Big changes are happening at the zoo — here's how to make the most of your visit
The Oregon Zoo is ready to welcome summer, with longer hours and a host of seasonal special events. Beginning Saturday, May 26, the zoo will open at 9:30 a.m. and close at 6 p.m. Visitors may remain on grounds until 7 p.m.
"This summer will be different from most," said guest services manager Ivan Ratcliff, who joined the zoo in 1982. "We're gearing up for some major improvements to advance animal welfare, with new homes for primates, polar bears and rhinos."
These improvements — the final three of eight major projects made possible by a community-supported zoo bond measure — will transform the very heart of the zoo, Ratcliff says. Construction fences are about to go up, old buildings are about to come down, and getting around the zoo might require a little extra know-how.
With Memorial Day weekend — aka the unofficial start to summer — upon us, we checked in with Ratcliff to tap his 36 years of experience and learn how to get the most from your visit.
1. Kid around with the mountain goats.
Mountain goats are often the first animal people see at the zoo, lounging or grazing among the rocky crags of their Cascade Crest home just past the main entrance. They're such a familiar sight that some visitors zip right past without a pause. "Make sure to stop for a moment this summer," Ratcliff said. "Sassy the mountain goat is raising an adorable baby, and her friend Montane might have her own baby soon as well."
2. Bear left and take in the Great Northwest.
After you've seen the mountain goats, take an immediate left and head into the Great Northwest area. "Follow the sign that looks like you're entering a national park," Ratcliff said. "This is one of the most beautiful areas of the zoo, and many head straight down the boardwalk and miss it completely." Along the trail, you'll see iconic Northwest species like black bears, bald eagles, river otters, cougars and California condors.
3. Show up after 4 p.m. on third Tuesdays.
The zoo's Second Tuesday discount days don't resume until September, but that doesn't mean an end to summer savings. "During summer, third Tuesdays are the way to go," Ratcliff said. "Our Twilight Tuesday series takes place on the third Tuesday of the month from June through August. Admission is just $5 per person after 4 p.m., and free for zoo members." Twilight Tuesdays take place June 19, July 17 and Aug. 21 at the zoo with, fun family activities, live entertainment and a focus on animals that are active at dusk.
4. See if you qualify for our 'Zoo For All' discount.
Last year, the zoo launched a new discount program, Zoo For All. Based on the Portland-region Arts For All program, Zoo For All provides $5 admission every day, all year long, for qualifying individuals and families. More information is available at oregonzoo.org/zoo-all.
5. Buy a zoo membership and beat the morning rush.
"A membership pays for itself after just a couple visits, and the perks are pretty great too," Ratcliff said. "One benefit is you get to enter the zoo at 9 a.m. instead of 9:30 and beat the crowds, which is especially nice in the summer." Ratcliff notes that a zoo membership also lets you visit different local attractions each month — like the Columbia River Maritime Museum (June) or the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum (July).
6. Check real-time parking availability on explorewashingtonpark.org.
"The Explore Washington Park website is a great resource for transportation options to the area and even shows real-time parking availability, which can save guests a lot of time during busy summer days." Ratcliff said "And it's always a good idea to check oregonzoo.org/today to find out what's going on at the zoo — animal activities, special events, construction notes and so on."
7. Ride MAX to the zoo.
"MAX is a great way to get to the zoo," Ratcliff said. "I ride it to work every day — the Washington Park stop lets you off just in front of the zoo entrance and you don't have to worry about traffic or parking. I highly recommend using this option whenever possible."