- 2320 N. Prospect Drive
- Peoria, IL 61603
- (309) 686-3365
Zoo’s are always a go to when we’re in a new town. As I’ve mentioned many, many times, we’re members at Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek and that membership gets us in to a number of AZA zoo’s across the country.
We were only spending one full day in Peoria and we had already visited the Caterpillar Visitor’s Center and met up with an old friend for lunch. L would have been happy just spending the rest of the day in the pool, but there’s a zoo in Peoria and where there’s a zoo, you’ll probably find us.
The Peoria Zoo is in Glen Oak Park on the east side of Peoria. The entrance the the park is at the intersection of Prospect and McClure, but the entrance to the zoo is a long, winding, one-way road on the north side. Things have changed just a bit since we moved. There is a new entrance area with a small parking lot. On busy days I guess you’d have to park at the playground and walk to get to the main entrance, but we were getting there pretty late in the day on Tuesday and were able to find the one open spot that was there.
The Peoria Zoo has an interesting history. The zoo was built in the park in 1956 with help from Marlin Perkins. In 1989, when the Zoo was still known as Glen Oak zoo, Parade Magazine called it one of the ten worst zoo’s in America. Obviously, the zoo didn’t like that an invited the author to visit. He walked back the criticism a little bit and from there, the Peoria Park District looked to make improvements for the future. In the late ’90’s, a master plan was developed to expand the zoo and keep it in it’s current location. After ten years of planning and fundraising, the first major upgrade Africa! opened.
The zoo closes at 5:00 and we were walking in the door to the Barton Pavilion just a little after 3:30. We knew we didn’t have much time, but we also knew it was a small zoo, so it wouldn’t take long. Couple that with the fact L was much more interested in the playground we passed on the way to the zoo. Ticket prices are $9 for adults and $6 for kids 2-12. With our Binder Park membership, we got half off that and got in to the zoo for $ for all four of us (B was free being under the age of 1.)
When J and I lived in Peoria, the Glen Oak Zoo wasn’t very big at all. Most of the exhibits were in the old entrance building except for a few outside areas. This new zoo is nothing like we remembered.
The first place we ended up was the Asian Trail. There wasn’t a lot here. Just an Amur Tiger and a few other smaller animals. Being late in the day, the animals knew it was close to feeding time and they were all out and active in their enclosures.
The Asian Trail led us straight to the Australian Walk-about. This is one of those cool areas where some of the animals could roam free. The Detroit Zoo has one of these with Kangaroos. Peoria doesn’t have kangaroos, but they do have wallaby’s and black swan’s that roam free. There are emu’s as well, but they are pinned in although petting didn’t seem discouraged. The Walkabout was also home to the Budgerigar. This is one of my favorite spots at any zoo. L loves getting the little stick of food and getting the little birdies to eat off it. She chased the birds around until she found one that would jump on her stick then she got scared and passed it to me. These walk in aviaries are so much fun and such a neat experience for kids. I love seeing the look on L’s face when one of the birds eats from her stick of food.
It was getting late in the day and the Australian Walkabout was about to close. We needed to move on if we were going to see everything before zoo keepers started shutting exhibits up for the day.
Our next stop was Africa! This large expansion to the zoo more than doubled the size when it was completed in 2009. The whole time we were in Peoria, we heard about this, saw plans for this, and even saw a little construction before we moved in 2008, but this was the first time we’d be seeing this expansion with animals in it.
The first bend of the trail is the primates. They have colobus monkey’s and mandrill’s. Farther down the trail, you come to a big glass window where, on a lucky day, you can come eye to eye with the lions. We didn’t see any at first, but then we headed up to the observation area and noticed the female walking around. When we went back down the stairs to the window, the male came out and started roaring at the female. Very cool and L had a very excited look on her face when the lion let out his roar.
Around the corner a little farther and another observation area high above the ground. Not hard to guess what’s here. Giraffe’s! Peoria Zoo offers giraffe feedings, but unlike Binder Park Zoo, they only do it at specific times during the day. We weren’t there during either of those times, so we just hung out on the boardwalk as the giraffe and rhino tried to get back in their pins probably expecting a feeding.
We didn’t get to check out the Zambezi River Lodge due to time. They had already closed that building by the time we got back around to it. There are smaller animals inside this large building that serves as an anchor to the Africa! exhibit.
Our final stop is the old entrance building to the zoo. This is known as the Tropics and it houses a number animals that don’t need much space. The lemurs, the tamarinds, the meerkats, the spider monkey’s…..these are just a few of the animals housed in this space. I actually remember the day the meerkats were introduced to the zoo, so it was cool to come back and see them again….if I remember right, they have a web cam on them which was something completely new at the time.
The staff was starting to close up the Tropics while we were in there, so we find a door that we could still get out of after a quick restroom and drinking fountain stop. One of the coolest exhibits from the old zoo was the Sea Lions, but unfortunately, the exhibit is in such bad shape they can’t put animals in it. There’s a sign on the glass explaining this and hoping they’ll be able to fix it one day, but right now, it’s just an empty pool.
This pretty much wrapped up our day at the Peoria Zoo. It was close to 5:00 and L really, really wanted to go play at the playground. We had to pass on the Contact Barn as well due to it already being closed by the time we got there.
As with a lot of things on this trip back to Peoria, a lot has changed at the Peoria Zoo. I honestly barely recognize it outside of the Tropics building which used to be the entrance. I know for many years, families would take their picture on the concrete lions outside the entrance. Those are still there, but they butt up to a chain link fence now. The Peoria Zoo is a nice little small city zoo. There are a lot of great exhibits and a lot of hands on stuff we didn’t even get to. Change is good and for the Peoria Zoo, it has been as well.