St. Louis Zoo: A Safari in Forest Park

A black and white colobus monkey sitting on a branch, eating a leaf.

Nestled in Forest Park, the St. Louis Zoo has captivated visitors for over a century. Renowned for its commitment to conservation and exceptional animal care, it’s a must-visit destination for animal enthusiasts of all ages. So grab your binoculars, and let’s safari through the St. Louis Zoo!

Admission to attractions can quickly add up, even when you stretch your travel budget with a road trip. That’s one reason why St. Louis is a wonderful midwestern destination. From historic sites to a national park, it’s second only to the nation’s capital when offering free things to do.

From impressive museums to historic sites — including one of the United States’s UNESCO World Heritage sites — there are many fantastic free things to do in St. Louis. One of my all-time favorites is visiting the impressive St. Louis Zoo.

A collage of various animals at st. louis zoo, including a turtle, owl, vulture, gorilla, zebra, giraffe, capybara, butterfly, mountain goat, and ostrich, with the text "unleash your wild side.


Have You Visited the St. Louis Zoo?

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Two giraffes with prominent brown spots and long necks standing in a wooded area, one looking directly at the camera.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

Where is the St. Louis Zoo?

Conveniently located in the heart of St. Louis, Forest Park is one of the largest urban parks in the United States. Spreading over 1,300 acres, it’s bigger than Central Park in New York. You’ll find the St. Louis Zoo tucked into the southwest corner of the park, where it is home to a diverse assortment of animals from around the globe.

A turtle peering out from under a rock, its head and front legs visible against a backdrop of dark, textured soil.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

Parking at the St. Louis Zoo

Although there is no admission fee to visit the Saint Louis Zoo, there is a charge to park in the dedicated lots. The zoo’s north lot is on Government Drive, and its south lot is on Wells Drive. If you’re unsure which lot to choose, note that the north lot is near Grizzly Ridge and the Insectarium, while the south is near River’s Edge and Historic Hill.

Parking prices are subject to change, and the zoo may charge a different rate when parking a car on a weekend or another high-traffic day than when visiting during the week. Expect to pay between $15 and $20 to park a car and between $30 and $40 to park an oversized vehicle. If you are early, you can score a free parking spot along the curb, but these spots fill up quickly.

Sage Advice: Besides parking, you’ll also need to pay to ride the carousel or train and attend special events like the Wild Lights during the holidays.

Animals and Exhibits

Spanning 90 acres, the world-class St. Louis Zoo is divided into six distinct zones. From the original section, dubbed Historic Hill, to the River’s Edge, get ready to explore naturalistic exhibits that showcase the beauty and diversity of wildlife. Whether you’re a fan of furry mammals, scaly reptiles, or awe-inspiring birds, the zoo has something for everyone.

Sage Advice: In 2027, the St. Louis Zoo will unveil WildCare Park, a groundbreaking addition that expands the zoo’s dedication to wildlife conservation. Spread over 425 acres, this innovative park will serve as a sanctuary for endangered species, providing them with vast natural habitats to roam freely.

A coquerel's sifaka, a type of lemur, clinging to a tree trunk and gazing directly at the camera.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

Historic Hill

Built around the 1904 World’s Fair Flight Cage, Historic Hill is one of the oldest parts of the St. Louis Zoo. Begin your journey at the Bird House, where the colorful array of American birds that call it home will wow you. At the time, the Flight Cage was the largest bird cage ever built. At 228 feet long, 84 feet wide, and 50 feet high, it is still one of the world’s largest free-flight aviaries.

When you visit, you’ll witness the beauty and diversity of a range of winged creatures up close, from the majestic bald eagle to the vibrant Toco toucan. Then, make your way to the Bird Garden, an outdoor bird enclosure that allows you to observe these magnificent birds in all their glory. 

If reptiles are more your speed, head over to the herpetarium. Inside this Mediterranean-style stucco building with a red tile roof, you’ll come face-to-face with many fascinating reptiles and amphibians, from sly alligators to colorful frogs.

