A collage of pictures from the Columbus Zoo- giraffe, leopard, and shark, all on the Chicago to DC road trip

The Columbus Zoo: Ohio’s Largest and Arguably Best Zoo

Are you considering visiting the Columbus Zoo? Then you’ve come to the right place! Ohio has some wonderful zoos, but the Columbus Zoo is the largest and possibly the best Ohio zoo!

My husband Kaleb and I love good zoos! When a zoo is actively bringing awareness to animal conservation, is clean and spacious, and has activities for the whole family to enjoy, we are completely on board! The Columbus Zoo in Ohio is one of those zoos.

Even better, this zoo accommodates gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan diets… which always gets my nod of approval!

Are Ohio Zoos Nice?

We live in Indiana. Indianapolis has a notably good zoo, but we have been thoroughly impressed with the three zoos we’ve been to in Ohio!

Our favorite exhibits at the Toledo Zoo were the elephants (I even have a video of one dancing to music!) and the penguins (we could get so close to them!).

Later, we went to the Cincinnati Zoo, which is much more hilly by the way! Our favorite exhibits at that zoo were the hippos, the zebras, and the gorillas. We stood for close to 30 minutes watching two zebras play fight over a stick. They reminded me of dogs playing together!

So after impressive Ohio zoos, naturally, it seemed almost expected that next up would be the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium!

Note: We’ve since also been to the Cleveland Zoo. The Cleveland Zoo is known for its rain forest exhibit/building. They also have a large elephant crossing exhibit with a place where kids can even feed the elephants peanuts!

An Overview of The Columbus Zoo

The Columbus Zoo has routinely been nominated as the best zoo in the nation, and it won a few times! It’s one of the largest zoos in the world (and definitely Ohio’s largest zoo!) at 588 acres, more than 11,000 species of animals, and both a water park and a golf course on-site!

Every zoo, to some extent, usually sections the animals off around the zoo based on where you may find them around the world. However, the Columbus Zoo seems to go a step further.

The zoo is comprised of six sections, including Africa, Asia, North America, Congo, The Shores, and Australia. Each section showcases the animals as well as a bit of the culture of the area.

For example, the dining area in “Africa” called Mapori Restaurant has a straw hut/gazebo where visitors can eat that overlooks the lion exhibit and makes you feel like you just joined a safari. As you walk toward the zebras, ostriches, and giraffes in the African Savanna, a jeep heads far out past the visitor access point to feed the giraffes. A pretend abandoned plane juts out into the lion exhibit.

All of these little details make the zoo visitors feel as if they truly entered Africa.

A walkway with African decorations
Several acres of land for the African animals

The Columbus Zoo Access Passes

There are a few different “experiences” you can pay extra to receive at the Columbus Zoo, including giraffe feedings, reindeer encounters, and elephant bathings. These are the Columbus Zoo Access Passes.

However, there are also zoo ride tickets that may very well be worth your money! At this time, I won’t give the ticket prices because they often change over time. However, I will say there are enough rides at this zoo that this is likely a great deal for you and your family. The rides include camel rides, train rides, carousel rides, boat rides, and more!

A camel being directed by two zoo keepers

The Columbus Zoo’s Conservation Efforts: Gorillas at the Columbus Zoo

Throughout the zoo we saw signs sharing how the Columbus Zoo is doing its part to conserve wildlife populations. Their website says they have given $4 million dollars to support conservation efforts. But one of the larger signs at the zoo shared all of the ways they help the gorillas specifically, including working to end the bushmeat trade and deforestation that are currently wreaking havoc on the gorilla population.

Below is cute video footage we captured of a gorilla at the Columbus Zoo who loved her cardboard box!

How Accommodating is The Columbus Zoo for Those (Like Me!) who are Gluten-free or Dairy-Free?

I was impressed by the zoo’s conscious effort to accommodate those with food allergies! They have vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options at the Columbus Zoo. The Congo Grill in the Congo section had several gluten-free menu choices, including mac and cheese, boneless chicken wings, and gluten-free sandwich buns. They also had a Mediterranean salad for those who are following a vegan diet. A vegetarian black bean burger option is available at Lakeside Grill in the Asia section. Unfortunately, these options are not available in other areas of the park.

For those hoping to get these gluten-free, dairy-free, vegetarian, and vegan options, I suggest you plan your day around the restaurant of your choice. This zoo is so big! It won’t be enjoyable to walk to the other side of the park just to access food you can eat. Plan accordingly!

