Here are 8 Pennsylvania zoos to visit with your family this summer

·19 min read

Editor's Note: Many zoos in the U.S. have closed their bird exhibits to protect animals from a recent outbreak of avian influenza, which has been killing birds across the country.

There are only so many nature documentaries a person can watch before they want to go see the real thing.

A trip to a zoo provides the public with the opportunity to feed giraffes acacia branches, hear a lion’s ground-shaking roar, and watch monkeys playfully swing from tree to tree.

Zoos introduce people to exotic animal species from all over the globe through education and conservation efforts. They can be a great resource for children to understand the importance of taking care of the environment, and the impact humans have on animals.

And of course, they create memories and can be a lot of fun.

Here’s a list of eight zoos in Pennsylvania for your family to visit this summer:

Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland, Allenwood

Reptiland is just what the name implies. It is an accredited zoo that has been specializing in reptiles and amphibians for more than 55 years. The animals aren’t just there to be admired. The staff is dedicated to education and conservation, so people learn to appreciate what Reptiland workers believe are largely misunderstood animals.

Biggest attractions: The Island Giants are so popular they have their own building. Visitors can check out a habitat that was constructed to meet the specific needs of Komodo dragons. A short distance away are the Aldabra tortoises, which can live up to 150 years and can weigh up to 550 pounds.

Amenities: Croc Bites offers packaged snacks and bottled beverages and Mini Melts Ice Cream is a seasonal vending machine. There is no other food service at the zoo. Visitors are encouraged to bring their own food and take advantage of the numerous picnic areas.

Parking: Free

Accessibility info: The facilities are wheelchair accessible. Questions can be sent to: reptiland.com/visitor-info

Tickets: Admission is $20, $16 for children ages 3 to 11 and free for kids under 2.

Season passes: $65 for an individual, $115 for a family of two and $45 for each additional family member

Membership: Memberships are good for one year of unlimited free admissions; free/discounted admission to special events; and 10 percent off birthday parties, gift shop purchases and all premium admissions/experiences.

COVID-19 restrictions: None

Hours: The zoo is open year-round (except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day), but the hours vary by season. April, May, September and October: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends. Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. November through March: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Address: 18628 US Route 15, Allenwood, Pennsylvania

Phone number: 570-538-1869

Website: reptiland.com

Social media channels: Facebook: Clyde Peeling's Reptileland, Instagram: @Reptiland_Zoo, Pinterest: @Clydereptiland

Elmwood Park Zoo, Norristown

Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown has been around for nearly 100 years, since 1924. The zoo, which is owned and operated by Norristown Zoological Society, has over 100 different species, including giraffes, jaguars and pandas, according to the zoo’s website.

Biggest attractions: The zoo’s newest exhibit, Harmony Hideaway, is closed to the public as a precaution to prevent the spread of bird flu that has been detected in the state, according to a zoo spokeswoman. The hope is to have it open this summer once the cases disappear. Guests can visit the vestibule area to visit the zoo’s new sloth, Liana. The zoo also offers daily giraffe feedings, depending on the weather, where guests can give the giraffes lettuce. The zoo also offers guests the opportunity to eat breakfast next to the giraffe exhibit.

Amenities: The zoo has an ice cream shop called the Twisted Cone, a barbecue restaurant called Zachary's BBQ and Soul, a pizza shop called Tosco's Pizza and a beer garden called Zoo Brew Beer Garden and Bar.

A guest feeds lettuce to giraffes at Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown.
A guest feeds lettuce to giraffes at Elmwood Park Zoo in Norristown.

Parking: Free

Accessibility info: Guests with special needs may schedule an early morning or after-hours visit to visit the park before or after the general public does. A map contains information on potential loud areas, quiet spaces and stroller/wheelchair ramps. The zoo also offers sensory backpacks with items to help those who have sensory challenges. The backpacks include various items to help them relax. Noise-canceling headphones also are available to guests.

Tickets: $12.95 to $19.95 for adults; $12.95 to $15.95 for children ages 3 to 12 and seniors 65 and up; $12.95 to $17.95 for students with valid ID; free for children 2 and younger.

