Catch Some Zzzs at the Zoo
It’s summertime and the living’s easy. Why not spend the night at the zoo, drifting off to sleep to the hoots of owls and the growls of lions? Zoos across the country host overnight sleepover events where kids and their families, Scout troops, and school groups can pitch their tents, snuggle in their sleeping bags, and get a behind-the-scenes look at zoos after hours when the crowds have gone home.
Visitors pitch tents at the Houston Zoo
Most zoo overnights are aimed at a local audience; oriented toward kids; typically provide dinner, a late-night snack, and light breakfast the following morning. Some may focus on a particular theme or animal (conservation, adaptation, African elephants, animals of the Bible, for example), and range and price between $30 and $139.
As I compiled this list of U.S. zoos putting on such fun events, I discovered, to my delight, that a lot of U.S. zoos organize overnights and put their own spin on them. To make sense of things, I contacted Allen Nyhuis, co-author with Jon Wassner, of America’s Best Zoos: A Travel Guide (The Intrepid Traveler, 2008) to get a feel for some of the best zoo overnights. Here are his top five picks:
1) Probably the most attractive-looking program has to be at the San Diego Wild Animal Park’s Roar & Snore Camp (in Escondido, CA). They have a camp of tents set up overlooking SDWAP’s gorgeous East Africa Savanna, with its many antelope, giraffes, zebras, rhinos, and more. The rows of perfect tents look authentically like one of those tent camps you’ve seen in the real African safari camping resorts in South Africa or Tanzania. This camp is near the park’s Lion Camp exhibit, so campers usually wake up to lions roaring.
2) A lower-budget ($35/person) option would be the Binder Park Zoo’s Overnight Safari (in Battle Creek, MI). The safari is entirely in the zoo’s Wild Africa section, which we find amazing in its African realism. This zoo exhibit is modeled after an African national park, so I can imagine that sleeping there would have the same feeling.
3) Some zoos have overnight programs with a chance to sleep in some very interesting buildings. At the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, you can sleep in the Manatee Springs building and fall asleep watching the peaceful creatures. At the Minnesota Zoo, overnighters tuck in at their Discovery Bay building and doze off watching either dolphins or sharks. Here in my hometown, the Indianapolis Zoo offers the same — a chance to sleep within view of dolphins, sharks, or even jellyfish.
4) At the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, you can fall asleep watching gray wolves in their rustic Wolf Lodge, a replica of a 19th-century trapper’s cabin. You might also get the thrill of hearing them howl at night.
5) At the Fort Worth Zoo, their Outdoor Explorers Overnight program includes using a compass to find your way around the zoo and fishing in a stream early in the morning. You’ll likely stay in the excellent Texas Wild! exhibit area, learning about the animals and habitats of the Lone Star State.
Six more fun overnights await after the jump!
1) The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens
hosts overnights year-round. October-May you can tour the zoo after dark, have a pizza and salad feast, and sleep indoors at Zoopendous Nights. In the summer, the zoo puts on Wild Slumber and the Creature Camp Out.
2) The Atlanta Zoo’s NightCrawlers overnight program has been voted “Best Sleepover” by Atlanta Magazine.
Some NightCrawler events bear special themes such as “Tusks at Dusks”
that focuses on hands-on activities and games related to the world’s largest living land mammal, the African Elephant.
has been inviting kids of all ages to its Wild Winks overnight events since 2002. Last year they hosted 54 overnights, attracting over 1,500 guests. Brian Hill, director of Public Affairs, says there’s “a special atmosphere” at such events that “can’t be had any other way unless you work at the zoo.” Wild Winks includes a fajita dinner and a peek at nocturnal animals.
4) You should bring your own tent and sleeping bag to the Bronx Zoo’s “Late Night at the Bronx Zoo”
but leave your alarm clock at home; you won’t need it thanks to the zoo’s very vocal peacocks. The popular series sold out last year so sign up early for fun this summer.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
5) The Saint Louis Zoo‘s overnight programs (Wild Nights and Snooze at the Zoo) focus on teaching kids about the adaptations of nocturnal animals. The reflective eyes of hyenas and leopards, for example, enable them to thrive in the dark. Other activities help kids to live greener.
6) DC’s own Smithsonian National Zoological Park
has been hosting Snore and Roars for the past 11 years. This year, they’ll organize one each Friday and Saturday night from June through September. Some are for families, for Scouting troops, and others are adults only. The zoo brings in about $100,000 a year in much-needed revenue (the National Zoo is free, after all) through its 75 annual Snore and Roar events.
Want More? If a zoo overnight isn’t exactly up your alley, lots of museums and aquariums also host overnights. Away.com
lists a bunch including the Chicago Field Museum’s Dozin’ with Dinos
event and DC’s Spy Museum’s Operation Secret Slumber which lets kids 9-15 put their sleuthing skills to the test to execute secret missions and master secret codes.
Photos: The Houston Zoo