Gas-Tank Getaway: Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin

Madison, WI

Gas-Tank Getaways features family attractions within a 6-hour drive from Lake County. Today we are visiting Madison, WI, and the Henry Vilas Zoo.

If your gang is tired of the local petting zoos and parks and you’re up for a beautiful drive through the rollings hills of Wisconsin, then pack up the kids for a day trip to Henry Vilas  Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin. Read on for the upsides and downsides of this Gas-Tank Getaway.

visiting henry vilas zoo madison WI

Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison WI

Upsides to Visiting Henry Vilas Zoo:

It’s Free

It’s completely free? As in, just walk in the gate, don’t pay a dime, free! Parking is free also! Even though we loved the price, we loved the zoo even more. They have many unique exhibits for a small zoo, such as giraffes, tigers, lions, primates, and monkeys. One of our favorite exhibits was the prairie dog town, where we watched the little critters dig holes and chase each other through their homemade mazes. In the brand new Arctic Passage Exhibit, my kids were able to come, literally, face-to-face with a polar bear. They also experienced a simulated ride in a Tundra Buggy research vehicle (this does make a loud noise so that it may be scary for young kids.).

It’s Kid Friendly

If it’s a sunny day, don’t be concerned because the whole zoo has ample shade. Whether it’s large shade trees covering the smooth, wide, stroller-friendly walking paths or the awnings and shelters over the exhibits, there are many places to escape the sun. They have also provided spacious, shaded picnic areas throughout the zoo to enjoy your homemade lunch. If you would instead purchase food from their walk-up counter restaurant, you can eat inside the air-conditioned Glacier Grille overlooking the polar bear exhibit. The restaurant offers affordable, healthy options such as smoothies, veggies, and fruit cups, as well as some yummy treats. And, just in case your feet get tired, the zoo rents strollers, wagons, and wheelchairs for a reasonable rate.

It has Extra Fun

In addition to having exciting animals, the Henry Vila Park Zoo has one of the best play areas my kids have ever seen! The gigantic tree boasts ladders, lookouts, tunnels, and slides for all ages. As a mom, I especially appreciated the rubberized pavement and mats to protect the knees and bottoms of little climbers.

No visit to the zoo would be complete without some ride-on entertainment. The HVZ has a child-sized electric train and an exotic animal carousel.

Downside to Visiting Henry Vilas Zoo

Although the zoo is free and the parking is free, the biggest downside is limited parking options. The parking lot only has approximately 60 spots that fill quickly and have a three-hour maximum. Your alternative is to park your car on the neighborhood streets. While the walk isn’t very far, the street parking has a two-hour maximum. The zoo is actually small enough to see it all in two hours if you have bigger kids with you. In our case, we had lots of little kiddos with short legs and lots of bathroom and snack breaks, so we had to take turns moving cars halfway through the day. It’s definitely not a deterrent, just something important to remember if you plan to leave your lunch in the car or stay all day.

Overall, we had a lovely day visiting this little zoo that was a little drive away. Next time I would get there right before it opened to try and park in the lot, and I would plan another activity in Madison to do afterward to take advantage of this beautiful, family-friendly city. Katie previously had an itinerary for a Day Trip to Madison that has great ideas.

What is your favorite thing to do with kids in Madison?

The Henry Vilas  Zoo
702 S. Randall Avenue, Madison, WI | (608) 266-4732
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By Jessica G.
Spring Grove

Jessica is a mom of 3 girls from Spring Grove, IL. Next to her relationship with the Lord, her other passions include cooking, playing the violin, photography, and helping other moms to realize their true potential.

Gas-Tank Getaway: Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin

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