Our family has been going to Brookfield Zoo for years, both with a membership and without. We live about 10 minutes from the zoo, so we’ve had tons of opportunities to learn the ins and outs of what to bring, when to go, and what to explore when you get there. What is the best zoo in Illinois? Brookfield Zoo! Keep reading our comprehensive Mom’s Guide to Brookfield Zoo with Insider Tips to find out why.
Breaking news! Brookfield Zoo is expanding its space for apes and monkeys to include outdoor habitats!
Imagine coming face to face with a western lowland gorilla, separated by only a two-story glass window; watching an orangutan move between trees overhead; or marveling as spider monkeys hang from their tails above a walkway. That’s exactly what zoogoers will be able to experience as Brookfield Zoo begins to move forward with an expansion of its current Tropic World habitat, which includes the addition of four new outdoor areas.
The new space, which encompasses approximately 2 acres, will feature new indoor and outdoor habitats for two gorilla troops—a family unit and a bachelor group consisting of adult and adolescent males—and outdoor areas for orangutans and several species of South American monkeys. The primates’ habitats will have running water features, climbing structures, grasses, and vines. And, nearly 75 new trees, 500 shrubs, and several pollinator gardens will be planted. Many of the few dozen trees that need to be removed will be repurposed and used in other areas throughout the Zoo for animal enrichment and new structures in habitats.
In addition to the expanded habitats, the project also includes a Gorilla Conservation Center with state-of-the-art learning space for the public and a dedicated home for the Chicago Zoological Society’s King Conservation Leadership Academy, in which high-school age students participate in science programming with an emphasis on career and college readiness.
A fence has recently been installed around the new site as preparation work gets underway. During construction, guests will still be able to see the animals in Tropic World. Once complete, there will be opportunities in the future to make changes inside the current building that will feature new guest experiences.
It is anticipated the entire complex will be completed in 2025. Zoogoers will be able to see the animals in their new habitats beginning in 2025, and potentially extending into 2026 as animals acclimate and are introduced into their new spaces.
The official groundbreaking ceremony will take place later this fall. The project is the first of many exciting new changes coming to Brookfield Zoo that will be revealed this fall when the Chicago Zoological Society announces its Next Century Campaign as the Zoo looks forward to its centennial celebration in 2034.
Brookfield Zoo Parking
Parking is available at the North Gate or South Gate. Members usually park a the North Gate because it is free with a membership. Although the walk is further from the exhibits, it has a more official feel as you walk through the tunnel into the zoo.
The South Gate parking lot is adjacent to Riverside Brookfield High School and smaller than the North Lot, but a shorter walk to the zoo entrance.
Parking Fee at the North Gate through March 31, 2023:
Cook County parking tax & Illinois Parking Excise Tax included.
Parking Fee at the North Gate Effective April 1, 2023:
Cook County parking tax & Illinois Parking Excise Tax included.
Parking Fee at the South Gate through March 31, 2023:
Cook County parking tax & Illinois Parking Excise Tax included.
Parking Fee at the South Gate Effective April 1, 2023:
Cook County parking tax & Illinois Parking Excise Tax included.
What to Bring to Brookfield Zoo
A stroller is a must for any little ones who might tire out and want to take a break. There are some shaded benches around the zoo so you can stop to rest as well. Brookfield Zoo also offers stroller, wagon, wheelchair, and electronic convenience vehicle rentals. Click here for rental prices.
Brookfield Zoo has indoor restaurants and outdoor carts with ice cream, snacks, and beverages. We almost always pack a lunch and find a spot in one of the shaded picnic areas to eat. I never hurts to pack some wipes to wash your hands before eating.
On a hot day, personal misting fans are a good idea. The spray area and misting stations are not on and many of the paths are full sun. When the zoo opened, they were running sprinklers to water the grass and plantings, but it is definitely not a guarantee that those will run at certain times or every day. Click here for the fans that we have and love.
Special Attractions at Brookfield Zoo
We’ve broken down some of the best areas of Brookfield Zoo that you won’t want to miss!
