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Toledo Zoo & Aquarium

September 23, 2015

  • 2 Hippo Way
  • Toledo, OH 43609
  • (419) 385-4040
  • Website

Zoos.  Oh, how we love going to zoos.  I’ve mentioned several times that we are members of Binder Park Zoo which gets us in to a number of zoos throughout the country for half price.  We intend to take advantage of that as much as we possibly can.

We’ve been slacking a little bit this year.  We’ve only been on zoo trips twice.  Once to Binder Park Zoo early in the season and once a couple of weeks ago to John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids.  This has been a busy summer so far that hasn’t allowed for my weekend excursions.

Once we finally got a weekend free this fall, we started talking about where to go.  There aren’t many zoos left within weekend driving distance that we haven’t been to.  The initial discussions were to make the longer road trip to the Columbus Zoo, but we eventually scaled back and settled on the Toledo Zoo.

We didn’t really know what to expect as we headed in to Toledo.  We knew they had elephants, but that was about it.  We’d seen they’d been rated by USA Today as the top zoo in the country in 2014 but we really didn’t know what that meant.  Boy, were we about to find out.

The Toledo Zoo and Aquarium is right off the Anthony Wayne Trail or Ohio SR 25 about 3 miles Southwest of downtown Toledo near the Maumee River. The main entrance is off of Anthony Wayne Trail where there’s a huge parking lot that leads to the newer North Side of the zoo which has the Africa! and Arctic Encounter portions of the zoo.  It’s connected to the Historic South Side by a pedestrian bridge. 

Main Entrance

That’s the side you’re *supposed* to enter on…but my GPS couldn’t find Hippo Way and in a hurry, I just typed in Toledo Zoo and it took me to the Broadway entrance on the south side.  There is a much smaller parking lot that is shared with Walbridge Park.  This is actually kind of a pro-tip that I stumbled in to.  The smaller parking lot was a lot closer to the gates even though you had to cross Broadway Street to get there…but there’s a stop light that turns almost immediately when the walk button is pushed.   No matter which parking lot you chose, there is a $7 charge for parking.

Broadway Street Entrance

After stretching our legs and getting everything together, we headed across the street to the small ticket booth.  With our membership to Binder Park, admission was half off, so for the three of us, it cost us $24 to get in.  Regular price would have made it one of the more expensive zoos we have been to, but this one is totally worth the price of admission.

Once inside, the first thing we had to do was find restrooms.  I fumbled with the map trying to find the closest building with a restroom as J and L started running past the Amphitheater and Aquarium.  I pointed them in the direction of the old big cat house which is now one of the cafe’s known as The Carnivore Cafe.

Once we took care of the restroom situation, we decided we should probably grab something to eat.  We were already in a cafe, so L and I found a table while J went to get food.  The really odd thing was there were no menus anywhere.  There was clearly a menu board hanging over the cafeteria style food line, but it wasn’t lit up.  J asked one of the workers what they had and decided on a cheeseburger and fries for me and an order of chicken strips for her and L to share.  That set us back close to $20 with a drink but it was a quick meal and got us out in to the park that much quicker.

Carnivore Cafe

Cheeseburger w/Fries

The Grill at Carnivore Cafe

After lunch, we headed north and made our first stop at Flamingo Key.  That first stop sort of set the mood for the day.  The exhibit alone was much nicer than anything we’ve seen for Flamingo’s in the past and there were so many of them.  L liked the “pretty pink birds,” but was much, much more interested in the Pedestrian Bridge that was accessible right outside of the exhibit, so we let her lead the way.

Flamingo Key

Pedestrian Bridge over Anthony Wayne Trail

The north side of the zoo, the side we were probably supposed to enter on, has two major exhibits.  The first one is the Arctic Encounter which has the seals and polar bears.  One of the bears was right up against the glass just looking at all the kids as the kids stared back in amazement.  L really liked this part and didn’t want to leave.  There was a great big bear right in front of her.

The next major exhibit was actually closed.  Africa! has the giraffes, zebras, wildebeest, watusi cattle, and wild dogs.  The main part of the exhibit was closed for construction as was the Safari Railway.  They did have shops, concessions and the carousel open.

Entrance to Africa

Of course, L saw the carousel, and of course, we were gonna let her ride it.  The carousel claims to be the only African carousel in the world.  I guess that just means all of the animals were animals you could find in Africa.  A ride was $2 and because she’s under five, I had to ride with her, but I rode for free.

Africa! Carousel

L was already starting to get a little tired at this point, so after a little bit of arguing, we decided Dipping Dots might make her happy.  We headed back to the area near the Pedestrian Bridge known as Blade Plaza and got her some Dipping Dots to share with J.

Blade Plaza

We headed back across the pedestrian bridge after the little snack because that’s where most of the animals are.  On the way back we passed the Bald Eagles and Cassowary Crossing.  We stopped at each since the bridge is actually the best vantage point to see both exhibits.