Season passes: Guests may purchase yearly passes to go to the zoo anytime for no additional cost. Senior passes are $59; adult passes are $89; passes for two adults are $99; two grandparents and up to six children and family memberships, which include two adults and up to six children, are $135 a year. Family plus membership, which includes tickets for two adults, up to six children and two guests are $165 per year; and family and friend membership, which includes tickets for two adults in the same household, a third adult and six children under the age of 18 in the household, as well as two guests, is $185 per year.

Membership discount or benefits: All yearly memberships include: 10% discount on food purchases; 10% discount on train and carousel rides; 10% discount on merchandise purchases​; discounted pricing on party packages and facility rentals, and admission to exclusive member-only events.

COVID-19 restrictions: Masks are encouraged but not required.

Hours: Zoo is open all year; closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Hours are 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily.

Address: 1661 Harding Blvd., Norristown, Pennsylvania

Phone number: 800-652-4143

Website: elmwoodparkzoo.org

Social media channels: Facebook: Elmwood Park Zoo; Twitter: @ElmwoodParkZoo; Instagram: @ElmwoodParkZoo

A giant river otter at the Philadelphia Zoo Monday, April 25, 2022.
A giant river otter at the Philadelphia Zoo Monday, April 25, 2022.

Erie Zoo and Botanical Gardens, Erie

The Erie Zoo and Botanical Gardens is home to over 400 animals and 11 gardens with species of plants from around the world. On the zoo’s 15 acres, visitors can explore animal exhibits including Kiboka Outpost, Wild Asia, Safariland and Children’s Adventure.

Biggest attractions: The zoo’s 10,000-square-foot main building, which was built in 1930, was recently restored, revealing the building’s original exterior. It houses an array of animals, including big cats and primates. On Saturdays and Sundays, the Safariland Train takes visitors on a scenic ride around the zoo. There also is the enclosed Wildlife Carousel, located in the Children's Adventure section of the zoo.

Amenities: The Erie Zoo has various concession stands available throughout the park. The hours of operation and menus vary depending on the season, weather and attendance. Food options include: Smith's hotdogs, popcorn, cotton candy, Coke products. The zoo also includes a gift shop near the front entrance.

A red panda hangs out at the Erie Zoo on Feb. 9, 2022, in Erie.
A red panda hangs out at the Erie Zoo on Feb. 9, 2022, in Erie.

Parking: Free

Accessibility info: Stroller and wheelchair rentals are available in the gift shop. Single strollers are $7, double strollers are $8, manual wheelchairs are free of charge and motorized scooters are $20. If you'd like to reserve a rental ahead of time, call the Main Office at 814-864-4091 and ask to speak with the gift shop.

Tickets: $10 for adults 13 and above; $8 for seniors 62 & above; $6 for children 2 to 12; free for children 23 months and under

Season passes: The Erie Zoo offers a variety of yearly memberships. Family Plus: $99 for two named adults sharing a household and their children under 18, plus 10 Erie Zoo guest admissions. Family: $85 for two adults sharing a household and their children under 18. Single Parent: $85 for one adult and his/her children under 18, plus five Erie Zoo guest admissions. Individual: $85 for one adult, plus 10 Erie Zoo guest admissions. Grandparent Plus: $99 for two adults and all of their grandchildren under 18, plus 10 Erie Zoo guest admissions. Grandparent: $85 for two named adults and all of their grandchildren under 18. Single Grandparent: $85 for one adult and all of his/her grandchildren under 18, plus five Erie Zoo guest admissions.

Membership discounts or benefits: Erie Zoo members receive a 10% discount on all concession stand items and receive a 10% discount on all purchases of $5 or more if they present their membership card.

COVID-19 restrictions: None

Hours: The Erie Zoo grounds are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily March 1 through Nov. 30

Address: 423 W. 38th St., Erie, Pennsylvania

Phone number: 814-864-4091

Website: eriezoo.org

Social media channels: Facebook: Erie Zoo; Instagram: @ErieZoo; TikTok: @eriezoo

Lake Tobias Wildlife Park, Halifax

Lake Tobias is a combination drive-thru safari and wildlife petting/feeding zoo with habitats of exotic animals mixed in. The facility sits on 150 acres in central Pennsylvania.

