Review of the Oregon Zoo with Younger Kids

The Oregon Zoo is a fun way to spend a few hours in Portland with kids.  It isn’t a very large zoo so you won’t need the whole day to explore, but there are some fun animals to see and some more unique things located in a beautiful backdrop that provides an easy escape from the city.

The cost of the Oregon Zoo may be prohibitive for some.  It isn’t as much as somewhere like the San Diego Zoo, but it is on the high end of zoos we have been to that I would deem comparable.  Adult entry is $17.95, but they count anyone aged 12 or older as an adult, which is a real bummer to families visiting with older kids.  Children rates are $12.95 and apply to those aged 3 and older.  Luckily, children 2 and under are free.

Unfortunately, the admission prices don’t even include parking.  Parking will set you back another $8.00, which really bugs me.  I hate going to places and paying for parking when I have to pay to get in as well.

The high prices don’t stop at the admission either.  Want to put your kids on a quick 1 minute carousel ride?  You will be coughing up $3 per kid, no matter how young.  That adds up quickly if you have a large family or the kids want to ride for more than 1 minute.  The food prices, as you would expect, are also quite inflated for what you get.

The Oregon Zoo is divided into 5 areas: Great Northwest; Pacific Shores; Discovery Zone; Elephant Lands; and Africa.  A new Primates Forest is scheduled to open sometime in 2020 and a new polar bear area is scheduled to open in 2021.


Although some might not enjoy the non-exotic nature of a local exhibit, I really like when a zoo features local animals that you are familiar with, but probably haven’t seen in the wild.  Everyone in our group, including the smallest kids, really enjoyed exploring the Great Northwest.

In this part of the Zoo, you will find mountain goats, bears, bald eagles, condors, river otters, ducks and cougars.  The cages are done really well in this part of the Zoo so you feel like you are walking through the animals’ habitat for the most part instead of looking through a big fence. 

The highlight for our kids were watching the river otters, which swam around and interacted with the kids, coming right up to them against the glass and swimming around them.  Seeing the condors fly and the cougars waking up was also quite impressive. 

Our youngest, at 18 months, loved all the fish tanks and ducks that were right at his level.


The Pacific Shores area was really lackluster for us.  We saw a couple small penguins and some sea otters and a couple seals. 

After we had just seen the river otters, nobody was too impressed by these animals and we probably only stayed in Pacific Shores for about 15 minutes. The polar bear habitat will add a lot to this area once it is finally done.


A big chunk of the Zoo is dedicated to elephants.  I believe there were four elephants and it was pretty cool to watch them for a minute or two, but once you have seen the four elephants, there isn’t anything to do but move to the next area.

There is also a huge grass play area by Elephant Land, which was a great place to just let the kids run free for a while and play whatever they wanted.


Along with the Great Northwest, Africa is the other highlight of the Oregon Zoo.  This area will get much better when the primates and rhino join later in 2020, but it was still entertaining for the adults and kids alike.

The entrance to Africa has a small indoor bird area, which I always enjoy.  It was small and there weren’t many birds to see so it was kind of disappointing compared to other zoos we have been to, but it is worth five minutes to explore.

After the birds, you get to see a couple gazelles and other animals in with the giraffes.  This part of the zoo was done really well and was quite beautiful to sit and watch the elegant animals for a while. 

After this area, you continue on to see bats, flamingos and the predatory cats and dogs.

There are also a couple fun play areas in Africa that our kids really enjoyed and made a great place to eat lunch.


The discovery zone has a tiger and some red pandas, but is more about the indoor learning center. 

This was a fun place to escape the cold and wet weather for a little while as the kids could play with the puppets and stuffed animals.  Our kids loved seeing the baby turtles too. 

The insect zoo inside was fun, but a little lackluster in size and diversity.


All in all, our family enjoyed the Oregon Zoo.  It was nowhere near the best zoo we have been to, but it also wasn’t the worst.  The kids got to see all their favorite animals and also witness some more unique animals you don’t see at a lot of zoos.

As you could tell, I think the zoo was a bit overpriced, which makes it difficult for families, especially since our kids were all bored and had seen everything after just a couple hours.  So, I would still recommend visiting the Oregon Zoo if you want a family activity in Portland, just limit your expectations to a couple hours of time and be prepared for the cost.

One other things I wanted to show is that the Zoo has a bunch of fun statues made of trash found in the ocean. Our kids loved posing with these.

One thought on “Review of the Oregon Zoo with Younger Kids

  1. Pingback: Things to do in or near Oregon City with Young Kids – Photography & Travel

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