Skeldon Plaza from the Pedestrian Bridge

We continued walking back south in an effort to make a loop all the way around the Historic South Side of zoo…but dang, it’s a big zoo.

Our first stop was in the Aviary.  This large walk through building is one of the zoo’s oldest dating back to 1937.  There are so many different species of birds in this building that the map doesn’t even try to list them all.  The building is a mixture of caged enclosures and open walk-through enclosures depending on the type of bird.  L has always been somewhat of a bird lady and was in awe of the birds flying all around her head.

Next stop was Primate Forest.  This feature dates back to the late 90’s and includes lemurs, Colubus Monkeys, gibbons, and red pandas.  We sort of walked through this one quickly stopping at the Colubus Monkey’s for a little bit.  The thing that struck me about this part of the zoo was sheer size of the enclosures.  They were huge and had a lot of room for the animals to move around yet viewing them was never an issue.

Primate Forest Entrance

Primate Forest Enclosure

On to the big apes.  The next stop was the Kingdom of the Apes building which is a mixture of inside and outside enclosures.  The animals here are the western lowland gorillas and orangutans.  Again, the sheer size of this exhibit is what’s impressive.  The apes get from the inside space to the outside space via a tunnel that goes under the public area of the building.  We watched one of the orangutans look at us then dive in to the tunnel only to pop out a few seconds later.  It then when and found what is essentially a hammock near the glass and just sat there….and stared at all the kids for quite a long time before it’s buddies joined in on the fun.

Just around the corner from the orangutans was the western lowland gorillas.  This was cool because one of the gorillas had just had a baby and it was sitting in the corner nursing the little one when we walked up.  Again, very close to the glass so all the kids could see her, but she didn’t care…just sat there nursing the baby.  On the way out, they had one of those awesome plastic mold things that I used to love when my family went to Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.  L asked if she could have one and I’m a sucker for these things…so I said yes and got her a plastic gorilla to play with the rest of the trip.

Mold-O-Rama

After leaving the Kingdom of the Apes, we walked through the Formal Garden, the rose garden, past the conservatory, past the ‘Keet Retreat (parakeets) and in to the newly remodeled Aquarium.

The Aquarium just reopened in March of this year after being shut down since the end of 2012 for renovations.  The historic structure is a Works Project Administration building that, like many structures at this park, is pretty dang big.  The aquarium has a huge collection of “sharks, rays, and sea life from around the world.”  There was so much to look at in the large tanks as well as a really neat hands on station that we decided to avoid at this point in the day (L was getting tired).  We didn’t spend nearly as much time in the aquarium as we needed to see everything…but how could you when right outside are the….

The Aquarium

PENGUINS!  Actually we had to walk by a gift shop first which caused a mini meltdown, but Penguin Beach is right outside of the Aquarium and we happened upon it at feeding time.  There’s some above water viewing areas as well as an underwater one, but all of the African penguins were huddled around one of the employees in a corner because it was feeding time.  This caused another mini-meltdown because L wanted to feed the penguins too.  Heck, I know how she feels.  I wanted to feed the penguins, but it’s not an interactive exhibit.  We didn’t stay here long because we knew our time was running out and there was still one big thing we HAD to see.

Penguin Beach

We walked passed The Valley, Nature’s Neighborhood, and the Reptile House to get to the Hippoquarium.

Hippoquarium Entrance

The Hippoquarium is one the centerpieces of the Toledo Zoo.  They were the first ones to build one and it became the template for other zoos.

Tembo Trail Entrance with African Bull Enclosure in Background

The Hippoquarium is part of Tembo Trail which used to be known as the African Savanna.  This was the part of the zoo we came to see.  This is the reason we drove two hours and drug a tired 3-year-old back through the zoo…..

African Elephant Cow Enclosure

ELEPHANTS!  The only other zoo we have ever been to that had elephants is the Indianapolis Zoo.  That display was cool because it was the first time we saw elephants, but it was nothing like this.

The elephants are put in two separate enclosures.  There’s one for the cows and one for the bulls.  The cow enclosure had two elephants…one of which looked to be a baby.  There’s a great viewing area next to the indoor arena that the elephants kept coming up to, so we got some really good, close-up looks at these amazing creatures.  This part alone was worth the drive from Kalamazoo to Toledo.

Baby Elephant

Baby Elephant

Momma Elephant

The only bad thing I have to say about the Toledo Zoo is this…..

Ugh…a playground

It was super annoying having a playground and spalsh pad right in the middle of the zoo.  Of course that’s what my 3-year-old wanted to do.  On the bright side, she met a couple of new friends and we did let her play for a little bit, but moving on was more of a struggle than I wanted it to be…..luckily she didn’t even see the splash pad.

Seriously friends, the Toledo Zoo & Aquarium is worth the trip.  It doesn’t matter where you are coming from, it’s worth it.  We have been to a lot of zoo’s in this area and we’ll be making many trips back to this one.  They have such a huge collection in such a beautiful setting….and we didn’t even get to see everything.

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