If you haven’t visited our local award winning zoo, you are missing out on one of the best things Columbia has to offer! I’ve been to several “world famous” zoos, and Riverbanks holds its own against them all. Here are a few tips to make your trip to the zoo less mess and stress.
Follow the zoo on Facebook
On the Riverbanks Facebook page you’ll find information on new additions, special events, and temporary exhibit closings. You’ll also find information on recently born baby animals. Among those from the past year are the Galapagos tortoises, baby King Cobras, a baby Koala and now baby penguins and flamingos! The Facebook page also offers information on special events like Boo at the Zoo and the Lights Before Christmas (which includes Santa, snow, and more!). Sometimes during the year they have promotional days with discounted or free admission. So, keep an eye out to avoid missing these special deals!
If you want to avoid the crowds, go to the zoo during off peak hours such as near opening or closing time (9 a.m. or 4 p.m.). The large parking lot usually fills up by 11, so it’s best to arrive early. Also, note the foot traffic when you enter the zoo, and consider starting the loop backwards instead of following the masses. That way, there should be smaller crowds at each exhibit along your way. If you have toddlers or homeschool students, some of the best times to go are during school hours.
Consider a Membership
A membership to Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is a great deal. Only a few trips per year will make you break even. Plus, you get free tickets to certain zoo events, discounts, discounted entrance to other zoos, and free guest passes. Your membership will also include the Botanic Garden and Waterfall Junction. However, the real benefit is being able to drop by the zoo anytime, not stressing over seeing everything. With a membership, the zoo becomes a park of trails and a playground or air conditioned indoor areas and a place where you can cool off in the flowing waters of Waterfall Junction. Visiting more often means getting to spot the animals at different times of day and seasons doing completely different things.
Discover the Zoo Programs
The zoo offers a variety of wonderful programs! There are parents nights out and family safaris or behind the scenes tours. Brew at the Zoo, wine tasting, Members Night Out, Boo at the Zoo, and Lights Before Christmas happen annually. For extra fun during your visit, the zoo offers a ropes course, pony rides, a train ride, rock climbing, carousel, and ziplining (which may be an additional cost depending on your membership level). You can feed birds inside their walk through enclosure, giraffes on the overlook, and goats in the barnyard for $3 or less. For free with your admission, there’s Waterfall Junction on the Botonical Garden side and a playground near the connecting bridge in the zoo. Riverbanks has a number of educational programs as well. These include, but are not limited to, homeschool days, gardening classes for kids and adults, camps for ages 3-13, teen internships, and more! They do weddings and birthday parties too. You can even buy their compost with elephant poo, and it is amazing!
Check out the Map Beforehand
Luckily, Riverbanks is easy to navigate. Still, checking the map can help you know what you most want to see and where to start. When you enter the zoo you will see Sea Lion Landing and the gift shop to the left. Straight ahead is the aquarium. To the right is the aviary (where the penguins and most of the birds are) and the otters. Further to the right, on the loop path, are bears, lions, and the tiger. On the left, there is a walk through kangaroo exhibit, the gorillas indoor exhibit, a tunnel of exhibits, and the outdoor part of the gorilla exhibit. Then, you reach the African section, then a Barnyard section. Additional exhibits includes Galapagos and other tortoises, koala’s, parrots, Komodo dragons, apes and an alligator. The bridge to the gardens is behind the carousel near the koala’s house. The Riverbanks restaurant is pretty much in the center of the zoo, but there are snack stands throughout, and even Starbucks. Most of the zoo is handicap accessible for those with wheelchairs. Heads up: you can rent wheelchairs and strollers, including double strollers, near the entrance. There is a tram you can take across the bridge to help you enter the Botanical Gardens. The Garden also has it’s own separate entrance which provides easy access to Waterfall Junction.