I think my love for zoos began when my grandmother, Julia, took me to the Manila Zoo at the age of 2. I don’t remember that visit at all, but I heard about it all my life. My grandma loved to tell the story about that first visit. Seems when we returned my grandfather asked me what I had seen at the zoo. My reply was “Edna”, a close family friend who we ran into that day. Grandma would tell that tale every time I visited her to anyone who was present.
But seriously since then I’ve visited many zoos around the world, and I’ve passed my love for them on to my children and grandchildren. I know these days it seems to have become politically incorrect to encourage zoo visits. Animal activist groups call for closing down all zoos for various reasons. I’m not so sure I totally agree. I can see both sides. On the one hand it seems cruel to keep these beautiful animals captive for everyone to gawk at; on the other hand it’s not likely they would survive if released to fend for themselves.
In fact many zoos I’ve been to act as a shelter for injured and abused animals rescued from circuses, side shows, and individuals who mindlessly think it’s alright to keep wild lions at home. Also many zoos have conservation and breeding programs, good things in my mind. But that’s a discussion for another time.
Today I want to tell you about Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs. In my opinion it is arguably one of the best zoos around.
The zoo’s Encounter Africa exhibit received the Significant Achievement Exhibit Award from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). It’s sort of like an “Oscar” for zoos.
Yes the elephant enclosure is awesome, but we’ll get to that later.
First of all the zoo is located on the side of Cheyenne Mountain, so animal exhibits are built in tiers going up the mountain. This unique design makes this zoo stand out from the rest, not to mention the views from the lookouts are amazing!
Watch my video of our visit to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo!
You begin your zoo visit, well most of us anyway, at the bottom. From the entrance a path leads you uphill into Africa.
The first exhibit you encounter are giraffes. That is if you take the right fork.
The left takes you across the road to the Mountaineer Sky Ride; a chair lift that takes you up and down the mountain. There are separate charges for this ride. Tickets are round trip, you can stop at the top overview to see the inspiring vistas, climb the rock wall, play in the playground, or grab a snack from the concession stand, but you can not access the zoo from the top nor can you walk back down. We opted to skip the chair lift and headed straight for the giraffes.
The walk way leads to the Giraffe Feeding Experience. $5 gets you a fistful of lettuce from the lady in the kiosk.
The giraffes are expecting their snacks so they crowd around the fence waiting to be fed. The kids loved this experience!
This exhibit gives you a unique perspective. You’re standing on a bridge that puts you eye level with the giraffes who are in their enclosure below.
We had such a good time feeding the giraffes we were hesitant to leave, but we’d only just arrived and there was so much more to see and do!
The path led from the giraffes to the rest of the African Rift Valley exhibits. You’ll run into the lion enclosure which you can view thru the glass or look down into from above.
If you need a rest you there are benches around or you can stop at the at Elson’s Place for a crepe or a cup of lemonade.
There are also clean restrooms in this area, it’s right next to the elevator that takes you to the next level. If you have the energy or don’t want to wait for the lift you can walk up the stairs to the next level. We had a stroller so we took the lift.
However you decide to go up you’ll end up at the award winning Encounter Africa exhibit. That’s where the great views and the elephants are!
This truly is a wonderful place! As you enter the area you’ll pass the Elephant Demo Area. You can purchase fruits and veggies from the zookeeper and feed the elephants in this area.
Then you proceed along a bridge that has magnificent views of the area. You can see clear to the Broadmoor Hotel.
At the end of the bridge is the Elephant Barn where you’ll see even more elephants. (There are restrooms here too).
When you’ve had your fill of these gentle giants you can double back over the bridge and exit the way you came in.
Beware of the “rhino sign” if you want enter the plane perched near the entrance. Rhinos spray to mark their territory. The kids got a kick out of it!
Now it’s time for a bit of an uphill hike to the Australia Walkabout. It’s a new exhibit and I think one of my favorites!
Here you’ll encounter beautiful peacocks strutting their stuff. They’re not in enclosures so they may well cross your path!
You’ll also meet the Red-Necked Wallabies. They’re too cute and quite friendly. They can hop right up to you.
Yes the wallabies and peacocks pretty much run free in this part of the exhibit.
But further in you’ll find Alligators, Emu, and Tree Kangaroos. They’re not loose so don’t worry you won’t be the gator’s lunch! From this exhibit you can detour to the Asian Highlands and Rocky MOuntain Wild exhibits on the left before heading into the center area where you’ll find the Monkey Pavillion and restaurants.
We skipped the Asian Highland exhibit and went straight to the Rocky Mountain Wild to see the grizzly bears! They were magnificent!
To get to the Grizzly enclosure you take the stairs or elevator up. Believe me it’s worth the trip!
Luckily we got there in time to catch a wild life talk. The knowledgeable volunteer told us all about the bears. The ones were were watching were rescued from Montana, if I recall correctly. Anyway, they had gotten too close to people and were brazenly wandering on to people’s porches. To save them they were relocated to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. See, zoos can be good homes for animals that need to be re-homed!
We watched the bears thru the glass wall of this barn like structure. They were very visible that day.
One guy was intent on fishing. We were told their “river” is routinely stocked with fish which seem to disappear consistently!
The bears were a delight. Maybe this was my favorite exhibit, after all.
Once you’re done with the bears back down you go and walk thru the rest of the Rocky Mountain Wild area. You’ll see huge moose, wolves, mountain lions, and other animals that inhabit the Rocky Mountain wilderness.
From there it was time for a break, and a snack! We ended up at Grizzly Grill, a cafeteria style restaurant that has pizza, burgers, soups, sandwiches, and more.
Most of us opted for the humongous swirled ice cream cone!
After our snack it was time to head over to Primate World, but not without passing Aquatics to see the hippos.
We viewed some indoors, then later saw them wading in the pool outside.
Then is was Gorilla time! Now be prepared, the building where you view the gorillas and orangutans smells awful! I do mean awful! At least when you enter. But somehow, I don’t know how, but you get used to the smell. My daughter had warned me before we entered. And boy was she right. I almost backed out, but she insisted the smell goes away in a few minutes. I was skeptical, but she was right.
I’m so glad I stuck it out! The gorillas were intreguing, and the orangutans a delight. Specially the little baby orangutan.
This was the last exhibit for us, it was time to go home; and just in time too! I had started to rain.
As you can tell this zoo really amazed me. It is probably one of the best, if not the best zoo, I’ve ever been too. And I’ve been to many!
One of the things I liked about this zoo is the friendly and informative staff. They were everywhere!
There were also plenty of interactive displays that allowed everyone to participate, like feeding giraffes and elephants. Watching the volunteer keeper examine the bear’s paw, it had a small injury she was checking on. And of course there are the goats. I forgot, the kids stopped by to pet them!
They also had many animal demonstrations, talks, walks, and other educational programs. I’m sure at least one of the kids we saw participating in the summer program will be inspired to become a zoologist or vet!
The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is amazing! Definitely worth a visit! I plan on visiting again the next time I visit my daughter in Colorado Springs!
Click here for more information about this fabulous zoo!