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9 Fascinating National Zoo Facts About the Smithsonian Zoo in DC

Sign at the Entrance to the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington DC

A short walk down Connecticut Avenue from the Woodley Park Metro Station, you may know the National Zoo as one of the few places in the country to see giant pandas. But do you know these fascinating National Zoo facts about one of the nation’s oldest zoos?

Have You Visited the National Zoo in DC?

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Bison at Yellowstone National Park

1. The Inspiration for the National Zoo Came from a Trip Out West

Inspired to save several North American species from extinction, the Smithsonian Institution’s chief taxidermist, William Temple Hornaday, established the National Zoo. One of the most heartbreaking National Zoo facts is that during a trip to the American West in 1886, Hornaday was so concerned about the future of several animals that he brought them to Washington, DC to save them.

More than 125 years later, the zoo in DC remains true to its original mission to “provide engaging experiences with animals and create and share knowledge to save wildlife and habitats.”

Related Article:  What’s in a name? The people and places behind popular Metro stations in Washington, DC.

Green sign at the Smithsonian castle

2. You'll Never Believe the Smithsonian Zoo's Original Location

The National Zoo’s original location was behind the Smithsonian Castle on the National Mall and featured deer, foxes, prairie dogs, badgers, beavers, lynx, and bison. Today the zoo is home to approximately 1,800 animals of 300 species, and about one-fifth are endangered or threatened.

Related Article:  A Complete Guide to the Smithsonian Museums, Galleries, and Gardens on the National Mall


3. A Contribution from Kansas (Sort Of)

In 1899, Kansas frontiersman Charles “Buffalo” Jones captured a bighorn sheep (but not in the Sunflower State) and added it to the National Zoo’s collection.

Giant Panda Eating Bamboo at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington DC

4. The Zoo's Most Famous Residents are Giant Pandas

While the National Zoo’s most famous residents are likely the giant pandas, visitors can also see Asian elephants, great apes, big cats, and a large variety of other birds, insects, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.

Sage Advice:  Watch the giant pandas at the National Zoo and 35+ other animals via these live animal cams.

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Giant pandas are a popular attraction at the National Zoo

5. Giant Pandas Have Lived At the National Zoo Since the Nixon Administration

Giant pandas have lived at the National Zoo since Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing arrived in the United States in 1972 as a gift from China after President Nixon’s visit.

Sage Advice:  Watch the giant pandas live on the zoo’s giant panda cam.

Me smooching on Smokey Bear in Sedona, Arizona.

6. The Smithsonian National Zoo Was Also the Home of Another Famous Bear

Speaking of bears, one of the National Zoo’s most famous residents was Smokey Bear. The inspiration for the cartoon, Smokey was a five pound, three-month-old black bear cub rescued from the Capitan Gap forest fire in New Mexico

After being rescued from a tree with burns to his paws and hind legs, the staff at the National Zoo nursed Smokey back to health. He lived at the National Zoo from 1950 until his death in 1976. Smokey Bear received so much fan mail, up to 13,000 letters a week, that the US Post Office established a special ZIP code for him.

7. The Smithsonian National Zoo is Fourth Most Popular Smithsonian Destination

With two million visitors annually, the National Zoo is the fourth most popular destination in the Smithsonian Institution’s portfolio of museums, galleries, and gardens.

8. It's Free to Visit the National Zoo

Like all museums, galleries, and gardens in the Smithsonian Institution’s portfolio, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo doesn’t charge admission and is open 364 days a year. Smithsonian Institution venues are only closed on December 25th.

9. Seeing Double

The National Zoo actually has two campuses. Besides the 163-acre zoological park at 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, there is also a 3,200-acre Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute located 70 miles to the west in Front Royal, Virginia. Although it’s not open to the public, the Institute includes a large variety of trees, shrubs, plants, and grasses, including 36 different types of bamboo.

Complete List of Smithsonian Museums

In order to help you plan your visit to the Smithsonian, here is a complete list of Smithsonian museums:

  • African American Museum, National Mall
  • African Art Museum, National Mall
  • Air and Space Museum, National Mall
  • Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy Center, Chantilly, Virginia
  • American Art Museum, Penn Quarter
  • American History Museum, National Mall
  • American Indian Museum, National Mall
  • American Indian Museum Heye Center, New York City
  • Anacostia Community Museum, Fort Stanton
  • Archives of American Art, Penn Quarter
  • Arts and Industries Building, National Mall
  • Cooper Hewitt, New York City
  • Freer Gallery of Art, National Mall
  • Hirshhorn, National Mall
  • National Zoo, Woodley Park
  • Natural History Museum, National Mall
  • Portrait Gallery, Penn Quarter
  • Postal Museum, Opposite Union Station
  • Renwick Gallery, Near the White House
  • S. Dillon Ripley Center, National Mall
  • Sackler Gallery, National Mall
  • Smithsonian Castle, National Mall
  • Smithsonian Gardens, National Mall

Practical Information for Visiting the Smithsonian National Zoo in DC

What does it cost to visit the Smithsonian Zoo?

It’s free! Like all experiences in the Smithsonian Institution’s portfolio, there is no admission fee to visit the zoo in Washington, DC.

Where is the Smithsonian Zoo?

Also known as the National Zoo, the Smithsonian Zoo is located at 3001 Connecticut Ave NW in Washington, DC’s Woodley Park neighborhood. 

How do you get to the National Zoo by Metro?

To visit the Smithsonian Zoo via Metro, take the red line to the Woodley Park-Zoo/Adams Morgan stop. The main entrance to the zoo is about a half mile northwest on Connecticut Avenue.

What time does the National Zoo open?

The grounds are open daily (except December 25) from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm, with the last admittance at 6:00 pm. Exhibit buildings are open from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, and dining and shopping venues are open from 10:00 to 5:00 pm.

How big is the National Zoo?

The National Zoo in Washington, DC, sits on 163 acres in the district’s Woodley Park neighborhood.

How many animals are in the National Zoo?

The Smithsonian Zoo is home to 2,700 animals representing more than 390 species including giant pandas.

How much time does it take to see the National Zoo?

Sitting on more than 160 acres and displaying more than 390 species of animals, you can easily spend a full day at the National Zoo. However, if your Washington, DC, itinerary doesn’t allow for a full day at the zoo, then prioritize and see what you can with the time you have!

What are the best hotels near the Washington DC Zoo?

The best place to stay in Washington, DC, if you love animals is the Woodley Park neighborhood. With 832 smoke-free guestrooms, the top-rated hotel near the National Zoo is Omni Shoreham Hotel. See photos of the rooms, swimming pool, and grounds by clicking here.

What's the best way to learn more about the National Zoo?

For the latest information, including special exhibits and events, visit the Smithsonian’s National Zoo website.

Sage Advice:  These are the best places to stay in Washington DC if you’re an animal lover.

Have You Visited the Smithsonian's Zoo in Washington, DC?

What did you like most about your visit to the Smithsonian Zoo? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

Looking for more information to plan your Washington DC vacation? Check out my additional recommendations to help you plan your trip to Washington, DC, including what to see and do in Washington DC, the best places to stay in Washington DC, where to eat in Washington DC, and more!

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2 thoughts on “9 Fascinating National Zoo Facts About the Smithsonian Zoo in DC”

  1. Oh I have so many fond memories of the National Zoo – my parents took my sister and I there a couple times of year! I never realized, or I have forgotten, that Smokey was there – I was always big on the other bears – the pandas!

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