When I first heard that there was a zoo in Aurora I was a bit skeptical, but that skepticism quickly vanished when I took a trip there. Phillips Park Zoo is a great way to spend a day, and the best part is that it’s free!
Name and Background:
Phillips Park Zoo was established in 1915 and just celebrated its 100th anniversary. Originally home to exotic animals like a giraffe and monkeys, once the Brookfield Zoo opened in 1934, Phillips Park Zoo decided to focus on a collection of native animals. The grounds also feature a museum containing mastodon bones and tusks, a large park featuring several different playgrounds in a heavily shaded area, a splash pad, as well as various gardens. You can see a full map of the grounds here.
Phillips Park Zoo and Visitor Center is located at 1000 Ray Moses Drive in Aurora, near Montgomery Road.
Phillips Park Zoo is open year round from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Reptile House is open from 9:30 am. to 4:30 p.m. The zoo is closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Years Day.
When to Visit:
I have always gone to the zoo earlier, near opening, and I have never encountered it being extremely busy. The zoo is open to school groups between 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., so if you want to make sure to avoid any large groups, you might want to avoid those times. However, even when I have been there at the same time as school groups, they haven’t deterred from our visit at all. My one piece of advice is to avoid the playground if it has recently rained, it gets very muddy!
Nothing, Phillips Park Zoo is free!
There is an indoor bathroom located at the visitors center and port-a-potties located near the playgrounds and near the Reptile House. During the summer there is a concession cart that sells snacks, drinks, and ice cream outside the visitor’s center, but I don’t know the exact hours. There are also vending machines near the reptile house and the visitor’s center.
The playgrounds are really best for older kids, though there is one smaller area for toddlers. It would be fine for watching just one child, but I feel that this park is just too big to handle multiple small children alone. It is basically five different playgrounds and they are pretty spread out. It would probably be easier with older children though.
The zoo is really fun for all ages. There is a variety of animals – river otters, owls, cougars, farmyard animals, bald eagles, reptiles, (including two alligators!) wolves, elk, and peacocks. Since it is a fairly small zoo, you can really get a good view of a lot of the animals, I’m always particularly impressed with how well you can see the wolves. There is a large glass viewing area and they often will lounge in front of it.
The splash pad is small but still a great stop on a hot day, so you might want to pack a swimsuit or at least a towel and change of clothes!
Phillips Park Zoo is a favorite of both of my girls, my 4 year old is especially fond of the alligators and tortoises. We’ve been here quite a few times now, it’s not as extravagant as Brookfield Zoo, but it’s a lot closer and it’s free! The zoo it’s too terribly big, you probably won’t be spending hours here. But between the zoo, playground, and splash pad, you can have a great day out.
We always head around to see all the animals, play at the park for a bit, then stop by the visitor’s center to see the mastodon bones and take a bathroom break before heading home. This last visit was the first time we have been there when the splash pad was going, so we had to take a stop there before leaving.
The zoo has some animals that you might not usually get a chance to see up close, bald eagles, wolves, and river otters are my personal favorites.
The last time we went to it had rained the night before and we ended up with extremely muddy shoes after playing at the playground. I always find myself getting a bit stressed out trying to juggle two younger children at this park. There isn’t any particularly tall or dangerous equipment, it is just really spread out and it’s hard to watch multiple children if they want to play on opposite ends of the park.
Phillips Park Zoo is a really great place to go for a free outing. Pack a picnic lunch, some towels, and you can have a great day here without spending any money!