Lincoln Park Zoo | 2023 Guide (By a Chicago Local)
👉 Jump to: About Lincoln Park Zoo | Animal Exhibits | Events | Things to Do | Visiting Info | How to Get There | Tips | FAQ
I’m a Chicago local and in this guide, I overview the history and incredible exhibits at the Lincoln Park Zoo.
Visiting this attraction is one of the best things to do in Chicago, and admission is even free! The zoo is home to vibrant gardens and nearly 200 species of animals. In this post, I cover all 16 animal exhibits, along with annual events and additional zoo activities.
Be sure to read to the end of this post, as I share local tips on how to get around and more nearby attractions you won’t want to miss!
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About the Lincoln Park Zoo
The Lincoln Park Zoo began in 1868, and is one of the oldest zoos in North America. It’s located in Lincoln Park, one of the best Chicago neighborhoods, just north of downtown. Within its 35 acres of land, the zoo houses almost 200 species from around the world. The Lincoln Park Zoo is open year-round and admission is always free.
🐒 Plants and Animals – Lincoln Park Zoo is home to mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. Think of everything from gorillas and lions, to cool animals like camels, hippos, and snakes. Each species is housed in exhibits based on its habitat or species. The zoo is also home to vibrant gardens, natural ecosystems, and over 1,200 species of plants.
🦢 History – In 1868, two swans were gifted to the city of Chicago from New York’s Central Park. Within a few years, an animal house was built, and the zoo grew to include animals like bison, a puma, and peacocks.
🎟️ How It’s Free – In 1878, it was decreed by local commissioners that the zoo “must always remain free.” Today, Lincoln Park Zoo is primarily funded by donors, zoo members, and visitors, as well as a subsidy from the Chicago Park District. It’s the only privately-managed zoo in the country and one of a number of free-admission zoos as well.
🐅 Conservation – Lincoln Park Zoo has one of the largest zoo-based conservation programs in the country. Their science programs aim to study, conserve, and provide better care for wildlife. The zoo’s main areas of focus are on enhancing animal welfare, supporting healthy populations, conserving threatened wildlife, and helping people and wildlife coexist.
Animal Exhibits at Lincoln Park Zoo
Regenstein Macaque Forest
This exhibit is a fun one. It’s made for Japanese macaque monkeys which are also known as “wild snow monkeys.” They’re the most northern-living primates (besides humans) in the world, and they’re pretty playful and curious. Their forest habitat has different features to it, and overall, this is a cool exhibit to stop by.
Walter Family Arctic Tundra
This habitat is located on the north end of the zoo and is home to two polar bears. Vulnerable to climate change and human impact, their habitat is capable of supporting two breeding polar bears, and possible cubs. The exhibit also features squishy flooring and a tactile ice wall so visitors can get a sensory experience of their natural Arctic habitat.
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Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove
The Robert and Mayari Pritzker Penguin Cove is home to African penguins. Their habitat has a pool and rocky areas, which are inspired by Boulders Beach in South Africa. The African penguins aren’t always out, however. But if you happen to catch them, they’re fun to see.
Regenstein African Journey
The Regenstein African Journey exhibit is one you won’t want to miss. This exhibit features four different ecosystems found within Africa and over two dozen native animal species. You can expect to see pygmy hippos, eastern black rhinos, giraffes, dwarf crocodiles, meerkats, and more. This is a truly unique and immersive part of the zoo, and there’s so much wildlife to see.
McCormick Bird House
It might be easy to overlook birds in favor of bigger wildlife. Nonetheless, the zoo’s bird house has over 40 species of colorful, unique birds worth seeing. You’ll find bigger birds like storks and egrets and a variety of smaller species. Unfortunately, many are threatened or endangered.
Regenstein Birds of Prey
Three free-flight habitats make up this exhibit, which house four birds of prey. This includes cinereous vultures, European white storks, snowy owls, and of course, the bald eagle. If you want to see a bird exhibit with a little more oomph, this is the exhibit for you.
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Pepper Family Wildlife Center
The Pepper Family Wildlife Center is one of the most popular exhibits in the zoo. Namely, because it’s home to the African lion. From my visits, I can say that there’s one male lion, a handful of female lions, and sometimes cubs.
