Henry Vilas Zoo
Henry Vilas Zoo
4.5
9:30 AM - 5:00 PM
Monday
9:30 AM - 5:00 PM
Tuesday
9:30 AM - 5:00 PM
Wednesday
9:30 AM - 5:00 PM
Thursday
9:30 AM - 5:00 PM
Friday
9:30 AM - 5:00 PM
Saturday
9:30 AM - 5:00 PM
Sunday
9:30 AM - 5:00 PM
About
Truly a wild place to hang out! We are an admission-free, AZA-accredited zoo located next to Vilas Park in downtown Madison with a mission to conserve and protect the wonders of the natural world. Sign up for a Behind the Scenes tour, let us host your next birthday party, or just come by and learn more about our animals. With over 100 species, including polar bears, Aldabra tortoises, and African lions, there are plenty of opportunities to learn more about your favorite animals!
Duration: 1-2 hours
Meets animal welfare guidelines
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  • travelpln
    Casey Key, Florida25 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    Animals are close and it’s free entrance fee.
    What a great zoo in Madison. The animals are close. A very nice variety. It is very walkable. We enjoyed it and would definitely come back. It was free too. They encourage you to make donations. I am sure it costs a lot of money to care for these animals.
    Visited June 2023
    Traveled with friends
    Written June 8, 2023
  • kghudson
    Houston, Texas455 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    Great Little Zoo and Free Too!!
    Great little zoo in Madison WI. Was free to enter and was a great way to spend a couple of hours seeing all the animals and exhibits. Nice gift shop and definitely worth a visit if in the area.
    Visited June 2023
    Traveled with family
    Written June 11, 2023
  • Lisa G
    Grand Forks, North Dakota63 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    Great FREE zoo
    Great FREE zoo! Big ticket animals, great kids play area, knowledgeable zoo keepers (nice zoo keeper talks). We really loved the giraffe, polar bear and rhino.
    Visited July 2023
    Traveled with family
    Written July 2, 2023
  • Mike X
    Chicago, Illinois3,596 contributions
    4.0 of 5 bubbles
    Good for young kids
    Parking is a bit tough but you can find some spots along houses on the side streets. It's free so don't expect the best zoo you've ever seen but it's fun to walk around with a two year old. Zoo path is set up pretty well for you to not have to backtrack a bunch. Good for 2.5 hours tops. Follow up often if you decide to eat at the Glacier Grille. Seems like they forgot our food order and after 30 minutes of nothing coming out, the manager gave us a refund. Usually not a big deal but 30 minutes is an eternity with a hungry child.
    Visited September 2023
    Traveled with family
    Written September 4, 2023
  • DAH01FIB
    Fort Myers, Florida37 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    Nice Little Zoo
    We had a couple of hours to kill so we stopped by this Zoo. They had quite a few different animals in very nice, natural settings. The grounds are very clean and well kept with snacks and soft drinks available. We talked with several of the staff members about the animals and watched as they gave the Giraffe a hoof manicure. Great place to take the kids and grand kids.
    Visited September 2023
    Traveled with family
    Written September 10, 2023
  • Deannutley
    Hot Springs, Arkansas58 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    Top Rate zoo
    This is a first-rate zoo. I can’t believe it is free. It is also located near a beautiful park. We were there about two hours and saw everything. They have grizzlies, polar bears, and sea lions. For a zoo this size, the selection of animals was amazing. The zoo is well laid out and easy to cover in a couple of hours. Highly recommend!
    Visited October 2023
    Traveled with friends
    Written October 23, 2023
  • Krome10
    4 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    Enjoy a free day at the zoo
    Nice regional zoo, with a good variety of animals. On the smaller side, but the free admission and charming park surrounding it make up for that. Definitely worth checking out if you have some time in the Madison area.
    Visited October 2023
    Traveled with friends
    Written October 24, 2023
  • Karen
    Grand Rapids, Michigan22 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    Great for a visit
    This zoo was great. Totally donation run so for families it is well worth a visit. All the animals looked very healthy. Seeing a grizzly and a polar bear together in one exhibit was very unique to me. Loved the activity shown by the animals. Each exhibit had explanations and educational information on the animals. Well worth a walk around
    Visited October 2023
    Traveled with family
    Written October 26, 2023
  • VandyJo
    Middleton, Wisconsin156 contributions
    5.0 of 5 bubbles
    A great walk on the wild side, even in winter!
    The Madison area is lucky to have not only a free zoo but an exceptional one that is accredited. As this review written in February shows, unlike many similar-sized facilities, the Vilas Zoo is open all year, even in winter. Interestingly, many of the animals were quite active during our stay. In fact, certain animals seemed to enjoy the chilly temperatures such as the polar bear and tiger. Critters that need a warm environment have plenty of well-maintained inside exhibits, including a tropical rain forest, herpaterium, and ape house. The zoo has excellent exhibit signage that is both informative and engaging. The signs even feature the fun names given to each animal, such as "Bandit," for the red panda. Vilas Zoo is conveniently located near downtown and provides not only a free zoo experience but free parking as well.
    Visited February 2024
    Traveled with family
    Written February 22, 2024
These reviews are the subjective opinion of Tripadvisor members and not of TripAdvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews.

Most Recent: Reviews ordered by most recent publish date in descending order.