Have an unforgettable experience up-close with animals! Brookfield Zoo opened new outdoor areas that comprise “Hamill Family Wild Encounters” in July, 2015. The experiences are amazing, the grounds are beautiful and it’s both informative and artfully done. We highly recommend that you check it out! Wild Encounters is located next to the Hamill Family Play Zoo
The center of the exhibit is called the Christopher Family Plaza, where you can see many of the zoo’s animal ambassadors as staff talk about them in this informal setting. The plaza is captivating with its three kinesthetic artwork pieces by Andrew Carson. The one-of-a-kind pieces of art, which range from 10 to 14 feet high, are made of metal and brilliant shapes of glass that spin and rotate with the slightest breeze. The sculptures are captivating!
Thirty Nigerian dwarf goats roam the goat area. There are hand brushes at the entrance so you can have the opportunity to brush them. They love it! One of the goats actually closed it’s eyes while my daughter was brushing it. So cute. The goats range from 7 months to 1 1/2 years old and are the perfect size for kids to interact with. But be sure to tuck in your shoe laces because the goats love to explore with their mouths!
You also can feed the goats from the outside of the fenced in area with the purchase of grain. I often wonder if it is healthy for them to be eating all of those pellets all day long, but it’s actually part of their diet and has been factored into their feeding regiment, so you are actually participating in their healt!
There are hand sanitizing stations at the exit of the goat area, as well as bathrooms directly next to that portion of the exhibit.
See Llamas, Alpacas, Reindeer and Red Pandas
Llamas and alpacas interact with guests throughout the day during walks and grooming demonstrations. Although they are behind a fenced in area, you are able to get really close to these interesting animals.
You also have the opportunity to observe reindeer and two female pandas in two separate areas in that section of the exhibit. Just like the llamas and alpacas, you can get very close to the fencing. Did you know that both male and female reindeer have antlers? The zoo staff roams around the exhibit to answer questions and tell you fun facts about the animals. My kids asked a lot of questions and they were so friendly and knowledgable. I think being able to see the animals so close really piqued their interest and curiosity, which is so great!
Walk Amongst Bennett’s Wallabies and Emus
21 wallabies roam the space and you can walk along the path and watch them up-close. You also have the opportunity to feed the animals with the purchase of grain along the path. The zoo is also planning to add 4 emus to the exhibit in the near future. The animals are outside all day unless there are thunderstorms or the temperatures are below zero, so you are guaranteed to be able to fully experience them in the environment.
This was such a unique experience! Where else do you get to walk around and witness these beautiful animals hopping around in the glass and feeding on leaves right next to you?! It felt like we were taking a walk in the wild and happened upon these cute little wallabies. So cool.
The parakeet building was my kids’ favorite spot. There are currently 350 parakeets, with 700 total by the end of the summer. The zoo is breeding them and the plan is to have up to 900 in the building! The birds were of varying colors and very friendly. There are seed sticks at the entrance that you can buy for $2 each and the birds love them- I would recommend buying a few. The birds flock to them and many end up staying with you for a while afterwards.
Between the center of the exhibit and the alpacas is a misting station for everyone to cool off. We really enjoyed the style and colors of the sculptures, signs and misting station. So fun!
Periodically, the zoo staff brings various animals to the Christopher Family Plaza (center of the exhibit). The animals include a Serval, Southern Tamandua (pictured below), Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo and Linnaeus’ Two-Toed Sloth. Click here to see the full listing of ambassador animals.
Hungry? Oaks Café is nearby with outdoor ADA accessibility and covered seating. Menu items include freshly prepared salads, sandwiches, and wraps, vegetarian options, 100 percent grass-fed beef burgers, antibiotic hormone-free chicken and seasonal specials.
Festival of Flight
While you are at the zoo you should catch Festival of Flight, a free show with all types of birds. It’s located behind Tropic World and is entertaining! Birds of all sizes and colors fly around the area and display their talents with funny banter between the hosts.
