Cosley Zoo in Wheaton is my family’s favorite little zoo! When I saw they were reopening this week, I put it on my calendar to snag tickets right away. We were first in line on Wednesday when they reopened to the general public. I’ve got tips for a safe, fun visit for the kids to see the animals.
What to Expect at Cosley Zoo This Summer
While Brookfield Zoo is an incredible destination, it’s also a pretty big to-do for us. My boys (4 and 2) don’t always last very long. Cosley is a smaller zoo that’s often less crowded. The exhibits are smaller and closer to the trail, so it’s easier to spot and watch the animals, too. It made for a great, low-key outdoor outing.
We’ve been fairly cautious about outings this summer, but the precautions Cosley is taking made me feel very safe during our visit.
Safety precautions include:
- Limited attendance. You have to buy your ticket online (at cosleyzoo.org) in advance, and they’re only selling a certain number for each time slot. When you arrive, there’s clearly marked spots for standing in line. Everything moved pretty quickly when I was there.
- One-way walking paths. They’re labeled clearly to make this simple. I was worried we’d feel “trapped” between groups, but it was a bit like a mini-golf course where everyone’s moving at about the same pace. There’s plenty of room to go around if need be, too.
At one point, you’ll have to choose whether to go through the barn or in front of it. We went through, and I was worried we’d miss out on seeing the pigs and chickens (which are across from the barn), but it was very quick and easy to circle back around once we completed our first loop.
- Indoor areas closed. The train caboose with hands-on exhibits is closed, for example, but you can still walk through the interior of the barn (which is very open to the outdoors for ventilation).
- Signs with safety reminders. The staff has placed cute signs with reminders to keep social distancing, sanitize hands, and more around the zoo. The viewing deck that looks into the fox, deer, and raccoon exhibits has a sign up requesting one person or group at a time.
- Masks. Masks are required for everyone over 2 whenever you can’t maintain 6 feet of space. We kept them on while looking at the exhibits (which honestly only took us about 30 minutes, because it was a pretty hot day), but took them off to enjoy snacks in the spacious picnic area. It was great mask-wearing practice for my little ones since it was a shorter outing.
Of course, you can also expect to . . . see the animals! We were able to spot almost all the animals on our trip, including this foxy little guy.
Features of Cosley Zoo
Cosley showcases both farm animals and native Illinois species. You won’t find zebras or elephants here, but you will see 50+ species including cows, goats, llamas, deer, coyotes, bobcats, and the most exquisite collection of ducks that quack delightfully. For proof, here’s a video of my then- toddler losing his mind over the ducks a few years ago:
When you walk into the zoo, you’ll find a nature play area and the Douglas Depot visitor center/gift shop. Keep walking to find the duck pond, a small sand pit, and a large barn that houses sheep, goats, and more.
Inside the barn, zookeepers sometimes bring out native reptiles and other animals for visitors to see and touch. Outside, you’ll find animals like cows, ponies, and llamas. The animals are all treated to enrichment activities, and you can usually catch them playing around.
Across from the barn, there’s a pig pen and a colorful collection of chickens. Keep exploring to find a special bobcat habitat and a large enclosure with animals like deer, turkey vultures, and more.
The great thing about Cosley is that it’s really easy to spot the animals. Smaller crowds and smaller exhibits mean kids can really see what the animals are doing. Many come right up to the fences, like this coyote did on our last visit!
The aviary features a large variety of birds, including an owl exhibit.
A real railroad caboose has been converted into a play space for young kids with hands-on activities like puzzles and a matching game. (It’s currently closed due to COVID-19.)
Food at Cosley Zoo
You are welcome to bring your own food to enjoy at the picnic tables, or to purchase food at the zoo. The “Coyote Cafe” concession stand sells traditional kiddie favorites (pizza, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, and peanut butter & jelly), as well as snacks and ice cream. Meals with chips and a drink cost $5.50–$8.75, while ice creams cost $2.50–$3.50 each.
Here are current prices as of December 2020 (check website for changes):
- Wheaton Park District residents: Free with a Wheaton Park District Universal Resident ID
- All kids (from 0–17): Free
- Cosley Zoo members: Free
- Non-resident adults: $8
- Seniors 55+: $7
Special Needs Accommodations
Cosley has accessible walkway surfaces, which are handy for strollers, too.
Parking and Transportation
Parking is free at Cosley Zoo, and the lot is right outside the front gate. The zoo is very stroller-friendly, but also walkable even for older toddlers.
The bathrooms include changing stations for infants.
1356 North Gary Ave.
Wheaton, IL 60187