Detailed Reviews: Reviews ordered by recency and descriptiveness of user-identified themes such as wait time, length of visit, general tips, and location information.

Popular mentions

4.5
4.5 of 5 bubbles1,700 reviews
Excellent
1,070
Very good
480
Average
118
Poor
22
Terrible
10

Roann M
6 contributions
3.0 of 5 bubbles
Jul 2020
The zoo has made several adjustments for the COVID - 19 virus situation. None of the indoor exhibits are open. Face masks are required even though you are outside the whole time. Social distancing is also recommend but not followed by all guests.
At the bear exhibit, which is a small, enclosed area, families were bunched together. We waited for them to clear out, and while we were waiting at the appropriate distance, other families just walked in ahead of us. People who were there without kids were even worse.
They should have docents, or staff members at the busy exhibits with a rope line, just like at an amusement park, where you have to wait your turn.
Written July 31, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

melissawisco
Kiel, WI56 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Jun 2021
What a pleasant zoo that is donation based. You will have to be creative with parking and most likely park on a side street. Stroller friendly zoo allows for fun for the whole family. Train ride and carousel are 1 token each so $3 per rider. Train ride is more for the fun of the ride not so much the view or length. The giraffe at the zoo is astounding. It will try to reach the leaves on the top branches and with the fencing the way it is you can get an amazing picture. There is a beach across from the zoo that allows for swimming. We did not do this but perhaps on a future trip. You can bring snacks in as well.
Written June 14, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Amos6022
Bettendorf, IA646 contributions
4.0 of 5 bubbles
Sep 2020 • Family
First off I really love that this zoo is free! Really nice walking zoo with plenty of trees and shade. Good variety of animals to see. We went in early morning and most were outside their cages and active which is always awesome to see! My kids are older but they have an amazing looking jungle gym for littles. Even right outside the zoo there is this little lake and green space for picnics and fun. Really lovely area of Madison.
Written September 7, 2020
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

garint1981
Freeport, IL40 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Jun 2021
We went as soon as they opened even though it rained off and on. It still had a lot of people. At first, many of the animals weren't out due to the rain, but we ended up seeing everything the zoo had to offer; besides, the badgers were the only animal that didn't come out. Unfortunately (for my girlfriend), the reptile building was closed due to maintenance, but a staff member explained the reasoning thoroughly. We ended up staying a couple of hours and walked 3 miles.
Written June 28, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Kswany
Woodbury, MN426 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Mar 2021
This zoo was a great experience. They have lions, tigers and bears, oh my! The lion roared when we there impressing the kids. It was loud. The best part is that it is free. Donations are requested but the zoo is a great place to spend an afternoon with the family or friends.
Written March 30, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Mike X
Chicago, IL3,596 contributions
4.0 of 5 bubbles
Sep 2023 • Family
Parking is a bit tough but you can find some spots along houses on the side streets. It's free so don't expect the best zoo you've ever seen but it's fun to walk around with a two year old. Zoo path is set up pretty well for you to not have to backtrack a bunch. Good for 2.5 hours tops. Follow up often if you decide to eat at the Glacier Grille. Seems like they forgot our food order and after 30 minutes of nothing coming out, the manager gave us a refund. Usually not a big deal but 30 minutes is an eternity with a hungry child.
Written September 4, 2023
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Julie
12 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Oct 2021 • Family
Beautiful zoo with lots of nice shade to walk under. Lovely display of animals in nice habitats. Because the zoo is free, you can feel no burden in buying tickets for the carousel and train. Our family enjoyed our visit.
Written October 20, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Chuck2010
Palmyra, PA2,569 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Sep 2021
Outstanding small zoo dedicated to families ... we were impressed with the variety of animals as well as nice environments. It must take a lot of effort and dedication to run a zoo strictly on donations from the public .. Admission is free and a donation is appreciated
Written October 6, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

zombienic
Minnesota1,951 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
May 2021 • Couples
Indoor buildings were closed as of May 21st 2021 but still a very nice zoo to walk around, even in the rain. Great variety of animals. Monkeys and lion were both loud! Lion roaring was neat and monkeys were comical. This is a free zoo but I hope everyone is donating! We put multiple bills in the "money tornado" machine but even if you only have a dollar it's worth it to help the animals.
Written May 24, 2021
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

Taylor B
Chicago, IL8,234 contributions
5.0 of 5 bubbles
Dec 2022
Founded in 1911, the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin, is one of only 10 remaining free admission zoos in the North America. The 28-acre property, which attracts over 750,000 visitors annually, lies within a park situated on land donated to the city by William and Anna Vilas under the conditions that it be used "for the uses and purposes of a public park and pleasure ground." It was named in honor of their son, Henry, who died at a young age from complications related to diabetes. The family stipulated that the park always be admission free. The zoo houses amphibians, birds, fish, insects, mammals and reptiles from several continents, including polar bears, badgers and capybaras. One of the most popular exhibits is the Arctic Passage, which opened in 2015. It includes a restaurant and enclosures for seals, grizzly bears and polar bears. Have you ever seen a grizzly bear up close and personal?
Written January 11, 2023
This review is the subjective opinion of a Tripadvisor member and not of Tripadvisor LLC. Tripadvisor performs checks on reviews as part of our industry-leading trust & safety standards. Read our transparency report to learn more.

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Henry Vilas Zoo - All You Need to Know BEFORE You Go (2024)

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