The best zoo exhibits not only educate, but also engage visitors by transporting them to another place – whether it be the foothills of the Himalayas, a Florida swamp or the Australian Outback. We asked a panel of zoo professionals and family travel experts to nominate their favorite animal exhibits in the United States, then readers voted for the best. Here are the 10 best zoo exhibits across the country for 2023.
Photo courtesy of Steve Goodall
No. 10: California Trail at Oakland Zoo - Oakland, California
The California Trail at the Oakland Zoo invites visitors to investigate the role humans have played in shaping the ecology of the San Francisco Bay area. This popular exhibit "highlights the delicate balance between plants, animals, and humans, and the impact of change on all three." While exploring the California Trail, keep an eye out for American bison, black bears, California condors, eagles, mountain lions, gray wolves, grizzly bears and jaguars.
Photo courtesy of JoEllen Toler/Saint Louis Zoo
No. 9: River's Edge at Saint Louis Zoo - St. Louis, Missouri
River’s Edge, the Saint Louis Zoo’s first immersion exhibit, opened in 2002 and today takes visitors on a journey through four continents. Wander the riverbanks of South America with capybaras and giant anteaters, then journey into the African Savanna and Nile regions with black rhinos, hippos, hyenas and cheetahs. See the mighty Asian elephants grazing on grass or splashing under a waterfall, then go home to North America and Missouri’s wetland and river aquarium.
Photo courtesy of Amy Smotherman Burgess // Zoo Knoxville
No. 8: Boyd Family Asian Trek at Zoo Knoxville - Knoxville, Tennessee
Zoo Knoxville’s Boyd Family Asian Trek "bridges the gap between curiosity and conservation." This beloved exhibit is home to Malayan tigers, white-naped cranes, silvered leaf langurs and white-handed gibbons. Guests can observe these species while climbing a multi-level tree house or walking across a swinging suspension bridge.
Photo courtesy of Brevard Zoo
No. 7: Kayaking tour at Brevard Zoo - Melbourne, Florida
This Melbourne, Florida zoo is the only one in the United States to offer a guided kayaking tour around an animal exhibit. Family members ages five and up can enjoy a guided trip on the Nyami Nyami River in the Brevard Zoo’s Expedition Africa exhibit, floating past giraffes, ostriches, impalas, lemurs, zebras and more. Take a self-guided kayak tour through the restored Wetlands area in the Wild Florida exhibit for a more adventurous trip.
Photo courtesy of OKC Zoo, Jennifer D.
No. 6: Oklahoma Trails at Oklahoma City Zoo - Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma Trails at the Oklahoma City Zoo is a complex, 7-acre habitat that attempts to interpret the 11 various “life zones” within the state. More than 800 animals live within the habitat, and each of the 11 different life zones offers visitors a themed educational experience. Enjoy exploring such areas as the Ozark Highlands and the Black Mesa, while observing animals including bears, lions and alligators.
Photo courtesy of Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens
No. 5: Land of the Tiger at Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens - Jacksonville, Florida
The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, which occupies more than 115 acres, is home to more than 2,000 animals from around the globe and 1,000 plants. While visiting, be sure to check out the beloved Land of the Tiger area. This exhibit provides a home for Malayan and Sumatran tigers, free to roam through the Asia Loop on a series of trails. Guests can see these animals from almost any angle while enjoying the 2.5-acre exhibit.
Photo courtesy of ZooTampa at Lowry Park
No. 4: David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center - Tampa, Florida
The David A. Straz, Jr. Manatee Critical Care Center of ZooTampa at Lowry Park has been helping manatees since it was founded in 1991. It was the first manatee critical care center ever built specifically to care manatees who are injured or ill. Guests can observe the rehabilitation process in the recovery pools of Manatee Mangrove, and the non-profit organization hopes to inspire young people to protect these creatures.
Photo courtesy of iStock / slowmotiongli
No. 3: Night Hunters at Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden - Cincinnati, Ohio
The Night Hunters exhibit at the Cincinnati Zoo takes visitors for a walk on the wild side. It was carefully planned to provide guests with a multi-sensory experience where they can observe a variety of cats and other animals who are nocturnal hunters. The animals here include the clouded leopard, the black-footed cat, fennec fox, vampire bats and aardvarks.
Photo courtesy of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
No. 2: Rocky Mountain Wild at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo - Colorado Springs, Colorado
Colorado wildlife is front and center in this exhibit at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. The 3-acre space is home to a moose wandering amid pine woods with his own small lake, mountain lions in a naturalistic rock canyon, the elusive Canada lynx, river otters playing in a pond, and grizzly bears roaming the mountainside.
Photo courtesy of Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
No. 1: Asian Highlands at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo - Omaha, Nebraska
The Asian Highlands exhibit at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo begins with visitors entering beneath a replica Himalayan ruin and then traveling along a footpath that takes them through "the southern foothills of the Himalayans." Along their journey, visitors will observe Indian rhinos, sloth bears, red pandas, snow leopards and much more.