Zoos less than 3 hours from Champaign-Urbana

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Families in the Champaign-Urbana region have many options for visiting the zoo

We list the best options when you want to visit the zoo with your children

Do your kids love the zoo? Maybe you too. While Champaign-Urbana has options on where to find animals, we don’t have a real zoo in our immediate area. Fortunately, when looking for a zoo to visit, whether it’s for a day trip or an overnight getaway to a big city, we have several options within a short drive.

Let’s go over the basics of zoos in the area and help you decide which one to visit.

Please note that the admission rates were accurate at the time of writing this article. Rates are subject to change at any time and some attractions may have an additional cost. Our “family of four” numbers include two adults and two children as well as additional parking charges.

Sumatran tiger resident at Miller Park Zoo
The tiger that resides at Miller Park Zoo in Bloomington.

Miller Park Zoo
Distance from Champaign-Urbana: 50 minutes
Cost for a family of four:
$ 24
Strong points:
The closest CU zoo has some great exhibits including the resident tiger, wallaby walkabout, and a bustling otter area. The Miller Park Zoo has also been named the first Certified Sensory Zoo in the State of Illinois! Bring your bathing clothes in summer as an impressive paddling pool and playground are located just outside the zoo.
Click here for a detailed review of the chambanamoms at Miller Park Zoo.

Pet the many kids at Scovill Zoo in Decatur.

Scovill Zoo
Distance from Champaign-Urbana:
One hour
Cost for a family of four:
$ 29; FREE visit on Thursdays all summer
Strong points:
There are plenty of favorites at Scovill Zoo. The penguin exhibit is really fantastic and we also love the reptile house. Don’t skip the petting area as your child will have plenty of opportunities to love adorable baby goats. If you are looking for an additional attraction, we recommend purchasing train ride tokens to see the animals from the train.
Click here for a detailed review of the chambanamoms at Scovill Zoo.

Giraffes at Peoria Zoo
The giraffes closest to Champaign-Urbana can be found at the Peoria Zoo.

Peoria Zoo
Distance from Champaign-Urbana:
One hour, 30 minutes
Cost for a family of four:
$ 36
Strong points:
The closest Champaign-Urbana giraffes you can find – and feed – can be found in Peoria. Other highlights are the encounters with parakeets in the aviary and a multitude of farm animals.
Click here for a detailed review of the chambanamoms at Peoria Zoo.

Shark Touch Pool at the Indianapolis Zoo
Touch real sharks at the Indianapolis Zoo.

Indianapolis Zoo
Distance from Champaign-Urbana:
Two o’clock
Cost for a family of four:
$ 91 (may cost more on peak days or weekends)
Strong points:
This zoo is a Midwestern favorite, for sure. The shark pool is a year-round must-see and the orangutan center is one of a kind. Many attractions cost more, so expect to spend over $ 100 for a family of four once that is all said and done.
Click here for a detailed review of the chambanamoms at the Indianapolis Zoo.

Polar bear at Brookfield Zoo
One of the Great Bear Wilderness polar bears at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago.

Brookfield Zoo
Distance from Champaign-Urbana:
Two hours, 15 minutes
Cost for a family of four:
$ 101
Strong points:
This zoo is the biggest on our list, and your feet will agree! Everything’s big, big, big at Brookfield Zoo, so treat your preparations like you would a day at Disney. Bring wheels, even for older kids who might not need a cart or stroller anymore, and you’ll be glad you did. You can literally spend an entire day here, from opening to closing, which means you might want to pick a place to spend the night or just plan a busy day if you’re taking a day trip. Our favorite exhibits are Great Bear Wilderness, Wild Encounters (additional charge), dolphin watching underwater, and feeding giraffes.
Click here for a detailed chambanamoms.com review on the Brookfield Zoo.

Cows at Lincoln Park Zoo
Be sure to allow plenty of time to get to the farm at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

Lincoln Park Zoo
Distance from Champaign-Urbana:
Two hours 30 minutes
Cost for a family of four:
FREE (but plan to pay for parking, ranging from $ 20 to $ 35)
Strong points:
Yes! We said this zoo is FREE. Your best bet when visiting this zoo is to simply park in the zoo parking lot so you don’t have to worry about getting a ticket on the streets of nearby Chicago. This urban zoo is located in two separate spaces in the heart of Chicago, connected by a skyline-view bridge. You can find all the zoo animals you’re looking for in the main part of the zoo, then take a short walk to the farm for close encounters with the farm animals. You can also take a longer (but still quite doable) walk to North Avenue Beach for your picnic or a dip in Lake Michigan.
Click here for a detailed review of the chambanamoms at Lincoln Park Zoo.

See the elephants at the Saint Louis Zoo.

Saint-Louis Zoo
Distance from Champaign-Urbana:
Three hours
Cost for a family of four:
FREE! Parking is $ 15 in the lots.
Strong points:
The Saint Louis Zoo is large. This is the only place on our list that has elephants residing in a large exhibit area, so if you want to introduce your children to these majestic creatures, Saint Louis is where it is. Some attractions are free during the first opening hour of the zoo, but pay for the rest of the day.
Click here for a detailed review of chambanamoms at Saint Louis Zoo.

Looking for more on our favorite zoos and places to see animals near Champaign-Urbana?


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