Travel the World at the N.C. Zoo
By Karen M. Alley
The N.C. Zoo was the first to work from its very beginning under the “natural habitat” philosophy. And thanks to a large donation of land by the Randolph County Society for Zoological Development, the zoo is the nation’s largest natural habitat zoo, spanning more than 500 acres, with another 900 available for future development.
When you visit the zoo, plan on doing a lot of walking — if you walk the entire park, you will have walked five miles. I have not forced my daughter, 2-1/2-year-old Caroline, to ride in her stroller for quite a while, but during this outing, she seemed to appreciate the ride.
You can bring your own stroller or rent one at the zoo. Designed like wagons with built-in shade, the zoo’s strollers are easy for kids to climb in and out of at different exhibits along the way.
The N.C. Zoo is divided into two continents — North America and Africa — each consisting of many different exhibits. The continents have their own entrances, gift shops, restaurants, restrooms and all the necessary amenities, making it easy for those who are short on time or have tired children. If you do walk the entire zoo, there are trams within the park, and a shuttle bus runs between the two parking lots on a regular schedule.
Seeing the Animals
The zoo’s animal exhibits are exciting and educational for kids of all ages. The accompanying signs are informative and easy to understand.
Out of habit, we started out at the North America entrance, and we were quite a crew. As a long-time N.C. resident, I have been to the zoo a few times and watched it grow. My stepson has been more times than he can count, but it was the first time for my husband and Caroline.
Caroline could hardly contain her excitement as she got ready to see the animals and almost jumped out of her stroller to try to pet the Canadian goose that followed us along the path to the swamp exhibit.
We all enjoyed the popular polar bears and puffins. Spring is a great time to visit because a lot of the animals are out and about, close to where the viewing areas are so you can get a good show, instead of hiding back in the shade of their trees to escape the hot N.C. sun. In the North American prairie I saw more bison and elk than on previous visits in proximity to the viewing station where we could truly admire their massive size.
We eventually made our way to Africa, where Craig and Caroline both enjoyed the many different species of monkeys and the playful baboons. We were also lucky to be among the first to see some of the zoo’s newest family members — the lion cubs born in October — frolicking outside with the two adult lions. The lion cubs were kept inside for the winter while repairs were being made in their habitat, but have been out on view for the public since the first of April.
Special Kids’ Stuff
The N.C. Zoo makes education a top priority. Just this spring a brand-new area opened up designed to help kids explore the natural world in a fun, hands-on way. The kidZone, located in the North America region, includes a maze, a great big chalkboard and a nesting area where you can explore replicas of beaver and birds’ nests and play at making your own.
A group of educators dedicated to the kidZone are on-hand to teach children about animals and help them learn by having fun. In addition to being available to interact with kids, the educators will give regular presentations during the day, introducing new animals and giving children a chance to get up close and personal with snakes, owls, lizards, the Galapagos tortoises Tort and Retort, and other wild creatures.
Another relatively new addition to the zoo is the carousel located in Junction Plaza, which connects North America and Africa. Purchased just last year, the unusual carousel is populated only by endangered species. And the colorful playground in the North American Region where they can climb over gourds and around ladybugs is always a kid fave.
The N.C. Zoo is just a short drive from Triad locations, but spend a day there and you’ll feel like you’ve traveled the world!
The North Carolina Zoo
4401 Zoo Parkway, Asheboro
Hours: April-October, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; November-March, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
Admission: Adults $10, Children 2-12 $6, Seniors $8, stroller rental $6
Best Times to Visit: If you’re planning a trip while school is in session, your best bet is a weekend. More than 2,000 school kids a day visit the zoo during April and May.