Henry Vilas Zoo
Plan Your Visit
The Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, WI is one of only a handful of admission-free, community-supported zoos in the country. Fully accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, our beautiful zoo features exhibits and attractions for the whole family. The zoo is open daily from 9:30am – 5:00pm, year-round. Donations are encouraged but not required. All are welcome at the Henry Vilas Zoo!
The zoo is open daily from 9:30am – 5:00pm, year-round. The indoor exhibits (Aviary, Herpetarium, Discovery Center, and Primate Building) and Children’s Zoo are open from 10:00am – 4:00pm. The Zoo Train and Conservation Carousel are open daily during the summer with reduced hours in the spring and fall.
The zoo is closed at noon on the following days:
- Thanksgiving Day and the day after Thanksgiving
- Christmas Eve and Christmas Day
- New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day
For the safety of our animals and our guests, the following items are not allowed on zoo grounds:
- Drink lids and straws
- Rollerblades, roller skates, and skateboards
- Bicycles and scooters (they can be walked through the zoo, but cannot be ridden)
- Pets and therapy animals (certified service animals are allowed)
- Carry-in alcoholic beverages
The Henry Vilas Zoo staff and volunteers will remove anyone who violates these guidelines. We reserve the right to inspect anything that is brought into the zoo.
There is no charge for admission or parking, but donations are greatly appreciated. The zoo relies on support from the community to remain open and admission-free. Please support our zoo if you’re able to do so: leave a donation in the donation tubes located throughout the zoo, donate online, or become a member.
The Henry Vilas Zoo is one of only a handful of community-supported AZA-accredited zoos in the country. Because of generous donations from members of the community, the zoo is free to all who wish to visit, spending time with their families and friends and connecting with the natural world. When you donate to the Henry Vilas Zoo, you’re helping to ensure the longevity of this unique community resource for many years to come.
The community-supported Henry Vilas Zoo is full of family-friendly fun! From our tropical rainforest aviary to our primate house, we offer a variety of exhibits and attractions sure to delight zoo visitors of all ages. See what the zoo has to offer and plan your visit today!
From 1-90/1-39 or 1-94: Take exit to Hwy 12/14/18 West. Exit at Park St., North. Remain on Park St. for approximately 1.7 mi to Drake St. Turn left onto Drake St. (you will see a zoo sign at the intersection). Travel on Drake St. for about five blocks to Randall Ave. The main zoo parking lot is at the corner of Randall Ave. & Drake St.
From northbound 151: Take exit to Hwy 12/14/18 East. Exit at Park St., North. Remain on Park St. for approximately 1.7 mi to Drake St. Turn left onto Drake St. (you will see a zoo sign at the intersection). Travel on Drake St. for about five blocks to Randall Ave. The main zoo parking lot is at the corner of Randall Ave. & Drake St.
From southbound 151: Remain on Hwy 151 until it becomes Park St. From Park St., turn right on Drake St. Travel on Drake St. for about five blocks to Randall Ave. The main zoo parking lot is at the corner of Randall Ave. & Drake St.
Public Transportation: Madison Metro has several routes that will bring you within five to six blocks of the zoo. We encourage you to use the bus as an easy, environmentally-friendly alternative to reach the zoo. As bus schedules are subject to vary by day, please visit Madison Metro to view the most up-to-date routes and schedules.
Bike Rentals: At the corner of Mills St. and Wingra Dr. is a Madison B-Cycle station for renting and returning bicycles. For current availability, visit madison.bcycle.com.
Electric Vehicle Recharge: Those with electric vehicles can take advantage of a charging station on the south side of the zoo in the parking lot across from Vilas Park Beach.
The Henry Vilas Zoo is located at 702 South Randall Ave., Madison, WI 53715, just down the street from the University of Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium. The zoo is surrounded by Vilas Park, which features lush, open space for active play, as well as two playgrounds for children to explore. The park boasts a ball diamond, a beach, and a lagoon maintained for ice skating in the winter.
There are two entrances to the zoo, each with their own parking lot. The main entrance is on the north side of the zoo at the intersection of Drake St. and Randall Ave. The alternative “bridge entrance” is on the southeast side of the zoo on the Vilas Park Drive across from the beach.
Parking is free at the Henry Vilas Zoo, and visitors can take advantage of three parking lots outside of the zoo. Parking in the lots is limited due to the zoo’s location and can be challenging on weekends and busy summer days. When the lots are full, visitors park in the surrounding neighborhoods and can usually find a spot within a block or two of the zoo. Parking at the Henry Vilas Zoo is owned and managed by the City of Madison.
Please note: parking restrictions are strictly enforced by the City of Madison, and zoo parking lots have a three-hour parking limit.
Bus Parking: Buses are prohibited from parking in single vehicle parking areas within Vilas Park. All parking regulations are enforced and citations may be issued without warning. Bus drivers are encouraged to drop passengers off and relocate to the rear parking lot at Bowman Park, where there is no fee to park.
Directions to Bowman Park:
- Please use the Wingra Dr. entrance and drop off passengers near the Herpetarium
- Exit Vilas Park via Wingra Dr. Follow Wingra Dr. southeast
- Make a right on Fish Hatchery Rd. and a quick left onto Plaenert Dr.