This exhibit is one of the best places for snapping photos because the viewing spaces and their habitat are pretty open. This wildlife exhibit also houses a Canada lynx, red panda, and snow leopard.
Kovler Seal Pool
Seals are always fun to see at the zoo because they’re such playful animals. The Kovler Seal Pool is home to two species: grey seals and harbor seals. Their habitat is open-air and you can watch from above the pool, or down below through a glass viewing area. If you want to see something more interactive, the zoo does daily training and feeding sessions with the seals.
Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo
This zoo exhibit is all about North American animals. As its name suggests, it’s an exhibit that’s especially great for children. Here, you can get up close and personal with red wolves, American beavers, black bears, and more! It’s an interactive part of the zoo that’s great for hands-on learning.
Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House
The Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House is another popular exhibit for visitors. It’s home to, you guessed it—small mammals and reptiles, around 200 species to be exact. The creatures here are from around the world, and many cohabitate in mixed-species habitats. Just to name a few, there are snakes, turtles, mice, and much more.
The Waterfowl Lagoon is located just outside the small mammal-reptile house and is best known for its Chilean flamingos. The habitat features mudflats and shorelines. In the winter, however, the flamingos retreat to their indoor habitat, so don’t expect to see them then.
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Hope B. McCormick Swan Pond
Way back in 1868, swans were the animal that marked the beginning of Lincoln Park Zoo. Although these birds lived well over a century ago, you can still see a pair of swans at the Hope B. McCormick Swan Pond. This pond features tons of natural flora and is home to a variety of duck species.
Regenstein Center for African Apes
This great ape house is probably my favorite exhibit in the whole zoo. Two species of apes call this exhibit home: gorillas and chimpanzees. The apes’ habitats have indoor and outdoor sections with a variety of trees and ropes for them to hang out on. These animals are truly amazing creatures and it’s so cool to see them up close.
Helen Brach Primate House
If you like the great ape house, you’ll also enjoy the Helen Brach Primate House. This exhibit features 10 species of monkeys. Their habitats include vines and trees for them to swing from and natural lighting. Some habitats are even co-inhabited by different primate species. Plus, these smaller monkeys are so cute!
Camel & Zebra Area
Along the southern edge of the zoo is the Camel & Zebra Area. This area features a lot more than just camels and zebras, though. There are ostriches, red kangaroos, Sichuan takins, Père David’s deer, and Chacoan peccary. Their habitat is open and natural with century-old trees.
Just outside the main part of the zoo on the southern end is the farm exhibit. This “Farm-in-the-Zoo” features three barns with classic farm animals including cows, ponies, goats, and pigs. This exhibit is great for families with young children, as there are immersive activities for them to learn, play, and explore.
Events at Lincoln Park Zoo
🏃♂️ Run for the Zoo – A Lincoln Park Zoo tradition that’s been running (no pun intended) for over 40 years! This event is open to runners of all ages and abilities. It includes a 10K run, 5K walk/run, and a kids’ obstacle course. It takes place in and around the zoo and is meant to support the zoo and its animals.
🦁 Zoo Club – An online program for teens to get involved with the zoo. It’s a way for them to learn, build skills, and make connections all around topics of animal care and conservation.
🍺 Craft Brews at Lincoln Park Zoo – An after-hours craft beer festival for adults only. Here, you can sample over 100 craft beers and ciders. The event takes place throughout the zoo’s gardens and includes music, food, games, and of course, the zoo’s animals. This is a ticketed event.
🎄 ZooLights Festival – One of the best Chicago festivals, this annual holiday tradition displays millions of colorful lights. This turns the zoo into a sparkly winter wonderland. ZooLights has ticketed days and free days. Ticket proceeds go towards zoo animal care, conservation efforts, and educational programs.
Things to Do at Lincoln Park Zoo
🚂 Lionel Train Adventure – A trackless train ride that’s great for kids. It includes passenger cars, a coal car, and a wheelchair-friendly caboose. This is a ticketed attraction.
🎠 AT&T Endangered Species Carousel – This carousel includes 48 hand-carved and painted endangered animals, as well as a couple of chariots. This is a ticketed attraction and great for the whole family.