This exhibit is always a highlight when we go to the zoo over the summer. The kids love reaching in and feeling the smooth and slippery surface of the stingrays. There are considerably more stingrays in the pool compared to others we visited, so you should check this one out.
Feed Giraffes and Meet Penguins
If you’ve ever wanted to mingle with penguins or see a giraffe up close, now is your chance! The Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, is giving zoogoers the opportunity to meet their favorite feathered and lanky friends at its new Penguin Encounter and Giraffe Feeding programs.
We had the pleasure of feeding the giraffes and it was a special experience! In the Habitat Africa area of the zoo, we normally aren’t able to see the giraffes that close up, so to be able to look at their sweet faces and feed them greens is pretty amazing.
For $15, you can purchase a tasty treat for the reticulated giraffes and feed these magnificent creatures. (pricing accurate as of April, 2023) During the feeding time, an animal care specialist is on hand to answer questions and share information about the zoo’s giraffe herd.
This encounter is offered on a first-come, first-served basis the following days and times:
April 29 through September 30, 2023:
Daily from 10:30 a.m. to noon and 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. (weather permitting)
Saturdays and Sundays in October 2023:
Weekends only from 10:30 a.m. to noon and 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. (weather permitting). Giraffe feedings will also be available on Monday, October 9.
Click here for more information about the giraffe feeding opportunity.
You can also waddle over to The Living Coast and participate in a Penguin Encounter, which is offered daily at 2:00 pm.
The approximately 30-minute session begins with a member of the animal care staff sharing fun facts about the zoo’s resident Humboldt penguins and communicating how to safely interact with the penguin during the encounter. Penguins, like people, have distinct personalities and interests that guests get to see firsthand. During the program, penguins are free to roam and waddle up to anyone they choose – and while one animal may be camera-shy, another individual may enjoy a good selfie or two.
Staff members talk about the conservation work the Chicago Zoological Society is doing in Punta San Juan, Peru, to help preserve the habitat and abundant wildlife, including Humboldt penguins that live along the South American coastline. Before bidding farewell to their newfound friend, check out the color of the band on the penguin’s wing so you can identify it on your next visit to the zoo!
Penguin Encounters, which cost $50 per person, are offered year-round. (pricing accurate as of April, 2023) Space is limited to 20 participants.
Reservations are required and can be made online at CZS.org/Penguins or in Coast Gift Shop next to the exhibit. Participants must be at least 5 years old, and an adult must accompany children between ages 5 and 18.
Brookfield Zoo is an Arboretum
I had never noticed that Brookfield Zoo also offers a walking map. There are loops marked with distances so you can see how far you want to go or plan your exercise route while enjoying the zoo. Brookfield Zoo has more than 100 trees and woody plant species located throughout the park and it’s a little known fact that Brookfield Zoo is an arboretum. The Forest Preserve of Cook County provided the land for Brookfield Zoo and the forest preserve also works closely with the Chicago Horticultural Society who operates Chicago Botanic Garden. All three work closely, which makes Brookfield Zoo even more beautiful to walk around.
Brookfield Zoo Sensory-Friendly Family Room and Resource Center for Guests with Autism and Other Disabilities
The Chicago Zoological Society (CZS), which manages Brookfield Zoo, opened a sensory-friendly family room as well as a new inclusion resource center at its Hamill Family Play Zoo in February 2018 that will help to make every family’s trip to the zoo a positive and inclusive one!
The new low-sensory room offers a quiet environment for children who may need a break from the potentially overstimulating environment of a day at the zoo. The room includes fidgets and other sensory-support materials, comfortable seating, blackout curtains, dimmable lights, and access to Wi-Fi. It is a safe and convenient place to deescalate before children and families return to their zoo visit.
Separately, the newly renovated resource center near the entrance of the Hamill Family Play Zoo provides useful information and tools to enhance a visit, including visual schedules, social stories, magazines, and noise-reducing headphones that are available to check out.
