Insider Tips for Planning Your Visit Brookfield Zoo

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. The coronavirus pandemic added another layer to planning the visit, so we went to check it out again to share with you what to expect.

What is the best zoo in the Chicago area? Without a doubt, Brookfield Zoo! Keep reading our comprehensive Mom’s Guide to Brookfield Zoo with Insider Tips to find out why.

How Brookfield Zoo is Encouraging Social Distancing

We were happy with the signage and efforts Brookfield Zoo made to encourage everyone to maintain a distance of six feet between groups. Everywhere we turned, we saw a clever sign comparing distancing to animals, like “Keep Your Snow Leopard Distance”. There are also markings on the ground for where you can stand to see the animals while keeping adequate spacing.

All of the zoo employees are wearing masks, whether they are close to anyone or not. We were also told that additional operational protocols were added, including all staff having their temperatures checked at the start of each work day and wearing gloves if handling food or product.

The maximum capacity of the zoo is being kept at 25%, which means there will be about 2,500-3,000 people at the zoo at most. Considering how large and spread out Brookfield Zoo is, it is going to feel more open. We went right when they opened (at 9:30 am) and felt very comfortable with the amount of people that were there. We did not wear masks when we were walking in the open spaces because there wasn’t anyone within 12 feet of us, but put masks on when we approached another group or wanted to walk closer to see an animal.

Bathrooms

All of the bathrooms that we saw at Brookfield Zoo were open and touch free as much as possible. The doors remain propped open, you must wear a mask inside, and the sinks and hand dryers are touch free. Restrooms are being sanitized with hospital-grade cleaners and conducted on an increased cleaning schedule.

What to Bring

Masks are required throughout the zoo. You need to wear a face covering whenever you are talking to a zoo employee, on the more narrow paths, and when you are closer than six feet from other people outside your group, even though you are outdoors.

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 rentals and prices are as follows:

  • Dolphin Stroller: $10.00
  • Wagon: $13.00
  • Single Stroller: $10.00
  • Double Stroller: $13.00
  • Wheelchair: $12.00
  • Electronic Convenience Vehicle: $25.00

All of the indoor restaurants are closed at this time, but there are a few outdoor carts with ice cream, snacks, and food still open. We almost always pack a lunch and find a spot in one of the shaded picnic areas to eat. Just remember to bring alcohol-based wipes to wash up 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.

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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 for non-members at either gate is $15. Parking is free for members at the North Gate and $5 at the South Gate.

Special Summer Exhibit: Dinos Everywhere!

For the past several years, Brookfield Zoo has had a special summer theme. This year it’s Dinos Everywhere! More than 40 life-size, animatronic dinosaurs are spread throughout the zoo and are huge. Most of them move and make sounds.

If you want to see the best dinosaurs in the most concentrated area, head to Swan Lake, near Habitat Africa! Walk down the paved path through a wooded area and you’ll spot six types of dinosaurs, with both adult and baby dinos.

Past summer special exhibits include:

Closed Areas of Brookfield Zoo

All indoor spaces (animal buildings, restaurants, and gift shops) are temporarily closed.

Other areas temporarily closed include play areas, splash pads, water misters, drinking fountains, The Carousel, Motor Safari tram rides, and Butterflies!.

Playgrounds are currently closed.

Outdoor Areas are Open

Although the indoor restaurants are closed, seasonal food stands and outdoor souvenir carts are open throughout the zoo.

The goat yard at Hamill Family Play Zoo is closed, but you can feed the goats from a designated area through slots in the fence. You can purchase feed for 50 cents and need to be prepared with two quarters because they cannot provide change.

All of the outdoor animal viewing areas are open. For example, you can see the seals outside at Pinniped Point, but you cannot view them underwater because that is an indoor area. We were able to see the polar bear in the Great Bear Wilderness from a distance, but the building is closed so you won’t be able to see him swimming through the big glass window. Tropic World is closed, but the rhinos were out and active right across the way. The giraffes were outside and as beautiful as ever. There are still plenty of animals to see!

