Visiting a zoo is a wonderful, fun activity that appeals to the whole family—aside from getting to view exciting animals up close, zoos are educational and interactive. They provide a great learning experience for young kids and parents alike. For those with different abilities, it’s important to know which zoos offer the best, most accessible services. These are the top 5 wheelchair-accessible zoos in the U.S.—all of which offer special services, rentals, programming, and facilities, in addition to being wheelchair-accessible:
San Diego Zoo
Sunny, lovely San Diego is home to hundreds of miles of pristine coastline and cool cultural attractions—and a highly accessible zoo. Widely regarded as one of the best zoos in the world, the San Diego Zoo has several specialized services for guests with disabilities. These include: free shuttle bus services for those with limited mobility, special parking, access to all exhibits, tour buses, moving walkways, and more. As befits such a stellar zoo—there are over 3,000 animals representing more than 650 species here—the San Diego Zoo has a curated guide (with maps) for Guests With Disabilities on their site. In terms of both accessibility and quality, it doesn’t get much better than the San Diego Zoo.
Bronx Zoo(New York City).
At the Bronx Zoo, visitors will find a wide variety of exotic and endangered animals, including the incredible Congo Gorilla Forest, a 6.5-acre habitat that features more than 400 species. They offer an Accessibility Map with specific info regarding exhibits and rides, as well as the Wild Asia Monorail, Bug Carousel, and Zoo Shuttle. Keep in mind that the Bronx Zoo is big, so it can be helpful to plan your visit in advance.
Smithsonian’s National Zoo (Washington, D.C.).
A visit to the nation’s capital isn’t complete without a stop at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo (which is always free of charge!) One of the most popular zoos in the country is also one of the most accessible; in addition to fantastic exhibits featuring endangered giant pandas, elephants, cheetahs, and more, you’ll find wheelchairs and electric scooters for rent, special entrances and parking, and a guest shuttle service that operates on a continuous loop.
Live country tunes, high-class Southern comfort cuisine, and cool Neoclassical architecture…what more could you want in a city? A super-accessible zoo, that’s what! The Nashville Zoo makes a serious effort to provide tons of accessible services and facilities. These include: electric scooters and wheelchairs for rent and “Zooper Packs”, complimentary packs with various resources like a visual schedule, earplugs, a sensory-friendly map, and more. Keep in mind that, if you’re going on a hot day, the Andean bear and Unseen New World exhibits (as well as the gift shop and café) are air-conditioned.
Chock-full of exciting animals, many of which are endangered or rare, the Philadelphia Zoo is a great zoo to visit for people of all abilities. The zoo offers an Accessibility Map (which you can download beforehand or pick up on the day of your visit, conveniently), plus regularly scheduled personalized tours with a Zoo Guide, wheelchair and electric scooter rentals, and customized education programs. If you want to arrange for a private tour, it’s recommended that you reserve at least two weeks in advance.
For those with different abilities, going to the zoo doesn’t have to be difficult or stressful—there are several zoos across America that work to be as accessible as possible. The San Diego Zoo, Bronx Zoo, Smithsonian’s National Zoo, Nashville Zoo, and Philadelphia Zoo are easily the top 5 wheelchair-accessible zoos in the U.S.