PROS: small, family-friendly zoo that is not overwhelming in size or exhibits, yet still has an old-fashioned entertainment quality. Very nice staff. Beautiful location. Located next to Druid Hill Park, which is stunning in Spring and Fall.
CONS: small zoo clearly showing ongoing struggles with space and finance. Disgusting food. Scary trip through sketchy neighborhoods around the zoo. Windows up, folks, and follow safety signs (yes, there are safety signs) and use the freeway instead of backroads.
GOOD FOR: everyone. It is a wonderful spot for a date-bring a romantic picnic and a blanket for snoozing in the shade. The kids will love this place and beg you to come back.
A spontaneous trip the zoo may seem a little silly. But the truth is that we are never too old to spend the day strolling shady lanes to places we may only dream of in everyday life.
The zoo is the cure for what ails you: need some exercise? run through the zoo. Want to walk hand-in-hand with your lover? stroll through the zoo. Wishing you were in Africa? go visit the rhinos and giraffes at the zoo. Want a fun, educational experience for the little ones? head to the zoo. You get the picture.
Most folks in the Chesapeake region think of the National Zoo when they plan this sort of outing. But I highly recommend The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. It is close. It is a reasonable size. You can feel your feet at the end of the day. You don’t have to fight beltway and Wisconsin Avenue traffic. It is shaded with wonderful old trees so you aren’t baking as you stare at elephant dung wondering why you left the house in the first place.
It is situated in a stunningly beautiful pocket of forest and rolling hills, tucked next to Druid Hill Park. Looking up into the trees at ten thousand shades of autumnal glory, it is hard to believe you are still in Baltimore City. Unlike the National Zoo, which is situated on quite steep hills, The Maryland Zoo is comparatively flat with just a few undulations in elevation.
Located in a beautiful park-like setting, this small zoo is home to over 2,000 animals. It is generally considered to be the third oldest zoological park in the United States, having opened in 1876. Once a sprawling complex, the zoo was forced to reduce in size, making it pleasantly do-able, even with toddlers.
In fact, if it is possible, this zoo may be the perfect outing for toddlers. Just write into your plan plenty of time to stop and play. Alert! The first exhibit you encounter at this zoo is a huge jungle gym in bright inviting colors that my kids always beg to run to. This is before you even get into the zoo! Don’t be distracted. Keep going.
Visitors park in a free lot and take a very short walk of 100 yards or so to the zoo entrance. Once you enter, look to the left where a colony of very cute prairie dogs make for interesting viewing. Those prairie dogs sit up, fruit in their little paws, and look at you almost like a Meerkat: as if they know the meaning of Life and they are laughing at you because you are still looking for it, gawking at them whilst you think about it.
Hop on the tram and enter the zoo. The polar bears will be on your immediate left. Admittedly, this exhibit makes me slightly uncomfortable because I imagine polar bears lumbering across the ice. These bears lie around, looking quite bored, in a space seemingly too small for their ilk. Evidently, the zoo is refurnishing the bears’ digs, which is great. In the meantime, they are living in half the space the tiny exhibit normally includes. Walk to the far end of the exihibit and up the switchback ramp to the Tundra Buggy, the only one of its kind outside of Canada. The view of the bears below and the informative volunteers can be a great opportunity for learning something new.
Leaving the polar bears, walk across the way to Base Camp Discovery, a wide open lawn where you can frequently find zoo ambassadors (penguins, rabbits, roosters and much more) as well as zookeepers, trainers or other zoo educators. Cameron was once eyeball-to-eyeball with an African Penguin and Gemma was able to closely inspect the red spots of a turtle in this area. Alert! Don’t expect to touch the animals. They are strictly hands-off.
Next up is The Maryland Wilderness, where my children could spend all day. To enter, you must pass by enormous faux heron and oriole nests the kids can climb in (my kids think these are dinosaur nests). Again, you are stopping before you start, but it is such a cool place to talk about birds and birding and what it would be like to live in a nest. Caution: this exhibit may result in questions about where eggs come from. My advise is to simply respond: “what do you think?”
If you follow the boardwalk around, the children forge a tiny stream via large lilypads. Beware! If you do this at the beginning of your trip, you will have wet kiddos. Although they can safely pass without soaking themselves, I have never seen this happen as my kids love to splash and tilt the lilypads until they are thoroughly wet.
To avoid this (but how could you let your kids miss out on walking over lilypads?) enter the aviary and walk first toward the River Otters. They are frequently playing near the window. Hold your nose: they stink! If you walk around the exhibit toward the Hellbender’s cave, you can pass under a clear plexiglass bridge the otters frequently swim through.
After the tunnels comes a large cave. Although it appears very realistic, it is actually manufactured. Your kids won’t care, as they enter the dark space to find small snake exhibits, a large bat cave, and the huge “fossil” of a whooly mammoth that may have once lived in Maryland. My kids climb all over it, examining its tusks and ribs, and usually ask for a brush so they can look for more fossils. At this point Cameron ALWAYS whines about no T Rex and has to go to the bathroom. Inevitable. Every time.
