Welcome to the ultimate guide to Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. This world-renowned zoo tucked in the Heartland of America draws more than a million visitors annually and for good reason. Let me, a local who has spent countless hours exploring the grounds with my family, share how to make the most of your first visit!
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium has rightfully earned its place among the world’s finest zoological parks. It’s typically trades the No. 1 spot with about two other zoos, actually. The zoo is ever evolving, so it may feel new to you if you haven’t visited for a few years. I’ll share my favorite exhibits, best places to eat, and tips on timing your visit.
Skip right to the tips: Locals share 40+ tips for Omaha’s zoo
Getting there & the parking situation
First, let’s talk getting to the zoo. Traveling to Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium by car offers convenience and flexibility, and that’s what the vast majority of guests opt for. The zoo is located near an off-ramp of Interstate 80, making it easily accessible from various directions. You can use GPS services to navigate directly to the zoo’s address: 3701 S 10th St, Omaha, NE 68107.
The zoo has several sprawling parking lots for guests. Even so, I recommend to arriving early, especially during peak seasons, to secure a parking spot. I’ve been there when the lots are full, and overflow parking moved into the neighborhoods nearby.
Tip: Check the north end parking lots first. The south lots (the ones closest to the Main Entrance) will typically fill up first.
Public transportation is an option. Omaha Metro transit system has a stop at the zoo on Route 13.
What it will cost you: Zoo pass & admission prices
Visiting the zoo isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it. Ticket prices vary based on age and the time of year. Prices are always higher in the summer season (May 1 through Sept. 30). Here are the 2023 summer rates:
- Adults (ages 12 and over): $29.95
- Children (ages 3-11): $22.95
- Seniors (65 and over): $28.95
- Children (2 and under): FREE
- Military Adult (12 and over): $28.95
- Military Child (ages 3-11): $21.95
- There is a two-day option during peak season, with the second day ticket being considerably cheaper, like 50% cheaper.
Please note that ticket prices are subject to change, so always check the official zoo website for the most up-to-date pricing.
I’ve always bought an annual membership for my family, even if we only visit two or three times a year now that they’re older. It’s a good value for a family of four. Membership passes cover free movies, as well as provide a discount on concessions and the gift shop. Plus, there’s reciprocal benefits at other zoos.
The price seems to always increase, but I’ve never regretted it. I share more discount options in this post on saving money at Omaha attractions.
Add-on zoo experiences
In addition to regular admission, the zoo may offer add-on experiences, including rides, behind-the-scenes tours, animal encounters, and overnight stays. Many require advance reservations. Prices are current as of August 2023.
- Backstage Experiences: Include behind-the-scenes tour and animal encounters. Options include Aquarium, Elephant, Giraffe, Sea Lion, Center for Conservation and Research, and for a brief time in the fall, Pollinator Conservation. Cost is $65 per person, $50 per member. Price includes admission to the zoo. Tickets are non-refundable. Kids must be at least 8 years old. There are also Private Backstage Experiences.
- Golf Cart Tours: Zip around the zoo in comfort. Cost is $70 per person, $55 per member. Price includes admission to the zoo. Tickets are non-refundable.
- Animal Ambassador Discovery (limited time): On weekends, get up close to two of animal ambassadors, wither a small reptile and mammal or a small reptile and bird. Encounters are held at the Robert B Daugherty Education Center. Cost is $40 per person, $35 per member. Price includes admission to the zoo. Tickets are non-refundable.
- Feed animals: For a few dollars, you can offer a giraffe some lettuce, give a sting ray a wormy little thing, or try to get budgies to eat of a stick of peanut butter and seeds. These are quick encounters.
Getting around the zoo
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium encompasses an expansive area, thoughtfully designed to offer a captivating and immersive experience for visitors of all ages. The zoo’s layout is divided into distinct sections, each housing a diverse array of exhibits and attractions.
The zoo has a circular layout so it’s possible to choose one direction and eventually see most of the zoo. The majority of people enter at the Main Entrance on the south side, where several of the zoo’s major indoor exhibits are located (namely, the Desert Dome & Kingoms of the Night, the indoor rainforest, and the aquarium). From there, head south to the African Grasslands where you’ll see elephants, giraffes, and more.
Or, head north (clockwise) where you encounter first the Children’s Adventure Trails, then Alaskan Adventure and its huge spray ground, and eventually my daughter’s favorite area, the sea lions.
