12 Largest Zoos in the United States to Visit in 2024

A zoo can be an excellent place to watch creatures from the wild up close. For others, these institutions evoke memories of childhood excursions as locations to see species from all over the world, but they may also spark debate. Finding zoos and animal parks that educate visitors about the value of all animals, as well as conservation activities and research to save endangered species and dwindling habitats, may make eco-conscious tourists feel good about their visit. 

List of 12 Largest Zoos in the United States

Below is the list of the top 12 zoos in the United States:

  1. Oakland Zoo
  2. Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute
  3. Alaska SeaLife Center
  4. Saint Louis Zoo
  5. Fort Worth Zoo
  6. San Diego Zoo and Safari Park
  7. Bronx Zoo
  8. Brevard Zoo
  9. Minnesota Zoo
  10. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium
  11. Audubon Zoo
  12. Denver Zoo

1. Oakland Zoo

The Oakland Zoo, located approximately 20 miles east of downtown San Francisco, is a nationally recognized leader in animal welfare, rescue, and conservation. In 1991, the Oakland Zoo pioneered the “protected contact” approach to animal care. The innovative approach (now employed by animal behaviorists all around the world) separates zookeepers and elephants with barriers and incentivizes the animals via incentives rather than discipline.

The Oakland Zoo is home to over 850 native and exotic species. Visitors may observe African lions, American alligators, and grizzly bears in their natural environments. The Oakland Zoo, which is managed by the Conservation Society of California, has cooperated with 25 conservation groups and contributed more than $1 million to assist captive and wild animals.

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2. Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute

The National Zoo, located in Rock Creek Park, approximately 2 miles northwest of downtown Washington, DC, was established in 1889 by President Grover Cleveland. Visitors love the free entrance and the opportunity to see over 2,100 creatures on show, including Andean bear cubs, Bennett’s wallabies, and California sea lions.

Throughout the site, visitors may see lions, orangutans, meerkats, and seals, as well as listen to daily zookeeper talks. The Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute’s mission also extends outside the capital city, with scientific investigations, endangered species births, and animal reintroductions into the wild all around the world.

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3. Alaska SeaLife Center

This one-of-a-kind facility houses the only state-authorized rehabilitation program for live-stranded marine animals. It allows visitors to learn about Alaska’s marine ecosystems while also benefiting the center’s wildlife response and scientific research initiatives.

Visitors to Alaska SeaLife Center may observe sea lions, seals, king crabs, horned puffins, gigantic Pacific octopuses, and other animals while learning about the marine ecosystem’s importance. Visitors may take behind-the-scenes tours with the care and education teams to learn about the center’s wildlife activities.

In addition to teaching on a local and global scale, the center’s mission is to enhance understanding through the development and dissemination of scientific information. The Chiswell Island Steller Sea Lion Remote Video Monitoring Project is one of the facility’s primary conservation initiatives. Scientists have been monitoring endangered animals since 1998, and the 25-year experiment has yielded long-term insights and several scholarly papers.

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4. Saint Louis Zoo

The free Saint Louis Zoo, one of the best things to do in St. Louis, is committed to research and conservation. The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums honored the institution with the Worldwide Conservation Award in 2022 for its research and activities in the Galapagos Islands. Furthermore, zookeepers recently produced and released hundreds of almost extinct snail species into the wilds of French Polynesia.

The animal park houses around 16,000 species, which visitors claim are kept in clean and large natural settings. The Saint Louis Zoo, which is open year-round and free to visitors, is home to a variety of animals, including Andean bears, black rhinoceroses, polar bears, and Sumatran orangutans. There’s also the Emerson Zooline Railroad, which has a new electric locomotive that takes guests on a 1.5-mile guided journey throughout the park, a 4D movie theater, a carousel, and behind-the-scenes excursions.

5. Fort Worth Zoo

The Fort Worth Zoo has been educating tourists since 1909 and is Texas’ longest-continuously operating zoo. This Fort Worth attraction is one of just a few zoos in the United States that houses bonobos (one of the four great ape species) and two rhino species. The building also includes the Museum of Living Art, which is packed with reptiles and amphibians. Recent visitors are delighted with the cleanliness and design of the enclosures, and they recommend using the Yellow Rose Express train. Furthermore, the zoo is a pioneer in Asian elephant conservation and has the world’s most successful lesser flamingo breeding colony.

6. San Diego Zoo and Safari Park

The world-renowned San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park attract over 6 million visitors each year, and with good reason. The San Diego Zoo Animal Alliance, which includes the two sites, focuses on animal health and care, education, and science, as well as sustainable conservation projects.

Visitors to both parks will witness these ideas in action while also contributing to the programs’ financial success. Visitors may see koalas, lions, pygmy hippopotamuses, and Tasmanian devils, while Safari Park guests can see larger one-horned rhinos, elephants, gorillas, platypuses, and Matschie’s tree kangaroos in habitats inspired by the animals’ natural settings.

From its early efforts to preserve the California condor from extinction in the early 1980s to contemporary zoo-based collaborative breeding, research, and reintroduction projects, the alliance has a global effect through eight conservation centers on six continents. The zoo’s global projects have benefited polar bears, leopards, giant otters, chimpanzees, and elephants, to mention a few.

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7. Bronx Zoo

The Bronx Zoo in New York City is the biggest urban zoo in the United States, covering 265 acres and home to over 700 species. Because it is difficult to see the entire site in one day, plan your visit around must-see attractions such as the Wild Asia Monorail and the Congo Gorilla Forest. The glass-enclosed rainforest environment puts you face to face with chest-thumping western lowland gorillas and other African creatures.

