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Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo Welcomes Families for Dinosaur Discovery

Walk among life-size dinosaur robots at this summer zoo attraction

Published on: May 03, 2021

Small boy looking up at a triceratops dinosaur robot at Woodland Park Zoo's dino exhibit Dinosaur Exhibit summer 2021
Checking out the Triceratops at Woodland Park Zoo's temporary special attraction Dinosaur Discovery. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

This should really be a one-word review: Wow.

Last week, my kids (ages 5 and 10) and I popped into a sneak preview of the new “Dinosaur Discovery” attraction at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo, when zoo staff were still putting the finishing touches on the dinos. First up, the 35-foot-tall Brachiosaurus — the tallest animal that ever lived.

“Wow!” my kids blurted out, and the staff members laughed. That’s exactly the reaction the zoo is going for.

Walk among the dinos

“Dinosaur Discovery” is a temporary special attraction at the zoo that opened May 1 and will be on view through Sept. 6.

The exhibit consists of 22 animatronic dinosaurs positioned along a one-way track through what’s normally the Habitat Discovery Loop. There are three more dinos stationed at the zoo’s West entrance.

Woodland Park Zoo Dinosaur Discovery exhibit summer 2021 Seattle dinos at entrance
Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

The setting is so well disguised my kids didn’t even realize they were missing the little playground that they normally see in the same spot. And with the sporadic squawks and grunts you hear from the dinosaurs, it's easy to forget you’re in the middle of the city.

T-rex reaching down to greet kids at Woodland Park Zoo's dinosaur discovery temporary summer exhibit 2021
Tyrannosaurus Rex was the smartest and most powerful of all the giant meat-eating dinosaurs sporting 50 sharp teeth the size of bananas. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel 

In our view, the immersive special exhibition is well worth the extra $5 cost ($4 for members) on top of regular zoo admission. It’s supposed to be a revenue-generator for the zoo, which is still reeling from the hit it took from the COVID-19 closure last year. You can feel good knowing your $5 is going to support the care of zoo animals. Buy your ticket at the entrance to the dinosaur exhibit inside the zoo. If there’s a line, you can always go visit some (live) animals first and come back a little later.

Jurassic cred

This dino exhibit was designed by Dino Don, a.k.a. Don Lessem, a dinosaur expert who helped create the dinosaurs in Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” film. Dino Don even has the distinction of having a dinosaur named after him: the Lessemsaurus.

Dinosaur Discovery at Woodland Park Zoo Deinonychus feathers and eye close up
Deinonychus was a man-sized raptor. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

Dino Don’s animatronic dinosaurs are full-sized, scientifically accurate and incredibly detailed. Some of them even have feathers and eyelids that blink. Their movements are a little jerky but definitely real enough to spook you. You’ll see something move out of the corner of your eye, and it’ll make you flinch.

I wouldn’t want to be in there alone at night. (I wonder how the animals in the zoo feel about their new neighbors. The zoo shared photos on its Facebook page of the dinosaurs rolling through the Family Farm on their way in, and you can tell, the cows and pigs are thinking, “What the… ?”)

Gastonia with young visitor at Dinosaur Discovery Woodland Park Zoo summer special attraction
Gastonia (front) and Stegosaurus along the one-way path through Dinosaur Discovery. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

All your dino favorites

Your little paleontologists will spot all the key players here: T. rex, Stegosaurus, Triceratops. There’s a pack of Deinonychus closing in on a Tenontosaurus. (According to Dino Don, Deinonychus should have been the bad guy in Jurassic Park instead of Velociraptor. The Velociraptor was actually the size of a poodle.)

My favorite was the Maiasaur, whose name means “good mother reptile.” She's there with her brood of hatching babies. More good reasons to visit: Herrerasaurus, Parasaurolophus, Kosmoceratops, Allosaurus and Utahraptor.

Maiasaura dinosaur hatchling Dinosaur Discovery Woodland Park Zoo dino exhibit summer 2021
Maiasaura hatchlings grew fast — they measured 7 feet long at just a year. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

A few fun facts about dinos

1. The first dinosaur you see when you enter the exhibit is Brachiosaurus, the tallest animal that ever lived. If there were buildings 145 million years ago, a Brachiosaurus could have looked in on a fourth-floor window.

2. Triceratops was named for its three long horns. The horns looked scary, but they were thin and offered a poor defense against Tyrannosaurus rex.

3. Maiasaura means “good mother reptile.” This duck-billed dinosaur earned that name because it was found next to nests of its eggs, embryos and youngsters.

4. Parasaurolophus had the fanciest crest of any duck-billed dinosaur. It could blow low notes out its trumpet just like an elephant does today.

Zoo staff check out parasaurolphus at Woodland Park Zoo's Dinosaur Discovery summer exhibit
Zoo staff members pause for a look at Parasaurolophus. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel

Hands off the dinos

What’s going to be hard for little hands to remember is this: no touching the dinosaurs, no matter how tempting. Families should also know that all visitors ages 5 and up need to wear a mask in the zoo, regardless of vaccination status. You’ll follow a one-way path that’s stroller-friendly and ADA accessible. Allow 20–30 minutes to view the exhibit.

Will this show knock your socks off? You bet Jurassican.

If you go...

Find it: Dinosaur Discovery” is a temporary special exhibit at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo. Enter the zoo through the West entrance (by the penguins), 5500 Phinney Ave. N., Seattle.

When: This special exhibit opened May 1 and runs through Labor Day, Sept. 6.

Tickets: Entry to see the dinos costs $5 ($4 for members) in addition to regular zoo admission or current membership. Children ages 2 and under enter free. Buy a ticket at the entrance to the dinosaur exhibit inside the zoo. Tickets are not timed, and you can stay as long as you want once you’re inside.

Zoo entry: For regular zoo admission, the zoo still highly recommends booking timed-entry tickets online, in advance. Members can also make reservations. Regular zoo admission costs $24.60 for teens and adults (ages 13–64); youth ages 3–12 cost $15; and babies and tots ages 2 and under enter free but require a ticket. 

Hours: The zoo just switched to spring hours; it's open daily, 9:30 a.m.–6 p.m.

Parking: Parking in the zoo's Otter, Bear and Penguin lots cost $6 for the first 2 hours and $2 for each additional hour (plus taxes and fees). Pay $4 to park for the day (plus taxes and fees) in the Hippo and Flamingo Lots. We’ve always opted for finding free street parking nearby.

Crayon rhino by artist PaTan on view at Woodland Park Zoo for sale benefitting Seattle children's and Woodland park zoo
Upcycled crayon art by PaTan

More at the zoo: 

ZooTunes concerts are back for summer 2021. We've got all the details that families need to know. Tickets go on sale May 21.

Through June 2, pop by the zoo's Briar Oak Barn to view a special upcycled art exhibit called "Color Life Happy." The show benefits Seattle Children's Hospital youth mental health clients and the zoo's Saving Species Impact Fund. The artworks are by artist PaTan and made from used crayons.

Nearby: The play area in the northwest corner of Woodland Park features some high swings if you want to check them out.

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