For anyone living or visiting Metro Detroit Michigan with kids


The ultimate guide to visiting the Detroit Zoo with kids

visiting the detroit zoo with kids

The Detroit Zoo is definitely at the top of our list for family-friendly places to visit in the Detroit Metro area. But like any major attraction, it can get pretty pricey if you have a big family. That’s what we’re here for! Here’s the ultimate guide to saving money and having kid-friendly fun at The Detroit Zoo.

When to visit the Detroit Zoo with kids

The zoo is open year-round, but the best times to visit are during the spring and summer. A lot of the attractions and dining options are closed in the fall and winter, and there are modified hours.

If you are able to visit on a weekday, general admission tickets tend to be cheaper and the zoo will be a bit less crowded.

Detroit Zoo with kids and adults admission Costs

The best way to guarantee entry is to purchase advance tickets online.

Online ticket prices:

  • $14-22 / Adults (19 years – 64)
  • $11-18 / Children (2 years – 18)
  • $11-18 / Seniors (65+)
  • + Parking / $8

*All general admission guests ages 2 and up are required to have a reservation prior to their visit.


Same-day prices at admission gates:

  • $23 / Adults (19 years – 64)
  • $19 / Children (2 years – 18)
  • $19 / Seniors (65+)
  • $19 / Military with ID (Active duty, retired and veterans, residents of Wayne, Oakland and Macomb county only)
  • + Parking / $8

A limited number of general admission tickets will be available at the gate each day. Entry is not guaranteed if you do not purchase tickets online in advance. The Detroit Zoo does not accept ANY coupons for admission costs, including from Groupon.

What to bring to the Detroit Zoo with kids

If you have small children, we’d highly recommend bringing your own stroller or wagon. The zoo is pretty big and those little legs are sure to get tired! 

You can rent strollers and wagons at the zoo if needed. Rented strollers and wagons can’t be brought on the Tauber Family Railroad. If you bring a personal stroller or wagon that folds up, you can take it with you on the train.

Another recommendation: Bring snacks and reusable water bottles! The zoo no longer sells plastic water bottles — you can either fill your own or buy a reusable water bottle at the zoo for pretty cheap. Picnic lunches are also allowed, and a great way to save money for your zoo trip! The zoo just asks that you don’t bring plastic straws or styrofoam into the zoo.

If you’re going in the summer, don’t forget to bring sunscreen! And dress for the weather no matter the season — bring plenty of layers for colder days, wear comfortable shoes, bring ponchos, etc. There are places in the zoo to either warm up or cool down (the penguin exhibit is great for that in the summertime), but of course the majority of the animal enclosures are outdoors, so be prepared!


Things to see and do at the Detroit Zoo with kids

We love all of the animal habitats in the zoo, but here are a few of our favorites that you won’t want to miss:

Polk Penguin Conservation Center

Probably the most popular exhibit in the Detroit Zoo is the Polk Penguin Conservation Center. The penguin exhibit finally opened back up in February after being closed since 2019. 

The 33,000-square-foot facility is a 326,000-gallon, 25-foot-deep aquatic area that is home to more than 75 penguins of five different species: Chinstrap penguins, Gentoo penguins, King penguins, Macaroni penguins, and Southern Rockhopper penguins. 

The center is designed to encourage wild behavior, with temperatures set to a near-freezing 37 degrees and the water temperature at 40 degrees. 

When you enter, you’re met with a 360-degree, 4-D entry experience that includes blasts of polar air and sea mist. Inside the center you’ll find “an underwater gallery with a vast acrylic window and two acrylic tunnels provides breathtaking views of the birds above, around and below, and allows guests to get nose to beak with the charismatic birds!”


Arctic Ring of Life 

Just outside of the penguin exhibit you’ll find one of America’s largest polar bear exhibits. The Arctic Ring of Life includes “the 70-foot-long Frederick and Barbara Erb Polar Passage, a clear tunnel that winds through a vast underwater marine environment. This 12-foot-wide, 8-foot-tall tunnel takes visitors underneath diving and swimming polar bears. Visitors then arrive in an “ice world”, passing through a frigid ice cave and finally entering the Exploration Station with additional indoor viewing.”

The exhibit also features the Southern Sea Otter!

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Australian Outback Adventure

Did you know the Detroit Zoo was the first zoo in the country to not have bars on their animal exhibits? The goal is to make the zoo feel more like the animals’ natural habitats — and like one giant park. The Australian Outback Adventure is an excellent example of this as there are no barriers at all!

In this exhibit, you can walk on the sidewalk among the kangaroos and wallabies — all of which are free to hop around wherever they please!

kangaroo at detroit zoo
Photo from Detroit Zoo

Great Apes of Harambee

Located inside the Zoo’s African Forest is the Great Apes of Harambee — a naturalistic habitat home to three silverback gorillas and 12 chimpanzees.

