An Afternoon at Portland’s Oregon Zoo

Located in the heart of Portland’s beloved Washington Park, the Oregon Zoo is a 64-acre complex housing five major exhibit areas and over two hundred species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and invertebrates.

Home to one of the most renowned elephant programs in the United States, children and adults from around the region are eagerly awaiting the ribbon cutting of the state-of-the-art Elephant Land Exhibit scheduled for November of this year.

While the zoo is a popular field-trip destination for school children in both Washington and Oregon, we visited the zoo as a family in late July.

As previously mentioned, the zoo is grouped in five major exhibit areas: Asia, Great Northwest, Pacific Shores, Africa, Fragile Forest. Much of the experience is in the shadows of deciduous and coniferous trees (a nice relief from both sun and rain). We walked in a clockwise direction, starting with the Great Northwest. Interactive ExhibitsIf you have toddlers or elementary-age children, you may notice many of the exhibits are interactive and at kid-level. Another “nice to have” is a zoo key that, when inserted into one of the many talk boxes scattered throughout the grounds, plays a recorded dialogue about a particular animal’s behavior, habitat, diet (etc.)—zoo keys run $2.50 and are worth the price (even if just for the novelty of spotting the talk boxes).   Educational ExperienceOngoing throughout the day are keeper talks and animal activities. We arrived too late in the day to make it to a keeper talk (the last one ends at 3PM), but plan on taking advantage of this free service on our next trip to the Oregon Zoo. Also worth noting is the Wildlife Live raptor show that runs three times a day (10AM, 12PM, 2PM) from Tiger Plaza.

keeper talkAnother fun zoo experience is a ride on the recently remodeled zoo railway. The last train ride of the day is at 5PM, but plan to get in line by 4:30PM.

trainAnother consideration for summertime zoo goers is the summer concert series. Located between the Predators of the Serengeti and the future Elephant Lands exhibit is the Oregon Zoo stage and concert lawn. Drawing some fairly big headliners (Moment of sadness: The “Weird Al” Yankovic: The Mandatory World Tour is already sold out.), patrons with paid concert tickets receive free zoo admission for the day.

Worth noting is that show seating is available on a first-come, first-serve basis and that there’s a process to attending the show. Gates open at 5PM and we observed a growing line of people seated in their lawn chairs along the right-hand side of the path (leading up the hill towards the main entrance). While there was plenty of room for everyone, one “bummer” is that access to the Africa exhibit is limited after 4PM. Had we known this was going to happen, perhaps we would have been better off starting in the opposite direction at the beginning of our trip. C’est la vie!

concert peopleThe true highlight of our visit was learning about the zoo’s Asian elephants; especially Lily, the now two and a half year-old toddler* born at the Oregon zoo on November 30, 2012. A zookeeper happened to be down at the far end of the exhibit and answered many of our questions. Apparently the elephants enjoy the summer concerts (I hope they love the Weird Al show!). ElephantsAs you can see, the highly-anticipated Elephant Lands exhibit is nearly complete (read about the zoo’s elephant lands projects, programs, and initiatives here: One funny thing we noticed were the informational signs for the various construction equipment housed behind the fences. For example, here we have Loadum dumpsis, commonly known as dump truck. ConstructionThe Elephant Lands project is one of several improvement initiatives that started in 2012 with a veterinary medicine center and Penguinarium. 2014 brought the new zoo railway and the Condors of the Columbia exhibit. Elephant Lands is scheduled to open in November of this year, and looking forward zoo patrons can expect the following: a new education center (2017), polar bear habitat (2018), and primate and rhino habitats (2020).AnimalsAll in all, we had a fantastic afternoon at the Oregon Zoo. Admission prices are $11.50/adult and kids 3-11 are $8.50. Various discounts are offered for veterans, people who arrived by public transportation, or anyone visiting on the second Tuesday of the month. You can save time and money by buying an annual membership and/or purchasing your tickets online. Anyone driving their own car and parking in the Washington Park lot can expect to pay $1.60/hour (parking can be limited, especially on a nice summer day). Read all the details and fine print on this page:

steller cove* Speaking of babies and toddlers, if you are a human mother who is currently nursing your own child, look for a designated area near the covered sandbox area in the Pacific Shores exhibit. This is also a nice place to enjoy a moment of shaded solitude and let your kids dig around with sand toys.

About the Author

Julie Henning
Julie Henning is a freelance writer and journalist based out of Eugene, Oregon. She is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and owner of the family-travel website She is a recent past member of the Midwest Travel Writers Association and the Association for Great Lakes Outdoor Writers. Julie is the Oregon Coast destination specialist for Bindu Media, an itinerary-focused website launching in Spring 2016 and featuring the work of 200+ professional, indie travel writers. Julie has been published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Illinois), the Rochester Post Bulletin, Wisconsin Natural Resources (DNR) Magazine, Sustainable Chicago Magazine, Group Tour Magazine, Student Group Tour Magazine, Silent Sports Magazine, Intercom Magazine,, and FTF Geocacher Magazine. Julie has appeared on Wisconsin Public Radio, Ohio Public Radio, and KCBX FM Central Coast Radio and is an affiliate producer with the Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer, a National Public Radio travel podcast. She has blogged for, Travel Oregon, and VISIT Milwaukee. Julie travels with her three kids and black lab as much as possible and lives by the motto, "Not all who wander are lost." Check out some of her best work at