The 3 Best Zoos Near Washington, DC

Como se llama?

Roer’s: A Safari in Northern Virginia

During the pandemic, we were missing other, unmasked faces. So we headed out to Roer's Zoofari in Reston, Virginia.

Roer’s has a petting zoo with goats, kangaroos, cheetah, and lemurs. On our last visit, a kangaroo baby started to hop over to my daughter but was stopped with a single paw by its mother. Wise woman.

By far the most exciting feature is the drive-through safari area, where you can gaze out your window at fields of llamas, ostrich and buffalo. The animals are exotic and well cared for (though perhaps a little overfed). You can purchase a cup of feed before entering the gates, which resemble the entrance to Jurassic Park.

Tickets are $25 per adult, $15 per kid. Park in the dedicated lot, which is never full.

The National Zoo

The most popular of Washington, DC’s children’s attractions is the National Zoo, managed by the Smithsonian Institution. With major philanthropic backing, the National Zoo has emerged as one of the world’s premiere institutions dedicated to the preservation of endangered wildlife.

The Smithsonian also operates the 3,200 acre Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia (non-public, but accessible by the Appalachian Trail). Together, the two sites act as breeding facilities for endangered species (such as the Cheetah), and help to replenish zoos throughout the world.

The National Zoo has a handicap-accessible carousel that is popular with families.
The Speedwell Carousel is one of the principal attractions at the National Zoo. It is one of only a few solar powered carousels in the world and features beautiful carved wooden animals and two handicap-accessible chariots.

Because the National Zoo is so well-known, it can become crowded on weekends and during school vacations. At those times, it’s best to arrive by 8a, where even the best lot (Lot A) is available (for a $24 parking fee). If you’re not a morning person, you can still visit during peak times, but you may want to take metro to the National Zoo station, which is about a half mile walk from the top entrance.

Like the United States Botanical Garden (which is filled with plants confiscated by customs agents), the National Zoo benefits from its government status. Whenever some foreign dignitary offers a gift animal to an American President, you can be sure it’ll eventually find its way here.

Although there are too many zones to see in a single day, no trip is complete without a visit to the Panda House, along the Asia Trail. With its playful otters and harbor seal exhibit, The American Trail is also a must-see attraction. Wherever you go, you’ll be sure to see the gigantic elephants (Asian and African) as well as the orangutans that climb freely above the heads of tourists along the Olmsted walk.

The (Baltimore) Maryland Zoo

With Giraffes and hidden paths specially designed for children, The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore is well worth the 1 hour drive from downtown DC. The 135-acre park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the late 19th Century.

Today, the zoo features four special zones. Penguin Coast, with the largest population of African black footed penguins in the US, set amidst a visually interesting tidal zone. Polar Bear Watch has a very cool Polar Rover (just like the ones you take out of Churchill) that you can walk through while looking down at the bears.

African Journey features a giant savannah and viewing areas that will allow you to get closer to Giraffes than at most zoos. Finally, The Children’s Zoo has several caged areas where you can view children left behind from past tour groups. I jest! A diesel train winds through this kid-themed extravaganza of gardens, ponds and secret tunnels that is sure to delight your little one.