Brookfield Zoo is the largest Chicagoland zoo. It doesn’t offer the downtown location you get with Lincoln Park, but it has a lot more animals. It is worth a visit if zoos are your thing. What Brookfield Zoo tips do you need to plan your day?
Brookfield Zoo Tips
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Brookfield Zoo Tips
1. Where is Brookfield Zoo Located?
The Brookfield Zoo address is 8400 31st Street in Brookfield, Illinois. It is 14 miles from downtown Chicago. You can reach it from the city in less than a half hour as long as traffic cooperates.
There are plenty of hotels near Brookfield Zoo and Chicago from which to pick.
2. Brookfield Zoo Parking Fees and Transportation Options
How much does it cost to park at Brookfield Zoo? The zoo has both a North Gate and South Gate with parking lots. Both cost $15 per car.
Which parking lot is better at Brookfield Zoo? That depends upon your priorities. The North Gate is near the carousel and big cats. The South Gate enters near the Swamp and Hamill Family Zoo.
If you want to take public transportation, you can take the Pace Bus on Route 331 or the Metra BNSF line.
Pro tip: Zoo members park for free at the Brookfield Zoo North Gate.
3. Know the Brookfield Zoo Times
As of the time of this writing, the Brookfield Zoo Chicago hours are from 9:30 a.m. through 6:00 p.m., 365 days per year.
4. What to Bring to Brookfield Zoo
You don’t need much, particularly if you don’t have a stroller to transport your stuff. With that said, don’t forget:
A. A poncho (if needed)
5. Arrive Early
Arriving early is key to enjoying your day. The property is best experienced without others. You will have the play areas to yourself and get photos of the animals at Brookfield Zoo without screaming children in the background.
6. Visit on a Weekday
Weekdays are the best time to visit Brookfield Zoo because you can avoid other people. If school is in session, you may encounter some field trips, but it will still be better than your typical Saturday. If you have flexibility, try to go during the week.
7. Avoid the Brookfield Zoo Free Days
Occasionally, there is free Brookfield Zoo admission. Avoid these days like the plague. They are Walmart on Black Friday crowded.
8. Check the Brookfield Zoo Weather
Chicago weather can be oppressive. The winters are cold and windy, and the summers are hot and humid. Check the weather for Brookfield Zoo so you know what to expect.
9. How Long Does it Take to Go Through Brookfield Zoo?
How big is Brookfield Zoo? It is large, clocking in at 216 acres. In addition to the animals, there are shows and play areas.
If you want to do everything, plan to be there for at least half of the day, and probably more. If you want to just do a quick spin through the exhibits, you can knock it out in about three hours total.
10. Don’t Forget the Stroller
This property requires a lot of walking. Your small child won’t be able to hang. Don’t forget the stroller.
Note: Strollers are not allowed in some of the buildings, including Tropic World. This makes for a long walk back to the entrance to pick it up.
Pro tip: There is a Brookfield Zoo tram to transport you throughout the zoo, but it is not free. It costs $6 per adult, $3 per child ages three through 11, and $4 for seniors ages 65 and up. Members get half price tickets.
Bonus pro tip: The zoo rents wagons and strollers if you forget yours.
11. Brookfield Zoo Animals
What animals does Brookfield Zoo have? A ton. The zoo is huge.
Pro tip for visiting Brookfield Zoo: The buildings close 30 minutes before the zoo, so don’t leave any of them until the last minute.
Note: There are no elephants, koalas, or pandas at this zoo.
Australia House Brookfield Zoo
The Australia House has animals native to Australia, obviously. Fan favorites include Brookfield Zoo kangaroos, wallabies, and wombats.
Big Cat Section
This outdoor section has animals in separate enclosures (so they don’t eat each other). Highlights include lions, leopards, and Brookfield Zoo tigers.
Clouded Leopard Rainforest
The Clouded Leopard Rainforest exhibit is located by the other big cats at Brookfield Zoo. It features leopards and a weird looking squirrel.
Desert’s Edge is an indoor exhibit with animals like meerkats and mole rats.
