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One Family's Visit to Seattle's Reopened Woodland Park Zoo

What it's like to visit the zoo with new safety procedures in place


Published on: July 16, 2020

The author's kids pose with their masks on at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo. Credit: Diana Cherry

In many ways, it was like any other summer day from years past. I packed a large backpack with snacks, water bottles, hand sanitizer and sunscreen and loaded up my three youngest kids for a drive into the city. We were heading for a visit to a place we've been dozens of times over the years: Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo.

The zoo is favorite of locals and tourists alike, and my family has enjoyed countless summer afternoons wandering the park's wooded trails to marvel at the thousand-plus wild animals that call the park home. In years past, my kids have also participated in the zoo's awesome summer day camps and we have spread out our blankets to enjoy a Ziggy Marley or Indigo Girls concert. It's a familiar, nostalgic place for us.

A different zoo

While the zoo has reopened, it looks different now — as with so many other things in our lives. While our recent trip to the zoo was familiar in many ways, several aspects were noticeably different. 

As we arrived we saw signs lining the streets around the park's perimeter that directed visitors to the zoo's West Entrance. We lined up as instructed — with masks on and six feet from other families. We arrived early on a week day, so the line wasn't long. But by the time we left in mid-afternoon, a line had formed all the way out to the street. (Plan accordingly with your timed-entry tickets; more on that below).

Follow the path

At the entrance, staff asked us to write down our contact information and party size (for later tracing, if necessary) and kept track of the total number of visitors on the grounds to keep to current capacity limits. Inside, signs directed us to move to the right and follow arrows along a main route, which all guests are expected to follow (think Ikea). This keeps traffic flow moving in one direction and avoids traffic jams.

After we got used to this new course, it was pretty easy to follow the route. Zoo staff were stationed at kiosks to answer questions and enforce limits on visitors to various exhibits and to enforce the new mandatory mask policy.

The new one-way, one-route flow of traffic made it easy to avoid clusters of people and put me at ease, but we did experience long wait times at some of our favorite exhibits (like the jaguar and primate exhibits). Some of our favorite zoo features were closed, including the cave-like lion observation area and all the playgrounds in and outside the park. But given the extreme reduction in overall entertainment my kids have available to them right now, they didn't seem too disappointed by these changes.

A picnic in the meadow

One thing I wished I'd known prior to our visit is that the meadow and picnic tables, as well as two of the food court areas, remain open. When we visit again (which I plan to do soon), I will pack sanitation wipes as an added measure of protection before sitting at an available picnic table. The park's gift shop is also open (with limited capacity). Inside, the zoo is selling masks with animal faces — an added touch that made my kids happy to wear theirs all day without complaint.

All in all, our visit to Woodland Park Zoo was a very welcome diversion after so many months at home. My kids were thrilled to see all the animals they've grown to love over the years. This zoo is a beautiful and relaxing place to be in normal times. With few available options for educational and entertaining activities for kids right now, it was a treat for us to go. With the added safety measures the zoo has implemented, it's a perfect balance of calm and care.

If you go...

Where: Woodland Park Zoo is located at 5500 Phinney Ave. N. in Seattle. Only the West Entrance (at this address, by the penguin exhibit) is open. The South Entrance, off of North 50th Street, is closed. After a visit, guests can exit at the West, North or South gates.

Cost: Admission tickets cost $22.95 for ages 13–64; $20.95 for seniors ages 65 and older; $13.95 for children ages 3–12; tots ages 2 and under are free.

Timed tickets: The zoo recommends you reserve tickets on the website (members can do this at no cost) before your visit to help zoo staff appropriately estimate crowd size and limit wait times.

New safety procedures: Face coverings are required for guests ages 5 and older. Kids ages 3–4 are strongly encouraged though not required to wear masks. Additional new policies include:

  • Advance purchase of timed tickets recommended
  • Social distancing required
  • Facial coverings required for all guests (ages 5 and older) and staff
  • Hand sanitizing stations widely available
  • Increased sanitization and cleaning by staff
  • One-way path to outdoor exhibits
  • Indoor buildings are closed and programs are temporarily suspended
  • Clear dividers at transaction points
  • Find out more on the zoo's FAQ page

Parking: All zoo lots are open for paid parking. Free ADA parking is available in every lot. FREE covered, secure bicycle parking is available at the West Entrance.

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