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Exploring the Oregon Zoo in Portland with Your Preschoolers

Exploring the Oregon Zoo in Portland with Your Preschoolers

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Here’s a fun destination for pre-schoolers who enjoy a bit of Science! Head over to the Oregon Zoo and Portland, and see the amazing things you and your kids will enjoy and learn from.

This Oregon Zoo in Portland with Preschoolers post was written by family travel expert Marcie Cheung and may contain affiliate links, which means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.

Planning a family trip that’s both fun and educational can be a challenge, but the Oregon Zoo in Portland is a perfect destination for traveling moms and their kids.

Situated in the scenic Washington Park, this zoo offers a variety of attractions that make it a standout among zoos in Oregon and the entire Pacific Northwest. From the oldest zoo west of the Mississippi River, the Oregon Zoo is committed to wildlife conservation and animal welfare.

This commitment is evident in their state-of-the-art habitats, such as the deep saltwater pools for sea otters and the expansive enclosures for Asian elephants.

Whether your little ones are fascinated by river otters, eager to explore the insect zoo, or excited to ride the zoo train, the Oregon Zoo promises a memorable experience for all ages.

Get ready to embark on a journey through nature and learn about the efforts made by the Metro Council to ensure a better future for wildlife.

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 heard people rave about the Oregon Zoo in Portland, Oregon, 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 that 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!


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.

Rhino exhibit at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, OR

Exploring the Oregon Zoo in Portland with Your Preschoolers: I’m in awe of seeing a Rhino up close for the first time in my life! Photo credit: Darren Cheung

In fact, I saw TWO Rhinos! Their names are Zuri and Ruka. They are an endangered animal, and the zoo hopes that 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 here. 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, replicating 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

Exploring the Oregon Zoo in Portland with Your Preschoolers: 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 got to Desi and Buttercup.

In fact, that’s what I noticed most about the Oregon Zoo. All the animals seemed so close to the guests.


Oregon Zoo Train in Portland, OR

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

The Washington Park and Zoo Railway train reopened 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 was 6 minutes long.

It takes you from the station to the elephants and then pulls a u-turn and comes right back.

But when I asked my 3.5-year-old what he thought, 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


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 many 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

What stands out the most about the Oregon Zoo is that I’d consider it a relaxing family adventure. We got there when the zoo opened at 9:30 a.m., and there was a swarm of people.

Lion photo op at Oregon Zoo in Portland, OR

Exploring the Oregon Zoo in Portland with Your Preschoolers: My son humored me with this fun photo op! Photo credit: Marcie Cheung

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

The Oregon Zoo is planning some expansion in the near future. I’m most excited about the Rhino area. As part of a bond project, the zoo’s black rhino habitat will be expanded beginning in 2018.

Oregon Zoo in Portland, OR

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

The hippos at the Oregon Zoo will move to another zoo. By 2020, their pool area will be added to the rhino habitat.

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, to be more sustainable, plans are being made to pull warm air from the polar bear area and blow it into the Elephant Lands area.

The new Polar Passage exhibit area will 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 can 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 in Oregon Zoo 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 in 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 in 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 Wrap-Up

A visit to the Oregon Zoo in Portland is more than just a day out; it’s an adventure that leaves a lasting impression on both kids and adults.

With its emphasis on animal well-being and delivering the highest quality habitats, the zoo provides a safe haven for animals like the endangered California condors and the playful river otters.

The summer concert series and other wildlife-themed events offer even more reasons to return. As moms who love to travel with their kids, you’ll appreciate the educational opportunities and the family-friendly atmosphere.

Remember to check out the zoo’s future expansions, including the enhanced Rhino habitat. These improvements highlight the zoo’s ongoing dedication to conservation and education.

The Oregon Zoo is not just a place to see animals; it’s a place to connect with nature and contribute to a better future for our planet.

So pack your bags, bring your curiosity, and create unforgettable memories with your children at the Oregon Zoo.

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Thursday 9th of November 2017

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.

Celinda - Joyful Journeyer

Saturday 30th of September 2017

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.


Monday 2nd of October 2017

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 :)


Sunday 24th of September 2017

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!


Sunday 24th of September 2017

What a fun family tradition!


Thursday 21st of September 2017

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.


Thursday 21st of September 2017

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

Ginger Hultin

Thursday 21st of September 2017

Looks so fun!


Thursday 21st of September 2017

We had a blast!

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