Feathers and Scales
As the name suggests, this exhibit features Brookfield Zoo birds and snakes you would not want to encounter in the wild.
Brookfield Zoo Great Bear Wilderness
This outdoor section stars bears. There is a Brookfield Zoo polar bear that tends to swim in the same pattern over. And over. And over. If you’re lukewarm on zoos, this may make you feel a little icky. You can view the polar bear both above ground and in an underwater exhibit.
Habitat Africa! is a large section with several animals, including giraffes, African painted dogs, okapis, and a dwarf crocodile.
Pro tip: You can pay extra to feed the giraffes here.
The Hoofed Animals section has several animals, including horses, camels, and Brookfield Zoo zebras.
The Living Coast is one of the best parts of the zoo. This Brookfield Zoo indoor exhibit has fish and turtles. The headliners are definitely the penguins.
Pro tip: You can pay extra to meet or feed the penguins at Brookfield Zoo.
Brookfield Zoo Pachyderm House
This is where you might expect to find elephants, but you won’t. You will, however, find animals like rhinoceroses and tortoises.
Pinniped Point features seals and sea lions. You can view them both above ground and underwater.
Regenstein Wolf Woods
This section is labeled accurately. It has Brookfield Zoo wolves, and that’s it.
Reptiles and Birds at Brookfield Zoo
This Brookfield Zoo Reptile House has snakes, birds, and frogs, but not alligators or crocodiles. Those are in the Swamp section.
The Seven Seas building houses the dolphins at Brookfield Zoo. You can view them both above ground and under water.
Pro tip: There is a Brookfield Zoo dolphin show for an extra charge.
The Swamp building has animals you generally want to avoid outdoors, like crocodiles and snapping turtles. Don’t miss the Brookfield Zoo otters.
Brookfield Zoo Tropic World
I saved the best for last. Tropic World is an indoor exhibit that houses monkeys, gibbons, gorillas, and Brookfield Zoo orangutans. The space is larger than most others at the zoo, giving the animals room to run and swing through trees.
Note: You cannot bring a stroller into this building. You will need to walk back to the entrance to retrieve it.
Pro tip: In 1996, a child fell into the Brookfield Zoo gorilla exhibit. Whoops. Instead of harming the child, Binti-Jua, one of the gorillas, cradled the child and carried him to paramedics. Binti-Jua is still at the zoo today. Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo, not so much.
12. Check out the Brookfield Zoo Guide Map
The zoo is large. It is also not a perfect circle like your typical theme park. It is easy to miss stuff. Check out the map of Brookfield Zoo before you go to make sure you don’t miss your priorities.
Pro tip: The zoo offers a walking map with a Brookfield Zoo touring plan.
13. Does Brookfield Zoo Have a Splashpad?
There is a seasonal splashpad near the Living Coast building.
14. There is a Brookfield Zoo Carousel
The zoo has a carousel. Your kids won’t be able to miss it. Be prepared to pay up or avert eyes. Adults have to pay to stand next to their children, which is just a money grab.
Pro tip: Members can ride for half price.
Brookfield Zoo cost: $4 per adult, $3 for kids ages 3-11, $3.50 per senior ages 65 and up
15. Check the Show Schedule
Dolphin Show Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield Zoo Dolphins in Action is a show in a very, very hot auditorium. The zoo is not SeaWorld. If your kids are expecting more than talking and a little splashing, you should skip it.
Cost: $6 per adult, $3 per child ages 3-11, $4 per senior ages 65 and up
Brookfield Zoo Zoo Chats
The zoo offers chats throughout the day. Be sure to check the schedule so you don’t miss your priorities.
16. Brookfield Zoo Encounters with Animals
If you want to spend more time with the animals in Brookfield Zoo, you can pay extra to do so.
Wild Encounters Brookfield Zoo
Brookfield Zoo Wild Encounters, with the term “wild” used quite liberally here, is basically a Brookfield Zoo petting zoo. There aren’t any tigers to ride in this section.
Pro tip: Members get in for half price.
Cost: $6 per adult, $3 for kids ages 3-11, $4 for seniors ages 65 and up
Brookfield Zoo Butterfly Exhibit
You can get up close and personal with the Brookfield Zoo butterflies during the summer only. They might land on you. They also might not.
