You need more than a day to fully explore the Omaha Zoo, whether it’s your first visit or your 100th. To make the most of your time, follow the advice of some zoo experts: Locals. I recruited Omaha and regional bloggers to join me in sharing the best tips with you, including the best time to visit the Omaha zoo!
UPDATES: This post was first written in 2016 and has been updated in June 2020 to include tips for new events and exhibits at the zoo (the second phase of Asian Highlands and Glacier Bay Landing), as well as COVID-19 measures.
COVID-19 Update: The zoo reopened on June 1, 2020. Several restrictions are in place and you should read about the zoo’s safety measures before visiting – especially when it comes to reserving tickets ahead of time.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, if you make a purchase after clicking an affiliate link, bloggers like me receive a small payment.
When to visit Omaha’s zoo
“We love going a few hours before closing because a lot of families have left for the day, especially if we are going on a Saturday where it will likely be busy!” Kitty B., Kitty and Kevin
“We usually go first thing or last thing in the day.” Bolton C., Bolton Carley’s BS-O-Rama
“Winter is also a great time to visit – less crowds, many indoor exhibits, and sometimes having the aquarium all to yourself!” Julie S., Family Fun in Omaha
“If you are local or nearby, get a season pass and don’t try to do the whole zoo in a day, especially if you have young children. Consider it a walk, take pictures, and go back frequently!” Jen S., Liv Laugh Love
“Fall is great to go with little ones. The other great times to go are either first thing when they open, or two to three hours before they close.” Kelly R. suggested on an Oh My! Omaha Facebook post
My tip: Members, never skip the member days in the summer. Members receive passes for free train rides that are good for more than a month. Hold on to those passes (the train will be crowded that day) and use them on your next visit.
What to bring to the zoo
“Take your own bread to feed the fish and ducks…and take your own water bottle.” Bolton C., Bolton Carley’s BS-O-Rama Editor’s note: It’s been pointed out that bread can harm fish and ducks, so it’s better to brings some coins for the fish food machine and feed them the approved food.
My tip: Bring comfy shoes and hats for everyone in the summer. They make great hats with SPF protection, like this toddler one with a chin strap.
Tips for bringing a stroller to the zoo
“If you plan to spend the entire day there, bring a wagon or stroller (or rent one when you get there if you don’t have one). You can easily bring a cooler filled with ice and beverages, sack lunch, snacks, plus anything else you might want need (especially if you need to bring towels or a change of clothes for the splash park) and carry it along effortlessly in the wagon. Elevators and extra space outdoors makes it easy to move levels and store when you are going through buildings.” Mary J., Living a Sunshine Life
My tip: A wagon or a stroller is essential if you have little ones in your group. If you didn’t bring one, you can rent a single stroller for $9 or a double stroller for $13. Wagons are also available for $13.
What to do at the zoo
“We take a look at the IMAX schedule before we head to the zoo…that way we can plan according to see shows we haven’t seen before.” Kitty Boone, Kitty and Kevin
“Be sure to get a map. There are things like the area where you can feed the birds that you don’t even know exist if you don’t consult the map.” Bolton Carley, Bolton Carley’s BS-O-Rama
“Review the map in advance and agree on what are the ‘must-see’ exhibits.” Kim Schenkelberg, It’s Really 10 Months
“Great places to cool off on the hot summer days are the aquarium, gorilla exhibit, Expedition Madagascar, Wild Kingdom Pavilion, Kingdoms of the Night, the IMAX Theater, and the new splash park!” Julie S., Family Fun in Omaha
“Get to the zoo early and head to the back exhibits. Everyone goes to the desert, jungle, and aquarium right away, and they get crowded quickly.” Jen Schneider, Liv Laugh Love
“If you have littles – consider riding the train, tram and skyfari- it is pricey but it helps give their little legs a rest if you are trying to do the entire zoo in one day.” Kim Schenkelberg, It’s Really 10 Months
“I buy train tickets early in the day, even if we aren’t going to ride it for awhile, as the lines at the ticket booth get long and slooow by afternoon. My kids have had the splash pad to themselves at 9 AM.” Jill H. shared on the Oh My! Omaha Facebook page
“We go to the right (towards the giraffes) as we start and then are able to use the elevator to get back to the top. Saves some whining from the kiddos when it comes to hiking up the hill.” Christine W. shared on the Oh My! Omaha Facebook page
My tip: The zoo has daily animal enrichment programs where you can see them being fed or receiving interacting with a trainer. Some are cooler than others. Surprisingly, the penguin feeding was kinda dull?
What’s the newest exhibit at the zoo?
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium will be unveiling a few new things in 2020. In the summer of 2020, renovations to the aquarium will be unveiled. These will be primarily cosmetic, which you’ll notice on the exterior.
The big new exhibit to look forward to will open in Fall 2020: Owen Sea Lion Shores. The exhibit will be one acre featuring a 275-thousand-gallon pool, 40-foot-long underwater viewing window, natural boundaries, heated rocks, an underwater kelp forest and sandy beach areas.
The sketches are pretty spectacular!