- Take the first right into Bowman Park (after Wright Middle School)
- Park in the rear lot, leaving ample room for other buses
The zoo is pleased to offer strollers and push wheelchairs for rent at the zoo gift shop in the fall, spring, and summer seasons. The cost is a $10 deposit (you will get $5 back upon returning the stroller or wheelchair to the gift shop). You must also leave a driver’s license, which will be returned to you when you bring back the stroller or wheelchair. Strollers and wheelchairs are available on a first come, first served basis. For safety reasons, wheelchairs and strollers will not be available for rent during the winter. You are welcome to bring your own stroller or wheelchair to the zoo during this time!
The zoo is wheelchair accessible and wheelchairs are available to rent at the zoo’s gift shop near the main entrance on Drake St. and Randall Ave. Please use caution when operating mobility devices and wheelchairs – many areas of the zoo feature narrow walkways, branches, doorways, and/or uneven terrain. Guests using wheelchairs are advised to avoid the zoo’s steeper paths, which are marked with signs. The Conservation Carousel in the Children’s Zoo is also wheelchair accessible.
Henry Vilas Zoo is accessible to guests with ADA-defined service animals, but for the safety of our zoo animals, the zoo doesn’t allow therapy animals or pets.
Guests with service animals may be required to:
- Respond truthfully to limited and appropriate inquiries made by Dane County Staff regarding the service animal
- Ensure that the service animal meets local licensing requirements, including maintenance of required immunizations
- Service animals (or service-animals-in-training) should wear their required license tags at all times
- Service animals (or service-animals-in-training) should wear a harness, leash, or other tether, unless the handler is unable, because of a disability, to use a harness, leash, or other tether, or if the use of a harness, leash, or other tether would interfere with the service animal’s safe, effective performance of work or tasks. In either case, the service animal must remain under the handler’s control via the use of vocal commands, signals, or other effective means
The Glacier Grille
An experience like no other – dine with the bears! The zoo’s new Glacier Grille combines healthy, tasty food options and a one-of-a-kind setting. The Glacier Grille is the only indoor restaurant in the country to look out onto a polar bear exhibit! All purchases support your community zoo. Check out the menu here. The Glacier Grille is open from 9:30am – 5:00pm daily.
Get your afternoon snack fix at our Badger Bites concession stand! Located next to our gift shop near the main entrance, Badger Bites offers a variety of drinks and snacks to enjoy during your visit, including ice cream, popcorn, and sodas. Click here for a menu. Badger Bites is open from 11:00am – 5:00pm daily.
Because the Henry Vilas Zoo is admission-free, we ask that you support zoo concessions whenever possible. Every time you make a purchase at the gift shop or at one of our restaurants, you support our community zoo. If you do choose to bring a snack into the zoo, please limit the use of lids and straws, as they are particularly dangerous to the animals. Public grilling is not allowed on zoo grounds. Please clean up after yourself or your group.
Every dollar spent at the gift shop helps the zoo.
From March through December, the gift shop is open from 9:30am – 5:00pm daily. In January and February, the gift shop is open Wednesday through Sunday.
What will I find in the zoo’s gift shop?
In the gift shop, you can find the perfect gift for the wildlife enthusiast or zoo fan in your life. Selections range from fun and affordable keepsakes, plush animals, toys, games, and crafts to fine, handcrafted gifts from around the globe. You can also find unique apparel for zoo enthusiasts of all ages! Show your love for Henry Vilas Zoo with a t-shirt, hat, or sweatshirt.
The gift shop is also the most convenient place to purchase things like disposable cameras, umbrellas, and rain coverlets to make your visit to the zoo as memorable and enjoyable as possible.
Zoo members receive a 10% discount at our gift shop and restaurants every day of the year!
Mingled with the calls of the zoo’s white-handed gibbons, during warmer months, visitors may hear the call of our Zoo Train. The electric train travels through a tunnel and around the perimeter of the Children’s Zoo animal exhibits and the Red Barn.
The Conservation Carousel, a beloved attraction in the Children’s Zoo, began spinning in 2006. Weather permitting, the carousel and train open in March or April and run through the end of October from 9:30am – 4:30pm daily. Please note – the train cannot run in inclement weather.
Zoo Train and Conservation Carousel cost $2 per ride per passenger. You can purchase tokens and multi-ride punch cards in the carousel building or at the main gift shop.
All proceeds benefit the community-supported Henry Vilas Zoo.
By entering Henry Vilas Zoo, you give consent to use your image or likeness in photographs taken on zoo property by zoo staff or volunteers for advertising or communication purposes.
If you’ve lost an item at the zoo and are still at the zoo, please visit our visitor center, gift shop, or carousel building to report the item. If you are no longer at the zoo, please call (608) 258-9490 to report the item, and we will call you back if the item is found. After two weeks, unclaimed items will be donated.
When reporting a lost item, please include:
- A description of the item
- The date you lost it
- Your name
- Your telephone number
Exhibits & Attractions
At the Zoo