We hadn’t been to the North Carolina Zoo in several years until earlier this week. We live about four hours from the zoo, so it is generally an overnight trip that takes a little more planning and budget.
This time we went with two other homeschooling families and stayed at a local campground. ( I am really enjoying having the flexibility of the camper.) It was a great trip, both for fun and for education.
I am excited to share more about the zoo with you today, as well as some tips and tricks for getting the most from your visit.
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A Little About the North Carolina Zoo
The North Carolina Zoo is the world’s largest natural habitat zoo. It is divided into two major sections: North America and Africa. As a natural habitat zoo, the animals are given larger habitats to roam. This is great for the animals and the experience, but it does mean more walking because they are spread out.
There are hundreds of different animals, from the large giraffes, elephants, and bison to tiny insects and birds. The zoo does a great job of showcasing each animal in its natural habitat, with lots of information about the animal and various conservation projects.
While some of the animals have lots of room to roam and can be further away, they provide a variety of viewing areas for those animals so that most of the time, you can get a good view from at least one of the animals.
Educational Benefits of a Field Trip to the Zoo
I love that the zoo is an educational trip for all ages. My younger children saw animals they had only read about in books. The older children had seen the animals before but learned more about conservation.
Any trip to the zoo can be educational, but we found that we get the most out of the trip by taking the time to visit the educational carts that are set up throughout the zoo. At these mobile carts, zoo educators have different displays and information to share with visitors.
My younger boys also participated in the free zoo trekker program, a little workbook they could complete while walking around the zoo. Once they had done six of the activities, they were awarded a free zoo pin. (This program was very similar to the Junior Ranger program at national parks.)
Finally, make sure to take time to read some of the displays located with each animal. They share so much wonderful information.
Tips for Families and Small Children
We love going to the North Carolina zoo, but it can be a bit overwhelming for small children and families. So, I have a few tips and tricks to make it more manageable.
First, it can be really hot and really busy during the summer. I highly recommend going during the off-season. There is a lot of walking, so the cooler weather is much more pleasant.
You can see the whole zoo in a day, but it is a lot of walking and would take pushing really hard. So we split it into two days. We can travel there one morning and see one section of the zoo and the other section the next morning.
We also used a collapsible wagon for this trip, which was a huge help. My four-year-old could ride in it when he was tired or if we had long stretches of walking. We could also carry our umbrellas, water bottles, cameras, etc. in the wagon.
Finally, there is an AMAZING natural play area near the entrance to the North America section. It has a small stream, a mud kitchen, bubbles, a tree house, and so much more. It is a great place to give kids (and parents) a break. To let them just play and relax. Honestly, if we lived closer, I would go to the zoo just to let my kids play there.
Money Saving Tips and Tricks
Looking at the pricing below, you may wonder about my suggestion to split the zoo into two days. We use a family membership to make that an affordable option. In North Carolina, the zoo, all three aquariums, and the bird park all offer reciprocity with their memberships. (There is also reciprocity at numerous other sites.)
Since we are closer to the aquarium, we purchase an aquarium membership yearly, but if you do not already have a membership, you can purchase one when you arrive at the zoo. For our family of 6, entrance to the zoo for one day would cost us $82. An annual membership would be $84. This means that we save $80 just on the second day of our visit.
Also, at the zoo, you can not bring in outside food unless you are a member. There is a members-only picnic area within the zoo and other great money-saving benefits.
Also, bring your water bottles! While they do not allow other outside food, water bottles are welcome, and there are refill stations throughout the park. Purchasing water from restaurants or machines in the park will cost you over $4 per bottle.
Finally, I highly recommend the $15 refillable bottle if you want a soft drink or tea. You pay $15 when you buy it, but then you get unlimited free refills. Otherwise, a cup of soft drink will run you $7. You also get the benefit of a nice souvenir to take home.
Eating at the restaurants inside the zoo can get very expensive. We had four adult meals and two kids meals with one refillable bottle and one regular soft drink and paid a little over $100 for that one lunch. On the second day, we planned to be there in the morning and leave around 1 pm, so we made lunches and ate them in the van when we were finished.
Fun Extras at the North Carolina Zoo
I have just talked about ways to spend money, and now I am going to share some extras that are available. These are optional activities that are not included in the admission fee.
First, there is a butterfly garden. This costs an additional $3 per person. You get a ticket to enter the butterfly garden and could stay as long as you wanted to stay. We chose to try this one since we are studying flying creatures this year in science. Honestly, it was worth the $18 for all of us. There were hundreds of butterflies flying around. We watched them eat from plants, flit from one plant to another, and they would even land on us.
There is also a ropes course in the zoo. My daughter really wanted to do this, and we originally thought it was also $3, but when we got more information, the ropes course was $15 per person. Not necessarily a bad price for a ropes course, but we decided it was not the right choice for this trip.(You do have to have closed-toed shoes to be admitted to the ropes course.)
There is a playground near the ropes course that was $3 per person, but we also decided to pass on that. Additionally, there is a carousel ride that is $3 per person.
The other extra that we chose to participate in was feeding the giraffes. This was hands down, the favorite activity of the whole trip. My husband chose not to go, but the kids and I all went with our friends. We had to pay $5 per person. For that $5, we were given lettuce and instructions on how to feed the giraffes. Then we could step up to the platform and feed the lettuce to the giraffe piece by piece. Being up close and personal with the giraffes was amazing. You could feel the strong and rough tongue and really get a perspective on their heights.
Basic Information for North Carolina Zoo
North Carolina Zoo
4401 Zoo Pkwy
Asheboro, NC 27205
Hours of Operation:
Seven days a week, year-round, Open at 9am-4pm or 5pm (varies seasonally)
Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas
General admission tickets for adults $15 (13-61), seniors $13 (62+) and children $11 (2-12). Children under the age of 2 are free.
There are several restaurants as well as snacks available for purchase. Only Members and those with allergies can bring in outside food.
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