Brookfield Zoo is not handing out maps during this time, so it’s encouraged that you take a photograph of the large map at the entrance if you would like to reference it, or pull up this article on your phone and use the map below:

The red X’s are where the dinosaurs are!

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.

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Brookfield Zoo Hours

Starting July 1, 2020, Brookfield Zoo is open every day of the year. Please note that all indoor animal exhibits, as well as play areas, splash pads, water misters, drinking fountains, The Carousel, Motor Safari tram rides, and Butterflies!, are currently closed.

July 1 – September 7
Daily: 9:30 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

September 8 – October 25
Weekdays: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Weekends: 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

October 26 – December 31
Daily: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Holiday Magic Days: 10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Admission Prices

Brookfield Zoo opens for non-members on July 8, 2020 and admission prices are as follows:

  • Adults: $24.95
  • Seniors 65 and over: $19.95
  • Children 3 to 11: $17.95 (2 and under are free)

General admission prices remain the same as when the indoor buildings were open. However, extra exhibits that usually require a separate admission fee, such as Wild Encounters, are now free.

Advanced purchase of timed tickets is required for members and non-members. Reservation times are in 20-minute increments and once your arrive you may stay as long as you would like. Click here to be taken to the Brookfield Zoo online ticketing system.

If you would like to further decrease contact, we recommend you print your admission tickets at home. If you don’t have access to a printer or prefer paperless, you can also show your phone to zoo staff at the entrance.

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! They are $3 each and the machines now only accept credit cards. You simply swipe your card and the machine starts filling the mold automatically.

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), $5 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. The prices and details outlined below are for one year and current as of July 2020.

Family Basic Membership: $130 per year

  • Free admission for 2 adults
  • Free admission for adult’s children or grandchildren under 18 years old
  • Four one-time-use guest admission tickets

Family Plus Membership: $158 per year

  • Free admission for 2 adults
  • Free admission for adult’s children or grandchildren under 18 years old
  • 1 free guest each visit
  • 6 one-time-use guest admission tickets
  • Free admission to Hamill Family Play Zoo
  • 8 one-time-use attraction tickets*
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Family Unlimited Membership: $243 per year

  • Free admission for 2 adults
  • Free admission for adult’s children or grandchildren under 18 years old
  • 1 free guest each visit
  • 8 one-time-use guest admission tickets
  • Unlimited free admission to attractions*
  • Invitation to annual member breakfast

*Includes permanent year-round and seasonal attractions: Dolphins in Action, Motor Safari, Hamill Family Wild Encounters, Hamill Family Play Zoo, The Carousel, and Butterflies! Some temporary attractions may not offer a member discount and/or benefit.

Brookfield Zoo Free Days

There are no free days at this time.

Conservation Programs

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

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. Click here to read Katie’s review of Boo at the Zoo with photographs.

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.

Popular areas of Brookfield Zoo include Great Bear Wilderness, Hamill Family Play Zoo, Living Coast, Tropic World, and the snow leopard. Please note that all indoor exhibits are currently closed.

You also might be interested in Brookfield Zoo’s Sensory-Friendly Family Room and Resource Center for Guests with Autism and Other Disabilities when indoor buildings open again.

Brookfield Zoo offers special experiences, such as Backstage Adventures as well!

About the Author

Annie Tandy
Annie loves making great memories with her kids and started Kidlist in 2011 so she can help others do the same! Besides finding fun and exciting things to do, Annie, her husband, and their kids enjoy caring for their chickens and hanging out with them in the backyard. Click here to read about Annie's chickens and see pictures! She also finds joy in gardening, home improvement projects, knitting, soap making, and painting along with being active in her community, church, and as a board member of the Western Springs Business Association. Click here to follow Annie on Instagram.

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