13 Zoos in Washington DC for a Great Family Experience

Planning a fun weekend can be a slightly daunting task, especially if you have young kids. However, staying in the DC area means you can take them to one of the many zoos in Washington DC around you. Not only will the variety of wildlife fascinate them, but ensure that you and your family spend some quality time together! Here are some of the best zoos you can visit if you are in Washington DC with your family!

List of 13 Best Zoos in Washington DC

1. Smithsonian National Zoological Park

Entrance to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park
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The National Zoological Park is amongst the oldest zoos in the US. The park is run by the Smithsonian Institute, with the aim to promote the conservation of the animals and raise public awareness about these species. The zoo is free of cost, and sees an annual footfall of nearly 1.8 million visitors from across the world. It is home to 14 different exhibits housing different species of animals, birds and reptiles.
Location: 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, United States
Cost: Free
Number of animals: 2700
Number of species: 390
Facilities: Indoor gift store and outdoor kiosks, drinking water fountains, strollers and wheelchairs (electric wheelchairs for rent available), disabled access, restrooms, service animals permitted
Number of restaurants: 4

2. Asia Trail

A panda resting in the Asia Trails
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The Asia Trail is one of the most popular exhibits within the Smithsonian Zoo. While it houses red pandas, fishing cats and the ever lazy sloth bears, the most famous residents of this exhibit are the giant pandas. The enclosure of this trail is designed to mimic the natural habitat, while helping them behave like they would in the wild.
Location: Within the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, United States
Cost: Free
Animals found: Giant panda, red panda, clouded leopard, sloth bear
Do not miss: The panda family Tian Tian, Mei Xiang and their cub

3. Kid’s Farm

Volunteers at the Kid's Farm
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This kid friendly exhibit at the Smithsonian Zoo provides a great opportunity to interact in close quarters with domesticated animals, making it one of the best family-oriented zoos in Washington DC. The animals are encouraged to behave naturally thanks to the innovative training techniques and tools used by their highly qualified trainers.
Location: Within the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, United States
Cost: Free
Animals found: Alpaca, cows, goats, miniature donkey, Ossabaw Island Hog and hens
Do not miss: Orion and Cirrus, the two male Alpacas during their shearing in April

4. Elephant Trails

The Elephant Trails Enclosure
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This exhibit of the Smithsonian Zoo is dedicated especially to the care of Asian elephants. Trainers here plan activities for these gentle beasts so that every new day has something different and fun in store. Visitors can see the elephants play in the open and take a bath. Afternoons will give you a chance to see them being fed and taking a nap.
Location: Within the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, United States
Cost: Free
Animals found: Asian elephants
Do not miss: The herd of elephants bathing and lazing around during the day

5. Reptile Discovery Center

An enclosure at the Reptile Discovery Center
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If creepy crawlies fascinate you, then the Reptile Discovery Center exhibit is among the perfect venue as far as zoos in Washington DC are concerned. Filled with 70 different species, the enclosure allows you to spot some of the rarest and most beautiful looking reptiles found in the wild. From the Komodo Dragon, the largest lizard in the world, to the brightly colored venomous pit vipers, you can spot them hiding or sliding through the various displays. 
Location: Within the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, United States
Cost: Free
Animals found: Reptiles, snakes and lizards
Do not miss: Aldabra Tortoise, amongst the oldest residents in the zoo and the Panamanian golden frog, now extinct in the wild

6. Small Mammal House

The Small Mammal House enclosures
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With more than 35 cute species in the enclosure, the Small Mammal House is one of the naughtiest and liveliest exhibits in the Smithsonian Zoo. The tall trees, chunky mulch and rocky surroundings mimic the natural habitat of these animals, challenging the animals just like nature. Visitors here can enjoy the arboreals swinging from branch to branch, or observe the sand cats while they assess their desert like surroundings.
Location: Within the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, United States
Cost: Free 
Animals found: Sloths, monkeys, tamarins, coatis and aracaris
Do not miss: Tree jumping golden lion tamarins and a pair of Goeldi’s monkeys

7. American Trail

The American Trail enclosures
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Visitors intrigued by the American marine and amphibious life forms are in for a treat at the American Trail. The exhibit within the Smithsonian Zoo focuses on species unique to North America such as seals, wolves and beavers, while pioneering conservation efforts that have saved a few of them from the brink of extinction. The enclosure is carefully designed to make the animals feel at home, allowing them to exhibit their natural behaviour much to the delight of the onlooking guests. Visitors also have a great chance to witness the underwater shenanigans of the playful seals.
Location: Within the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, United States
Cost: Free 
Animals found: Seals, wolves, pelicans, bald eagles, ravens, seals and sea lions
Do not miss: Bald eagles, which is the national bird of the USA as well as the underwater seal display.