Children’s Adventure Trails
The Omaha zoo opened Children’s Adventure Trails in June 2017.
“Adventure Trails has complimentary SPF 30 sunscreen in the family bathroom. I love the changing tables and sink in the lobby of restroom building so you can change littles without having to wait for family room.” Amanda F. shared on the Oh My! Omaha Facebook discussion on the new exhibit
“Wear quick dry clothing or swimsuits and bring a change of clothes.” Julie L. shared on the Oh My! Omaha Facebook discussion on the new exhibit
“The restroom area inside Adventure Trails has two nursing rooms and the family restrooms have miniature toilets!” Nicole S. shared on the Oh My! Omaha Facebook discussion on the new exhibit
Asian Highlands is the zoo’s newest exhibit. Phase I opened in May 2018; Phase II opened in May 2019.
My tips: Asian Highlands is more about creating the feeling that you’re exploring the Himalayas and the unique animals found there than showcasing a ton of animals. So, check your expectations at the entrance.
Be on the look out for the sloth bear. It was the most active creature in the exhibit and pretty fun to watch. You’ll also find the a red panda, two Indian rhinos, and a few other interesting species.
There is an amphitheater to watch tiger training.
The Yeti Camp has food, as well as men’s, women’s and family restrooms. While the exhibit itself doesn’t have a ton of shade yet, I found some around the Yeti Camp.
Cool off at the Foggy Forest inside Asian Highlands. The trees of water misters.
Check out a tour of the African Grasslands here!
Eat at the Omaha zoo
The Omaha zoo’s newest food offerings are available at Glacier Bay Landing.
My tip for the Glacier Bay Landing: This is a great dining spot in the zoo because there’s a little playground for kids. The food offerings are a bit different from other kiosks throughout the zoo. It has a few healthy and vegetarian entrees, as well as some unique desserts (particularly the cookie dough options).
“The African Grasslands has a fantastic indoor dining area that is great for the really little kids. There are new highchairs, plenty of room (not many people know about it yet), a great family restroom and eventually views of the animals. Plus, the food is great!” Christi Leupold, Leupold Confidential
“Pack picnic lunches/dinners (you’d think we had kids…but no….we just like picnics!) and always bring water bottles.” Kitty Boone, Kitty and Kevin
My tip: My all-time favorite place to eat at the zoo is the Durham TreeTops Restaurant, where lucky families might snag a table along the wall of windows overlooking the indoor rainforest.
My top outdoor pick is the Tusker Grill at the African Lodge, which also has the best food (it’s the same place as Christi mentioned, but I’ve only sat outside, can’t vouch for inside). As the construction winds down in the African Grasslands, it’s going to offer dining with a view too, but of elephants and zebras.
I wrote a post about healthy zoo at the food – you can read it here.
Saving money at the zoo
“Get a season pass, when you break it down a household pass averages out to only $10/month (that’s easy to budget for next season). Considering you can catch a movie (Imax), view hundreds of animals, feed fish, play on their playground and now visit the new splash park, that’s a bargain for a whole lot of family fun!” Nicole McDonald, Mom Saves Money
“Bring snacks or a lunch to save money.” Jen Schneider, Liv Laugh Love
“If you live in Omaha, check with your company – every place I’ve worked in Omaha over the last 14 years has offered a zoo membership discount.” Liz Perry, LPO Beauty
My tip: Members, don’t forget to show your membership card when making purchases at concessions, the gift shop, rides and admission to Stingray Beach – you can save 5%. That discount may go up to 30% off on Member Appreciation Days.
My second tip: If you have a membership to a different zoo, you may be able to have discounted admission to the Omaha zoo. Members of participating zoos belonging to the Association of Zoos & Aquariums receive 50% off of general admission at the Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.
Call first, though, since zoos in close geographic proximity to each other are not required to offer free or discounted admission to each other’s members. Learn more about reciprocal membership benefits.
Special event tips
My tip: The zoo has several special events throughout the year, some are included with admission and some are extra. My family’s favorite is Holiday Happening on Saturdays at Christmas time when scuba divers wear holiday costumes as the clean in the shark tunnel tank.
That event is included with admission and you can expect a crowd.
My second tip: The zoo started a new tradition in 2019: Ghouls & Glow, an evening event held on Thursdays through Sundays during the Halloween season. I recommend bringing glow necklaces to easily spot members of your group since it can get very dark when walking around the zoo.
I also recommend avoiding the Foam Zone until the end of the evening; otherwise you’ll be walking around with wet kids for a few hours.
Nursing babies at the zoo
My tip: There are two areas suitable for nursing your baby with a little privacy. You’ll find both near the North entrance. Children’s Adventure Trails has an indoor family center with family restrooms, nursing rooms, and changing tables. It’s very comfortable!
The new Glacier Bay Landing food area has an outdoor nursing area. It’s fairly private with a fence around it and shaded by umbrellas. There are wooden rocking chairs for a little bit of comfort.
More smart Omaha zoo tips
“Take 10th Street in to get to the North Entrance instead of waiting in line at the interstate exit for 20 minutes (or longer).” Shared by Megan S. on Twitter. This is my go-to strategy, too.
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