Niabi Zoo, located in Coal Valley, IL, is only a short one-hour drive from Iowa City. My family adores this zoo and makes a trip at least once a year. I think this is the perfect size zoo for younger kids. One of the best perks, in my opinion, is how it offers a ton of mature trees with shade to stay cool on a hot day.
This zoo is open daily from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. The last entry is at 4 p.m.
Prices at the gate are reasonable:
- Under age 2 is free
- Ages 3-12 is $8.50
- Ages 13-61 is $11
- Age 62+ is $10 at the gate
- You can pre-purchase online for $2 off your ticket price.
For additional fees, you can feed giraffes and Koi fish or take a ride on the carousel or train. If you plan to go more than twice in a season it is a great value to buy a membership. If cost is an issue, Niabi offers have free admission days and they are listed on their website.
When you first arrive you take a short walk from the parking lot to the entrance and show your pre-purchased tickets or buy in person. Immediately to the right is the Discovery Center, which features a Black Widow that impressed my four and six-year-old children.
Next, you can either hop on the train or see the first exhibits. We especially loved the White Rhino and feeding the fish at the Koi pond.
Next, we walked through the domestic animal area and then booked it to the back of the zoo for our giraffe feeding. There are two designated times per day, so if you purchase tickets make note of the times so you don’t miss them.
I think there is a nice mix of indoor and outdoor exhibits and plenty of spaces to rest, get a drink or move to the shade. After seeing the large cats we hit up the carousel and then went indoors to check out some insects and reptiles.
We easily walked through the zoo in about two hours but you could stretch it out or move faster with older kids.
Next time, I would consider bringing a backpack or wagon to store bug spray, sunscreen, drinks, and snacks. You could even bring a picnic or they have food available for purchase at the concession stand next to the pretty awesome playground.
We will for sure be back! What zoo is your favorite?
Be sure to check out our awesome guide with other midwest zoos!