Far from either entrance is the Asian Highlands, Expedition Madagascar, and the far reaches of the African Grasslands where the lions are located. You’ll reach them eventually as you walk the circular route.
Must-see zoo exhibits and animals
I’ll share some of the zoo’s biggest exhibits and highlight the must-see animals there.
The African Grasslands is the largest project ever completed at the zoo. Many of the zoo’s most popular animals to see are found throughout the 28 acres of the exhibit, including African elephants (including a couple baby elephants), giraffes, and lions. Landscaping and inventive exhibit spaces make some areas truly feel immersive.
The African Lodge is the main concession stand there, and it’s where you can find the giant pretzel and giant cookie to share with your family. The African Grasslands is also where the zoo has its Safari Tent Camp, where people can stay overnight!
There is one small cooling station near the elephants, which mists water on people on hot days.
The Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium will surprise you from the moment you walk inside. There are mesmerizing displays of marine life, from the surreal jellyfish and colorful rays, to the active Empire penguins. Kids will like sitting in the bubble window that juts into the penguins’ exhibit underwater. It’s a good photo opp, for sure.
The true must-see area of the aquarium is the 70-foot shark tunnel. Take a few minutes to sit and look up as giant sharks, sea turtles and stingrays glide above you.
One of the most beautifully designed exhibits at the zoo, the Asian Highlands is visually captivating. However, as cool as it looks, it’s often one of the areas I skip if short on time. There’s no quick way through it, with its winding path. But, you should check it out if this is the only time you’re going there.
Animal highlights include the red panda, the Amur tiger, and the Indian rhino. This is also one of the areas in the zoo with a cooling area, the Foggy Forest, with misters of water throughout.
Children’s Adventure Trails & Alaskan Adventure
Two areas of the zoo that capture kids’ imaginations are the Children’s Adventure Trails and Alaskan Adventure. You could make your zoo visit consist of just these two areas on a hot summer day and the kids wouldn’t mind. Pack swimsuits and towels, and you’re set for the day. And if you’re at the zoo without kids, you can skip both without an ounce of guilt.
The Children’s Adventure Trails has a waterfall that leads into a sandy creek that kids can play in, plus there’s a 40-foot-tall treehouse to explore. It’s really like an outdoor children’s museum, with hands-on learning that looks suspiciously like play. And there are animals there, too, including prairie dogs, goats, and the budgie encounter.
Alaskan Adventure is the zoo’s impressive sprayground. The centerpiece is a humpback whale that seems to be jumping over the whole space. On a hot summer day, this is the place to be.
Between these two areas is Glacier Bay Landing and the carousel. Glacier Bay is a marvelously designed concession area that has a small playground. I like the food in this area since there are options beyond fried foods.
Desert Dome and Kingdoms of the Night
The Desert Dome is the world’s largest indoor desert, and stands as an architectural marvel and a must-visit exhibit. I like going there in the winter for a quick escape from the dreary weather outdoors. Once you’re inside this massive geodesic dome, you’ll feel transported to a desert ecosystem.
As you traverse the winding paths (which can get congested during the busy season), you’ll see animals and cacti from three different desert ecosystems. The landscaping is as cool to see as the animals, with orange sand in some places and towering rock walls in other places. Rattlesnake Canyon is pretty memorable in the Desert Dome. A fun fact I learned while writing this: It’s the world’s largest indoor rattlesnake exhibit.
Kingdoms of the Night is the underground exhibit beneath the Desert Dome. As the name implies, you’ll find a world of nocturnal animals there. It’s a great and immersive experience, including dimly lit caves with shimmering pockets of water and the coolest bayou walkway you’ll ever see outside of actual Louisiana. Alligators and beavers noiselessly glide along the water as you walk along it!
The indoor rainforest at Omaha’s zoo will always be my favorite exhibit, hands down. It’s truly awe-inspiring as soon as you step onto the first walkway and hear the sounds of the forest and take in the view. There are indoor waterfalls, a rope bridge, free-flying birds and bats, and fake vines and trees that convince you they’re real. Animals from three rainforests — South America, Asia and Africa — live in this jungle.
There are two levels, with the lower level being more of an adventurous experience with dirt paths and stones to step over. Both give you unique views of exhibits. I love seeing the tropical birds, the lumbering tapirs, and pygmy hippos.
