Oregon Zoo Attractions

Living in Seattle, I usually take my kids to the Woodland Park Zoo. Or we visit the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium in Tacoma. However, I’ve been hearing people rave about the Oregon Zoo in Portland for years.

Last year, we came down to Portland with friends who also had a toddler (read my toddler guide to Portland.) We knew that the Oregon Zoo had a train that was under construction. We decided to skip the Oregon Zoo last year with the purpose of returning this year primarily for the zoo train.

I have to say, the Oregon Zoo has been my best zoo experience to date. The layout reminded me a bit of Northwest Trek in Eatonville, WA. It was easy to walk around the entire place with a stroller and 2 tired preschoolers. The adults and kids in our group had a great time!

Animals

Rhino exhibit at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, OR
I’m in awe of seeing a Rhino up close for the first time in my life! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

I have to start off by saying I saw a Black Rhino for the first time in my life. I know a trip to the zoo isn’t usually about the parents, but I was thrilled. In fact, I saw TWO Rhinos! Their names are Zuri and Ruka. They are an endangered animal and the zoo hopes they will breed. It’s as close to Africa as I’m getting these next few years. I savored every moment.

Elephants at Oregon Zoo in Portland, OR
We were seriously close to the elephants! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

They also have an incredible Elephant Lands exhibit area. There are currently 5 elephants who reside her. The elephants can roam around throughout different exhibit areas. Throughout this habitat, feeding stations, mud wallows, and water features encourage the elephants to be active 14-16 hours a day. This replicates how they would live in their natural environment. The elephant exhibit at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle closed recently, so this was really special for our family.

Giraffes at Oregon Zoo in Portland, OR
We arrived at the giraffes right as they were munching on their lunch. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

One of my favorite animals is the giraffe. I couldn’t believe how close we were able to get to Desi and Buttercup. In fact, that’s what I noticed most about the Oregon Zoo. All the animals seemed so close to guests.

Washington Park and Zoo Railway

Oregon Zoo Train in Portland, OR
My 3.5-year-old thought the train ride was fascinating. Photo credit: Darren Cheung

The Washington Park and Zoo Railway train re-opened this year and the route is much shorter than before. It was laughable how short it was. My friend and I actually laughed out loud because it’s 6 minutes long. It takes you from the station to the elephants and then pulls a u-turn and comes right back. But, I asked my 3.5-year-old what he thought and he told me it was a long ride. So, it might be the perfect length for preschoolers.

Oregon Zoo Train
The conductor/engineer graciously offered to take our photo. Photo credit: Oregon Zoo staff

Carousel

We didn’t ride this carousel so I have no first-hand experience to share with you. However, I think it would be a highlight for a lot of families. The line was a bit long and the price was a bit steep at $3 a rider. But, only seated riders have to pay (meaning parents holding young kids are free.) Had it not been the end of the day, we probably would have stopped.

What Sets the Oregon Zoo Apart

Lion photo op at Oregon Zoo in Portland, OR
My son humored me with this fun photo op! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

What stands out in my mind the most about the Oregon Zoo is that I’d consider it a relaxing family adventure. We got there when the zoo opened at 9:30am and there was a swarm of people. However, as soon as we entered the zoo, the crowds dissipated and it felt like we were on a VIP tour. Unlike many zoo experiences, the exhibit areas felt spread out and we enjoyed walking through nature.

What’s Coming Up at the Oregon Zoo

Oregon Zoo in Portland, OR
We love teaching navigation with Zoo maps because of all the pictures. Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

The Oregon Zoo is undergoing some expansion plans in the near future. I’m most excited for the Rhino area. As part of a bond project, the zoo’s black rhino habitat will be expanded beginning in 2018. The hippos at the Oregon Zoo will head to another zoo. Their pool area will be added to the rhino habitat by 2020. According to their website, eventually other savanna species will join the rhinos to create a multi-species savanna habitat. I really appreciate multi-species habitats, so we will be back in a few years to check it out.

We also heard from zoo staff that there are plans to pull the warm air from the polar bear area and blow it into the Elephant Lands area to be more sustainable. The new Polar Passage exhibit area is set to debut next year. This expansive, two-tiered habitat will include natural ground materials, shallow and deep pools and extraordinary viewing opportunities for visitors. Like the Elephant Lands design, polar bears will be able to patrol their habitat as they would in the wild and take in views across the zoo.