Restaurants Near Columbus Zoo

Or you could grab lunch or dinner nearby at Matt the Miller’s (which also has a few other great locations including Carmel, IN just outside of Indy!) or these great dairy-free and gluten-free Columbus, OH restaurants! All have several gluten-free and dairy-free options!

How Long Should We Plan to Be at the Columbus Zoo? How Long Will It Take to See All the Exhibits at the Columbus Zoo?

Because of the mere size of the zoo, I suggest you plan a full day there. If you want to add the water park, you may want to plan two days or accept the fact that you likely won’t get to all of the exhibits at the Columbus Zoo.

When we were there, the zoo was regulating admission numbers for the day (because of Covid), and we still had to wait in line for the following exhibits: the manatees, kangaroos, sloth bears, and all of the rides. Without the ride passes, as well as strollers and a wheelchair that our group had, your group may be okay with incorporating the water park into your day at the zoo.

A manatee looking at a turtle swimming above him

What Should You Consider Bringing to the Columbus Zoo?

A Stroller and Good Walking Shoes: Similarly to the Henry Ford Museum close to Detriot, Michigan, the Columbus Zoo is a BIG place! Bring a stroller and good walking shoes!

Snacks: If you have food intolerances or allergies (or just kids with you that will get hungry easily!), it’s probably worth it to bring snacks. Here’s my post on Grain-Free Snacks for the Road, if interested.

Layered Clothing for Varying Temperatures

Umbrellas, Jackets/Coats, etc. Based on Weather

Possibly a Professional Camera: We did see a few people getting some great shots of the animals at the Columbus Zoo!

Any Other Interesting Facts About the Columbus Zoo?

Yes! If you have Disney+, check out Secrets at the Zoo. It’s a TV show with several seasons that highlights the zookeepers, veterinarians, and animals at the Columbus Zoo. It’s so fun to learn the names and behaviors of some of the animals before arriving! Plus, you get to see what a great job the Columbus Zoo does taking care of these amazing animals!

Okapi Walking Along at the Columbus Zoo

Overall, our day at the Columbus Zoo was a very enjoyable experience. Each of the three Ohio zoos we’ve visited was so different that it’s hard to pick a favorite. But, because the largest zoo in Ohio, the Columbus Zoo, offers gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan options, it is personally considered the best Ohio Zoo.

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2 years ago

That is one zoo I’d really like to visit.

2 years ago

It definitely looks like a big zoo! Thanks for the overview.

Terra Booth
2 years ago

I love zoos that have a focus on conservation! Great tips on planning your visit!

Tammy Horvath
2 years ago

I lived in Ohio for one year and didn’t visit a zoo. I love to see animals, so I will need to visit next time I am in Ohio.

2 years ago

I love zoos. With this one being the largest zoo in the world, I will be adding this one to my list. Thanks for sharing.

Sabrina DeWalt
2 years ago

This zoo sounds fantastic. I will have to add to my list of places to go.

2 years ago

We love good zoo’s too! Our favorite so far has been the Australia Zoo, and the San Diego Zoo. I’d love to get to Ohio and see the Columbus Zoo as well.

Stephanie L Mathers
Stephanie L Mathers
2 years ago

I like how you included helpful items to bring with you.

Last edited 2 years ago by Stephanie L Mathers
2 years ago

I love that they are now participating in conservation efforts!

Tiffany Smith
Tiffany Smith
2 years ago

We went to this zoo but would love to go back to enjoy the water park! It is a huge zoo!

Kiera Gosse
2 years ago

A zoo with a water park is brilliant. I love going to the zoo but it is generally a hot and long day of walking. Breaking up the day with water is an excellent option. And of course, zoos that support conservation is a must..

2 years ago

This zoo has been on my list for some time now! Great suggestion about planning your day around restaurants, since I have a dairy intolerance. We visit Cleveland yearly, and are hoping to swing down to Columbus at some point to take in a few attractions!

Cindy Moore
Cindy Moore
2 years ago

I haven’t been to a zoo in such a long time! This one looks wonderful.

2 years ago

I LOVE the Columbus zoo! I remember when Fiona was born (did I spell her name correctly?) and I followed her story online for so long! Columbus zoo does so much for animal conservation around the globe, such a great zoo to visit and support!

2 years ago

So fantastic! I will hang out with the Giraffes all day!

Melissa Jones
2 years ago

I love zoos! I’ve not been to the Columbus zoo since my kids were little!

danielle nieman
2 years ago

I love going to the zoo! I wish I lived close to this one. Thank you for all the info!!

Danielle Ardizzone
2 years ago

We love zoos! If we make it out to Ohio, we’ll definitely take a look!

2 years ago

I love the zoo. And this Ohio zoo sounds like a good one!