10 Best Zoos & Aquariums in Illinois

Updated On October 7, 2023

Many folks don’t know it, but Illinois has some of the most remarkable zoos in the United States.

Illinois zoos are home to animals of all species, native and exotic.

Many host informative and exciting programs for the public.

Many of these institutions are a century or elder, while others are newer additions to the zoological scene.

Check out these ten best zoos and aquariums in Illinois!

Best Zoos & Aquariums in Illinois

1. Phillips Park Zoo

Located in the town of Aurora, Phillips Park Zoo was established in 1915.

While many zoos focus on exotic animals from other places, Phillips Park Zoo focuses a lot on native wildlife.

Native species like the Cooper’s and Red Tail Hawks, the Gray Wolf and North American River Otters, American alligators, and the Bald Eagle, are kept.

These are just some of the amazing exhibits, which include birds, mammals, and reptiles.

Admission is free to visitors of all ages, designed to allow students and visitors to encounter the animal world.

It is a popular location for school trips and tourists. 

2. Abbott Oceanarium

The Abbott Oceanarium, located in Chicago, is dedicated to the coastal species of the Pacific Northwest.

The zoo boasts beluga whales, California sea lions, sea otters, Pacific white-sided dolphins, and much more.

Visitors will also find various events happening throughout the year, including animal spotlights and encounters with penguins, belugas, and sea otters.

You’ll also get the chance to view smaller species like sea urchins and sea stars.

Abbott Oceanarium brings together species from the vibrant Pacific coast ecosystem, from mammals and fish to invertebrates.

The zoo also works to combat plastic pollution in the Great Lakes. 

3.Cosley Zoo 

Located in Wheaton, Illinois, Cosley Zoo is home to five acres of both native wildlife and domestic farm animals.

Visitors can see the red fox, coyotes, white-tailed deer, Blanding’s turtles, and much more.

In addition to its exhibits, Cosley Zoo is an animal education center and conservation program.

Admission is free to residents of Illinois and $10 for nonresidents — but children under the age of 17 can visit for free at any time of the year, making Cosley Zoo a budget-friendly option for learning about animals that live all around us. 

4. Shedd Aquarium

Shedd Aquarium is located in Chicago, but its reputation extends far beyond the Illinois Border.

This family-friendly location is one of the most popular attractions in the city.

Here, you will find exhibits such as the Caribbean Reef and Polar Play Zone, as well as special animal encounters with belugas and other rare marine life.

You’ll also get the opportunity to touch smaller sea creatures, such as sea stars, coral, and stingrays.

Of course, the aquarium isn’t just home to fish — there are also a variety of exhibits featuring sea otters, octopuses, amphibians and reptiles, crustaceans, sharks, and much more.

5. Lincoln Park Zoo

The Lincoln Park Zoo is located in Chicago and is home to one of the largest zoo-based conservation programs in the United States.

It is also one of the Illinois zoos that offer free admission, so it is a must-visit if you are in the area.

The Lincoln Park Zoo is home to hundreds of animals from around the world, including critically endangered species and some that have gone extinct in the wild.

In addition to the regular exhibits, the zoo also hosts interactive programs and other events where visitors can feed cows, chickens, goats, penguins, and more. 

6. Brookfield Zoo

Brookfield Zoo opened its doors in 1934 and is operated by the Chicago Zoological Society to this day.

Here, you will find a whopping 2,400 animals representing more than 400 species.

It’s impossible to get bored here — or frankly, even to see it all in a single visit.

In addition to the fascinating animal exhibits, Brookfield Zoo’s 235 acres feature activities for visitors of all ages, including playgrounds, butterfly and penguin encounters, a carousel, a driving safari, and the Hamill Family Play Zoo.

The zoo has become famous for its accomplishments in zoology, boasting the first black rhino born in captivity.

7. Aikman Wildlife Adventures

Aikman Wildlife Adventures is located in Arcola, Illinois.

It is home to more than 220 animals of 90 different species from six continents.

Here, visitors can enjoy a driving tour to see animals up close, including camels, zebras, water buffalo, African crested porcupines, alpacas, tortoises, emus, exotic birds, and much more.

In addition to these amazing offerings, Aikman Wildlife Adventures also features a museum of prehistoric life, where you can walk through and experience life as it was millions of years ago.

Prices for admission vary depending on many factors, so you may want to reserve your tickets ahead of time.

8. Miller Park Zoo

Miller Park Zoo is located in Bloomington.

The zoo is home to an ice center, leisure center, skate park, golf courses, and even mini-golf.

Miller Park Zoo has been part of the city’s Parks and Recreation department since 1968 and, since 2009, also the Cultural District Department.

Miller Park Zoo itself houses many species including flamingos, river otters, Galapagos tortoises, lemurs, pandas, snow leopards, gibbons, red wolves, bald eagles, Pallas’ cats, and the Sumatran tiger.

