Dennis Dow/Woodland Park Zoo
You know summer is on its way when the seasonal Molbak’s Butterfly Garden opens at Seattle’s beloved Woodland Park Zoo. Beginning Saturday, May 27, zoo visitors can once again experience the thrill of hundreds of free-flying butterflies surrounding them.
Many cultures believe butterflies are symbols of hope and endurance. Having one land on you may be a sign of good luck! Could you find a more perfect metaphor for emerging from the cocoon of dark, wet Pacific Northwest winters?
During our early-season visit, many of the butterflies were still freshly hatched and lingered on the flowering bushes to dry their wings. It gave us a unique opportunity to observe them quietly and try to identify some of the 40 species currently on view.
Here are our top tips to make your butterfly garden visit a delight:
- Make walking softly a zoo-themed game — can you float like a butterfly or shuffle like a penguin? Since butterflies can land on any surface (including you!), it’s important to move carefully and watch your step.
- Stop in at the beginning of your zoo visit. My kids have their best listening ears before they get hangry and tired, so we prioritize special experiences such as the butterfly garden when they’re most likely to enjoy them.
- Download the zoo’s butterfly and plant guide in advance. Butterflies come in a rainbow of colors and it’s fun to see if you can tell them apart.
- Avoid stowaways. Hold out your arms like butterfly’s wings for a brief inspection before you depart so that the butterflies remain inside their 3,000-square-foot enclosure.
- Enjoy the pollinator garden. Behind the greenhouse is a year-round garden full of fragrant flowers that attract all kinds of pollinators, including hummingbirds, bees and butterflies, of course. There’s space to roam and you might even get ideas for the perfect addition to your home garden.
More summer zoo fun
After your visit with the butterflies, there are plenty of other seasonal activities on offer starting in May and through the summer.
- Special exhibit called “A Bug’s Eye View”: This exhibit features larger-than-life animatronic bugs and runs through Sept. 4. Entry costs $5 on top of regular zoo admission or membership.
- Giraffe Experience: Daily at 11 a.m.–noon. Cost is $10 per person (kids ages 5 and younger are free with a paying adult). Closed Tuesdays.
- Historic carousel rides (year-round): Rides cost $3.
- Kid-favorite Zoomazium indoor play area (year-round): Open daily, except Tuesday, 9:30 a.m.–3 p.m. in the summer.
- Family Farm Contact Area: These supervised areas of the farm are open 10 a.m.–noon and 1–4 p.m. daily.
- Animal Keeper Talks: Locations of programs are posted at the zoo’s entrances and take place daily every half hour from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
- Wildlife Theater: Performances of “Keeping it Wild” showcase the zoo’s ambassador animals. The show plays twice daily, except Wednesday.
- Penguin snack time: Weekends at 10:30 a.m.
- Rhino Encounter: Daily except Monday, 1:30–2:30 p.m. Cost is $10 per person (kids ages 5 and younger are free with a paying adult).
- Orangutan Training: 1:30 p.m. on Sundays and Thursdays.
- Sloth Bears: Meet the sloth bears on Sunday–Tuesday. Times vary.
- Tiger Training Demo: Friday–Sunday, 11:30 a.m.
Don’t forget that memberships starting at the Family Passport level come with complimentary animal experiences and carousel rides, so summer is a good time to join if you aren’t already a member.
With the zoo’s summer season hours in effect (9:30 a.m.–6 p.m. daily) and all these extras, our family is already looking forward to a summer of fun at the zoo!
If you go ...
When: The butterfly garden is open Saturday, May 27, through Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 4, 2023.
Zoo hours: The zoo is on its summer schedule; current open hours are 9:30 a.m.–6 p.m. daily.
Admission: Entry into the butterfly garden is included with regular zoo admission or membership. Admission for adults and teens ages 13 and older is $27; children ages 3–12, $16.50; tots ages 2 and younger enter free. Customizable memberships start at $105 per year for one child and one adult.
Parking: Parking in the zoo’s lots cost $6 for the first 2 hours and $2 for each additional hour (plus taxes and fees). You can also hop on the bus or park on nearby streets.
More at the zoo:
Nearby: The play area in the northwest corner of Woodland Park features a great climber and some high swings if you want to check them out.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2022 and updated for 2023.