Blank Park Zoo is a hidden gem that’s a bit off the beaten path in Des Moines, Iowa. My family is most familiar with the downtown area and, of course, Adventureland; however, we decided this summer, it was time to pay this zoo a visit. I’m glad we did! I just wish we had allowed more time to explore – we visited on the last day of a great weekend in Des Moines.
Disclosure: Our trip was hosted by Catch Des Moines. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.
You can explore the zoo in an afternoon – there are 22 acres of exhibits and facilities to see.
Here are some of the things we discovered at the Des Moines zoo:
Not-to-miss animal encounters
Blank Park Zoo loads their summer days with animal encounters, keeper chats, feedings and more. You can see a schedule here. They are, of course, subject to change. We caught one of the Look & Learn educational programs near the penguins. It’s held daily at 11 a.m. If you arrive to the area at 10:45, you can watch the penguins being fed and then you’re just a few steps away from the animal program.
There are other encounters for an additional fee. My kids begged and begged to ride the camel, so we forked over the $6 each for them to ride.
A few of the other activities that are an additional fee include feeding parakeets ($2 for a feed stick, $1 for admission only), the train ride ($2.25 per person or $2 for members), and the carousel ($2.25 per person or $2 for members). They also had a face painting stand, which seemed like a sweaty mess waiting to happen.
One of my favorite add-ons was the giraffe feeding, which I thought was reasonably priced. My daughter and I also fed giraffes for $2 a treat (which was actually like several lettuce leaves). I thought it was more fun getting up close to giraffes than camels, but my daughter may have a different opinion about it.
Behind the Scenes Tours
I can’t vouch for how a one-on-one tour with a zoo keeper and animal goes, but Blank Park Zoo has several different Behind The Scenes Tours that sound awesome. Sign me up for the sea lion and penguin experience, pronto.
Note that each tour has a different age restriction, so younger kiddos might not be able to take some of the tours. Prices for non-members are $50 for kids younger than 11 and $100 for kids 12 and older.
If your family loves incredible animal encounters and small-group tours, check out Tanganyika Park in Kansas!
Most unique ways to see animals
I appreciate it when a zoo finds an interesting way to get you (safely) close to animals to observe them. Two of my favorites were at Blank Park Zoo.
There’s an underwater viewing area for the sea lion exhibit that was one of our favorites. The animals would swim past the windows frequently.
My kids liked crawling through the prairie dog tunnels and popping their heads into the bubble in the exhibit. Only attempt crawling through them yourselves if you don’t mind looking super awkward.
There’s also an area called the Australia Adventure. In theory, this exhibit sounds awesome – the animals, like a wallaby, roam freely as you walk the trail. However, the trail was closed the day we visited, so I’m not sure how many animals one would actually get to see in the exhibit. If you’ve visited and got to walk the trail, let me know how it was!
Best kids play area
Having visited many Midwest zoos, there always seems to be a playground of some sort planted somewhere within. Blank Park Zoo has a fantastic space that’s tied in with its petting zoo. Don’t skip Kids Kingdom, with plenty of room to climb and play.
And so you don’t have disappointed kids, you’ll need a $1 per food cup so your kids can feed the goats and llamas.
How to get a discount to Blank Park Zoo
If you have a membership to a zoo that belongs to the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, you may get 50 percent off or event FREE admission to the zoo. For example, Omaha zoo members receive 50% off admission, while members of the Lincoln Children’s Zoo get FREE admission. Visit this AZA Reciprocal Admission Program page for more details and to check to see if your zoo participates. It’s also a good idea to call ahead to be sure.
I’ve written about the benefits of reciprocal programs for zoos, museums and botanical gardens, so check it out!
Want to explore more of Des Moines?
This is the second time we’ve visited Des Moines with the kids. If you’re interested in seeing what there is to do in West Des Moines (like the Living History Farms), check out this post. To learn more about downtown Des Moines attractions, read this post.
To plan your own Des Moines family getaway, start with the Des Moines Bucket List.
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