Historic Hill also houses the Primate House and Quirsis Riney Primate Canopy Trails, where a first-of-its-kind, impressive outdoor exhibit allows you to climb high in the trees, just like our primate friends. Enjoy an eye-level view as monkeys and lemurs swing, climb, and play on the treetops.

Two kudus locking horns in a grassy enclosure, with large rocks in the background.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

Red Rocks

This zoo section is home to majestic big cats and unique antelope species. In Big Cat Country, you’ll meet some of the planet’s most impressive and powerful felines. Marvel at the strength, agility, and beauty of magnificent creatures like the African lion, snow leopard, and jaguar.

Not far from Big Cat Country, in a quiet, shady part of the zoo, you’ll find Antelope House, home to one of the nation’s finest collections of hoofed mammals. Don’t miss the addax’s impressive spiraled horns or the babirusa’s curved tusks.

A gorilla leaning against a tree, with a thoughtful expression, surrounded by green foliage and rocky terrain.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

The Wild

The Wild allows you to explore diverse habitats from around the world. In the grizzly bear exhibit, an $11.1-million, 7,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art habitat, you can observe grizzly bears roaming their spacious habitat, giving you a glimpse into their natural behavior. Continue your adventure to the polar bear exhibit, where you can come nose to nose with a snow-white bear as he takes a dip in the pool. 

As you wander into Fragile Forest, a lush tropical environment will embrace you like a warm hug from Mother Nature. This section of The Wild is home to the adorable red pandas, known for their fluffy tails and playful behavior.

Watch in awe in the Jungle of the Apes as gorillas and chimpanzees swing effortlessly through the trees. Observe their social dynamics and learn about the importance of conservation efforts to protect these incredible creatures. Finally, in Penguin and Puffin Coast, charismatic birds will capture your heart with their charming antics and comical personalities.

Two sea lions facing each other on a rocky shore, one in water, the other perched on rock, in a natural setting.
Photo Credit: Foto-RaBe from Pixabay

Lakeside Crossing

Located in the center of the zoo, Lakeside Crossing offers a variety of food services, gift shops, and a grassy plaza where you can rest and relax. But Lakeside Crossing isn’t just about satisfying your cravings. It’s also home to two habitats. Dive into the depths of Caribbean Cove, where you can touch and interact with rays and sharks in a safe and educational environment. Feel the thrill as you get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures, learning about their habitats and conservation efforts.

Then, make a splash at Sea Lion Sound. This immersive experience takes you on an underwater journey with a breathtaking view of these playful and graceful creatures. Pass through the underwater viewing tunnel and marvel at the sea lions as they frolic and glide through the water. It’s an experience like no other.

A paper kite butterfly resting on a green leaf, with detailed black and white wing patterns against a soft green background.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

Discovery Corner

For those who like creepy crawlies, this section of the St. Louis Zoo is for you. The Insectarium will teach you all about the incredible world of invertebrates. From beetles to butterflies, you’ll marvel at this interactive exhibit’s diverse range of species. It’s a bug’s life like you’ve never seen before.

A hippopotamus partially submerged in water, with only its head visible above the surface.
Photo Credit: Pixabay.

River’s Edge

The final zone of the zoo takes you on a journey through four continents to explore their diverse habitats and wildlife. In the North America section, the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers exhibit allows you to explore a simulated beaver dam, learn about river floods, and be mesmerized by native fish like gar, bluegill, and catfish.

As you venture deeper into River’s Edge, you’ll see spectacled bears from the Andean forests of South America. As you continue your journey, you’ll encounter eastern black rhinoceroses, an emblem of African wildlife conservation. Witness these magnificent creatures and learn about the conservation efforts underway to protect them from extinction.

Last, but not least, make your way to the Asian elephant exhibit, where you can marvel at the sheer size and grace of these gentle giants. These elephants will leave a lasting impression with their expressive eyes and intelligent behavior.

The St. Louis Zoo provides an extraordinary experience for animal enthusiasts and nature lovers. With its naturalistic exhibits, knowledgeable staff, and commitment to conservation, the zoo is not just a place for animal fun but also an opportunity to foster a deep appreciation and understanding of the natural world around us.

