Columbus Zoo: An Afternoon Adventure At One Of America’s Best Zoos

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium top our must-see list of attractions for Columbus, Ohio. If you’re pressed for time and can only visit one place in Columbus, make it the Zoo. It is fun for the whole family.

The Columbus Zoo, which attracts over two million visitors each year, is also home to Zoombezi Bay, a 22-acre water park, the Safari Golf Club, an 18-hole golf course located just across the street from the main zoo entrance, and The Wilds, a 10,000-acre Safari park in Cumberland, Ohio.

Why visit the Columbus Zoo?

feeding the giraffes at the Columbus Zoo

The Columbus Zoo has a wide, diverse range of animals. From big cats and graceful giraffes to colorful birds and snakes, the Columbus Zoo offers a window into the vast array of life on our planet.

The zoo mixes the right amount of fun with education about the animals we interact with in our world.

The zoo is organized into six geographic regions, including Asia Quest, Australia and the Islands, Congo Expedition, Heart of Africa, North America and Polar Frontier, and Shores. Each is themed around these regions, with animals from each region assigned to their habitats.

Explore a diverse range of animals from around the world

Most days, you can see the animals up close. However, some animals can be more elusive than others. If you don’t see them at first, keep looking! Some are great at hiding, especially the wolves!

Experience unique attractions and exhibits

Adventure Cove

The Adventure Cove at the Columbus Zoo combines animal encounters with rides and attractions. The exhibit features California sea lions to curious harbor seals. I wrote a separate post, about my recent visit to Adventure Cove here.

One of the standout features of the exhibit is Stingray Bay, where visitors can interact with and learn about these fascinating creatures. and the sea lion, harbor sea habitat where you can walk through an underwater tunnel as they playfully swim around you.

Adventure Cover Video Tour - Columbus Zoo
Adventure Cove – Video Tour

Asia Quest

Asia Quest takes you through Asian wildlife and the Himalayan Village. Asia Quest is home to rhinos, Asian elephants, Red Pandas, Flying Fox Bats, Sloth Bears, the Asia Quest Aviary, Markhors, Reticulated Pythons, Amur Tigers, and more! Along the way, you can learn about wildlife facing the threat of extinction and poaching while learning more about the animals.

For example, you can learn the differences between African and Asian elephants or how much water an elephant drinks per day.

Be sure to say “Hi” to Jackie, the large reticulated python, and Hank, the largest Asian elephant in North America!

Asia Quest Video Tour - Columbus Zoo
Asia Quest Video Tour

Australia and the Islands

Australia and the Islands habitat at the Columbus Zoo features the diverse range of wildlife found in Australia and its neighboring islands. The habitat is home to a variety of different animals, including Australia’s iconic species like the kangaroo and koala bear.

One of the highlights of the exhibit is the Tasmanian devil, a carnivorous marsupial known for its aggressive temperament and powerful bite. Visitors can observe the Tasmanian devil, Thyme, up close as he goes about his daily routine, including scavenging for food.

Another popular attraction in Australia and the Islands habitat is the Koala bear, one of Australia’s most beloved and iconic animals. Visitors can watch these adorable creatures as they sleep, eat, and interact with each other in their cozy eucalyptus-filled enclosure.

The exhibit also features a variety of other unique species, including kangaroos, colorful lorikeets, and playful orangutans. The Orangutan exhibit features a new 1096-square-foot building where visitors can get an up-close look year-round.

Visitors can also observe the Gibbon monkeys swinging through the trees and the impressive Komodo dragon who, in Summer months, can often be found basking in the sun.

One of the most exciting features of Australia and the Islands habitat is Bird lake, a large pond that is home to a variety of waterfowl and other bird species. Visitors can watch as the birds swim and interact with each other in their natural environment, offering a glimpse into the fascinating world of avian behavior.

Finally, the Asian small-clawed otter is another must-see animal in the exhibit. These cute and charismatic creatures are known for their playful and social behavior, and visitors can watch as they swim, play, and interact with each other in their specially designed enclosure.

Australia and The Islands Video Tour - Columbus Zoo
Australia and The Islands Video Tour

Congo Expedition

The Congo Expedition habitat at the Columbus Zoo transports visitors to the heart of the African rainforest. The exhibit features a wide range of animals, from the colorful African grey parrot to the majestic gorilla, providing a captivating and educational experience for visitors of all ages.

