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40+ Expert Tips For Visiting Omaha’s Zoo (2024)

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 readers to join me in sharing our best tips with you, including the best time to visit the Omaha zoo!

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Tips for visiting Omaha's zoo - Locals share their tips for visiting the zoo in Omaha, from saving money to renting strollers to finding the best time to visit the zoo. Post also includes the newest exhibits and what's planned for future exhibits. #Omaha #Nebraska #USA #zoos #Tips

Best time to visit Omaha’s zoo

The age-old questions: When’s the best time to visit Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium? How best to avoid crowds, is the better question!

  • 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.
  • “We usually go first thing or last thing in the day.” Bolton C.
  • Winter is also a great time to visit – less crowds, many indoor exhibits, and sometimes having the aquarium all to yourself!” Julie S.
  • “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: I love visiting the zoo in the winter. There are plenty of indoor exhibits to see, and several are right by the main entrance. Sure, it’s cold and you’re carting around coats, but the zoo will be so quiet you’ll feel like you have the place to yourself!

Related post: 5 tips for visiting Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium in the winter

What hotels are near Omaha’s zoo

Hands down, the most-asked question I get is some various of “What hotel should I stay in if I’m taking my family to the zoo?” Second is usually about finding a hotel with a discounted zoo package. Here are my tips for booking a good hotel for an Omaha zoo visit:

  • I tell everyone to stay in downtown Omaha, as close to the Old Market as you can afford. Great restaurants, local shops, and entertainment will all be within walking distance of a downtown Omaha hotel. Some of these Old Market hotels have shuttles that will drive you to the zoo.
  • Downtown Omaha hotels with complimentary shuttles: Residence Inn by Marriott Downtown Omaha/Old Market; Omaha Marriott Downtown (has an outdoor pool)
  • The closest hotel to the zoo, the Howard Johnson on 13th Street, is not a highly-rated hotel. I’m leery of recommending it to you, even if it seems convenient.

What to bring to the zoo

  • Be sure to pack some wet wipes to wipe everyone off with if they pet the animals or just put their hands where everyone else has been.” Bolton C.
Locals' tips for visiting Omaha's zoo - Bring hand wipes, extra sunscreen and band aids because kids are going to be very active at the zoo. Here's one of the activities at the Children's Adventure Trail at the zoo.
  • Wear a backpack with water, sunscreen, band aids, wipes and any other essentials.” Kim S.

My tip: Bring comfy shoes and hats for everyone if you’re visiting in the summer. There are many stylish hats with SPF protection.

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.

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, double stroller or a wagon. And in case you’re wondering, yes, you can bring outside food and drinks into the zoo!

What you should do at the zoo

Locals' tips for visiting to zoo in Omaha - Get a map to know where things are, like where to feed different animals.
  • 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 B.
  • 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 C.
  • “Review the map in advance and agree on what are the ‘must-see’ exhibits.” Kim S.
  • “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.
  • “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.
  • 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 S.
Tips for visiting the Omaha zoo - Time your visits to avoid crowds at popular exhibits like the Desert Dome
  • “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 S.
  • 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 (toward 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, in my opinion, the penguin feeding was kinda dull.

What are the newest exhibits at the zoo?

The zoo always seems to be working on a new exhibit. Some of the recent additions and updates in recent years are the

  • Owen Sea Lions Shores (2020)
  • Asian Highlands (2019)
  • Children’s Adventure Trails (2017)
Girl and a sea lion at the sea lion exhibit at Omaha's zoo

My tip: The enrichment program at Owen Sea Lion Shores is a must-see, but arrive early for it. Seating fills up each day in the summer.

My second tip: Cool off at the Foggy Forest inside Asian Highlands. The trees have water misters.

Eat at the Omaha zoo

The zoo has moved toward AI-assisted ordering at some of the concession stands. You’ll place an order using a touch screen, and then they’ll call your number when the order is ready. Only one place, the Durham TreeTops Restaurant, has a cafeteria-style process where you pick up your food and walk to the cashier to pay for it.

The Omaha zoo’s newest food offerings are available at Glacier Bay Landing, an Alaskan-themed area with a playground.

Locals' tips for visiting Omaha's zoo - Have a meal at the Durham TreeTops Restaurant. It has a window overlooking the indoor rainforest!
Durham TreeTops Restaurant
  • 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 L.
  • Pack picnic lunches/dinners and always bring water bottles.” Kitty B.

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 second tip: The concession stand at African Grasslands has the most unique food offerings…if you want to surprise your kids. They sell gigantic cookies and pretzels. They’re large enough for an entire family to split.

Kim with the giant chocolate chip cookie at Omaha's zoo

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 M.
A family walks on the upper level of the indoor rainforest in Omaha
  • Bring snacks or a lunch to save money.” Jen S.
  • “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 P.

My tips: If you have a membership, 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.

My second tip: 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.

Attending special events

A decorated dome at the Zoolightful holiday special event

The zoo’s newest holiday event debuted in 2023: Zoolightful. It’s an after-hours experience at the zoo with huge lit sculptures, activities (like the tubing hill!), and characters. Of course, Santa is at Zoolightful, too.

My tip: If you or your kids want to try the tubing hill, get in line first thing when it is the shortest it’s going to be that night.

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.

Omaha zoo parking tip

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 parking strategy, too!

The biggest tourist attraction in the state of Nebraska is Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. Here are Omaha zoo tips for making the most of your visit! Find out when to go, what to see & do, and how to save money. #guide #tips #Omaha #USA

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Saturday 10th of September 2022

We are planning a trip on October 8th is that too late to be able to see all the animals or do the start putting them inside for winter?


Sunday 11th of September 2022

It's the perfect time to visit. You'll see a lot of animals outdoors still.

Siouxland Families Blog

Saturday 2nd of December 2017

When we have been in March it has been not busy at all, and pretty cool out, so I'd plan on a coat for walking between buildings. So many of the exhibits are indoors though, when you want to warm up head to the rainforest or desert or Madagascar or the grasslands cafe area (or any of the other indoor exhibits!)


Tuesday 22nd of August 2017

We will be going about mid March 2018 on our was to Mount Rushmore and wanted to stop. Is it pretty busy during that time? Is the weather usually nice?

Also, it'll be during the week like a Tuesday or Wednesday.


Wednesday 23rd of August 2017

Nebraska weather can be fairly unpredictable in March, but it will likely be on the cooler side. You're timing may coincide with some schools' spring break, but I'd say even then, it won't be very busy especially since you're going on a weekday.


Monday 10th of July 2017

Does anyone know if when it's really hot out (90s like it is now) - if it's worth going? Like will the animals be out or will it be too hot?


Monday 10th of July 2017

If you have the option of going on a different day, do it (or go first thing and leave before noon). The zoo takes measures to cool people off, like having misters and there is the big splash park, but it's still going to be crowded and most of the paths won't be shaded. If memory serves me correctly, most outdoor animals are less active or napping during the heat of the day.


Friday 7th of July 2017

Great article. I definitely agree with the start at the back and work your way forward and then up the elevator or ride the tram. Also, the zoo offers a spend the night at the zoo. It is pretty pricey but amazing. I suggest staying in the aquarium, not in the gorilla house. You get a private tour of a lot of exhibits and some really neat encounters with animals.


Saturday 8th of July 2017

I really want to do one of the overnights there. Thanks for the tip on choosing the aquarium over the gorilla house!

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