8. Primates

An orangutan hanging from the O-Line in the Primates exhibition
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If you are interested in knowing more about the species from which humans are said to have originated, then look no further than the Primates exhibit of the Smithsonian Zoo. Home to around a dozen primates like gorillas and orangutans, these animals fascinate visitors with their daredevil stunts and acrobatic movements. Lemur Island is home to a variety of lemurs, the lazy antics of which serve as a source of amusements to visitors and trainers alike.
Location: Within the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, United States
Cost: Free
Animals found: Lemurs, orangutans, gorillas, gibbons and monkeys
Do not miss: Orangutans travelling along the 50 ft suspended O-Line, Orangutan Tug of War and Lemur Island

9. Great Cats 

Lions lazing around in the Great Cats enclosure
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If your idea of wildlife is the roaring lions and sprinting wild cats, then the Great Cats exhibition of the Smithsonian Zoo will truly fascinate you. These apex predators attract the attention of young and old alike, thanks to their majestic looks and razor-sharp instincts. The Great Cats display is frequently visited by tourists as well as locals, and is among the most popular zoos in Washington DC.
Location: Within the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, United States
Cost: Free
Animals found: Lions and tigers
Do not miss: Damai, the only Sumatran tiger in the zoo

10. Bird House

Birds nesting at the Bird Enclosure
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The Bird House exhibit of the Smithsonian Zoo is one of the pioneers in understanding the migratory movements of the flighted species. This exhibit houses around 100 species of birds from across the globe, ranging from songbirds to herons. Established in 1928, it has now undergone renovations and is set to open in 2021, being the largest of its kind in the US.
Location: Within the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, United StatesCost: FreeAnimals found: Geese, herons, swallows, swifts, hummingbirds, robinsDo not miss: The seasonal migratory birds that visit the exhibit while migrating across continents

11. Amazonia 

The Amazonia exhibit enclosure
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The Amazonia exhibit of the Smithsonian replicates the natural conditions found along the Amazon River, the world’s largest river basin. As a result, it has one of the most diverse collections of animals in the zoo. You can encounter a variety of animals from bears and sloths to salamanders and emperor tamarins. This exhibit is also home to a variety of birds and corals, which are an active focus of the conservation program.
Location: Within the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, United States
Cost: Free 
Animals found: Bears, sloths, monkeys, birds, reptiles, amphibians and corals
Do not miss: Arapaima, one of the largest freshwater fishes, as well as Coral Lab, the centre for coral conservation

12. American Bison

American Bison in its enclosure
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The American Bison served as inspiration for the founding of the Smithsonian Zoo back in 1887. The exhibit has since become a pioneer in bison conservation, with specially designed enclosures mimicking their natural habitats. The highly skilled trainers also ensure that they retain most of their natural behaviors, to ensure smooth rehabilitation in the future. 
Location: Within the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, United States
Cost: Free 
Animals found: American Bisons
Do not miss: Lucy and Gally, the two bisons as they forage for food within the enclosure.

13. Cheetah Conservation Station

Cheetah cubs in the Cheetah Conservation Station
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Despite the name, the Cheetah Conservation Station is home to a multitude of species that are faced with the threat of extinction. While the cheetahs steal the spotlight of the crowds, the enclosure is also home to zebras, gazelles and hornbills. The diversity of the animals living within the enclosure allows them to interact just as they would in the wild, allowing them to exhibit their sharp predator skills and survival methods.
Location: Within the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, 3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, United States
Cost: Free
Animals found: Cheetahs, hornbills, vultures, zebras, hogs and oryx
Do not miss: Justin, Donnie and Copley, the three male cheetahs as well as the Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

So if you are looking for the chance to reconnect with nature and wildlife in the Washington DC area, do make sure to include these zoos in your plans!

This post was published by Peter Nikhil David

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