Opened in 1962, the Phoenix Zoo is one of the nation’s largest privately-owned, nonprofit zoos, meaning that it operates without any government funding; it is supported solely through admissions, memberships, concessions, special events, and philanthropic donations.
That’s quite an accomplishment when you consider that the Phoenix Zoo cares for more than 3,000 animals, including threatened and endangered species. While you can see a majority of these animals during your visit, some threatened native species (such as the Chiricahua leopard frog) are bred, raised, and later released into the wild as part of the zoo's conservation program.
Because conservation and the wellbeing of all animals is so important to the zoo, it makes a special effort to provide the animals with appropriate habitats. Don’t be surprised if you have a difficult time spotting some of the animals, especially during the summer when they retreat to the coolest parts of the exhibit: they are there, so keep looking!
What You’ll See at the Phoenix Zoo
The Phoenix Zoo is divided into four main trails: the Africa Trail, Arizona Trail, Tropics Trail, and Children’s Trail. Although the zoo has all the major animals you’d expect—giraffes, zebras, Sumatran tigers, Asian elephants, and Bornean orangutans, to name a few—the Arizona Trail showcases the plants and wildlife of the Sonoran Desert. There, you’ll see native mountain lions, Sonoran pronghorn, javelina, bobcat, and the Mexican gray wolf.
Don’t miss Monkey Village, where you can walk in a cage with squirrel monkeys, or Land of the Dragons, the Komodo dragon exhibit. Pro tip: If you’re short on time, skip the Forest of Uco. The tropical animals on this one-mile walking trail are often difficult to spot.
For families with young kids, plan to spend a good chunk of your visit on the Children’s Trail. At the Red Barn, they can pet farmyard animals and even say hello to Fernando, a two-toed sloth. The nearby Discovery Farm offers a play area for kids aged 18 months to 5 years, while the Enchanted Forest has slides, bridges, and a treehouse for older kids.
Rides and Special Features
For an additional fee or as part of a ticket package, the Phoenix Zoo offers several popular rides and adventures:
- Stingray Bay: Touch and feed real stingrays as they swim in a 15,000-gallon pool.
- 4-D Theater: This theater shows short films that incorporate the senses of sight, sound, smell, and touch.
- Giraffe Encounter: Guests can feed giraffes at scheduled times. Check the website for more information.
- Camel Rides: Climb on a camel’s back for an unforgettable ride.
- Endangered Species Carousel: The carousel features elephants, mountain lions, sea dragons, and other animals.
- Safari Cruiser: Take a 25-minute narrated tour of the zoo’s highlights.
The zoo also offers several tours, including a 45-minute walking tour for $2 per person, a 90-minute car tour for $49, and a backstage tour for $99. Customizable tours are also available.
Special Events at the Phoenix Zoo
The Phoenix Zoo hosts several special events throughout the year. Before you go, check out the event calendar to see what’s going on when you plan to visit. These events are the most popular:
- ZooFari: One of the zoo’s biggest fundraisers, ZooFari features many of Phoenix’s best chefs and restaurants, mixologists, and live music.
- Winter in July: Cool off or watch the animals play in the trucked-in snow.
- ZooLights: This beloved holiday event features millions of blinking lights, seasonal music, and photos with Santa.
How to Visit
The Phoenix Zoo is open every day of the year except Christmas. It's open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. June through August, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. September through May. Check online to confirm seasonal times before you go.
General admission is $25 for guests 14 and up, and $17 for children between the ages of 3 and 13. You’ll get a dollar discount if you purchase your tickets online, and tickets are free for zoo members and children under 3. The zoo also offers several packages that include various combinations of rides and attractions.
Plan to spend at least three hours just to see the animals (or longer to enjoy the rides and attractions). No matter the time of year, always bring sunscreen, water, and a hat; be sure to wear comfortable shoes since you’ll have to walk roughly 2.5 miles to see the zoo’s entire 125 acres. Wheelchairs, electric scooters, and strollers are available for rent.
There are several cafés and snack bars at the Phoenix Zoo. Half are open all year, as some close during the summer. For the most options, head to Savanna Grill, where you can order hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken tenders, pizza, and salads. You can also bring your own food in a cooler to enjoy at a picnic table along the zoo trails. Glass and alcohol are prohibited.
For guests with special needs, the zoo has designated “Quiet Zones” for regrouping after being overstimulated, and "Headphone Zones" where noise is particularly loud. Sensory bags containing noise-canceling headphones, fidget tools, and other resources are available to rent.
The Phoenix Zoo is located in Papago Park at 455 N. Galvin Parkway. By car, take the 202 to Priest Drive, which becomes Galvin Parkway. Head north, and turn right at the first light after Van Buren. Parking is free.
There is no Valley Metro Rail station within a reasonable walking distance from the Phoenix Zoo. However, you can take light rail to the Washington/Priest Station; from there, transfer to the north-bound Bus 56 to the Phoenix Zoo stop. A one-day pass for local bus and light rail transport is $4.
What to Do Nearby
You can easily combine a visit to the Phoenix Zoo with other nearby attractions. Head to the zoo first to allow yourself plenty of time to see the animals when they tend to be more active. Then, continue on to one of these local favorites:
The Phoenix Zoo is actually located within Papago Park. You can see its famous geological formation, Hole in the Rock, from the zoo’s entrance. With only a 200-foot elevation gain, the hike takes less than 10 minutes from the parking lot. Afterwards you'll be rewarded with views of downtown Phoenix.
Located next door to the Phoenix Zoo, the Desert Botanical Garden highlights the plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert. Since it remains open until 8 p.m., you definitely want to visit after your trip to the zoo, but be warned: Visiting the zoo and the botanical garden in the same day will be exhausting, especially in the summer.
Run by the Arizona Historical Society, this small museum tells the story of Arizona. Plan on spending about an hour here.
More than 130 hand pumpers, steam fire engines, fire trucks, and other wheeled equipment are on display at this 70,000-square-foot museum geared towards firefighting enthusiasts of all ages.