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Henry Vilas Zoo FREE Zoo in Madison Wisconsin Review

Updated on April 28, 2012

The Henry Vilas Zoo is located at 702 South Randall Avenue in Madison Wisconsin.

Admission to the zoo is FREE, which is a big plus right there if you've recently checked out admission prices for visiting a zoo. Parking is also FREE, another plus!

To compare, Milwaukee County Zoo admission is $14.95 per adult and $11.25 per child (ages 3-12). Parking for Milwaukee County Zoo is $12.00. So for a family of 4 you're talking $64.40, just to park and walk in the gate! Not to mention gift shop and food expenditures.

My family and I have visited Henry Vilas Zoo and I was actually impressed! I didn't expect much, considering the free admission, etc. but it was well worth the trip up to Madison for the day!

In what has proved to be a defining and truly visionary move, the Vilas Family stipulated that the park always be admission free. As the zoo developed within the park, it too remained free. Today it's an extraordinary asset that few communities the size of Madison can claim. The Zoo is one of only a few, no-admission, free parking AZA accredited zoos nationwide.

The Animals

Free admission = I expected very little.

I couldn't have been more wrong with my expectations. This zoo has every animal I expected to see in any other zoo.

Chimpanzees, monkeys, otters, bears, lions, giraffes, rhinos, seals, badgers, bison, prairie dogs, meerkats, red pandas, goats, porcupines, tigers, camels, reptiles, birds, amphibians, and fish to name a few.

Personally, I only go to see the seals! Seals have been my favorite since I was a little girl going to Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago.

You'll also find a gift shop, with extremely reasonable prices, as well as a food stand.

Next is Discovering Primates where you can learn about apes through educational, interactive activities, including an opportunity to test your "hang time" as compared to an orangutan.

The Big Cat Complex is where the big cats roam natural like settings. Large viewing windows allow an up-close encounter with these beautiful animals.

The Tropical Rainforest Aviary houses many South American birds, it also has aquariums and several mini exhibits.

The North American Prairie is home to Bison, Prairie Dogs, and Badgers as they coexist in nature.

The Herpertarium & Discovery Center, the Herpetarium is home to several reptiles, amphibians, and fish, with some of the largest snakes and tortoises you will ever see! The Discovery Center is the zoo's learning center.

The Children's Zoo includes new animal exhibits, an electric train, a conservation carousel and an amazing adventure play area. The cost to ride the train or the carousel is only $1.

Strollers and wheelchairs are available to rent for $4 per day, again very reasonable.

The Zoo grounds are open from 9:30am-5:00pm every day. Zoo building hours are 10am-4pm.

Basically, it is what it is... a Zoo, that's FREE and worth visiting!

Also, it doesn't hurt to drop them a donation on your way out, there's a convenient drop box for it and they deserve it.


Visiting Henry Vilas Zoo is a perfect way to spend the day, for very little $, in Madison Wisconsin with the family.

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