Travelers say the zoo is larger than imagined and a terrific place to enjoy the outdoors while viewing red pandas, bears, sea lions, and tigers in the city. In addition to the displays, the conservationists at the zoo work to save, raise, and reintroduce endangered species all over the world, including American bison on the western plains and Kihansi spray toads in Tanzania. The zoo’s educational programs provide a more in-depth experience.

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8. Brevard Zoo

The Brevard Zoo, located around 60 miles southeast of Orlando’s amusement parks and 30 miles southwest of the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, provides entertaining and informative activities in a reasonable environment. Families may explore the open-air displays, which feature alligators, giraffes, and zebras. The ecosystems are stunning, with enough shade, and the must-do zip line experience.

For a one-of-a-kind zoo experience, take a guided kayak trip to see Expedition Africa’s rhinos and lemurs from the water, or board the train to see camels, antelope, and African cattle. Furthermore, the zoo is working on conservation activities to conserve the surrounding habitat, such as establishing a sea turtle treatment center and creating living shorelines.

9. Minnesota Zoo

The Minnesota Zoo, located on roughly 500 acres of woods and freshwater ponds about 20 miles south of downtown Minneapolis, is accessible year-round and features both indoor and outdoor exhibits.

Visitors may witness about 500 different species, including local fauna like beavers, river otters, and wolverines, as well as creatures from all over the world such as sea otters, brown bears, Komodo dragons, and Amur tigers. Visitors admire the exhibit’s cleanliness and enjoy wandering the interior and outdoor pathways during all four seasons.

The newly built Treetop route leads visitors on an elevated 1.25-mile walking route 32 feet above the zoo’s refurbished monorail track. The comprehensive outdoor experience is available year-round and offers a unique perspective on local plant species, marshes, tigers, caribou, buffalo, and other wildlife.

Wildlife conservation is central to the zoo’s goal, and its scientists spearhead efforts to rebuild the state’s bison population and safeguard endangered prairie butterfly species. Conservation efforts for black rhinos and chinchillas are among the international outreach initiatives.

10. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium

One of the best things to do in Omaha is to visit the Henry Doorly Zoo, which has 160 acres of animal habitats and flora from all over the world. Visitors may stand in a safe bubble in Hubbard Gorilla Valley as gorillas walk about them, see sea lions and harbor seals in a cutting-edge habitat with a 40-foot underwater viewing window, and see elephants and rhinos in an outdoor grassland environment.

The Desert Dome, a popular attraction for visitors, is divided into three desert sections: the Namib Desert, the Red Centre of Australia, and the Sonoran Desert, each with its own animal and plant life. Be sure to visit the aquarium, where you can see aquatic life through a 70-foot shark tunnel.

To aid in the research and protection of endangered species, the zoo engages in several conservation initiatives in reproductive physiology, medicine, nutrition, and molecular genetics.

11. Audubon Zoo

The Audubon Zoo, one of ten Audubon Nature Institute locations, holds a variety of animals in unusual natural settings, making it a popular family visit.

The Louisiana Swamp exhibit teaches visitors how Cajuns exploited Native American conservation strategies to develop a distinct culture and cuisine in a swampy setting. The Jaguar Jungle is home to spider monkeys, macaws, ocelots, and, of course, jaguars, all in a Mayan jungle replica replete with an archaeologist-themed exhibit. The five-story treehouse atop Monkey Hill (New Orleans’ highest point) features a slide, wading pools, and bronze lion statues.

12. Denver Zoo

The Denver Zoo, which spans 84 acres and is home to over 3,000 species, focuses on conservation and sustainability. Its award-winning habitats, such as the Toyota Elephant Passage, provide tourists with vistas of Asian elephants, larger one-horned rhinoceroses, and tapirs. The Benson Predator Ridge offers close-up views of two lion prides and hyenas. 

Conclusion

Finally, the United States is home to an impressive number of zoos, each of which provides unique opportunities for visitors to discover and enjoy wildlife from all over the world. There’s something for everyone, from the wide ecosystems of the Oakland Zoo to the conservation-focused programs of the Smithsonian National Zoo and the immersive underwater world of the Alaska SeaLife Center.

Whether it’s the free admission and diverse species at Saint Louis Zoo, the iconic exhibits at San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, or the immersive wildlife experience at Bronx Zoo, these zoos make a significant contribution to conservation, education, and appreciation for our planet’s incredible biodiversity.

FAQs

Can I Bring Outside Food and Drinks?

Policies on outside food and drinks vary. Some zoos allow them in designated areas, while others have restrictions. Refer to their guidelines.

Are Strollers and Wheelchairs Available for Rent in the Zoos?

Most zoos offer stroller and wheelchair rentals. Check with the zoo’s guest services for availability and fees.

Can I Bring my Pet to the Zoo?

For the safety and comfort of all guests and animals, pets are generally not allowed inside the zoo. Service animals may be an exception; check with the zoo beforehand.

Which is the Largest Private Zoo in the United States?

The Phoenix Zoo is the biggest privately owned zoo in the United States. It is located in Phoenix, Arizona, and spans 125 acres of land.

What are the Oldest Zoos in America?

The Central Park Zoo in New York City is the United States’ oldest zoo, having opened in 1864. 

Which US Zoo has the Most Animals?

The San Diego Zoo, California is home to nearly 12,000 animals, representing over 650 species and subspecies. The 100-acre zoo is renowned for its size, diversity, and wildlife rescue efforts. Some of the species found in the San Diego Zoo are unique to the globe.  

What Country has the Most Zoos?

The United States has the most zoos of any country, with 350. The United States has 230 certified zoos and aquariums in 45 states, with 6,000 species and 800,000 animals. 

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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