Portland with kids: Oregon Zoo

We love the Oregon Zoo! Like many Oregon Zoo reviews attest, we love that it’s small enough to be manageable in one day with young kids, but large enough to stay interesting time after time. We toured the entire thing with a five-year-old and three-year-old (plus older kids) and the entire loop took us about three and a half hours. With five main sections of the park—Great Northwest, Africa, Pacific Shores, Fragile Forests, and Asia, you’ll want to plan your visit around what interests you most if you have less time to ensure kids see their favorites before feet tire out. There’s also gardens, lawns, and plenty of food choices in the zoo.


Some secondary attractions are seasonal—such as some food vendors and staffing at smaller exhibits like the Insect Zoo—but the zoo is open year-round. We visited most recently during a cold snap in early January, but still found most animals to be out and about (and quite lively). We recommend bringing a wagon or stroller for your younger kids (or renting them at the shop directly past the entrance) and planning on a mid-visit break on the lawn near the elephant exhibit at the back of the park. In winter, plan a mid-point break in any of the heated indoor exhibits with seating, such as the main space in Africa or the Amazon exhibit areas. Near the Insect Zoo and Lorikeet Landing, families can find respite in the form of kid-centric activities and programs about animals in kids’ own backyards during the summer months. This is also a great place to stop when feeling overwhelmed!


During our visit, the popular zoo train was getting a makeover and new route, but it’s planned to be opened again in 2014. Ditto for a brand new exhibit on California Condors, to be located near the Great Northwest section of the park. In 2015, a brand new elephant land will be completed as well. The Oregon Zoo is certainly growing!

Zoo Lights:


If you’re visiting during the winter holiday season, plan your visit around Zoo Lights, as we did. Enter the park at any time, and stay after dark to see the zoo transformed with thousands of twinkling and colorful lights along zoo pathways and train routes. See a glowing forest, enter rainbow-lit tunnels, and take in a world of animal sculptures. Zoo Lights tickets are sold separately if you don’t plan to enter as a regular zoo guest earlier in the day, and stays open until 8 pm. If you have young kids, plan to enter the park just a few hours before the lights turn on (around 4:30 pm) to ensure they have the stamina needed!


Adults are $11.50, kids (3-11) are $8.50, and kids two and under are free.


Hours vary by season. During our visit, the winter hours were 10 am to 4 pm. In summer, ground stay open until 7 pm. Zoos always close early to accommodate animals, so plan to arrive early in the day.

Tip: Make a full day of Washington Park by visiting the zoo, Portland Children’s Museum, and World Forestry Center, or in summer, visit the International Rose Test Garden or Woodlands Trail.


Two main dining options exist in the park (both family restaurants with quick-service counter ordering). Both offer burgers, hot dogs, soups, and a few speciality items, plus generously-sized kids’ meals. The food is surprisingly good. Numerous snack kiosks are also on-hand, and food can be brought in by guests and eaten in designated areas.


The Oregon Zoo is located in Washington Park, easily accessed by car (there’s a nicely sized parking lot) or MAX line.

Disclosure: As I disclose whenever applicable, our party received admission passes to the Oregon Zoo for the purpose of review. All opinions are our own.