Pro tip: Members get in for half price.
Cost: $4 per adult, $3 for kids ages 3-11, $3.50 for seniors ages 65 and up
Brookfield Zoo Giraffe Feeding
Can you feed the giraffes at Brookfield Zoo? Yes, you can feed them twice per day. Check the schedule at the time of your visit.
Brookfield Zoo Penguin Encounter
You can meet the penguins during this 30 minute Brookfield Zoo experience. You are in a group. If the penguin isn’t feeling you, you won’t be able to touch it.
Pro tip: The Brookfield Zoo Chicago penguin encounter is popular. Book in advance.
Minimum age: 5
Brookfield Zoo Feed the Penguins
If you really want to get in there, you can boot up and accompany an employee into the exhibit to feed the penguins. The maximum group size is two people.
Pro Brookfield Zoo visitor tip: This is popular. Book in advance.
Minimum age: 12
Cost: $150 for up to two people
17. Brookfield Zoo Food
Brookfield Zoo dining is just OK. It isn’t great for allergies, but there are options. Try Cafe Del Sol for gluten free salads and Leinie’s Lodge for a cocktail.
Alternatively, bring in your own food or visit a restaurant near Brookfield Zoo.
18. Can I Bring My Own Food into Brookfield Zoo?
You can bring outside food at Brookfield Zoo, but not alcohol or glass containers.
19. Does Brookfield Zoo Allow Dogs?
Only service animals are allowed. Your dog will not be swimming with the polar bear at Brookfield Zoo Chicago.
20. Check the Brookfield Zoo Special Events
The zoo runs special events throughout the year. The Halloween and holiday Brookfield Zoo Lights events are particularly popular. Check the schedule at the time of your visit.
21. Don’t Miss the Play Areas
Brookfield Zoo Playgrounds
There are free playgrounds throughout the zoo. These will be the least crowded first thing in the morning. Visit early to ensure your small child won’t be trampled.
Brookfield Zoo Hamill Family Play Zoo
The Hamill Family Play Zoo is an area with interactive exhibits. It is best enjoyed by young children.
Note: This area is not open all day. Check the schedule at the time of your Brookfield Zoo trip.
22. Get a Brookfield Zoo Tickets Discount
Is Brookfield Zoo free? Other than an occasional free day, no, it is not. If you want a free zoo in the Chicagoland area, try Lincoln Park.
As of the time of this writing, tickets to Brookfield Zoo are $24.95 per adult, $17.95 for kids ages three through 11, and $19.95 for seniors ages 65 and up. Kids under age three are free.
Note: You must purchase Brookfield Zoo Chicago tickets for a specific date.
Brookfield Zoo Discounts for Groups
If you are traveling with groups of 20 or more, you can get a special rate. As of the time of this writing, the cost is $18.25 per adult, $13.50 for kids ages three through 11, and $15.00 for seniors ages 65 and up.
Brookfield Zoo Deals for Military Personnel
Military members, both active and retired, get in free. Their families still need to pay.
Brookfield Zoo Membership
If you’re planning to visit more than once, a membership may make sense for you. Memberships get you additional perks like free parking, Brookfield Zoo passes for guests, and free admission to shows and attractions. Do the math to decide if it will save you money.
Groupon for Brookfield Zoo
You may be able to find discounted Brookfield Zoo entrance fees on Groupon.
Brookfield Zoo Library Pass
The Kids Museum Passport program through the Chicago Public Library provides free tickets for Brookfield Zoo for some family members.
23. COVID-19 Precautions
Do you have to wear a mask at Brookfield Zoo Chicago? As of the time of this writing, COVID-19 precautions have mainly been lifted. Masks are still required for some of the animal encounters, but that is about it.
Final Thoughts – Brookfield Zoo Tips
It doesn’t offer a downtown location, but it is worth a visit if your family is into animals. Be sure to check the weather, arrive early, and try not to pay full price. Use the Brookfield Zoo tips to help you maximize your day and enjoy the time with your kids. You will not regret it.