ZOO TALES: N.C. Zoo Great Winter Destination
Recently, noted zoo experts Allen W. Nyhuis and Jon Wassner cited the North Carolina Zoo as one of the country's 60 finest in their new book, "America's Best Zoos."
The authors praised the zoo even more when they also named it the No. 1 zoo in the United States for North American animal exhibits.
Meanwhile, in a survey conducted this summer, the readers of Durham-based Carolina Parent Magazine chose the zoo as their "Favorite Day Trip Outside of the Triangle" for 2008.
With 500 of its nearly 1,500 total acres developed, the N.C. Zoo is the nation's largest walk-through zoo. It is also the nation's first zoo to be built from its inception to be a natural-habitat zoo, where the exhibits mimic, as closely as possible, the animals' habitats in the wild.
In "America's Best Zoos," Nyhuis called on the expertise of nearly two decades of visiting and reviewing zoos to select the N.C. Zoo among the nation's best. He had previously authored "The Zoo Book: A Guide to America's Best" in 1994 that also rated the N.C. Zoo among the country's top public animal parks.
And no time could be any better to visit the zoo, rated among the best, than now.
The winter months of January and February are seldom thought of as a time for leisurely strolls through the park and stops to smell flowers blooming or to watch animals scampering around natural habitats, but at the N.C. Zoo, that's exactly what's in store for the savvy zoo-goer.
Winter visits could be the park's best-kept secret. Although most visitors come in summer, when children are out of school and families are often vacationing, the winter months have much to offer -- particularly for those visitors who prefer to tour the park at a more leisurely pace.
In winter, zoo visitors will see a noticeable absence of crowds. This means better viewing of the animals, since there will be fewer people at the overlooks. And many of the zoo's outdoor animals are more active in the winter months. The polar bear, one of the zoo's most popular animals, and other cold-climate North American animals are especially more active in the cooler months.
But for those wanting to escape the chill, the zoo's R.J. Reynolds Forest Aviary, one of four climate-controlled indoor exhibits, recreates the wonders of a tropical rain forest. Inside, visitors can enjoy more than 3,000 tropical plants and dozens of exotic birds. USA Today selected it as one of the 10 best natural-habitat exhibits in American zoos. Few other places in North Carolina can offer January temperatures in the 80s, chirping birds and blooming flowers in a green, lush environment. At the zoo, visitors are never far from an indoor exhibit.
More than five miles of wooded trails await the more adventurous souls who want to be outside. But keep in mind that there are temperature and humidity limits for exhibiting some of the animals outside. Some, for example, are brought inside if the temperature is below about 45 degrees. Before arriving, visitors are encouraged to check the zoo's Web site for scheduled closings.
Central North Carolina's mild winters mean relief from the sultry days of summer. So see the zoo without the summer crowds, where fewer park visitors mean shorter lines, not only to see the animals, but also for the restaurants, gift shops, ticket booths and free transportation system.
Notifying the zoo of its selection as the "Top Day Trip Outside the Triangle for 2008," Carolina Parent publisher Liz Holt wrote: "We asked our readers to share with us their opinions about where they like to play, eat and shop and which programs and services they rely on ." Those readers chose the N.C. Zoo as a 2008 Family Favorite Winner.
Few places can offer a day's worth of entertainment and education at such a low price -- and give visitors an escape from winter's chill.
As an added winter bonus, zoo visitors receive a $2 discount on all admissions during the months of January and February.
Tom Gillespie works for the N.C. Zoo's public affairs office.
More like this story