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Things to Do at Lincoln Park Zoo

Updated: February 14, 2024
 By Mel

This post is about visiting the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. We include details about admission, hours, exhibits, things to do nearby, how to get there and more.

As a local tour guide and resident of Chicago, I’ve visited the Lincoln Park Zoo multiple times and loved it. My fellow tour guides do too!

For opinions other than ours, see what members of our popular Chicago Travel Tips Facebook group had to say at the bottom of this post.

Our Facebook group of 21,000 members (and growing) is made up of locals, like our tour guides, veteran travelers to Chicago, and newbies to the Windy City.

You don't need to join the group to read the posts, comments, and recommendations.

So, check out our group using the link at the bottom of this post.

Is Lincoln Park Zoo Free?

It’s free to go and you can just show up during open hours so you don't have to worry about getting Lincoln Park Zoo tickets!

Lincoln Park Zoo

Within Lincoln Park, you can find two great free Chicago attractions: Lincoln Park Zoo and the Lincoln Park Conservatory.

Founded in 1868, the Lincoln Park Zoo is the oldest free public zoo in the country.

The zoo is known for its vast array of animals on display.

Considered to be one of the most beautiful zoos in the country, the Lincoln Park Zoo is an easy place to lose a day. 

Throughout the park, you’ll find lagoons and mature trees artfully landscaped in a way that allows for a tranquil atmosphere and an up-close and personal look at nature’s wildlife.

Nearby is the Lincoln Park Conservatory, founded in the 1890s, with its beautifully landscaped gardens, wide walking paths, and plenty of shade trees interspersed throughout. 

This is a warm and inviting atmosphere to spend a vacation enjoying and learning everything you can about all of nature’s wildlife that surrounds us.

Where is the Lincoln Park Zoo?

The Lincoln Park Zoo address is 2001 N. Clark St. It's in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Use this Google Map for directions to the zoo.

Where is Lincoln Park Zoo

The zoo is serviced by the Chicago Transit Authority. If you are new to Chicago, then you may find our guide to public transport handy.

Bus #151 stops right at the entrance, while the #22 and #36 stop two very short blocks away.

There is parking at the zoo, but it is quite expensive. While it is free for the first half hour after that, rates range from $30-40 per day.

For even more family-friendly activities, please read our post about things to do with kids in Chicago.

Lincoln Park Zoo Admission & Hours

The Lincoln Park Zoo is free to visit 365 days a year. Its hours change seasonally so be sure to check the website for exact dates before heading over. Also, the zoo is subject to early closure due to bad weather.

Here are the typical hours by season.

Early September to Early November

  • 8 am – Gates and Farm-in-the-Zoo open
  • 10 am – Buildings open
  • 4:30 pm – Farm-in-the-Zoo closes
  • 5 pm – Buildings and gates close

Late November to Late April

  • 10:00 am – Gates, Buildings, and Farm-in-the-Zoo open
  • 10 am – Buildings open
  • 4:30 pm – Buildings and Farm-in-the-Zoo closes
  • 5 pm – Gates close

Early May to Late May

  • 8 am – Gates and Farm-in-the-Zoo open
  • 10 am – Buildings open
  • 4:30 pm – Farm-in-the-Zoo closes
  • 5 pm – Buildings and gates close

Late May to Early September

  • Weekdays
    • 8 am – Gates and Farm-in-the-Zoo open
    • 10 am – Buildings open
    • 4:30 pm – Farm-in-the-Zoo closes
    • 5 pm – Buildings and gates close
  • Saturdays, Sundays & Holidays (Memorial Day, June 19th, July 4th & Labor Day)
    • 8 am – Gates and Farm-in-the-Zoo open
    • 10 am – Buildings open
    • 4:30 pm – Farm-in-the-Zoo closes
    • 6:30 pm – Buildings close
    • 7 pm – Gates close

If you’re interested in visiting Lincoln Park Conservatory as well, it's open from 9 am to 5 pm every day.

For more free fun activities and attractions, read our post covering free things to do in Chicago.

Special Events:

Sprinkled throughout the year, there are special events such as concerts or food tastings.

The special Christmas celebration ZooLights is the one event that is free for around one month during the holiday season.

Read more about ZooLights from our post, Things to Do in Chicago in December.

Things to See at Lincoln Park Zoo

This section will provide information about many of the beautiful animals to see at this zoo, as well as some other interesting attractions that help kids learn more about various life forms and their habitats. 

Zoo Map

Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo

This family-friendly walking exhibit allows visitors of all ages to observe red wolves, black bears, river otters, and beavers in a naturally wooded area. 

Children will enjoy watching these animals interact with each other in much the same way they would in the wild. 

All the exhibits are completely kid-friendly and allow everyone to get nose-to-nose with creatures that would otherwise be off-limits.

Indoors they can see all kinds of reptiles and insects at their eye level and explore their natural habitat without fear.

Afterward, they can explore the upper canopy at the Treetop Canopy Climbing Adventure.

Regenstein African Journey

At the Regenstein African Journey Exhibit, you can experience the true sights and sounds of Africa.

Observe the dwarf crocodiles and pygmy hippos as they move about their rainforest pools right next to the dry thorn forest that serves as a home for meerkats and lovebirds.

Wander outside and see the towering giraffes, warthogs, and African wild dogs roaming the Savanna.

You'll also get to see apes, chimpanzees, and gorillas climbing through trees and digging through the mulch as they interact in indoor and outdoor habitats created to match their natural living environment.

Nature Boardwalk Exhibits

If you arrive early, you can get the most out of a walk along the Nature Boardwalk!

