The Catoctin Zoo and Wildlife Preserve provides kids and families with an intimate zoo experience. Smaller in size and scope than the National Zoo, Catoctin has many kid friendly features which make this a great day trip for parents of preschool and elementary age kids.
Catoctin Zoo is located 12 miles north of Frederick, MD and 22 miles south of Gettysburg, PA. The air seems a little cooler and fresher here in Thurmont and though it is only an hour drive from the metro DC area, it feels like you have ventured out into the country. Admission for the Catoctin Zoo and Wildlife Preserve is $15.95 for adults, $9.95 for kids ages 5 and up and $6.95 for kids ages 2 – 4. AAA card holders can get a discount of $2 off each adult ticket by showing their card.
For preschoolers and up this zoo has some pleasing features. A large petting zoo with llamas, alpacas, miniature donkeys, goats and pot-bellied pigs allows kids to get up close to the animals. Animal food is available for purchase at several places for 50 cents per handful (bring quarters). Another enclosure nearby allows kids to feed miniature deer and yet another feeding area for ducks and swans is a little further afield.
The zoo also has daily keeper talks and animal encounters. We attended a 2pm animal encounter show. The kids and adults got to learn about and touch a chinchilla, hedgehog and a small alligator. The show lasted around 30 minutes and was a highlight of the trip for my kids ages 4 and 6. There are two animal encounter shows daily at 11am and 2pm.
Two other highlights of our trip were the donkey rides ($5 cash per rider) and the Ochreata Macaque feeding. My kids found it really interesting to watch the macaque monkeys feed on the same types of fruit that they enjoy – oranges, bananas, pears and strawberries. There was a lot of activity in the macaque cage, a sure hit for kids! Camel rides are also advertised on the zoo map but were not running on the day of our visit. Rounding out the kid friendly features of the zoo are a koi pond and a butterfly garden.
Animal exhibits at the Catoctin Zoo are a bit “old school” for those of us used to touring around the National or Baltimore Zoos. The enclosures are cage style and the viewing of the larger animals was not the best. That being said, our family did enjoy the smaller size of the zoo and my kids could easily walk around the whole facility without becoming too overwhelmed by the size. If you have smaller kids who will be riding in a stroller I would recommend bringing a stroller with rugged tires as some of the paths are a bit bumpy.
Restrooms with changing tables are located just to the left of the zoo entrance. I would highly recommend encouraging your kids to use this facility. There is only one other restroom in the zoo. Many port-a-potties are scattered around for convenience. Hand washing stations or sanitizer are located near all feeding areas.
The Catoctin Zoo has two food concessions and two play areas. The playgrounds were pretty sparse and dated. Our family brought lunch and ate at the picnic area located directly across Route 15 from the zoo. There is a $3 fee for day use at the Cunningham Falls State Park Manor Area but the picnic area and recycled tire playground make the fee worthwhile. It was hard to get my kids to leave! The zoo offers in and out privileges so you could plan to picnic across the street and return to the zoo if you haven’t seen it all yet.
In addition to general zoo admission, the Catoctin Zoo offers a safari ride. The safari takes you through 25 additional acres of the park and lasts for one hour. This is advertised as a chance for up close animal viewing and feeding. The ride is not recommended for kids under 36 inches or pregnant women. Cost of the safari is $20 per adult and $15 for kids ages 2 – 12. At the cost of an additional $70, our family decided to skip this feature. Safari rides are offered on weekends only and need a minimum of 10 guests to depart.
The zoo is open daily from Memorial Day through November. Summer hours are 9am to 6pm, September 9am to 5pm, October 10am to 5pm and November 10am to 4pm. Recommended time for a self guided tour of the zoo is 2 to 3 hours. You could easily combine a trip to the zoo with a visit to the lake or falls at Cunningham Falls State Park or a hike in Catoctin Mountain Park (the home of Camp David). Thurmont and its environs make for a great day trip from the DC area.
Photos by Kim Engstrom