Biggest attractions: Special open-air vehicles take visitors through the park, where they can see, and sometimes touch, more than 400 animals. Elk, eland and giraffes are among the animals that can be seen on the 45-minute jaunt.

Amenities: There are three food service areas in the park that offer a variety of hot food, sandwiches, tacos and cold food. There also are picnic areas for visitors who prefer to bring their own food.

Parking: Free

Accessibility info: All zoo exhibits, except for the Lake View Trail, are wheelchair accessible. There is a special safari vehicle for visitors who can’t leave their wheelchairs and golf carts are available for those who have trouble walking. The park grounds are gravel-covered, so wheelchairs will larger wheels work best. For more information, click here.

Tickets: Admission is $17 for the combination walking and safari tours. Walking tour tickets are $9 and safari-only is $8. Children under 2 and active military are free.

Season passes: Season pass without safari is $50 per person and with safari is $85. Both provide unlimited admission.

Membership discounts or benefits: None

COVID-19 restrictions: None

Hours: Open daily from May 1 to Labor Day and weekends in April, May, September and October. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends during season; 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in April and November (safari drive-thru only); 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday in October.

Address: 760 Tobias Road, Halifax, Pennsylvania

Phone number: 717-362-9126

Website: laketobias.com

Social media channels: Facebook: Lake Tobias Wildlife Park; Instagram: @LakeTobiasWildlifePark; YouTube: youtube.com/c/LaketobiasWildlifePark

Lehigh Valley Zoo, Schnecksville

It's a nature lover's paradise.

This family-friendly zoo is located on the Trexler Nature Preserve (look out for the herd of bison and elk as you exit), a state park full of hiking trails and picnic spots.

This May, they are welcoming their newest resident, a giraffe who will befriend Tatu.

Tatu, the zoo's only giraffe, lost his best friend, Murphy, who died in May 2021.

Tatu the giraffe enjoys some romaine lettuce at the Lehigh Valley Zoo in Allentown, Pa.
Tatu the giraffe enjoys some romaine lettuce at the Lehigh Valley Zoo in Allentown, Pa.

Other stars of the zoo include a pack Mexican white wolves (the zoo is one of 50 rehabilitation centers participating in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan, a wildlife conservation program that conserves a select and threatened or endangered species population), an alpaca, a bobcat, lynx, two zebras and a charming otter named Luani.

Every February, Luani participates in the Otter Bowl and predicts which team will win the Super Bowl. The zoo's most at-risk birds — barnyard birds, waterfowl and African penguins — are currently off exhibit for their safety and well-being due to the threat of bird flu.

Biggest attractions: The zoo hosts festivals year-round including a red, wine and blue wine tasting on May 28; a Hops for Pops beer sampling on June 19, and a Zoocustic music fest on July 23. Their popular Winter Light Spectacular features 1.2 million lights that illuminate the zoo and its surrounding land.

Zoo is accepting donations for its Habitat Madagascar, a new home for lemurs and tortoises. The climate-controlled facility will provide indoor and outdoor living space, as well as additional behind-the-scenes living space for them when they are off-exhibit (two of the lemurs are expected to mate and become parents once the space is completed.)

Amenities: Geakers tacos sells hard and soft shell tacos filled with chicken, beef, shrimp or gator. The food stand also serves burgers, fries, chicken tenders and hot dogs. A Dippin' Dots ice cream cart is also on premises. Nature's Gift Shop sells plush animals, clothing and other souvenirs.

Parking: Free

Accessibility info: Wheelchair routes are available and rentals are first-come, first served. Service animals are permitted. For questions, look here.

Tickets: $14.50 for ages 12 to 64; $13.50 for ages 65 and older; $12.50 for ages 2 to 11; free for children under age 2.

Season passes: $65 (one adult); $95 (two people); $125 (two adults, four children); $175 (three adults, six children)

Membership discounts or benefits: Free admission; 10% discount on birthday parties, camps, animal encounters and purchases in the gift shop and taco stand. Discounted admission to daytime events and the winter light spectacular. Exclusive member-only events and hours and free or discounted admission to other AZA accredited zoos and aquariums.

