Children looking at the reptile exhibit

Where the Wild Things Are: Four Southern Minnesota Zoos to Explore

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Children looking at the reptile exhibit / Greta Alms

Where the Wild Things Are: Four Southern Minnesota Zoos to Explore

By Greta Alms

The long days of summer are upon us, and there is no better way to keep my kids busy than mini day trips to explore the four zoos of southern Minnesota. Each one has its own variety of animals to watch and stories to tell, giving us plenty of reasons to keep going back throughout the seasons.

  1. Sibley Park Zoo in Mankato
    Sibley Park Zoo

    Sibley Park Zoo / Greta Alms

    Sibley Park Zoo in Mankato

    We were welcomed to Sibley Farm by the distinctive cay of the peacock–an instant draw for anyone with a sense of adventure and curiosity. The picturesque “farm” setting, where families throw birthday parties and graduating seniors get their pictures taken, truly embodies the farm ideal of the surrounding communities. Peacocks, chickens, turkeys, mini horses, alpaca, goats and even golden koi are surrounded by gorgeous red barns and white fences at  this small zoo.

    A playground encourages kids to act out the zoo animals they came to see. In addition to a jungle gym shaped like a chicken coop and tractor, it features a silo and sunflower stalks for climbing.

  2. Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Zoo in Medford
    Child looking at a snake at the Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Zoo

    The Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Zoo / Greta Alms

    Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Zoo in Medford

    Driving up to the Medford Outlet Mall I wasn’t sure we were in the right place, but once I opened the door to the Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Zoo (RAD Zoo), my eyes fell on an iguana sitting on the back of a turtle. As it slowly sauntered along there was no doubt that we had arrived.

    This may be the only zoo of the four we visited that charges an entrance fee, but the sheer number of animals and diversity of amphibians more than makes up for it. The maze of over 150 aquariums and displays winds through several spaces with more reptiles than we would have ever imagined, including crocodiles, pythons and more. There were also tarantulas and even a dinosaur exhibit.

    Some of the snakes slithered along the sides of their aquarium, seemingly in response to our presence, and we saw one silently shed its skin in an aquarium nearby. Another much larger aquarium held alligators piled on top of one another in a pyramid of warmth that was incredible. We were greeted at the end of our tour by an even bigger surprise—a baby alligator that one of the handlers brought out and allowed us to pet. Do you remember the first time you got to pet a wild animal? I do, and I’m sure my little four-year-old will, too! For a few dollars we could have taken a selfie with it, but we weren’t quite brave enough for that—maybe on our next adventure!

  3. Ramsey Park Zoo in Redwood Falls
    Redwood Falls Zoo

    Redwood Falls Zoo / Greta Alms

    Ramsey Park Zoo in Redwood Falls

    The animals at the Ramsey Park Zoo are friendly and eager for visitors. A snack dispenser of corn kernels sits on the edge of the goats’ cage, and the goats know what the sound of that dispenser means. We watched them bound up to the second floor of their abode as soon as they spotted a family buying some corn. An automatic mini feed mill brought it up to them and dropped it straight into their mouths.

    Having the goats come close enough to pet—and experiencing the peck of a chicken that didn’t particularly want to be petted—was thrilling, if not a bit terrifying, for my little adventurers. After seeing deer, bison, geese, pheasants, chickens and more, we headed across the street to the playground. Next time we visit, we might just have a slumber party with the animals by staying overnight in the park’s campground, which is open mid-May to mid-October.

  4. Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo in Byron
    Child watching an otter at the Zollman Zoo

    Otter at the Zollman Zoo / Greta Alms

    Oxbow Park and Zollman Zoo in Byron

    Following my sons on the boardwalk into the zoo, the oldest turns the corner of the first cage and exclaims, “bald eagle!” Right in front of us sit two bald eagles at eye height. He  has watched bald eagles soar through the sky and over the prairies of home for his entire life, and it is amazing for him to now realize their true size and beauty.

    Thus begins our tour past cages of owls, porcupines, bears, prairies dogs and even otters. Animals like coyotes that we hear on the night’s wind, but never get to see in person, have suddenly become real to my sons. Nearly 30 animals native to Minnesota live at Oxbow Park, mostly due to injuries that have made it impossible for them to return to the wild. They now have the unique job of teaching kids of all ages, like my sons, about the natural world.

Greta Alms

Greta Alms is a  pickle-eating, travel-loving, Spanish-speaking, Foodie, and mama of 2 plus the best fur baby traveler ever. Lover of slow travel and stopping to smell the roses (or pick morel mushrooms). Sustainable travel, leave no trace and buying used whenever possible are her life goals. Nothing beats a full spread, good afternoon tea after a morning's adventure!