The zoo is also known for its famously low admission prices (only $6.95 for adults with discounts for children and seniors).

9. Henson Robinson Zoo

Henson Robinson Zoo in Springfield was founded in 1966 as a children’s zoo and has rapidly expanded ever since.

Today, it is home to roughly 40 animal species from all over the world, including Arctic foxes, African wild dogs, African penguins, armadillos, black lemurs, black bears, exotic birds, amphibians, big cats, and much more.

In addition to the fascinating animal exhibits, the zoo also offers talks and specialty programs on conservation topics, including ones geared toward helping kids learn about protecting animals and their habitats.

Whether you’re looking to learn or just enjoy the animals, Henson Robinson is worth a visit.

10. Peoria Zoo

Peoria Zoo has a long and fascinating history, having begun in the late 1800s with the donation of a herd of elk to the Peoria Park District.

Today, it is a facility not just for seeing animals from all over the world, but also for conservation efforts and animal education.

The zoo features exhibits such as Africa!, Asian Trail, Tropics, and a petting zoo with farm animals that visitors can pet and feed.

You’ll also get to feed giraffes and explore the Aussie Walk-About exhibit, where you can interact with kangaroos, wallabies, and other creatures that call Australia home.

10 Best Zoos & Aquariums in Illinois – Summary Table

Zoos & AquariumsAddress
Phillips Park Zoo1000 Ray Moses Dr, Aurora, IL 60505, USA
Abbott Oceanarium1200 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60605, United States
Cosley Zoo 1356 N Gary Ave, Wheaton, IL 60187, USA
Shedd Aquarium1200 S Dusable Lk Shr Dr, Chicago, IL 60605, USA
Lincoln Park Zoo2001 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60614, USA
Brookfield Zoo8400 W 31st St, Brookfield, IL 60513, USA
Aikman Wildlife Adventures125 N Co Rd 425E, Arcola, IL 61910, USA
Miller Park Zoo1020 S Morris Ave, Bloomington, IL 61701, USA
Henson Robinson Zoo1100 E Lake Shore Dr, Springfield, IL 62712, United States
Peoria Zoo2320 N Prospect Rd, Peoria, IL 61603, USA

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Frequently Asked Questions

What Are The Best Zoos In Chicago?

Chicago is home to some of the best zoos in the United States, but not all are created equally.

Among the best zoos in Chicago are Lincoln Park Zoo, Brookfield Zoo, and Abbott Oceanarium.

These remain some of the most popular spots for regulars and tourists alike.

All of these facilities house many dozens of animal species, some free of charge.

These facilities are some of the most renowned in the worldwide animal conservation industry.

What Zoos In Illinois Have Free Admission?

While most zoos in Illinois charge for admission, there are many that don’t or offer special discounts.

Zoos in Illinois with free admission include Shedd Aquarium, Phillips Park Zoo, Lincoln Park Zoo, and Cosley Zoo (for residents).

These zoos are perennial options for families seeking budget-friendly animal adventures.

Many other zoos offer military, senior, student, and child discounts.

Some zoos also offer special free days at different times of the year.

Are There Petting Zoos In Illinois?

There are many options for petting zoos in Illinois!

Cosley Zoo, Aikman Wildlife Adventure, Phillips Park Zoo, Brookfield Zoo, Peoria Zoo, and numerous others have petting zoo exhibits.

These make great opportunities for families with small kids who want to experience nature without leaving anyone out.

Other full petting zoos are also spread around the state, including Lords Park Zoo, Lambs Farm, Full Moon Farms, Rainbow Ranch, and P&C Little Rascals.

How Big Is The Shedd Aquarium?

Shedd Aquarium is 10 acres, housed inside a 450,000-square-foot marble building.

It is home to tens of thousands of animals (over 32,000!).

It holds 5 million gallons of water, making the oceanarium the largest indoor marine mammal facility worldwide for many years.

It was also the first inland aquarium that housed a permanent collection of saltwater fish.

There were more than 2 million visitors to Shedd Aquarium in 2015.

Over 1,500 species are represented.

At least eight regular exhibits and a 4D theater are also housed within the site, with rotating special exhibits as well.

What is the Smallest Zoo in Illinois?

Despite holding a highly diverse animal population, the Miller Park Zoo is incredibly small.

At just four acres, it is one of the smallest accredited zoos in the state.

It is also one of the smallest American Zoological Association-accredited zoos in the United States.

It may be a great choice for families with young kids who might not have the stamina to walk for hours around a larger zoo.

Where Can I Find Rare Animals at Zoos in Illinois?

While some wildlife refuges in Illinois are more focused on caring for native animals, you can find some incredibly rare and protected animals at zoos throughout the state.

A few notable ones include the Brookfield Zoo, where you can see endangered black rhinos, and the Lincoln Park Zoo, which features some animals that are endangered or completely extinct in the wild.

These include chimpanzees, African penguins, axolotls, and many other fascinating and beautiful creatures you’ve never seen before.

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