Hubbard Gorilla Valley
Hubbard Gorilla Valley has undergone updates over the years, creating a more engaging environment for the gorillas to climb and roam. There are indoor and outdoor areas for the gorillas to explore, and they’re designed to get guests at eye-level with the massive species.
Orangutan Forest and Expedition Madagascar are nearby, and I recommend visiting both while you’re in that area of the zoo.
Sea Lion Shores
My kids are mesmerized with Sea Lion Shores, or more specifically, with the giant underwater window that offers a glimpse into the animals’ playground. They practically run through the impressively designed above-water area (you will think you’re in the Pacific Northwest). Which is a shame, because there are some cool views of the sea lions’ habitat throughout the exhibit’s pathway.
Butterfly and Insect Pavilion
The butterfly pavilion flies under the radar often (no pun intended), but it’s a lovely space to explore. You can wander amid free-flying butterflies of various species and colors. If you’re lucky, and wearing brightly colored clothes, one may land on you.
These exhibits and animals are just a glimpse of the incredible diversity and wonder that Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium has to offer. The zoo continues to improve exhibits each year, creating a new must-see area of the zoo each time. I’m excited to see what they do with the large cats space next.
Daily shows, feedings, and rides
There’s nothing better than accidentally stumbling upon an animal feeding or trainer demonstration at the zoo. You learn quite a bit from it, plus it’s entertaining. You don’t have to rely on luck, though. The zoo runs on a schedule.
Animal encounters in 2023:
- Penguin Feeding at the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium: 10:30 a.m. and p.m.
- Shark Feeding at Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium: Wednesdays and Saturdays at 11 a.m.
- Mammal Encounter at Holland Meadowlark Theater: 10 a.m.
- Free-Flight Bird Demonstration at Holland Meadowlark Theater: 11 a.m.
- Budgie Feeding at Bay Family Children’s Adventure Trails: 9 a.m.
- Sea Lion Training at Owen Sea Lion Shores: 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- Sloth Bear Talk at Asian Highlands: 1:30 p.m.
- Amur Tiger Talk at Asian Highlands: 2:30 p.m.
- African Lion Talk at Scott African Grasslands: 11 a.m.
Popular feedings include the penguins at the aquarium and the tigers at the Asian Highlands. They will draw a crowd, so you may want to arrive a few minutes early to secure seats or a good view. Keepers for the sea lions, elephants and sloth bears so enrichment activities for crowds so you can observe different ways the animals are trained to help with health check ups.
My kids love feeding animals themselves. You can feed stingrays at Stingray Bay, feed leafy greens to giraffe, or hold a stick of peanut butter and seeds for the budgies to nibble on at the Children’s Adventure Trails. These are added expenses but still pretty fun. The touch tank in the aquarium, by the way, is free to enjoy.
Dining at the zoo
All that walking around the zoo will make you hungry. If you didn’t pack a snack, no worries. The zoo has you covered with concessions. As you can expect, prices are higher for food in the zoo than you’d pay elsewhere. You’re paying for the view. My favorite indoor eatery at the zoo is connected to the Lied Jungle. There’s a variety of hot and cold foods, snacks, and beverages. The main draw, though, is that a wall of windows overlooks the indoor rainforest.
Most areas of the zoo have concessions, including near the gorillas, lions, aquarium and little stands throughout. You’ll find some tucked inside the Children’s Adventure Trails and Asian Highlands.
My favorites places to eat are at the Alaskan Adventure and African Grasslands. The setting is more unique and some of the options are pretty tasty and fun. Go to the Alaskan area for a little fresher food choices (at least, not all fried food). Go to the African eatery for giant pretzels and cookies to share.
Tip: You can bring your own food and drinks into the zoo, and many families opt to do this.
Zoo conservation and education efforts
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium is a hub of dedicated efforts toward animal conservation and environmental education. If you look closely, you’ll see signs touting the good work throughout your zoo visit. Here are some key aspects of the zoo’s conservation and education initiatives:
The zoo actively participates in various conservation programs and initiatives both locally and globally. It collaborates with reputable organizations, research institutions, and wildlife agencies to support and implement projects aimed at preserving endangered species and their natural habitats.
The zoo is also involved in carefully managed breeding efforts, reintroduction into the wild, and maintaining healthy genetic diversity to bolster populations in the wild. By participating in these programs, the zoo contributes to the global effort to save endangered species from extinction. One species found only in a single county in Nebraska, the salt creek tiger beetle, has benefited from their work.