“Brookfield Zoo is committed to providing a positive, innovative, and meaningful experience for all of our guests,” said David Becker, senior manager of learning experiences for CZS. “We’ve developed the “Zoo for All” initiative to ensure the inclusion of children, adults, and families of all abilities in the activities offered at Hamill Family Play Zoo and throughout the entire zoo.”
In addition, CZS hired an inclusion specialist, Lauren Reeder, who works with staff and volunteers to help them build the confidence and skills necessary to interact with and facilitate programs for individuals with disabilities. She also evaluates daily activities to ensure that all of the programming is inclusive for guests. Reeder, whose office is located in the Hamill Family Play Zoo, is available to families to help facilitate the unique and individual needs of a child or family member with a disability.
“We’ve had an amazing response from families who have visited the Hamill Family Play Zoo and seen the new spaces,” said Reeder. I’ve had parents say the addition of the sensory-friendly family room and resource center make them feel welcomed. And, even if they never use them, knowing they are available, conveys a strong message that the zoo cares for all of its guests.”
For additional information on the zoo’s accessible amenities, visit CZS.org/Brookfield-Zoo/Learning/Zoo-for-All
The Chicago Zoological Society has long been committed to ensuring full accessibility and providing a welcoming environment for everyone at Brookfield Zoo. In addition to the recent renovations at Hamill Family Play Zoo, CZS also offers multiple programs that train individuals with disabilities for employment and volunteer opportunities, continually works to create inclusive opportunities within current programs, and makes a concerted effort to make its grounds, pathways, buildings, exhibits, and programs accessible to all zoogoers.
Funding for the new additions at Hamill Family Play Zoo was made possible in part by a two-and-a-half-year grant awarded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The funding will also support upcoming strategic initiatives focused on enhancing the exhibit’s messaging, educational programming, and public resources available to children, teens, and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.
Brookfield Zoo Hours
Brookfield Zoo is open every day of the year!
Weekdays: 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Weekends: 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Admission Prices through March 31, 2023:
Seniors 65 and over: $19.95
Children 3 to 11: $17.95
Admission Prices Effective April 1, 2023:
Seniors 65 and over: $24.95
Children 3 to 11: $20.95
Zoo admission and all available attractions are FREE for children 2 and under.
For group of 20 or more, please click here for more information.
Mold-A-Rama fans will be excited to hear that the machines are outside and available for you to purchase a mold and watch it being made. The zoo even has six special edition dinosaur molds throughout the park!
Brookfield Zoo Membership
In general, Brookfield Zoo Membership includes free admission for the year, free parking for one vehicle at the main entrance (North Parking Lot at 1st Avenue and 31 Street), discounted parking at the South Lot, discounts on selected attractions inside the zoo, member emails and magazine, monthly specials at the zoo shops, restaurant discounts, education programs, and special event discounts.
There are three membership tiers, with discounts if you commit to being a member for two years instead of one. We think becoming members is worth it, especially if you have young kids because you can go several days throughout the year and see different things each time! Click here for membership prices.
Brookfield Zoo Free Days
There are no free days at this time.
The Chicago Zoological Society leads and partners in critically important initiatives around the world – educational programming, breeding and conservation efforst to save dozens of imperiled species, research in veterinary science and husbandry, animal enrichment investigation, the list goes on. Yet, at the core of every initiative we launch, every meeting we attend, and every dollar we spend is a singular goal: to improve the lives of animals – here and in the wild. We strive to understand animals better; to create tools and methodologies to enhance their well-being; to conserve and restore decimated natural habitats; to re-invigorate threatened animal populations; and to provide other leaders with the tools and training to do the same.
Click here to read more about the Brookfield Zoo conservation efforts.
Seasonal Events at Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield Zoo Lights: Holiday Magic
Holiday Magic at Brookfield Zoo is a great way to see your favorite animals and experience the excitement of the holiday season! With beautiful light displays, Christmas trees decorated by local organizations, and a stop to see Santa and Mrs. Claus, Brookfield Zoo’s Holiday Magic festival is truly magical.
