Northwest has amazing list of zoos and parks
While the Northwest may not have Southern California's theme parks, it does have some of the country's finest zoos -- an entertaining assortment of urban and "let-the-animals-roam-free" wildlife parks.
These zoos may be different than you remember. Gone are the days when zoos were simply a collection of animals in cages. Today's zoos and wildlife parks concentrate on creating a natural habitat for their animal tenants. The growing number of wildlife parks offers the ultimate in zoo design, giving the animals space and a natural environment while people remain "caged" in trams, cars and trains that travel through the park.
Maybe the best known wildlife park in Washington State is Northwest Trek, operated by the Tacoma Metropolitan Park District. This 715-acre preserve is located near Eatonville in the foothills of Mount Rainier.
At Northwest Trek, visitors see more than 200 North American species from a tram or on foot. Viewing areas include Wolf Overlook, Bear Bridge, the Forest Animal Complex and Cat Country, where you'll see cougars, bobcats and lynx. The tram tour takes 45 minutes and you'll see a number of animals roaming "free" - bison, moose, bighorn sheep, caribou, deer and antelope.
Northwest Trek is on Highway 161, six miles north of Eatonville. For information, phone 360-832-6117 or visit www.nwtrek.org.
Wolf Haven is one of the most unique wildlife parks in the Northwest. It's home to many wolves including several different subspecies. Wolf Haven frequently stages an evening "Howl-In" that includes story-telling by the campfire, a marshmallow roast and howling with the wolves.
Located south of Olympia near Tenino, Wolf Haven started operations solely to save wild animals. For more information, phone 800-448-9653 or visit www.wolfhaven.org.
Olympic Game Farm
The Olympic Game Farm is near Sequim and has two types of tours, walking and driving. You'll see grizzlies, elk, yak, bison, burros, wolverines, lions, tigers and leopards. The elk will walk right up and push their noses through your car window. For many years, the Game Farm worked with Walt Disney Studios to train and house animals used in the making of major motion pictures.
For more information, phone 360-683-4295 or visit www.olygamefarm.com.
Point Defiance Zoo
Point Defiance Zoo is the centerpiece of the spectacular park by the same name near downtown Tacoma, Washington. The zoo won an award in the 80's for what is regarded by many as one of the best polar bear habitats in any modern zoo. An 11-foot-deep saltwater pool with underwater viewing windows lets visitors get close-up to the 10-foot bear.
The zoo has a Pacific Rim theme with exhibits that include Northwest American animals, creatures of the Arctic tundra, inhabitants of the Asian forest and a Pacific Rim Aquarium. Also featured at the zoo are mammals, reptiles, birds, and a red wolf sanctuary and breeding program.
The zoo turned 100 years old in 2005, and has beautiful views of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier, and the Olympic Mountains, and is located on 29 acres within the 700-acre park.
Point Defiance is the only combined zoo and aquarium in the Northwest. You'll see seahorses and sharks, peacocks and penguins, wolves and walrus, all in one place.It is the only facility in the Pacific Northwest to exhibit beluga whales, a Pacific walrus and large sharks.
For more information on exhibits, hours, prices,and special events call 253-591-5337 or visit their website at www.pdza.org.
More Asian elephants have been born at the Oregon Zoo in Portland than any other zoo worldwide. In 1962, Packy became the first elephant born in the western hemisphere in more than 40 years. The zoo had its humble beginnings in 1887 in the back of a pharmacy in downtown Portland, and is now one of the top paid attractions in Oregon
The zoo has a polar bear exhibit that is accessed through a tunnel in the "winter environment" which gives you the feeling of being under the polar ice. You have the option of touring the park on foot or on your choice of three different train excursions.
For more information on exhibits, hours, prices, and special events call 503-226-1561, ext. 0, or visit their website at www.oregonzoo.org.
Woodland Park Zoo
Woodland Park Zoo is Seattle's entry into the Northwest zoo sweepstakes and is considered among the world's premier zoos, renowned for its animal care, animal facilities and conservation programs. It features what is regarded as the best gorilla exhibit in the world. The exhibit was carefully planned to give visitors a chance to see gorillas behaving naturally, but it also allows places for the animals to hide when they need privacy.
At Woodland Park Zoo, animals are grouped according to where they live in the wild. The zoo's African Savannah for example, is home to giraffes, zebras, monkeys, native birds and hippos.
Willawong Station, open in 2005, is a walk-thru exhibit of 150 free-flying colorful birds. There is a small additional charge for this exhibit which includes a seed stick to feed the birds, literally from your hands or head whichever the case may be. For more information on exhibits, hours, prices, and special events call 206-684-4800 or visit their website at www.zoo.org.
Greater Vancouver Zoo
Situated on over 120 acres of parklands and with 800 animals from all over the world, the Greater Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove, British Columbia, is home to lions, tigers, elephants, jaguars and leopards. It also hosts daily tiger and hippo feedings, and a Safari Express Miniature Train.
A short narrated train tour will take you around the perimeter of the zoo, and a 15-minute narrated bus tour will actually take you inside of the North American Wilds enclosure where you will be able to watch bear, wolves, elk, and bison roam free in their natural habitat. Watch as Lions and Tigers devour large chunks of raw meat right before your eyes -- but make sure you keep all of your appendages inside the vehicle. For more information on exhibits, hours, prices, and special events call 604-856-6825 or visit their website at www.gvzoo.com.
British Columbia Wildlife Park
The British Columbia Wildlife Park in Kamloops B.C. has more species diversity than any other province in Canada, and is home to over half the endangered species in the province.
Guests can interact with and learn about wildlife rarely seen in BC, one of which may include howling with the wolves. The park staff are friendly and informative and more than willing to fill visitors in on the resident wildlife.
Young and old alike will enjoy riding on the Wildlife Express miniature train ride, with over a kilometer of track, or pettingand grooming the pygmy goats at the Cactus Coral Family Farm. For more information on exhibits, hours, prices, and special events call 250-573-3242 ext. 223 or visit their website at www.kamloopswildlife.org.
A gift of rare, highly-valued birds donated by the Sportsmans club, and an errant chimpanzee that escaped from a traveling circus passing through town was all that was needed to begin Zoo Boise in 1916.
Located in Boise, Idaho's beautiful Julia Davis Park, the zoo went through some difficult times and was in danger of being closed in 1961, but has made a remarkable recovery and is now home to over 185 animals from 75 various species.
The zoo is a popular attraction that boasts a living science education facility with more than 200,000 visitors annually.
For more information on exhibits, hours, prices, and special events call 208-384-4260 or visit their website at
OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other Northwest travel ideas, be sure to check out other Northwest Travel Advisor articles on Salish Lodge,
Lake Chelan and
the Rocky Mountaineer.