Take in the beautiful view of the distant Chicago skyline while at the same time learning how this redeveloped ecosystem has become a home to all types of native birds, frogs, fish, and insects.

This man-made outdoor classroom has served to educate many people young and old about how nature works and what wildlife has to teach us all.

Throughout the day, you'll find different walking exhibits that will teach you valuable lessons.

The Feathered Friends exhibit starts at 9 AM where you can learn about different birds, their habits, and contributions to our lives.

Guides will teach you the tricks to successful bird-watching techniques so that you can continue to observe these feathered friends even after your day at the zoo.

At 10 AM and 1 PM, you'll get to observe the natural habitat of pond plants and animals.

This walking exhibit will explain how these creatures function daily and how their ecosystem benefits local wildlife.

At 11 AM and 2 PM, you get a true history lesson about how this famous Chicago site was developed and gradually transformed into one of the nation's most beautiful outdoor classrooms.

Learn how they took a stretch of urban land and turned it into an oasis in the middle of a big city.

Finally, at 3 PM you get a taste of the Fishy Fun exhibit. Children will love watching the different varieties of colorful fish as they play and splash in the water.

Watch their eyes light up when they learn of the roles that fish play in the Nature Boardwalk Ecology.

Check out this video showing the baby gorillas.

The Judy Keller Education Center

Over the years the education staff of the Judy Keller Education Center has developed many different programs that were designed to appeal to the zoo's most diverse audiences.

They are constantly working to enhance existing programs and create new ones.

So every year there will always be something new and informative to look forward to.

Conservation Camp usually launches in mid-June, and by the end of summer, more than 500 campers will have had the opportunity to explore every corner of the zoo.

This and several other interactive programs developed by the education staff will allow for more than enough learning experiences while studying the many exhibits found at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Lincoln Park Conservatory

The conservatory is located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago at 2001 N Clark St. Use our Google map for directions to the conservatory.

The conservatory is serviced by the Chicago Transit Authority. Bus #151 stops right at the entrance, while the #22 and #36 stop two very short blocks away. 

The conservatory is open all year and admission t is free.

However, expect to pay a minimum of $20.00 for parking during the off-season and even more during peak season.

The actual conservatory is a large Victorian glass building with four halls.

  • The Palm House
  • Fernery
  • Tropical Room
  • Orchid Room

This conservatory is home to the oldest public garden in Chicago. Here you will find the Eli Bates Fountain, a beautiful fountain nicknamed Storks at Play. 

It was designed by the famous sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

Two pieces of art can be found in the garden as well: a monument to German poet Friedrich Schiller and one to William Shakespeare.


How many zoos are in Chicago?

There are two prominent zoos in downtown Chicago: Lincoln Park Zoo, a free-admission zoo open daily, and the farm-in featuring barns at Brookfield Zoo.

They are home to diverse wildlife including goats, tigers, kangaroos, and endangered species like the African penguin.

Which Chicago Zoos are free?

As one of the oldest zoos in the city of Chicago, Lincoln Park Zoo is well-known for its free-admission policy, providing an affordable opportunity for all visitors to enjoy viewing animals from around the world.

Does Brookfield Zoo have any free days?

Brookfield Zoo offers free admission on select Wednesdays, giving visitors a chance to see polar bears, lions, zebras, and even the African apes without a ticket fee.

What are the differences between Brookfield Zoo and Lincoln Park Zoo?

Brookfield Zoo is a 35-acre zoo, while Lincoln Park Zoo is spread over several acres. Lincoln Park Zoo is free while Brookfield Zoo charges for tickets.

Brookfield has parking lots, while Lincoln Park Zoo uses street parking on Cannon Drive and Fullerton Parkway Exit.

How does Lincoln Park Zoo get funding?

Lincoln Park Zoo is funded through donations, zoo membership fees, and the city of Chicago. Special events like the annual Lincoln Park Zoo Lights also aid in raising funds.

How much is parking at Lincoln Park Zoo?

Parking at Lincoln Park Zoo is managed by the city of Chicago along Cannon Drive and Fullerton Parkway Exit. The parking fees may vary.

What is the best time to visit Lincoln Park Zoo?

For an optimal experience at Lincoln Park Zoo, consider arriving early in the day during the weekdays. The zoo operates every day and tends to be less crowded on Wednesdays.

The mild climate in August and the festive atmosphere in December make these months particularly enjoyable times to visit.

Tips from Locals and Travelers

To offer you as many opinions of the Lincoln Park Zoo, we asked the members of our Chicago Travel Tips Facebook group what they thought of the zoo. 

These locals and travelers had a lot to say!

Like us, many members love the zoo. Not just because it is free but also because the offerings were awesome. 

They also noted that it’s an all-ages zoo and that kids and adults will enjoy it.

One thought came up often having to do with the benefit of having the Lincoln Park Zoo in a central location which made it possible to see other attractions nearby.

This is a primary concern for those who are on a short trip but want to do as many things as possible, like biking the Lakefront Trail or going to the beach.

Lastly, several members chimed in with a comparison between Chicago’s other zoo, the Brookfield Zoo.

A visit to the Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the very best things to do for free in Chicago and for those traveling with kids, we can't recommend it enough! See what other activities there are in Chicago!

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About The Author


Mel loves to be a tourist in her own city. With a background in performing arts, tourism, and photography, giving tours and being a story-teller comes naturally to her. She loves traveling, food, and theatre. Mel splits her time between Chicago and Los Angeles (#theatrelife) and leads tours and manages both cities!
Updated: February 14th, 2024
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