Enjoy a Family Day Trip to this FREE Zoo in Madison!

Henry Vilas Zoo, Free zoo in madison

Owned by Dane County in Madison, the Henry Vilas Zoo is a 28-acre public zoo in Madison, accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and one of the few remaining FREE zoos in North America. That’s right; thanks to a 63-acre donation from William and Anna Vilas in memory of their son with the expressed requirement that there would be no fee for entry, the Henry Vilas Zoo & Park is still FREE to visit today and open year-round!

Henry Vilas Zoo, Free zoo in madison

If you’re looking for a zoo that you can get through a bit more quickly, this one is for you! Compared to the Green Bay Zoo (43 acres) or the Milwaukee County Zoo (190 acres), the Henry Vilas Zoo is a bit smaller, and you can easily see all the exhibits within a couple hours. The zoo in Madison is home to over 650 animals and species from all over the world including amphibians, birds, fish, insects, mammals, and reptiles from several continents. The larger animal exhibits include giraffes, African lions, Amur tigers, bison, rhinos, donkeys, camels, and our personal favorite, polar bears. With a focus on always conserving and protecting, the zoo has done a phenomenal job of providing a variety of animals, habitats, and experiences for its many visitors. Before you go, make sure you check out their map to plan your visit! And, you can even reserve your family’s spot in a behind-the-scenes tour as part of your adventure at the Henry Vilas Zoo.

Some of our Favorite Spots

  • Carousel and Train: Ride the carousel for $3 or catch a ride on the electric train! (seasonally)
  • Adventure Playland: Climb on and explore a giant wood-like treehouse play structure.
  • Visit the goats at the Children’s Zoo!
  • Catch of glimpse of the polar bear swimming while waiting for lunch at the Arctic Passage exhibit.
  • Pack a picnic to enjoy inside the zoo or at the adjacent Vilas Park. Vilas Park is also perfect for fishing (accessible piers available), a slide down the ‘Old Woman in a Shoe’ slide, swimming at the sandy beach, and ice skating (with rentals and a warming shelter!) in the wintertime.
  • Check out the fun indoor exhibits on a cold, rainy, or super hot day when the animals are less active/fun to watch outdoors.

Where to Eat While at Henry Vilas Zoo

  • Glacier Grill: think of fast-food options such as burgers, hot dogs, nachos, etc.
  • Coffee and Ice Cream Kiosk
  • ZuZu Cafe: located just across the street from the zoo. Serving Mediterranean/American food favorites.

Things to Know

  • Henry Henry Vilas Zoo, 702 S Randall Ave, Madison, Wisconsin
  • Hours: Open 9:30 am – 5:00 pm daily
  • Admission: FREE, but you can support the zoo through donations.
  • The park is stroller and wheelchair accessible.
  • Parking is free and located in three different lots, but spaces are limited. You can also park on the street.
  • The Glacier Grille has a full menu of food and snacks at an affordable price. Picnicking inside the zoo is welcomed!
Henry Vilas Zoo, Free zoo in madison

Other Free Zoos in Wisconsin

Check it out – Madison is home of the University of Wisconsin Madison, the Badgers, and sooo many fun stops with children just like the Henry Vilas Zoo! And, if you’re looking for a side trip and a little more adventure while you’re in the area, we recommend the Cave of the Mounds & Blue Mound State Park or Explore Children’s Museum & the Sassy Cow Creamery in the Sun Prairie area, both a reasonable drive from Madison!

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