Ice Age Giants Opens on April 1 and Insider Tips for Brookfield Zoo

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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! Ice Age Giants opens on April 1, 2022 at Brookfield Zoo. This temporary exhibit features more than 30 animatronics and we can’t wait to check it out.

Ice Age Giants

Ice Age Giants opens to the public on April 1 and continues through October 30, 2022. This exhibit is free with general zoo admission.

A long, long time ago—2.6 million years to be exact—the Quaternary Ice Age began and continues today. However, it wasn’t until more recently—thousands of years ago—that entire species of enormous animals began to die off around the globe. Even though they are now extinct, guests can experience a time warp like no other and see what it was like to live among these megafauna from April 1 through October 30 at Brookfield Zoo’s temporary exhibit—Ice Age Giants, sponsored by Duly Health and Care.

Experts believe warming temperatures were the demise of the wonambi (pronounced woe-NAM-bee), a giant constrictor that measured between 16 and 20 feet long. Around the world, modern reptiles face similar threats.

Throughout the 216-acre park, guests will encounter more than 30 life-sized animatronic re-creations of giants that once roamed North America and Eurasia, including a 15-foot-tall woolly mammoth, an oafish 20-foot-long giant ground sloth, a 12-foot-tall giant bird, a fearsome 5-foot-long saber-toothed cat, and many more. Adding to the lifelike effects, parts of the animals such as the head, eyes, mouth, and tail move, making the experience even more realistic.

The South American macrauchenia (pronounced mac-rah-KEY-nee-uh) were driven to extinction by migrating species from North America. Fossil evidence suggests newcomers quickly ate the available food and left the macrauchenia hungry and vulnerable to predators. Genetic evidence suggests the macrauchenia was related to modern tapirs, rhinos, and horses.

Youngsters can pretend to be an ice age giant and go inside the 5-foot-long Glyptodon Shell-ter—a great place for a photo op. This giant armored creature, who is a distant prehistoric relative of the modern-day armadillo, measured about 11 feet long from head to tail tip.

Along the pathways, as zoogoers travel back in time some 20,000 years ago during the peak of the Quaternary Period, colorful graphics present fascinating facts about each of the creatures such as where on Earth they once lived, how big they were, and how they compare to their modern relatives—many who are facing their own challenges to survive.

The massive mastodon (pronounced MAS-tuh-dawn), which weighed up to 17,000 pounds, neared extinction about 10,000 years ago. Evidence suggests that diminishing food sources—shrubbery and leaves—due to warming temperatures, made it impossible for the massive animal to survive.

Additional illustrations present a timeline of Earth’s five significant ice ages—Huronian (2.4-2.1 billion years ago), Cryogenian (720-635 million years ago), Andean-Saharan (450-420 million years ago), Late Paleozoic (360-260 million years ago), and Quaternary (2.6 million years ago to present). Also, guests can learn about the theories as to why these behemoths went extinct, including overkilling, climate change, and disease. Even today, the same threats are impacting the survival of many animals like polar bears, Mexican wolves, North American river otters, and  frogs, which can all be seen at Brookfield Zoo.

Admission to Brookfield Zoo, which includes access to Ice Age Giants, is $24.95 for adults, $17.95 for children ages 3-11 and $19.95 for seniors 65 and over. Parking is $15. The zoo is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours of 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Memorial Day to Labor Day. To learn more about the temporary exhibit before it goes extinct, visit

Approximately 11,700 years ago, the last teratornis (pronounced ter-run-TOR-nis) soared through the sky. This raptor-like bird with a wingspan between 10½  and 12½  feet wide, needed to fly for extended periods in search of food. Increasing temperatures forced some of the bird’s favorite aquatic foods into deeper waters, forcing the hungry flying giant to search for food on land. However, once that happened, the teratornis was hunted by humans.
The castoroides (pronounced cast-ah-ROY-dez), which measured up to 7½ feet long and could weigh up to 300 pounds, resembled a giant beaver. Across the Midwest, rising temperatures caused struggling plants to adapt. As a result, the castoroides’ normal food source no longer contained enough nutrients to keep its massive body going. Without adequate food sources, the species went extinct about 11,500 years ago.
The smilodon (pronounced SMI-luh-dawn), a saber-toothed cat, pounced to extinction almost 10,000 years ago most likely due to changing climate and the arrival of early humans. Famous for its 11-inch incisors and mouth that opened nearly 180 degrees, this fearsome cat experienced competition for food from humans hunting in their habitat.

What to Bring

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.

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.

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

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

Admission prices as of April 2022 are as follows:

Adults: $24.95
Seniors 65 and over: $19.95
Children 3 to 11: $17.95
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), $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. 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.

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.

Past Temporary Exhibits at Brookfield Zoo

Head to the next page to read about special exhibits that have previously been at Brookfield Zoo.

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