The National Zoo Indoor Ideas

Few think of a trip to the zoo as a good activity for a day you would rather spend indoors. But, when it’s cold, rainy, or the heat index is above 100 the zoo can still be a great place to spend the day. In fact, these types of dreary days may be the best time to visit the zoo’s many indoor attractions that most skip on perfect spring days spent at the zoo. What’s even better, you may find that you have the animals all to yourself.

Amazonia is the zoo’s largest indoor exhibit whose main feature is a large rainforest habitat complete with a tropical river and free roaming moneys, sloths, and humming birds. Amazonia also boasts large aquarium tanks that hold stingrays and a variety of turtles, fish, and other sea creatures from the Amazon, including one called the Green Terror.

Feeding time in the aquarium is from 11:00 – 11:15am daily. Many children love watching the fish scramble and compete for food. Amazonia also includes a Science Gallery that is a functioning research facility with hands-on exhibits. Many children are drawn to the colorful Poison Dart Frog exhibit and to the several microscopes with various objects to examine placed in clear wheels underneath.

The Bird House is another fantastic option for spending time indoors at the zoo. Its indoor centerpiece is a large, indoor tropical jungle filled with colorful free flying birds. The exhibit is designed to allow close-up views at ground-level and tree-top views from the top. Plenty of other birds can be viewed in smaller enclosed exhibit areas throughout the Bird House.

The Bird House Resource Center is room filled with bird-themed books, feathers, and eggs for kids to explore. Birds are fed during a demonstration from 11:00 to 11:20am on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Story time is held at the Bird House many Tuesdays from 10:30 – 11:00am throughout the year, but is not usually held during the summer.

The Think Tank is home to six orangutans that have orangutan playgrounds in their enclosures. If your timing is good you can see the orangutans climbing and playing. If your timing is really good, you may be able to participate in unscheduled tug-of-war games with the orangutans. Tug-of-war is not scheduled in advance but typically occurs around 2:30pm on days the activity is held. The Think Tank also contains several exhibits related to the question “What is Thinking?” and includes paintings by the orangutans and a test to determine if visitors are smarter than orangutans.

Even if the orangutans are not active, watching them laze around and exploring Think Tank exhibits makes for a fun outing. A short demonstration is held each day from 11:30 to 11:45am with a cognitive researcher who can answer questions about experiments being performed on the zoo’s orangutans and gorillas. Note that orangutans are able to freely travel next door to the indoor Great Ape House, which also houses gorillas. A Great Ape Keeper gives a short talk about orangutans and gorillas every day between 11:30 to 11:45am.

The Invertebrate Exhibit is often overlooked on fair-weather days due in part to its location tucked away behind the Reptile Discovery Center. Among others, this building houses a butterfly garden, spiders, crabs, lobsters, an octopus, and an ant colony. The Invertebrate Exhibit has one of the largest concentrations of animals at the zoo and also houses a working research center. Because there is so much going on animal keepers are usually on-hand for a demonstration or to ask questions throughout the day.

Other indoor exhibits include the Small Mammal House which houses porcupines, armadillos, sloths. The Reptile Discovery Center features snakes, lizards, turtles, and crocodiles. A portion of the Panda Habitat is also indoors if you must catch a glimpse of the bears.

Hours for indoor exhibits vary from those of the park. Indoor exhibits are open from 10am to 6pm from April through October. From November through March indoor exhibits are open from 10am to 4:30pm. All activities are subject to change so it is recommended that you check the zoo’s list of Daily Activities on their website if you are making the trip to see an animal feeding, demonstration, or attend story time. The zoo has a large indoor cafeteria where you can purchase lunch or sit at one of the many available tables to eat a packed lunch.

Amazonia and the Bird House are located away from the other indoor exhibits so if you plan on visiting one of these in addition to other indoor exhibits you will need to spend several minutes walking outdoors so plan accordingly. During the summer the zoo turns on misters located throughout to cool you down, but on cold or rainy days you will need your winter coat or umbrella. The other indoor exhibits are all located very close together, although you do need go outdoors to enter each individual building.

Photo by Jamie Davis Smith.

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