigers.  On one side there is a Bengal Tiger which will actually get just a few feet from you…almost close enough to reach out and touch.  On the other side is three White Tigers.  Again, you get awfully close to these large cats.

The other cool exhibit is more of a natural habitat for a cougar and two bears (in separate enclosures of course).  The bears were really active and L climbed up on the wall to get a good look as the two bears playfully fought near a small waterfall in the enclosure.

From there, you can go down what is almost a forgotten path to the Kangaroos and Wallaby’s.  We actually hit this area on our second trip around the zoo.  We didn’t realize at first there were actually exhibits that way.

From there, the zoo starts to go up and there’s a lot of uphill walking.  The path takes you above the bear/cougar exhibit so now you can look down on them.  There is also a bobcat exhibit right behind you when you’re looking at the bears from above.  Along the way, you pass a couple bird enclosures including one with a couple of bald eagles.

Next up we found the Primate House which is always one of L’s favorites.  The enclosures are indoor/outdoor although the outdoor is enclosed in glass and not just bars.  There are six displays with different kind of primates.  L was most fascinated with the display that had a plastic slide similar to the one she has in the backyard.  She stood there and kept yelling at the “monkey” to go down the slide.

Up another hill would have been a big Monkey Exhibit, but it unfortunately closed last year after being open for almost 60 years.  The exhibit was deemed unsafe and they are working to build a newer, safer “Monkey Island.”

Continuing up the hill, we found a really neat looking castle.  Inside were a number of reptiles which L really enjoyed, but it was incredibly hot inside and most of the adults couldn’t handle the extreme heat.  Three of us toughed it out because L really enjoyed it.

Right next to the castle was the “carousel.”  It’s not really a carousel, but instead a train.  L didn’t care.  She conned NaNa into a ride (mother’s rode this free as well) and kept asking to go back..but we were able to distract her every time she brought it up.

Next up, we headed back down the hill to the petting yard and petting barn.  There are a number of farm animals in this area that can be petted from outside the fence.  L was really in to the goats which is pretty typical for her.  We kept digging quarters out of our pockets so we could buy food for the goats and she sat there and fed them one pellet at a time until Grandma’s knees hurt from kneeling down to help her.

Right across from the petting areas were some bird exhibits.  L has been really in to the movie Rio lately and one of the cages included some Macaws.  They weren’t blue, but she kept saying “Rio birdie.”

A little farther down a ramp from the birds is the concession stand.  J really needed something to drink so they got in line.  Unfortunately, the zoo was pretty short staffed or something and getting a bottle of water took about a half hour.   About the time they got to the front of the line, my dad realized I had gotten a bottle of Pepsi from a vending machine near the feline house when first got there.  He went back to check to see if they had bottled water.  They did and we ended up wasting that half hour waiting in line.

Anyway, while J, NaNa and Grandma were in line, L, Aunt V., and I headed in to the Australian Aviary.  L loved the birds flying around her head and giggled with excitement every time a group of birds took off from their perches.  The zoo also offers sticks of food that you can buy for a buck.  A lot of people were buying, but the birds weren’t eating.  I got one on a stick for a few seconds and later when J came in, she was able to get one for a couple minutes, but most people weren’t having success with the bird feeding.

By this point, we had made our way through the entire zoo and the switch back to Central Time had thrown both J and I off.  Once I realized it was actually 3:30 and not 2:30, we decided it was time to call it a day.  L wanted to see “More Animals,” so we had a little bit of a meltdown near the entrance, but the grandparents made it all better.

The Washington Park Zoo was a little bit of a surprise for us.  Like most people, Michigan City is only on the radar because of the outlet mall.  I had no idea there was such a big park along the lake and no idea there was a zoo.  It’s not the biggest zoo in the world, but it was good for L.  She got to get pretty close to a lot of the animals and even though there is a lot of climbing, there’s not a lot of ground to cover, so you move pretty quickly from one exhibit to the next.

Washington Park Zoo

Washington Park Zoo

Washington Park Zoo

Washington Park Zoo

Washington Park Zoo

Washington Park Zoo

Washington Park Zoo

Washington Park Zoo

Washington Park Zoo

Washington Park Zoo

Washington Park Zoo

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Garry Asmus permalink
    May 15, 2014 9:09 am

    I am 63, it was my favorite zoo growing up and the biggest in the Area, outside of Chicago! I didn’t see any pictures of the old lion house where they used to keep the Lions and Tigers or the building they used to keep the elephants, so I am guessing those building and animals are gone! ! I am very sad to hear that Monkey Island is closed! Alot of the Original Buildings were built by the WPA during the depression!

    • SW Michigan Dining permalink*
      May 15, 2014 8:07 pm

      There were no lions or elephants…my daughter would have loved elephants…..

  2. May 15, 2014 9:36 am

    Wow, I have seen the sign and wondered about this zoo. Thanks!!!!!

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