One of the standout features of the exhibit is the Colobus monkey habitat, where visitors can watch as these agile primates swing from branch to branch and interact with each other in their lush rainforest enclosure. The exhibit also features the impressive leopard, known for its stealth and agility, as well as the playful and social bonobos, offering visitors a chance to observe these intelligent and charismatic apes up close.

Be sure to ask the docents in this area what the difference is between apes and monkeys!

Another highlight of the exhibit is the Red River hog, a fascinating and lesser-known member of the pig family. Visitors can watch as these charismatic animals forage for food and interact with each other in their specially designed enclosures. The exhibit also features the colorful mandrill, known for its distinctive blue and red facial markings, as well as the Okapi, a shy and elusive relative of the giraffe.

Perhaps the most iconic animals in the Congo Expedition exhibit are the gorillas, one of the largest and most intelligent primates in the world. Visitors can watch as these majestic creatures go about their daily routines, including foraging for food, grooming each other, and interacting with their young.

The exhibit offers a unique and unforgettable opportunity to observe these incredible animals up close and learn about their behavior, biology, and conservation.

congo expedition video tour - columbus ohio
Congo Expedition Video Tour

Heart of Africa

The Heart of Africa habitat at the Columbus Zoo is one of my favorite areas of the zoo. It is an immersive exhibit that transports visitors to the wilds of the African savannah. The exhibit features a variety of animals, from towering giraffes to the sleek and speedy cheetah.

One of the standout features of the exhibit is the African lion habitat, where visitors can watch as these majestic predators lounge, play, and hunt in their savannah enclosure. The habitat also features the sleek and speedy cheetah, known for its incredible speed and agility.

Another highlight of the exhibit is the giraffe habitat, where visitors can watch as these graceful and gentle giants feed on leaves from high branches.

The Heart of Africa exhibit also features a variety of other iconic savannah animals, including the common wildebeest, ostriches, zebras, slender-horned gazelles, Dama gazelles, and the Greater kudu.

Visitors can also interact with the animals in unique ways, such as feeding the giraffes for an additional cost.

heart of africa video tour - columbus ohio
Heart of Africa Video Tour

North America and Polar Frontier

The North America and Polar Frontier habitat at the Columbus Zoo showcases the wildlife of North America and the Arctic. The exhibit features a variety of animals, from the powerful bison to the majestic moose.

One of the standout features of the exhibit is the Trumpeter Swan habitat, where visitors can observe these graceful and elegant birds in their specially designed enclosure. The North America Habitat also features the Mexican wolf, a critically endangered species that is being reintroduced into the wild, as well as the Canadian lynx, known for its distinctive ear tufts and impressive hunting skills.

Another highlight of the exhibit is the Brown and Black bear habitats, where visitors can watch as these powerful animals play and interact with each other in their spacious and naturalistic enclosures. The exhibit also features a variety of other iconic North American animals, including river otters, beavers, cougars, bald eagles, and wolverines.

Nprth America Exhibit Video Tour - Columbus Zoo
North America Video Tour

The Polar Frontier section of the exhibit is a must-see feature of the Columbus Zoo. The primary animals on display here are the Arctic fox and polar bears.

Visitors can observe these incredible animals up close as they go about their daily routines, including hunting for food, swimming, and playing in the snow. The Polar Bear enclosure allows you to go underwater to see the polar bears when they swim.

Polar Frontier Video Tour - Columbus zoo
Polar Frontier Video Tour

Tip: This is a popular exhibit, so get there early before the crowds set in.

Shores and Aquarium

The Shores and Aquarium habitat at the Columbus Zoo features a variety of animals, from colorful flamingos to alligators.

One of the standout features of the exhibit is the Discovery Reef exhibit, where visitors can observe a variety of aquatic animals, including vibrant tropical fish, sharks, and stingrays. The exhibit also features a touch tank, allowing visitors to interact with and learn about the different types of marine life found in shallow waters.

Another highlight of the Shores and Aquarium habitat is the Manatee exhibit, where visitors can watch as these gentle giants swim and play in their spacious enclosure. The exhibit offers a chance to learn about the behavior and conservation of these endangered animals, as well as the unique challenges they face in their native habitats.