Continue to the spinning turtle shells. Get out the camera and think about where you will picnic for lunch.
Keep going–there is a tunnel the kids can climb through and a little walk past some beehives to the Farmyard. This very kid-friendly area features a variety of rare domestic breeds that can be touched; the highlight is a petting area of very friendly goats called “The Kid Zone” . Get it? Other animals in this area include an owl, donkeys, cattle, chicken and pigs.
Check out the barn on the left. Wait! It’s not a barn! Its another slide, conveniently placed just before a large handwashing station.
Just pass Clean Up is a picnic area and concession stand. On the right is a small window for ice cream and treats. To the left is the cafe. BEWARE! If I could give you any advice it would be to pack your own lunch to the zoo. The food is very expensive and truly awful. The kid’s chicken tender meal (I can’t believe I actually bought this. I am so ashamed!) is one gross, fried, greasy tender, and the choice of chips, a cookie OR some fruit. Fruit being about 5 grapes. The Veggie Cup was a plastic container of what seemed to be partially-dehydrated-from-age-and-exposure carrots and celery. Spread some disgusting Jiffy style peanut butter jammed packed with hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup onto the celery for the zoo’s idea of a healthy snack for your baby. Unbelievable! Truly, the best feature of this area is the bathrooms, hand washing sink, and ATM. And the shaded Mary Poppins-‘esque picnic tables. Use your sanitizing wipes here.
On the left, you will see The Jones Falls Zephyr, a very cute train. Members can ride for $2 each, non-membersfor $3. The ride winds past the chimps and does a quick loop back to the station. The entire experience is about 5 minutes. But Cameron is obsessed with trains, and this little thrill-ride gives me a chance to rest my feet.
Past the concession stand is a carousel. Rides cost $2. The animals on the carousel are imaginative and colorful. Its the standard length ride. The kids always think it is very special.
Across from the carousel is the African Journey. Disturbingly, the sitatungas appear to have more space to wander than do the cheetahs. That being said, the cheetahs are always prowling and pacing when we visit, and this kids never forget to ask how fast a cheetah can run.
In this area you will find zebras, an elephant experience, a very large penguin exhibit (sadly, they have more space than the bears), warthogs (there are currently four little babies), tortoises and more. Note the little hippos: my sister-in-law’s father brought them to Maryland from Africa. A little six degrees of separation there.
The aviary is especially nice. Since the birds are so close, you can clearly see the colors, markings and physical features that make each unique and specially adapted for survival. Check out the spoonbill and ask your kids how that bird eats. The penguins are also here. The Maryland Zoo maintains the largest colony of African penguins in North America and is very active in rehabilitation of this animal’s survival in Africa.
Near the giraffes is a lion exhibit. We once visited during mating season and the lion was so cuddly and affectionate with the lioness I almost forgot how fierce these animals really are. Then the male opened its mouth to yawn. Since we were eye-level and only about 20 feet away, we could see it’s sharp, scary teeth. That was cool.
Just a short walk past the lions is the Chimpanzee Forest. There are some fun animals in here, but my kids always wander over to the frog exhibit. Pass through the building to the outside viewing area for the chimps. They never fail to delight with crazy antics, cute gestures and those intriguing pink behinds. (Read the book Chicken Cheeksbefore your visit, and your kids will amuse you all day with the theme).
The boardwalk will carry you back to the entrance of the zoo, where you doggedly get the children past the carousel, Dipping Dots and cotton candy, back to the tram.
The Maryland Zoo is located in Baltimore City near Druid Hill Park. Having driven several routes in my quest to find the safest, easiest and fastest way, I can advise you to follow Pratt Avenue to President Street. IMPORTANT ALERT! Stay in your left hand lane on President because the on-ramp to 83 comes up on you suddenly and requires a sharp, unexpected left turn. Stay to your right on 83, taking exit 7, Druid Park Lake Drive, staying straight until you take a clearly marked right into the zoo.
On the way out, take a left from the zoo entrance, headed toward 83. Follow the traffic, staying to your left to turn at the light onto Druid Park Lake Drive. VERY IMPORTANT ALERT! Keep your eyes open for 83. It comes up quick on your right. Very quick! Follow the road for a short bit. On your left will be a large sign indicating the upcoming entrance to 83. It is completely hidden by a tree and if you continue straight you end up in a not-so-nice area. So tune out the kids, turn off the bluetooth for a minute, and pay attention to the road! Take the left exit, then an almost immediate sharp right. Once you are on 83, you’re set. Follow it to Lombard. Follow Lombard to Greene Street, turn left and head to all points.
HOURS: Open Daily 10-4
PRICE: Admission is slightly steep, but supports an enormously wonderful cause. I bought the family membership, which has been payed off many times over since we have visited the park at least 5 times already this year. http://www.marylandzoo.org/visitor-information/hours-ticketing/
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