Visiting Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo with Kids

As parents, we are always on the lookout for engaging and educational activities to do with our little ones. One perfect destination that combines fun and learning is the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo. Planning a family fun day here ensures a memorable experience for the kids and the grown-ups alike.

Image of a woman exploring Calgary Zoo

The Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo is home to over 900 animals across more than 120 species from five continents. It's also one of the top-rated zoos in North America and there are so many things to do when visiting the Zoo. I will be sharing tips on how to have a fun-filled day with your kids when visiting the this beautiful place.

Things to Know before your visit.
  • The Calgary Zoo is open 364 days a year from 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (7 days a week).
  • During winter, the admission price is reduced. More details about admission prices can be found here
  • It's a family-friendly fun activity place to explore but I would recommend planning 3-4 hours with kids. Just so you have enough time to explore and take breaks. 
  • Children under three years old do not need a day admission ticket.
  • There are many events and programs including summer camps for kids, and family programs like sleepovers, amongst others which you can find out more about here.
  • If you purchase a daily admission ticket, you cannot leave and re-enter the Zoo ground without a new daily admission ticket. However, members with their membership cards can leave and re-enter as long as they have their membership card.
  • To get here, you can either take the C-Train east to the Zoo stop or drive through the main North parking lot which is open year-round, located at 210 St. George’s Drive NE (between Zoo’s entrance & Telus Spark Science Center). The West Parking Lot (closed in winter) is located at the west end of St. George’s Island, off Zoo Road NE.

Exploring the Zoo.
The Zoo isn't all about animals alone. There are various spots and places to explore with your kids to have a fun-filled day such as the animal zones, prehistoric park, playground area, ENMAX conservatory, the Dorothy Harvie Gardens, the souvenir shop, and the restaurantsOne fun fact about this Zoo is that it is a leading Canadian Centre for Conservation and, is also home to the Centre for Conservation Research with many endangered animals in its care.  

Planning your Family-Fun Day.
A) Explore the Animal Zones

  • Start your exploration with a visit to the Penguin Plunge in the chilly Antarctic area. There are different species of penguins in this area. The best part about this place is that you can get very close to the Penguins and watch them splash and play around. Penguin Plunge is one of the most popular experiences at the zoo. King penguins are the most popular penguins and they are the only ones that go on a Penguin walk outside the Penguin Plunge. You can watch them walk around the Zoo on a Penguin walk in winter. My tip for this part is to take a picture with your crew before heading in.

  • The Canadian Wild is a great place to get your steps in for the day (be prepared for a long walk in this area). This place houses the otters, bighorn sheep, caribou, grizzlies, cougars, black bears, owls, moose, and two new polar bear residents, 'Baffin' and 'Siku'. My tip for this area is to skip this at first if you have little kids who may get tired quickly from the long walk and come back on your way out if you have more time.

  • Safari your way through Destination Africa to see the giraffes, African crested porcupines, lush rainforests, and a conspiracy of lemurs. This is a great place to sit and have a snack if need be especially on a hot summer day. If the hippopotamuses are out, you can sit and watch them swim around. Wade through the Rainforest to spend some time with the West African dwarf crocodiles, Eastern black-and-white colobus monkeys, and western lowland gorillas. 

Collage of some of the beautiful animals we saw at Destination Africa

  • Venture East to the Exploration Asia & Gateway to Asia. This is where you will find the Red Pandas, Bactrian Camels, and Malayan Tapirs. Be sure not to miss the majestic Amur Tigers and Snow Leopards while you're there!

The Gateway to Asia used to be the Panda Passage. Sadly, pandas are no longer at the Zoo due to COVID-19. They were relocated to the Zoo in China. We were lucky to see them in 2019 when we visited.

  • One of the most striking features of the Zoo is its botanical garden. The Dorothy Harvie Gardens has almost 6 acres (2.4 hectares) of native plants. Meander through the tranquility and serenity of the ornamental Dorothy Harvie Garden and meet the animals living there (Alpacas and Chilean Flamingos). In the Summer of 2023, the Wildscapes Gardener’s Tour was displayed here led by an experienced Horticulturist. I didn't want to miss the special garden experience featuring larger-than-life animal topiaries for anything and the experience was "awe-mazing".

Collage from the Wildscapes Gardener’s Tour (August 2023)

  • The ENMAX Conservatory houses many species of butterflies and moths. It is a four-themed section that includes the tropical garden, arid garden, rainforest, and butterfly garden. Flutter along with the butterflies inside the ENMAX Conservatory and enjoy experiencing indoor nature.

B) Learn About Dinosaurs at the Prehistoric Park
You can explore the Prehistoric Park, where animatronic dinosaurs both educate and entertain. You’ll travel back in time when you see these life-sized creatures that ruled Alberta once upon a time. This dinosaur park is sure to be a huge hit with the kids.

C) Kids Playgrounds
While there are lots of animals to see at the Zoo. There are also a couple of playgrounds for the kids to relax and have more fun. The Calgary Co-Op Kids Zone has a toddler playground and a wildlife carousel, while the Brawn Family Foundation has a Bugtopia, which is a play space designed for kids ages 7-12.

D)Picnic Time.
After all the exploration and fun, be sure to take a break and enjoy a picnic with your family on the Zoo grounds. There are also a couple of restaurants such as the Grazers Restaurant, Kitamba Cafe, amongst others that you can check out for sandwiches, ice cream, or coffee. This will add a touch of relaxation to your busy day and allow everyone to recharge

My daughter enjoying our picnic time in 2019

E) Shop for gifts and Souvenirs.
Before heading out, be sure to pick 1-2 gift items to keep as a reminder of your amazing day at the Zoo. 

Calgary Zoo Events.
There are a couple of events that are being hosted at the Zoo such as Zoolights in wintertime, Sunday brunch, amongst others which you can find here
Zoolight Memories (December, 2019)

We have visited the Calgary Zoo four times now and let me tell you for free that the experiences were not the same each time we visited. The Zoo offers a unique opportunity for children to learn about different species and habitats in an immersive setting.

A family fun day at the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo is an enriching experience that brings joy and learning together in one unforgettable package. When you decide to visit with your family, make sure to make the most of your visit by creating lasting memories with your loved ones. Remember that the experiences shared will be cherished for years to come

That will be all from me today. I hope you learned one or two things about how to have a fun-filled day with your kids when visiting the Zoo. Thank you for stopping by in my little corner & I will see you again at the next one..💋