St. Louis Zoo
- 1 Government Drive
- St. Louis, MO 63110
- (314) 781-0900
The big plans, other than my trip to a baseball game, while in St. Louis was to hit the zoo. That’s typically our plan in any city we travel to, but that’s a big part of the reason we made this a family trip.
We woke up pretty early on Sunday morning. The plan was to order room service for breakfast, take our showers, then check out of the hotel and head to the zoo. Amazingly, all of that actually happened. We ordered breakfast right at 6:30 when room service began. We took turn taking showers and packing up our stuff. I lugged the bags down to the car while J and L were getting ready then we were out the door at just a little after 8:30.
The St. Louis Zoo is in Forest Park on the west side of St. Louis. It was about a 15 minute drive from downtown due to construction on I-64. The zoo is right off the highway at the Hampton Road exit. You have to weave through the park a little bit, but there is signage that will lead you in the right direction.
Currently, there are two parking lots at the zoo. One on the north side. One on the south. I read somewhere that this will be changing in the next couple of years due to expansion. The easiest one to get to from the Interstate is the south side so that’s where we ended up.
Admission to the zoo is free but parking is $15 and paid at the entrance to the lot. We were still pretty early so we got a really close parking spot near the pedestrian bridge that goes over Wells Drive and takes you to the entrance of the zoo.
As you walk in, there is what was probably used as ticket booths at one time. They’re not just information booths. There’s a sign on one of the walls and a lady was standing out front telling us admission is free and we could just walk in. The first thing you see inside, a great little fountain that’s perfect for picture taking.
The size of the St. Louis Zoo is a little overwhelming at first. I’ll tell you right off the bat that we spent over four hours and only took about a 15-20 minute break about halfway through. This is a place that really is an all day activity and that was fine with us. We were leaving the zoo and heading for our next hotel in Peoria, IL so there was no rush and we took our time to enjoy it.
The zoo is divided in to five distinct areas. We started on the trail that led to Historic Hill. The first thing you come to is the Herpatarium. This building is one of the oldest parts of the zoo. It was built in 1927 and has the look and feel of the zoos of yesteryear. It’s a nice, big, air conditioned building that houses most of the zoo’s reptiles and amphibians. These aren’t J’s favorite animals so we only spent a little time in the building.
Right next door is one of the oldest buildings on the campus. The Primate House was built in 1923. It houses the smaller primates that don’t need the big outdoor space. The ones that are always fun to watch as they swing around and generally show off for the visitors.
Historic Hill really earns it’s name. By the time we got up to the primate house, we were all tired and sweating a little bit. It’s not bad if it’s just you, but I was pushing the stroller and J was wearing B, so we were both in charge of getting a second person to the top of the hill.
From the Primate House, we headed to the Red Rocks area. Again, this is one of the older parts of the zoo. It’s the area where the Antelope House is at. This structure was built in the 1930’s as part of the Civil Works administration. The giraffe’s, Okapi, ostrich, kangaroo, and babirusa call this area of Red Rocks home although not all of them looked to be out. We never saw the giraffes which can always be a little bit of a bummer.
I just got a little ahead of myself because the coolest part of Red Rocks is the first thing you run in to when entering from the south side of Historic Hill. Big Cat Country. There are a couple of very large, open habitats for the African lions, Amur Tiger, Amur Leopard, cheetah, puma and a couple of others. Pretty much all of the cats were out and active while we were there. It’s a very cool exhibit with a lot to see.
After looping around the antelope house, you actually come back in to Historic Hill. The north side of the Hill has the 1904 World’s Fair Flight Cage. During the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, the Smithsonian constructed this walk through bird cage. Those are pretty common at zoos today, but this must have been something really unique in 1904. This is actually the piece that started the zoo. The Smithsonian was going to dismantle it and take it back to DC, but the people of St. Louis paid for it and kept it then built what would become the St. Louis Zoo around it. There weren’t a lot of birds flying freely through the cage, but the whole set up is kind of neat. The cage also doubles as a swamp where you can see more turtles and frog’s living in a more natural habitat. There’s actually a different area just to the south of the Flight Cage for birds, but we never made it over there.
Keep going on the path from the Flight Cage and you end up in The Wild. First thing in the wild? Jungle Apes. Of course, this is always a favorite so we spent some time The Fragile Forest and Jungle of the Apes exhibit contain gorillas, chimps, and orangutans in a large environment.
After making our way through the big primates, we took our first and only break. We let L ride the Conservation Carousel and we stopped for drinks. It worked out that this spot is also where the St. Louis Children’s Hospital First Aid Station is. We didn’t need first aid, but they had family restrooms and nursing rooms. J was able to find a nice, quiet spot in the air conditioning to feed L and try to get him to sleep for a little longer as we continued our journey.
When we got back on the trail, we walked in to Polar Bear Point. There was quite a line to get in to a building and we couldn’t figure out why until we got in ourselves and saw the Polar Bear swimming right in front of the glass. By the time we got near the front, he got out and went to the outside viewing area and everyone followed. It was still a very cool site though as that bear got right up close to the viewing area in both locations.
Penguin and Puffin Coast was next on the map. This was awesome. Like seriously awesome. There are some penguins (I think…maybe they’re puffins..I don’t know the difference) in a small outside exhibit, but once you get inside the building, you can literally reach out and touch them. I don’t know if that’s frowned upon or not (I assumed it was and didn’t do it), but they will swim right up to the glass which is at eye level and you could reach over and touch them if you’re like that.
Moving on from The Wild, we sort of moved through Discovery Corner pretty quickly. There’s a large Children’s Zoo which has an admission charge. That’s not the thing that kept us out of it though. The sign telling us there was a playground in there is what kept us out. Once L finds a playground, she doesn’t want to leave.
The one part we did see in Discovery Corner was the Monsanto Insectarium. They have all the typical creepy crawly things that make your skin crawl, but there’s also a walk-through butterfly exhibit. L loved this as did the rest of us. The trails were tiny though so traffic got backed up…especially after one landed on B’s head. It was super cute and I wish I could share the picture with you….but it shows his face, so I’m not going to. Sorry.
The last part of the zoo for us was River’s Edge. This long, winding trail on the southwest side of the zoo has representatives of a variety of animals from four continents. The highlight? The Asian Elephants. There were other animals as well. The hippo and all of his fish friends put on a show right in the viewing area, but the Elephants were awesome.
This is now the third zoo we’ve been to that has had some kind of elephant and they never stop impressing. There are two different enclosures for them. The first one only had one elephant that kind of played peek-a-boo with us, but a little further down the trail we found a second enclosure with a half dozen or more that were active and moving about. We always save the elephants for last because that’s how we keep L motivated. After four hours, that motivation was fading fast and we found these giant creatures at just the right time.
We finished our walk through River’s Edge then headed for the gate. It was at that point we realized we had spent over four hours at the St. Louis Zoo.
This zoo ranks right up there with the best that we’ve been to. The number and variety of different species is unlike anything we’ve seen at any other zoo we’ve been to. It’s a lot of walking, but it’s worth every step. It’s hard to beat a free zoo and it’s so amazing that a zoo of this quality isn’t charge $30/person to get in. We were very happy with this trip and would make a point to visit again if we’re ever in the area in the future.