COVID-19 restrictions: None

Hours: Season: Open year-round except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 1 to Nov. 7.; 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 8 to March 31

Address:  5150 Game Preserve Road, Schnecksville, Pennsylvania

Phone number: 610-799-4171

Website: lvzoo.org

Social media channels: Facebook: Lehigh Valley Zoo; Instagram: @LehighValleyZoo

Philadelphia Zoo, Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Zoo, “America’s first zoo,” is known for innovation in animal care and commitment to wildlife and conservation efforts. The zoo opened on July 1, 1874. Its charter was signed in 1859, but opening was delayed because of the Civil War.

The zoo’s 42-acre campus is home to more than 1,700 rare and endangered animals. It is filled with a variety of animal exhibits, each designed to provide visitors with an up-close and personal experience. Get within inches of a lion, face to face with a gorilla, and nose to nose with giant river otters!

An orangutan at the Philadelphia Zoo Monday, April 25, 2022.
An orangutan at the Philadelphia Zoo Monday, April 25, 2022.

As a precaution against avian influenza, the zoo’s penguins, flamingos, emus, and other birds have been moved indoors to eliminate contact with wild birds. McNeil Avian Center is also closed.

Biggest attractions: The zoo is best known for its conservation efforts and innovation. Among the innovations is the implementation of Zoo360, a system of see-through trails passing through treetops, crossing over pathways and connecting habitats, providing animals with more opportunities to travel and explore.

Boo at the Zoo, a Halloween-themed event; LumiNature, a holiday light display created with “1 million LEDs,' and Festival of Colors (Holi) are among the zoos featured events.

Also, the zoo’s Nature Blazer Scavenger Hunt, recommended for ages 4 and older, offers visitors, especially children, an opportunity to navigate the exhibits with a smart compass, complete challenges and answer trivia questions at each stop through an interactive mobile app. Participants will receive an exclusive gift for completing the adventure. Wristbands are available for $10 at the kiosks inside the main gate. The app can be downloaded from the App or Play stores.

Amenities: Food and drinks are available at locations throughout the zoo including at The Urban Green, an open-air food marketplace and chill zone. You also can dine at Tiger Terrace; The Watering Hole, an open-air beer and wine garden; World Tacos, and Impala Café, which offers a variety of coffee,” hot chocolate, blended drinks and more.

Parking: Parking is available at the zoo garage at 35th Street and Girard Avenue, Tiger Parking Lot and Zoological Drive. Fee is $17.

Accessibility info: Designated accessible parking spaces are available in Tiger Lot and the zoo parking garage. Family restrooms are available at the Main Entrance, KidZooU, WildWorks Plaza, and across from the Colobus monkeys at the south end of the zoo. Service animals, as defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act, are welcome at the zoo. Wheelchairs and electronic vehicles are available for rent on a first-come, first-serve basis. Fee is $8 for a wheelchair and $30 for an electric scooter.

If a ticket holder or member cardholder is visiting the zoo with a government-funded Personal Care Attendant, the attendant can receive a complimentary companion ticket. Email guestrelations@phillyzoo.org for information about making a reservation for the companion ticket.

Tickets: $24 for ages 12 and older; $19 for ages 2 to 11 and free for ages 1 and younger, and for members. Advance online reservations are required for all ticket buyers and members. Reservations may be changed up to 11:59 p.m., the day prior to your visit but are non-refundable. ​

Season passes: Annual membership is available for $60 for individuals and $400 for contributors with varying levels available in between. More information at phillyzoo.pivvit.com/p/membership.

Membership discounts or benefits: Free parking, discounted admission to more than 100 zoos and aquariums nationwide; 10 percent discount in zoo shops and dining locations; members-only hours and events; members-only publication, and discounted tickets to LumiNature. Plus, membership directly supports the care of the zoo animals and conservation efforts around the world.

COVID restrictions: N/A

Hours:  Zoo hours are 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, rain or shine. Zoo may close early for special events.

