The JJ family re-visited the Dallas Zoo over the fourth of July weekend as part of the “Show-off Dallas” to our visiting family plan. The last time we visited was in 2015, and since then, much has changed with the Zoo. We considered the Fort Worth Zoo, but the Zoo has moved some animals to accommodate ongoing construction. Hopefully, we will make it back there another day soon.
We first visited the Dallas Zoo when Missy JJ was about three, almost eighteen years ago. Our trips then were shorter and usually involved visits to the Zoo North. It’s where the flamingos and the Lacerte Family Children’s Zoo with the petting zoo, goat yard, and barn are located. As our family expanded and the children grew, we enjoyed the additions to the Zoo South, where the bigger animals live.
Location and Visit planning:
The Dallas Zoo is located three miles south of Dallas Downtown, just off I-35E at the Ewing Ave/ Marsalis Ave exit. DART trains run along the Red line to the Dallas Zoo station, close to the Zoo gates. Zoo hours are from 9 am to 5 pm during spring and summer, and 9 am to 4 pm during fall and winter. Flexible ticketing allows patrons to choose prices that vary from $8 to $21 per person based on days of the week, time of the year, and age range. Children under two can visit for free. Parking is $10 per vehicle. Of course, Zoo members’ admission and parking are free. Pets are not allowed on the Zoo grounds. Drones, stand-up scooters, and weapons are not permitted entry. Smoking is not allowed on-site, but designated areas are available away from the main entry gates.
At this time (July 2021), all guests, including Dallas Zoo Members, have to reserve timed tickets and parking online before the visit. Zoo tickets and parking are scanned at the ticket booths at the Zoo’s entry. Guests are no longer required to wear masks while entering, following CDC guidelines.
Food and other rentals:
Per the Dallas Zoo website, guests may bring their own food and drinks, although glass items, alcoholic beverages, and single-use disposable straws are not permitted. There are no facilities available for food or cooler storage. Picnic tables and benches are scattered throughout the Zoo. Of course, several restaurants and food kiosks are distributed all across the Zoo grounds if you don’t wish to carry any food:
- Serengeti Grill
- Craft Beer Garden on The Grove
- Otter Falls Outpost near the otter habitat
- Bantu BBQ
- Kona Ice truck near Bantu BBQ (open Monday through Friday)
- Kilimanjaro Kones near the Giants of the Savanna habitat
- Sweet Treats in the Breezeway (open weekends only)
- Dippin’ Dots in Wilds of African & ZooNorth (open weekends only)
- Prime Meridian Cafe
Strollers (single and double) and manual wheelchairs, and electric convenience vehicles with canopy are all available for rent. We saw a few adults using these vehicles, and they seemed pretty cool. A nursing station, baby changing stations, water fountains, and family restrooms are located within the Zoo.
The Zoo Layout and Experiences at the Zoo:
The Zoo has two major sections: Zoo North and Zoo South. The Zoo North includes the Lacerte children’s Zoo, flamingo pond, bugs display, birds of prey, Galapagos tortoises, herpetarium, otter outpost, tiger viewing, and primate place. There’s also a dinosaur exhibit near the herpetarium. Zoo South includes Giants of the Savanna (giraffes, lions, elephants, zebra, ostrich) and The Wilds of Africa (Gorilla, Chimpanzee, Hippo, okapi, Cheetah, etc.).
Other experiences and encounters spread out throughout the day allow closer access to animals and birds and an opportunity to learn more about the Zoo, it’s working, and its rangers and volunteers. Per the website,
- More than 10 daily keeper chats to hear about our animals directly from their zoologists
- Giraffe feedings for $6 per person
- Wonders of the Wild wildlife show
- Rainforest Rendezvous macaw-in-flight experience
- Daily animal encounters at the all-new Animals in Action (former Cheetah Encounter lawn in ZooNorth)
- Hourly animal presentations at the Wild Encounters Stage
We chose an early time of 10 am for our trip to the Zoo since we planned to spend more time in Dallas after the Zoo. For the same reason, we drove to the Zoo rather than ride the DART train. We reached around half-past ten and easily found parking. Since we had eaten out a few times the previous days, we chose to carry small snacks and lunch rather than buy. We split the food between all our backpacks, and all of us brought reusable water bottles.
It was wonderful not having to wait in long lines to buy tickets. We showed up at the gates, showed our tickets, had them scanned, and walked inside. As simple as that! After snapping our customary photos at the entrance and a map of the Zoo, we chose to visit the Zoo South first. We walked past the Carousel and the guest services area before veering left to the tunnel that leads to Zoo South. The penguins welcomed us first. These were the African penguins and quite distinct from the emperor penguins we usually see. They reminded us much of our trip to Boulders Beach in South Africa. The lemurs were active that morning, reminding us of King Julian in the Madagascar movies. The cheetah must not have been an early riser. We waited a while to see him (or her? or them?), but couldn’t see one. We walked further to the Safari Base Camp, where the elephant chat had just begun. A volunteer gave us information about the elephants, their daily habits, where they came from, etc. In the distance, elephants strolled lazily with giraffes, kudus, and zebras.