African Grasslands

You’ll feel like you’re on a safari in the African Grasslands habitat area. This area features the different species of the African Savannah — including warthogs, wildebeest, kookaburra, rhinoceros, lions, aardvarks, zebras, sloths and giraffes. 

Our favorite part of this area is the giraffe exhibit. In the spring and summer, you can purchase a ticket to stand on a raised platform and hand-feed the giraffes! (This encounter is currently closed, but it usually opens up in late spring).

Asian Forest

Kids always love to see the tigers at the zoo, right? Find them in the Asian Forest, along with adorable red pandas, lemurs, macaques and more.


Other Detroit Zoo attractions for kids:

Beyond the animal habitats, the zoo also has a few other fun attractions. All of the following attractions are only open from late Spring to early Fall.

The Tauber Family Railroad 

The Tauber Family Railroad is a great way to give everyone’s legs a break and view the zoo from a new perspective! Tickets are only $3 per-person. A great way to utilize the railroad is to either take it to the back of the zoo when you first arrive and then work your way to the front — or start in the front, and then take the train from the back of the zoo to the exit once everyone is too exhausted to make the walk back to the front.

Note: Rented strollers and wagons are not allowed on the railroad. Personal strollers or wagons that fold up can be stored on the back car of the train.


Carousel at Detroit Zoo

What little kid doesn’t love a good, old-fashioned carousel? Your little one can pick their favorite horse, zoo animal or dinosaur to ride on — and there’s a fun peacock chariot that’s ADA-compliant as well. Tickets are usually only a few dollars per ride.


If your little ones aren’t worn out from walking around the zoo all day, let them burn some energy at one of the zoos playventures! 

The first is the Korman Tadpole Playventure, which features animal habitat themed playground equipment: Kids will be able to climb through a spider web, crawl through animal burrows and engage in imaginative play throughout the area.

The second — Rissman Playventure — is more of a traditional playground, designed for children ages 5-12.  

Both of these playgrounds are located near the Main Picnic Grove — which is great if the little ones want to run around while the family is preparing or finishing their picnic lunches.

Your mobile device is your guide

Like most places these days, your mobile device is your guide for a day at The Detroit Zoo. Advanced ticket purchases are digital, printed maps are no longer available in the zoo, and you can even order your food online instead of waiting in long lines. Here’s how:

Use Detroit Zoo Treks

Zoo Treks is a digital, interactive map that lets you see what’s happening in the zoo in real-time. Get animal updates and see what’s open. Plus, skip the lines and order your food online ahead of time. Besides animal habitats and restaurants, the map also shows restroom locations, water bottle refilling stations, first aid stations and other health/safety information, rental stations, charging stations, nursing stations, picnic areas, accessibility areas, and attractions.


Zoo membership

If you think your family will visit multiple times a year, get a membership. Members are no longer required to make timed reservations in advance, but general admission still requires reservations. And since ticketing pricing varies by the day, if you visit more than twice a year, your membership is almost guaranteed to pay for itself. 

The best deal is the Family Membership — especially if you have more than two kids. The cost is $127/year for a regular membership or $117/year if you live in the Tri-Counties. The family membership includes unlimited admission for any two named adults and up to four named children. You can add on additional unnamed child tickets (if your kids like to bring friends) or named child tickets (if you have more than 4 kids). 

With the family membership:

If you have two kids, family membership pays for itself after 3 visits (if you go on weekends/popular times, tickets are more expensive and so it pretty much pays for itself by your second visit). If you have more than two kids, membership pays for itself by your second visit.

Benefits of a Detroit Zoo membership:

  • Unlimited admission during daytime public hours
  • Free parking
  • Discounts on merchandise and education programs
  • Early ticket access for all zoo events
  • Free subscriptions to digital quarterly magazine and newsletters
  • Discount on other zoos & aquariums on their list (including Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, SEA Life Michigan Aquarium, Battle Creek’s Binder Park Zoo, Grand Rapid’s John Ball Zoological Garden, Lansing’s Potter Park Zoological Gardens, Saginaw Children’s Zoo, Toronto Zoo, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, and more).
  • Zoo experience discounts 
  • Invites to member-only events 
  • Members don’t need to make online reservations to visit


For kids and adults with autism at the Detroit Zoo

The Detroit Zoo has partnered with the Autism Alliance of Michigan and KultureCity. They have a ton of resources available for people with autism. 

To start, you can download this PDF to help prepare for your zoo trip. This is a great visual aid to let anyone know what to expect at the zoo — including zoo rules, sensory information for different areas of the zoo, the types of animals, etc.

The historic log cabin in the Cotton Family Wolf Wilderness is a designated quiet area.

The zoo also partnered with KultureCity — so you can check out their website or download their app from the Apple App Store or Google Play to help prepare for your trip and give insight once you’re at the zoo. You can also check out sensory bags at Customer Care and the Park Safety Office.