Education is at the core of the zoo’s mission, and you’ll see evidence of their efforts to promote awareness in all exhibits in the zoo. Visitors can learn about the challenges facing wildlife and the actions they can take to make a positive impact on the environment. The seemingly fun play areas are actual learning zones that simulate animal rescue operations, for instance. These playful encounters are nurturing future conservationists.
Need to know stuff: Visitor amenities
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium is dedicated to providing a comfortable experience for all visitors. The zoo offers a range of convenient amenities including:
The zoo is committed to providing accessibility for all visitors. Wheelchair-accessible pathways and designated areas ensure that individuals with mobility challenges can navigate the zoo with ease. Motorized and manual wheelchairs are available for rent.
Stroller and wagon rentals
For families with young children, the zoo offers stroller and wagon rentals. There’s a lot of area to cover in a single day, so renting a stroller allows little ones to rest their legs while enjoying the sights.
Restrooms are strategically located throughout the zoo for easy access. You’ll find clean and well-maintained facilities, ensuring a comfortable experience for visitors of all ages. I like the family restrooms located inside the Children’s Adventure Trails.
There’s a section in the Alaskan Adventure dining area for nursing mothers. It’s outdoor so it is only a seasonal option, unless you don’t mind the snow.
Zoo gift shops and souvenirs
There’s a large gift shop located by the zoo’s main entrance as well as a smaller shop at the aquarium and kiosks near popular attractions. The kiosks tend to be open seasonally in the summer only and sometimes during special events. You’ll also encounter face painters at the zoo if your kiddo wants that sort of souvenir.
We usually visit the main entrance shop since it has the largest selection of apparel and plushies. You can also get souvenirs, paintings by zoo residents, and toys. Lots and lots of toys.
The zoo has picnic areas and seating areas throughout. Feel free to bring your own food and beverages or purchase snacks from the various food vendors within the zoo. Most likely, a wandering peacock will pay you a visit and beg for food.
First Aid Stations
In case of minor injuries or medical concerns, first aid stations are available on-site. There’s one located near the Main Entrance, and more throughout.
For added convenience, ATMs are positioned throughout the zoo, allowing visitors to access cash when needed. Though, honestly, most things are cashless these days.
Lost and Found
If you misplace any personal belongings during your visit or your kid dropped a stuffed animal, you can inquire about the lost and found service at the main information center.
How accessible is the zoo?
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium strives to be inclusive and accessible to all visitors. The zoo offers services and accommodations for individuals with special needs, including accessible pathways, restrooms, and designated parking spaces.
The indoor rainforest has two levels, and it’s worth noting that the lower level is unpaved and uneven.
What are the perks of a zoo membership pass?
The biggest perk of a family membership is the admission into the zoo for you and your family for the next 365 days. It also gets you free admission to the giant screen to watch different animal movies (even the 3D ones), as well as discounts at the gift shop and concessions. Member week is held each summer during which you get some extra perks; my favorite being the free ride passes. Those ride passes are good for the train, carousel, or Zoofari.
How much is zoo parking?
Parking is free at Omaha’s zoo!
Are the special events worth the extra cost?
The zoo has two different types of events throughout the year: The ones that are included with admission (like New Year’s Eve stuff) and the ones that are an additional fee, even for members. The zoo’s most spectacular events fall into the latter, including Late Night At The Zoo for the 21 and older crowd, and Ghouls & Glow during the Halloween season.
People will complain about the ticket cost on top of the zoo membership, but these really are above and beyond a typical zoo visit and typically are held after hours. I like them since there are usually performances and bands, plus some unique food and drink options. And not to mention, some awesome photo opportunities.
With Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium’s impressive exhibits, from the awe-inspiring Desert Dome and lush Lied Jungle to the immersive aquarium, a one-day or two-day visit is a unique experience that leaves a lasting impression on guests of all ages. Not only is the zoo a center for entertainment and adventure, but it also holds a profound commitment to wildlife conservation and environmental education. As you explore this captivating oasis, remember to celebrate the beauty of wildlife, embrace the joy of learning, and become an ambassador for the conservation of our planet’s diverse and magnificent inhabitants.
Once you’ve explored the zoos, come back to this page and share your own experiences and stories. Let others know about the magical encounters you had and the fascinating animals you saw!