The exhibit also features a variety of reptiles, including snakes, lizards, and turtles, as well as penguins who are frequently waddling and swimming in their specially designed enclosure.

Shores and Aquarium Video Tour - Columbus Zoo
Shores and Aquarium Video Tour

Boo at the Zoo

Boo at the Zoo is an annual event during the month of October, that brings together Halloween and animals. Throughout the month, the zoo is decorated with a non-scary, spooktacular theme with thousands of Halloween decorations.

Boo at the Zoo starts at 5:00 p.m. on Friday and runs through the weekend. Children are encouraged to dress up and trick or treat at several treat spots throughout the zoo. For more information, about dates and times, check out our Boo at the Zoo event listing.

Holiday Wildlights at the Zoo

Holiday Wildlights is a highly anticipated annual event at the Columbus Zoo, drawing visitors from near and far to experience the magic of the holiday season through millions of sparkling LED lights. The event transforms the zoo into a winter wonderland with lights, festive decorations, and holiday-themed attractions. The event runs from mid-November through early January and is sponsored by American Electric Power.

In addition to the light shows, Holiday Wildlights offers a variety of other attractions and activities, including visits with Santa Claus, live entertainment, and seasonal treats like hot cocoa.

Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo - Video Tour
Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo – Video Tour

Learn about the Zoo’s commitment to animal conservation and education

By visiting the Columbus Zoo, you can gain a greater appreciation for the beauty and complexity of the animal kingdom. You will also walk away with a deeper understanding of the challenges facing many species today.

Animal and Habitat Education

The Zoo has volunteers, or docents, that can answer questions about the animals you see. You can find them throughout the park, but especially at the more popular locations around the zoo. My mother-in-law worked as a docent for several years and spend her own time learning about the various animals so she could be better prepared to help visitors.

I usually see docents around the monkey exhibits, as well as the giraffe, rhino, and manatee exhibits, but you can find them just about anywhere if you look for them. Docents are an incredible resource that you should take advantage of. They are an incredible source of information, and if you find one on a slower day, it is like having your own mini-tour guide for that specific habitat.

In addition to the docents, the Columbus Zoo has a mobile education team that visits local schools and organizations. Zoo employees often bring animals to local schools throughout Central Ohio to show students the importance of habitat preservation and animal life.

Animal Conservation Efforts

The zoo plays an important role in conservation efforts. The Columbus Zoo supports research and breeding programs aimed at preserving endangered species as well as promoting biodiversity. In fact, the zoo has an international reputation for advanced conservation research. The Columbus Zoo works with other zoos and conservation groups around the world to help animals around the world, not just locally.

Preparing for your visit

The Columbus Zoo is huge! The best thing to do is to set aside ample time for your visit. If you are local to Central Ohio, consider purchasing a zoo membership so you can visit multiple times per year. If you are visiting from out of town, set aside a whole day so you don’t feel rushed. Even then, it will be hard to see everything!

Admission and hours of operation

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium are open every day of the year, with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. 

General Admission Rates (Franklin County Residents)

Under 3 years oldFree
Ages 3 to 9$16.99
Ages 10 to 59$19.99
Ages 60 +$18.99
ID is required to show Franklin County Residence

General Admission Rates (Non-Franklin County Residents)

Under 3 years oldFree
Ages 3 to 9$25.99
Ages 10 to 59$29.99
Ages 60 +$27.99

2023 Zoo Hours

January10 am to 4 pm
February10 am to 4 pm
March10 am to 5 pm
April9 am to 5 pm
May9 am to 5 pm6pm after May 27th
June9 am to 6 pm
July9 am to 6 pm
August9 am to 6 pmCloses at 5pm M-F after August 13th
September9 am to 5 pmLabor Day weekend only (9am to 6pm)
October10 am to 5 pm
November10 am to 5 pmClosed November 23rd
December10 am to 5 pmClosed December 25th

The hours listed are subject to change based on special events or other closures.

Boo at the Zoo Hours

Boo at the Zoo runs every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evening from October 6th through October 29th.

Sunday5 pm to 9 pm
Friday and Saturday5 pm to 9 pm

The hours listed are subject to change based on special events or other closures.

Wildlights at the Zoo Hours

Sunday – Thursday5 pm to 9 pm
Friday and Saturday5 pm – 10 pm

The hours listed are subject to change based on special events or other closures.

