The Calgary Zoo is one of the best we’ve toured (across the US and Canada). Why? It’s large, but not massive, clean, as interactive as possible, and well-laid out.
As with all zoos, the best way to tour is to start early; most animals are most active during the morning hours. This zoo is set up with an ‘island’ and a main space, with a bridge across a tributary of the Bow River (which is on the other side of the zoo) to separate them. Yes, it’s very scenic. When you enter via Calgary Zoo’s main North Gate, you start on the mainland, and the first thing you tour is the Penguin Plunge arctic exhibit. (During our visit in May of 2014, the secondary entrance, which looks quite convenient, was closed for repair following the Calgary flood of 2013.)
This section of the zoo also houses the Canadian Wilds exhibits and the Prehistoric Park. Obviously, the latter is not an animal exhibit, but rather a large walking space with trails meandering through various prehistoric settings (distinguished by artificial rock formations, flora and fauna). Around each curve or up on each hillside, a different dinosaur structure awaits. We walked through the whole area, and while my school-aged kids enjoyed it as a place to release some energy, it’s best suited for small kids who might be at the peak of their dinosaur fan days.
On the other side of the bridge on the island, the Africa and Eurasia exhibits await. The Rainforest building is incredible; not only can you take off jackets in this tropical building, but the gorilla exhibit is fascinating. These animals are amazing! Outdoors, various monkey and small animal exhibits lead to the giraffes, zebras, and other larger African mammals. Especially entertaining during our visit were the hippos, who also have their own indoor and outdoor facility.
This area of the zoo is right on the banks of the Bow River, and less than one year after the Calgary flood, it’s already hard to imagine the damage done here. The clean-up and rebuild has been outstanding. The Eurasia section houses the tigers, camels, and additional Asian animals, with a large food court between them. There’s also a botanical garden here, and two children’s play spaces for a break from the animals.
Note: The Calgary Zoo features more indoor exhibits within large buildings than any other I’ve seen. No matter the weather, there’s something to do, and tickets are discounted for indoor-only days.
We ate mid-tour at Kitamba Cafe (http://www.calgaryzoo.com/plan-your-visit/zoo-services/eating-dining) which offers a large indoor dining area and two quick-service options: a cafeteria style venue and bistro (coffee bar) style venue. We got the usual fare of chicken strips, fries, and sandwiches to refuel.
Admission is very reasonable at $23 for adults and $15 for kids (3-15). There are computerized kiosks past the parking area at which to purchase tickets on busy days, as well as a main ticket booth. Parking is $7.
Spring/Summer hours are 9 am to 5 pm, with buildings open until 5:45 pm.
Full directions to the zoo. Families can also take Calgary Transit via the Northeast Line (Route 202) and be deposited directly at the entrance.
We toured the Calgary Zoo on our Great Coast Road Trip with Coast Hotels. Read more about our road trip through the Wild West of Alberta!