Animal Adventures at the Midwest’s Finest Zoos

This summer, take your family on an exotic adventure (or several adventures) exploring the best zoos in the Midwest. Kansas City Zoo FOTZ members enjoy discounted or free admission to reciprocal zoos, offering even more bang for your buck! These are a few of our favorite zoos and the reasons we love them.

Home Sweet Home

Kansas City Zoo 6800 Zoo Dr., Kansas City, MO,

Favorite Things: Over the years, the Kansas City Zoo just keeps getting better. We’re excited about the recently opened brand new Stingray Bay, a touch pool home to docile cownose rays and small bamboo sharks. Visitors pet and watch these sea creatures as they swim in their new home. We’re also excited to welcome Bam Bam the polar bear, new pal to resident bear Berlin. The Helzberg Penguin Plaza, Sumatran Tiger Exhibit, Australia, Africa and the Tropics are just a few more of our favorite attractions. Ride the train, carousel, boat, tram and Sky Safari to enjoy terrific views of the animals.

About an Hour Away

Topeka Zoo 635 SW Zoo Pkwy., Topeka, KS,

Favorite Things: The Topeka Zoo is a relatively small zoo with reasonable crowds. You can expect a pleasant visit to this zoo on weekends. Children love feeding giraffes (for just $1) and exploring Black Bear Woods, home to three black bears, as well as an eagle, hawk and coyote. The Pollinator Palooza exhibit is a dedicated garden space that includes a walk-through Butterfly Pavilion.

About Three Hours Away

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & AQUARIUM 3701 S. 10th St., Omaha, NE,

Favorite Things: This zoo has an incredible reputation as one of the finest zoos in the Midwest—and rightfully so. Perhaps the most famous attraction at the Henry Doorly Zoo, the Desert Dome, is the world's largest indoor desert, located under the world's largest glazed geodesic dome. Visitors see animals in their natural desert habitat, from the road runner and coyote, to a variety of birds, lizards and snakes. We also love the Lied Jungle, an exhibit taking you through America’s largest indoor rainforest as you walk under waterfalls, watch monkeys play and birds fly on this real-life adventure.

Springfield’s Dickerson Park Zoo 1401 W. Norton Rd., Springfield, MO,

Favorite Things: This zoo includes African exhibits, where you may feed giraffes; Asia, home to the Asian elephant; South America, home to spider monkeys and exotic birds; as well as native exhibits including Missouri habitats where visitors will see a black bear, bobcat, gray wolf and mountain lion. The train ride and petting zoo area are favorites with children. The small zoo is beautifully maintained and is a great afternoon outing.


Blank Park Zoo 7401 SW 9th St., Des Moines, IA,

Favorite Things: This small zoo offers exhibits where visitors get an up-close view of tigers, lions, monkeys, red pandas, rhinos and more. Children enjoy the carousel and train ride, but the camel ride is the real treat. Visitors also enjoy feeding parakeets, ostriches, giraffes and petting zoo animals for a low fee.

Sedgwick County Zoo 5555 W. Zoo Blvd., Wichita, KS

Favorite Things: This zoo is home to penguins, hippos, big cats, giraffes, a wonderful children’s zoo and many more exotic animals you can comfortably see in a few hours. Children enjoy observing the hippos through a window that allows them to watch the “water horse” swim through the water. Kids also enjoy feeding the giraffes and the animals at the children’s zoo. The zoo boat ride is well worth it! Visitors enjoy a behind-the-scenes view of the animals up close.


About Four Hours Away


Tulsa Zoo 6421 E. 36th St. N., Tulsa, OK,

Favorite Things: This zoo offers a variety of exhibits showcasing habitats from cold climates to deserts, land to sea. Ride through the zoo aboard the train for a tour of the exhibits. A new fan-favorite is the Lost Kingdom exhibit, home to many rare animals from Asia, including snow leopards, Chinese alligators, tigers and Komodo dragons. The Oceans and Islands exhibit is especially unique as it creates the experience of exploring animals from the remnants of a shipwreck. Visitors watch sea lions swim through their aquarium, African penguins play and black and white ruffed lemurs frolic in the trees.

St. Louis Zoo 1 Government Dr., St Louis, MO,

Favorite Things: Plan to spend an entire day at this zoo, where you can see animals up close and personal and admission is free. Sea Lion Sound offers an incredible sea lion exhibit where visitors watch the animals swim in their aquarium with a walk-through tunnel for guests. In the summer, you can cool off in the climate-controlled Antarctic Penguin and Puffin Exhibit. Visitors learn all about bugs at the Monsanto Insectarium where children see a variety of insects from beetles to butterflies. The Emerson Children's Zoo (admission charged) is a favorite where kids enjoy the tree kangaroos, alpacas and the goats climbing throughout the fenced area.

Bonus: Visit the Oklahoma City Zoo and feed live grizzly bears! Learn our Oklahoma Adventures with Kids story.


About Seven Hours Away


Memphis Zoo 2000 Prentiss Pl., Memphis, TN,

Favorite Things: The Memphis Zoo is one of only four zoos in the United States to house giant pandas, and it happens to be the closest one geographically to Kansas City. When you visit the Memphis Zoo, you’ll be transported to China through a beautiful exhibit where two pandas live, one male, “Le Le,” and one female, “Ya Ya.” In addition to this phenomenal exhibit, bear lovers will enjoy the Northwest exhibit, where polar bears and black bears live. This zoo is medium-sized, but all of the exhibits are top notch, and the zookeepers offer terrific educational presentations for visitors.

Bonus: Visit Shedd Aquarium in Chicago for a live dolphin show and many educational encounters! Read our Chicago Getaway story here.


Kristina Light’s daughters love bears, butterflies and prairie dogs most of all…and they have fond memories of playing with prairie dogs in Omaha, chasing butterflies in St. Louis and seeing real giant pandas in Memphis!

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