🐟 Seal Training and Feeding – A daily session where you can watch seals be fed and trained.
🦍 Ape Cognition and Care – A session that takes place Monday through Friday, where you can learn about the interesting methods used to care for the zoo’s great apes.
🐢 Walk the Nature Boardwalk – Lincoln Park’s boardwalk weaves partially into the zoo. I highly recommend including a walk during your visit. Here, you’ll be surrounded by nature and animals like fish and turtles in the pond. Plus, this boardwalk features, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful views of the city of Chicago.
Hours, Tickets, and Info about Lincoln Park Zoo
🕛 Hours – 10 am – 5 pm daily, 365 days a year
🎟️ Tickets – Free
🖥️ Website – Lincoln Park Zoo
📱 Phone – (312) 742-2000
🗺️ Map It – 2001 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614
🚗 Parking – The zoo has an adjacent parking lot located at 2400 N. Cannon Drive. It’s open from 6 am to 11 pm and the first half hour is free. After this, the rates range from $20-$35 per day.
🚴 Tours – You can easily explore the zoo on your own, but if you’re interested in activities or nearby tours, there are some available:
How to Get to the Zoo
Lincoln Park Zoo is accessible by driving, walking, biking, and taking public transportation. How you choose to get around Chicago and the zoo, however, will vary based on travel style. Here are the four transportation options, along with some local tips:
🚗 Driving – If you don’t mind paying a pricier parking fee, driving through Chicago is the easiest, most convenient method. I’d especially recommend this for families, just to help avoid any hassle. The zoo parking lot is large and easy to figure out.
🚶 Walking – Lincoln Park is one of the best places to stay in Chicago. If you’re in the neighborhood, walking is a great option since this area is really walkable. I recommend making a day out of Lincoln Park and adding the zoo to your itinerary.
🚲 Biking – Lincoln Park has a number of Divvy bike stations, so if you’re up for a bike ride, there are a number of places to rent and dock your bike. If you’re coming from downtown, a great option is to get a Divvy bike and bike north along the Lakefront Trail until you reach the park.
🚊 Public Transportation – Unfortunately, there aren’t specific train or bus stops that lead right to the zoo. However, public transportation is still an option for those who are comfortable with the bus system or don’t mind a little walking.
The 22, 36, 151, and 156 buses all have stops along the Western edge of Lincoln Park. As for trains, you can take the Red Line to Fullerton Station and the Brown and Purple Lines to Armitage Station. From these stations, the zoo is about a mile east.
Tips for Visiting Lincoln Park Zoo
Let Yourself Wander
Frankly, there isn’t any “right” or “wrong” way to do the zoo. I just recommend entering, heading right or left, and letting yourself wander. You aren’t likely to get lost in the zoo since it’s pretty contained, and wandering around is half the fun. If you’re looking for any specific animals or attractions, there are maps posted throughout the zoo.
Eat Outside of the Zoo
Although there are restaurants and cafes located within the zoo, I recommend eating outside of it. As you may expect, prices are higher within the zoo. Plus, there are many great Chicago restaurants in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.
Visit Nearby Attractions
Lincoln Park in and of itself is a major Chicago attraction. So, take time to really enjoy the park. Close to the zoo are two free attractions: Lincoln Park Conservatory and Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool. The Chicago History Museum and Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum are also located in Lincoln Park.
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FAQs about Lincoln Park Zoo
How long does it take to tour Lincoln Park Zoo?
It takes approximately 2-3 hours to tour Lincoln Park Zoo in its entirety.
How is Lincoln Park Zoo free?
Lincoln Park Zoo is free due to the financial support of zoo members, donors, and visitors, as well as funding from the Chicago Park District.
Does Lincoln Park Zoo have good conservation efforts?
Lincoln Park Zoo has good conservation efforts. As one of the largest zoo-based conservation programs in the country, the zoo has a number of science programs in place. As a frequent visitor, I can say that most animals and their exhibits seem healthy and well cared for. However, there are a few exhibits that could use improvement.
There are too many amazing animals at the Lincoln Park Zoo to fully cover, but hopefully, this article gave you a good idea of what to expect. Regardless of age, this zoo is a great place to visit when in Chicago!
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