Columbus Zoo Map

Upon entrance into the park, you will be given a park map. The map shows all the major attractions organized by habitat. The map not only lays out the Columbus Zoo habitats but it also lists the major animal species you will find in each area. This makes it easier to find the animals you are looking for so you can plan your visit.

Image credit: Columbus Zoo

Parking and transportation options

Parking is $10 and covers both the Zoo and/or Zoombezi Bay. There is a parking lot tram that runs from 12 pm – 6 pm most days that will pick you up and drop you off at the entrance of the park.


Columbus Zoo and Aquarium
4850 W Powell Rd, Powell, Ohio,

Best time to visit

The best time to visit the Zoo is during weekdays. Weekends and great weather days draw the largest crowds. April and May can get extra crowded due to a large number of schools doing field trips.

I recommend getting to the Zoo early so you can see the more popular exhibits before the crowds get too big. The ticket lines can get large if you need to purchase tickets at the door, so consider purchasing a membership if you think you will go frequently.

If you do get there early, I recommend going to the polar bear exhibit first, as the observation windows get crowded on busy days very fast. Other areas, like some of the ape and monkey exhibits, also get busy.

My favorite time to visit is in March, late September, October, or early November as the weather is cooler and kids are usually in school. The exhibits aren’t as crowded, many animals tend to be more active without the heat, and you can generally see more.

Tips for visiting with kids

When visiting with kids, expect your visit to take longer than you think. While it may be tempting to rush around the zoo to hit as many areas as you can, I can tell you from personal experience to let kids explore on their time. There is a lot of ground to cover and a lot of animals to see, but small kids get super excited and tire easily. Take frequent breaks.

For those with small children, there are ample changing facilities located inside the restrooms. If you are a nursing mother, there are privacy areas at the First Aid stations.

Personal strollers are allowed, or you can rent them just inside the zoo entrance for an additional fee. Get there early, though, as they are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Rides and attractions

Adventure Cove has the largest selection of rides. The Dust Devil is a rendition of the classic Scrambler ride, and the Falcon Fall is a 50-foot drop tower that plummets down and rises back up several times. Adventure Cove is also home to the Flying Clipper, a large swinging ship that swings higher and higher with each pass.

Other popular rides in Adventure Cove include the Golden Frog Hopper, Havoc Harbor bumper cars, Jack’s Tea Party, Mission MaCaw, Safari Stampede, the Sea Dragon roller coaster, Sugar Glider, Swinging Gibbons, Tidal Twist, Tiny Tusks, and the Tiny Town Train.

Over in Australia and the Islands, you can find the Dinosaur Island Boat Ride. This slow-moving boat ride allows you to pass through various exhibits while floating along a lazy river path.

Over in the North America Habitat, you can ride the North America Train Ride. This train is one of the oldest rides in the park and takes you on a relaxing, 5-minute ride around the North American exhibit. The cost is $2.00 per rider or free for Gold Members.

Finally, the Shores and Aquarium offers three attractions, The Grand Carousel, a historic 1914 Mangels-Illions carousel which is a much see! The Shores and Aquarium are also home to the Shores Play Park, and the 4-D Theater which offers an immersive film experience.

Most rides charge an additional fee. Please be sure to check prices on the day you arrive for updated prices.

Dining / Food options

There are lots of food options, from coffee shops to cafes and food carts. There is even an Auntie Anne’s pretzel shop and a Cinnabon shop.

If you want something a little fancier, check out the Mapori Restaurant, which overlooks the African Lion habitat. They offer a wide range of entrees, from smokehouse chicken to pulled pork or ribs, smoked tofu, and more.

Food areas (and picnic tables) get quite crowded during lunch and dinner hours, especially when the weather is nice.

You can bring small coolers with your own food as long as you don’t leave them unattended. There are picnic areas throughout the park; however, you can’t bring in any alcoholic beverages.

Some attractions do not let you carry food items, but definitely have snacks on hand in case the food courts are busy. It will help you tie over any hunger until you can get food.

Conclusion and Final Thoughts

In summary, the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is a must-visit destination, offering a wide range of wildlife, engaging exhibits, and a strong commitment to conservation.

My family and I visit have visited the zoo at least once a year since 1990, and it has been fun to see how the zoo has grown over the years.

If you visit, you can expect a memorable experience for your whole family.