Moving on, we stopped to enjoy the giraffes and their great eyelashes! Who knew giraffes sported such beautiful lashes?! We bought two bunches of food and fed the animals. Ours seemed to be very thoughtful as he munched on the leaves we fed him. We stood a floor above where he stood and could look right into his eyes. It was pretty wild! Moving on, we watched the African painted dogs that joined the Dallas Zoo in 2019. They resemble hyenas and are an endangered species. Matriarchal, very social, and hunting in packs, we watched the three painted dogs relax in the sun during their siesta.
Next, we wandered to the end of the path to get a better view of the zebras and ostrich before turning back. Walking past, we caught sight of a red river hog and warthogs next door. At such a close distance, they are pretty intimidating. But the warthogs were resting and much too relaxed to bother us.
The lions were not visible from our first location, but Mr. JJ remembered that we could get a better view from inside the Serengeti Grill. So we walked in and stood by the large glass partition. The lions, as predicted, were resting in the shade there, right by the glass. There was one male alpha lion, about three or four lionesses, and a couple of cubs. Like the warthogs, the felines were too busy with their rest to give us the time of day. We were close enough to see the spots on the cubs that they outgrow and the scars on the male lion. It was pretty cool to watch them!
We took a break at the Serengeti Grill to enjoy our picnic lunch. We bought snacks from the Grill and water and beverages and enjoyed a lovely meal on their outdoor patio.
Next, we headed to the Gorilla Trail. There are no water fountains or restrooms on this walk. So the Zoo recommends taking a bathroom break before heading out. I enjoyed the gorillas. They have a large area in which to roam, and we tracked them from one end to the other. We saw the large males as well as the little ones. They can walk upright as we do for short distances. The rest of the time, they use their knuckles to walk on. Once again, we found two adults lying right by the viewing glass, enjoying a nice nap. Their hands and feet were so thick and so human-like. We watched as they answered nature’s call, gathered leaves, and enjoyed them in the shade. One even stood on a log and showed off his balance before moving on.
Having had our fill of the mighty primates, we walked on to the bird enclosure, a source of great joy! The birds were of all sizes and colors, a wonderful visual treat!! The sun was not very hot, but it was undoubtedly a humid morning, and we took a break sitting in the middle of this aviary to cool off. The same aviary can be viewed from up top on the way to the hippo outpost and offers a terrific view of the various nests in the treetops.
We passed a slow-moving crocodile on the way to the chimpanzee area. There were several chimps around, but they were all at quite a distance from us. Did you know adult male chimpanzees can weigh as much as 110 lbs and be seven times as strong as adult humans? Young chimps mature at about ten years and live to be about 35 to 40 yrs. Chimps spend most of their day on the ground but make a cozy nest in the trees to sleep. Some facts we learned from visiting the Zoo.
Our next big stop was at the hippopotamus outpost. The Zoo recently got a new male hippo. All three were submerged in the pond, enjoying a wonderful respite from the heat. The water was murky, and it wasn’t easy to watch the hippos, but they stayed close to the viewing area and came up for air from time to time. After watching the hippos, we needed some respite from the sun. Close by was a single room indoor rest area, where we caught a break. We stretched out on the floor for a few minutes, resting and catching up on fluids. We were glad for such a strategically placed rest area.
As we made our way out, we saw one of the Wild Encounters Stage where the staff talked about a snake and its habits, feeding schedules, etc. The caretaker had the snake around her neck, and while that was cool to watch, I was glad to stay as far away from it as I could. There were so many children watching the program and asking a ton of questions. We got some shaved ice and Dipping Dots on the way out as we headed towards the tunnel.
Soon, we were walking across Flamingo Bridge to the Zoo North section. The flamingos have long been a particular favorite of mine. Perhaps because we always saw them first entering this portion of the Zoo all those years ago. Walking around the Zoo North clockwise, we stopped to enjoy the birds of prey at the Wings of Wonder. Owls, vultures, and condors, among others, all made their home here.
Further ahead, we stopped to watch the Galapagos tortoises as they lumbered across their home, carrying their dark shells across their backs. It made me wonder, did these gentle giants and the Andean condors ever miss their homes? If given a choice, would they stay here or return home, even if that meant specific threats to their existence?
The kids took a short break to check out the herpeterium where the reptiles live while Mr. JJ and I sat it out. Checking out snakes isn’t exactly my cup of tea! I would have loved seeing the tigers and returning to the petting zoo area, but we were out of time. We had to be elsewhere that afternoon, and so it was time to leave. We had been there about four hours and moved at a good clip. Yet we couldn’t cover everything.
And so we left the Zoo, knowing we would be back another day, to rediscover the magic of watching animals, birds, and everything in between.
Book ahead for tickets and parking since the Zoo has timed entry now. Wear sturdy shoes since there’s a lot of walking involved. Bring a reusable water bottle and fill along the way. Wear sunscreen. Dallas Zoo is part of the CityPASS that can be bought online. CityPASS holders don’t need to make advanced reservations; they can show up at the entry gates to receive their timed admissions. The zoo also provides an electric vehicle charging station.
Dallas Zoo is located at 650 S. R. L. Thornton Freeway, Dallas, TX 75203