Add-On Experiences at the St. Louis Zoo

While admission is free, several add-on experiences will enhance your day at the zoo. For a small charge, you can enjoy some of my favorites, which include:

Emerson Zooline Railroad

This beloved attraction offers a 20-minute narrated tour as it encircles the zoo, providing guests with fascinating insights into the habitats and species they see. Operating year round (weather permitting), the Emerson Zooline Railroad is ADA accessible, ensuring that everyone can enjoy this fun experience. Your zoo railroad ticket allows you to hop on and off at four convenient stops, so it’s a great way to explore the zoo’s vast grounds.

Mary Ann Lee Conservation Carousel

Featuring beautifully crafted figures of endangered animals, the conservation carousel is a magical ride that delights zoo visitors of all ages while raising awareness of wildlife conservation. Not only does each ride serve as a gentle reminder of the zoo’s commitment to protecting these precious species for future generations, but all proceeds from this attraction help support the WildCare Institute. Like the railroad, the carousel is ADA accessible, and two chariots on the carousel can accommodate wheelchairs.

Seasonal Attractions

The St. Louis Zoo shines even brighter with its seasonal attractions, which offer unique seasonal experiences. As winter melts away, the zoo celebrates spring with Animals Aglow, a spectacular light display that showcases animal-themed installations. Halloween brings Boo at the Zoo, and Wild Lights makes holiday spirits bright.

St. Louis style pizza on a wooden table.
Photo Credit: Canva.

What to Do in Forest Park After You Visit the Zoo

Once you’ve spent some time monkeying around at the zoo, enjoying other free attractions in Forest Park, like the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Saint Louis Science Center, is easy. And at the end of the day, the central location means that you can quickly refuel on gooey butter cake, St. Louis-style pizza, or another famous St. Louis food.

Practical Information for Visiting the St. Louis Zoo

Planning your visit to the St. Louis Zoo is easy with this practical information at your fingertips. Whether you’re curious about parking, admission fees, or operating hours, I’ve got you covered.

Where is the St. Louis Zoo Located?

Tucked into the southwest corner of Forest Park, the St. Louis Zoo is located at 1 Government Dr., St. Louis, MO 63110.

Is the St. Louis Zoo Free?

Yes! The St. Louis Zoo is one of a handful of US zoos that doesn’t charge an admission fee. However, you will need to pay for parking (if you park in the zoo lot). You’ll also need to pay to ride the carousel and the train and to attend special events like the annual Wild Lights exhibit during the holidays.

Why is the St. Louis Zoo Free?

The Saint Louis Zoo has no admission fee, thanks to a public subsidy from a cultural tax district known as the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District (ZMD). While entrance to the zoo is free, it’s important to note that there is a fee for parking, special attractions, and certain seasonal events.

How much is parking at the St. Louis Zoo?

Although there is no charge to visit the zoo, it is currently $15 per vehicle to park in the zoo parking lot (unless you’re lucky enough to score a spot along the curb).

Close-up of an ostrich with a focused expression, showcasing its long neck and dense, dark feathers.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

How big is the St. Louis Zoo?

The St. Louis Zoo spreads across 90 acres in the southwest corner of Forest Park.

What time does the St. Louis Zoo open?

Zoo hours vary by season and are subject to change. During the spring season, which typically begins in March and ends just before Memorial Day weekend, the zoo opens at 9:00 am and closes at 5:00 pm daily. Expect longer hours during the warmer months and shorter hours during the colder months.

Are there pandas at the St. Louis Zoo?

It depends on the type of pandas you’d like to see. If you want to see giant pandas, you’ll have to travel to Zoo Atlanta or wait until the San Diego Zoo gets a new pair of roly-poly black and white bears. But if you want to see red pandas, the St. Louis Zoo won’t disappoint! You’ll find them in the Fragile Forest section of The Wild.

Have You Visited the St. Louis Zoo?

What did you like most? Any additional tips and tricks to pass along? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

Portions of this article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.

St. Louis Arch along the Mississippi River in St. Louis

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

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