6 Tips for Parents with Preschoolers

Penguins at Oregon Zoo in Portland, OR
My son thought the penguins were funny! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung
  1. Get there early. The Oregon Zoo is deceivingly large. Plan to arrive right when the doors open, when preschooler moods are good.
  2. Bring a sack lunch. The food offered is what you’d expect at a zoo. But, remember not to bring any drinks with drinking straws, as straws are prohibited.
  3. Try a Zoo Key. Unlock the secrets of the zoo and learn about your favorite animal at talk boxes on zoo grounds. Purchase a zoo key with your admission or any zoo retail location for $2.50.
  4. Eat a snack on the grassy area. There’s a huge grassy area between the food court and the elephants. Make a stop here and enjoy your snack while watching elephants. That view is hard to beat! Plus, the kids can run around on the grassy area and burn off any sugary treats.
  5. Climb aboard the steam locomotive. On the other side of the parking lot is a steam locomotive. Guests are allowed to stand inside the engine. It was a good incentive to get my son out of the zoo.
  6. Zoo For All. Effective September 1, 2017, qualifying Oregon and Washington individuals and families can purchase admission tickets for only $5 per person.

Oregon Zoo with Preschoolers

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36 Comments

  1. This sounds like such a fun time! I totally think the zoo is great for the whole family, and the kids LOVE it! Great pictures!

    • marciecheung Reply

      The Oregon Zoo is my favorite in the Pacific Northwest, so far!

    • marciecheung Reply

      Yes, we usually like to get places when they open. I’m surprised how many people take their time and get places closer to lunchtime, when places get super busy.

    • marciecheung Reply

      Isn’t Portland such a cool place? The Oregon Zoo is amazing and perfect for families!

  2. Taking time out like this is a great way to foster family bonding. How your children must be developing very fast in vocabulary as well, by learning the names of the animal they see. You photographs are great too!

    • marciecheung Reply

      Yes! I was impressed that my 3.5yo kept trying to pronounce each animal correctly, even as he stumbled. But, he eventually got most of them right!

  3. How fun!! I actually teach Kindergarten and I’m sure I could take a lot of these tips and use them at a local zoo if we ever went on a field trip. I love your pictures!!

  4. This looks like you all had a great time. I feel like going to the zoo is one of those classic family activities, and I hope that doesn’t change. 🙂
    Cheers, Sarah Camille

  5. Ahhhh this looks like SO much fun! I am a huge lover of going to the Zoo and with a little boy on the way, I am all about learning about great Zoos around the US! Giraffes are also my favorite 😉 Looks like such a fun day!!

    • marciecheung Reply

      It’s just the right size for babies and small children!

    • marciecheung Reply

      You would be the best babysitter if you took them there!

  6. These photos are great, you all seem to have had a long time. I’m in Texas and waiting for it to cool down, that way we can take a trip to our local zoo.

  7. My kids LOVE going to the zoo too. I think your tips for parents are great and will be so helpful on our next visit.

    • marciecheung Reply

      I love that zoo trips can be as long or as short as you’d like!

    • marciecheung Reply

      I think zoos are a great way to see animals that you may never see otherwise.

  8. I have been wanting to hit the Portland Zoo especially for the elephants! We love Woodland Park but miss the elephants a lot.

    • marciecheung Reply

      YES! We really miss the elephants at Woodland Park, too! I think you’ll be impressed with how well-designed the Elephant Lands exhibit area is!

  9. I used to not like Zoo but looking at your blog post makes me remind my first time going to one and I loved it! Thanks for sharing.

    • marciecheung Reply

      They are much more fun when going with kids who have never seen the animals!

  10. So much fun! My 6 youngest cousins and I go to a zoo every year and these tips are lifesaving! I’m saving this post for when I have little ones of my own!

  11. Wow! What a great article about the Portland zoo. It’s been a while since I went last (the train was operational) if that tells you how long it’s been. I agree that it is the best of the Northwest zoos. We loved the Elephants. Your article inspired me to go back. I think I’ll wait for the zoo lights though. Of the three, their winter zoo lights are also the best. Thank you for the article.

    • marciecheung Reply

      Yay! Glad I inspired you! Good to know about their winter zoo lights! We saw some of their lights up near the train, but I’m curious what the do with the rest of the zoo. Hmmm. Maybe I need to plan a trip next month 🙂

  12. Looks like you all had a great time. I haven’t been to a zoo for many years now, but I have been planning to take the grandkids when they got a little older. Maybe this will help us to make the trip sooner.

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