Besides your usual stops, there are quite a few additional exhibits and attractions at the zoo during Holiday Magic. Click here to read more about what is offered at Holiday Magic, as well as logistics for making your family’s trip unforgettable.
Summer Nights at Brookfield Zoo
The zoo is usually open later on Fridays and Saturdays over the summer, however 2020 is an exception. Hopefully Brookfield Zoo will bring back Summer Nights in the future so you can enjoy live music and roaming kids’ entertainment, as well as enhanced dining experiences, a beer and wine garden, animal encounters, and a spectacular laser light show closing out each evening. We found it to be a relaxing time to go to the zoo. Some of the animals were napping at the end of their day, but others were enjoying the weather as it cooled off before dusk. Click here to read more about Summer Nights.
Boo at the Zoo
Boo at the Zoo is Brookfield Zoo’s fall festival! You can enjoy seeing the animals with the added pumpkin-spiced touch that we all love about fall in the Midwest. Keep reading for Katie’s review of Boo at the Zoo from October 20, 2019.
Our family was invited for a day at Boo at the Zoo this weekend. While we frequently go to the zoo, this was our first time experiencing Brookfield Zoo’s special fall festivities. It was the perfect way to spend a Sunday with our 6, 4 and nearly 1-year olds! We enjoyed seeing the animals with the added pumpkin-spiced touch that we love about fall in the Midwest.
Tips for Visiting Boo at the Zoo
Get there early! Brookfield Zoo opens at 10:00 am. We were in line when the gates opened and it was already packed. However, even though there were tons of guests at the zoo, it never felt overly crowded and the staff did an amazing job moving people along throughout activities. Obviously, the weather is a big factor with outdoor activities, and we had a beautiful 60-degree day. If the weather is expected to be nice, plan ahead and get there as early as possible.
Check the schedule ahead of time! While some Boo at the Zoo activities go throughout the day, others happen at special times. We trick-or-treated at the candy stations, walked the corn maze, saw rhinos eating pumpkins (this was the highlight of the day for my 4-year old), and a pumpkin smash. My 6-year old enjoyed the trick-or-treating at the candy stations throughout the zoo. Don’t worry, bags are provided if you forget one and you don’t have to be in costume to enjoy the sweet treats! The corn maze is open all day and was the perfect level of difficulty: enough that we were stumped, but not so stumped that we were overly frustrated.
For the most part, Boo at the Zoo is not scary. However, we don’t recommend the Haunted Hayride for young children. My 4 and 6-year olds spook easily and were pretty nervous during the ride even though it is advertised as not being too scary. If your children are younger, I’d spend time doing other special events like the Halloween craft or carousel.
Dress up in costumes! We’ve been struggling with indecisiveness in our house, so we just went in Halloween clothes. Tons of children and adults were in costumes, and it definitely added to the excitement of the day. There’s also a costume parade at 1:00 pm, and a costume dance party at 1:30 pm: a perfect time to give your costume a test-drive before the big day! Please note that guests over the age of 13 are not permitted in the zoo wearing full-body costumes with their head covered at any time.
Hours for Boo at the Zoo
Boo at the Zoo runs on select Saturdays and Sundays in October from 10:00 am – 5:30 pm.
Activities Included and Not Included in General Admission During Boo at the Zoo
There is no additional cost to park or get into the zoo on “Boo at the Zoo” days. Regular admission or memberships will get you into nearly all of the fun, such as trick-or-treating at the candy stations, watching professional pumpkin carvers, going through the corn maze, watching the pumpkin smasher, some zoo chats, and enjoying the animals eating pumpkins.
Some of the activities require additional fees, such as the Halloween craft, zoo chats, and pumpkins to the animals at Hamill Family Play Zoo, spooky treat decorating, and haunted hayride, and member attraction tickets cannot be used for all of them.
Past Temporary Exhibits at Brookfield Zoo
Head to the next page to read about special exhibits that have previously been at Brookfield Zoo.