Address: 3400 W. Girard Ave., Philadelphia

Box office: (215) 243-1100

Website: philadelphiazoo.org

Social media channels:

Facebook: Philadelphia Zoo ; Instagram: @PhiladelphiaZoo; Twitter: @PhillyZoo1

Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, Pittsburgh

Opened in 1898, The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is one of only six major zoo and aquarium combinations in the United States and serves as home to more than 8,000 animals representing over 600 species. The zoo strives to foster positive, lifelong connections between animals and people. The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium is American Humane Conservation-certified, a member of American Humane and a Zoological Association of America accredited facility.

Biggest attractions: Naturalistic habitats enable visitors to experience jungle cats, primates, elephants, polar bears, red pandas, sea otters, sea lions and much more. Themed areas include the Asian Forest, African Savanna, Tropical Forest, Children's Farm, Water's Edge and Niches of The World, an underground indoor exhibit with reptiles and amphibians. Party animals of the human kind are welcome to the Zoo Brew Bash on May 27, which highlights Western Pennsylvania craft breweries.

Amenities: The African-themed Jambo Grill at the mid-point of the zoo offers a fresh, made-to-order menu. Next door is Swahili Pizza & Ice Cream, opened seasonally. Village Market, at the top of the entrance escalators sells snacks and beverages. Arctic Express, outside the PPG Aquarium, offers on-the-go snacks and is open weather dependent. There are multiple gift shops and Safari Wheels with electric scooter, wheelchair and stroller rentals.

Parking: Free

Accessibility info: The zoo has partnered with KultureCity to improve its ability to assist and accommodate guests with sensory needs. Wheelchairs and scooters available through Safari Wheels.

Tickets: $19.95 for adults; $16.95 for seniors 60 & above; $15.95 for children 2-13. All active duty, reservists and veterans of the U.S. military receive free admission with proper ID.

Season passes: $69 for single seniors; $79 for individuals; $99 for couples; family membership starts at $189. Membership | Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium

Membership discounts or benefits: Discounts to educational classes and lectures, 10% discount at zoo gift shops, and access to members-only evening events.

COVID-19 restrictions:  Fully vaccinated guests are not required to wear masks, though they are recommended to in crowded areas and indoor settings during high transmission. Guests who have not yet been vaccinated or are partially vaccinated are required to wear a mask.

Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily through Jan. 1; off-season hours (Jan. 2-March 31) are 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Address: 7370 Baker St. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Phone number: 412-665-3640

Website: pittsburghzoo.org

Social media channels: Facebook: Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium; Instagram: @PGHZoo ; Twitter: @PGHzoo; YouTube: Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium; TikTok: pghzoo

Of interest:How the theft of a Pocono bobcat unfolded, as told by the accused

ZooAmerica, Hershey

Connected to Hersheypark, ZooAmerica is home to more than 200 animals from throughout North America, including an alligator, an Arizona Mountain Kingsnake and four wolves— two are brothers, two are sisters.

Biggest attractions: The mountain lion and two black bears are among the most popular animals at ZooAmerica. Take a behind-the-scenes tour of the park or attend one of the zoo camps, and afterward, hit some rides at the adjacent Hersheypark.

Amenities: ZooAmerica has one spot for food: Timber Treats, but there are numerous eateries in Hersheypark as well as phone charging stations, lockers and strollers.

Parking: ZooAmerica has free parking, but if your trip includes Hersheypark, the fee in that lot is $25 (20% cheaper if you buy the parking pass online). Parking is also free at Hersheypark for king-size and full-size season pass holders.

Accessibility info: Guests may use their own wheelchairs in ZooAmerica, and there are a limited number of rental wheelchairs available.

Tickets: If you enter ZooAmerica through Hersheypark, there is no admission fee. It’s also free to children 2 years and younger. For children 3-8 years old or those 62 and older, the admission is $11. For ages 9-61, the fee is $13.

Season passes: ZooAmerica sells a season pass for $50 per person or $135 for a family of four.

COVID-19 restrictions: Guests may wear a face mask, if they choose to do so.

Hours: Open year-round, it is closed for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend; the rest of the year, it’s open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Address: 201 Park Ave., Hershey, Pennsylvania

Phone number: 717-534-3900

Website: zooamerica.com

Social media channels: Facebook: Zoo America; Instagram: @ZooAmerica

This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: 8 Pennsylvania zoos to visit this summer with family