Henry Vilas Zoo

A friend of mine recently pointed out that we have yet to write a post about the Henry Vilas Zoo! I think the zoo is one of those Madison locations that locals often take for granted (like the fact that many of us probably cut through the Capitol building without a second thought).

The fact that we have a free zoo that’s open daily, year-round is definitely not something we should take for granted, however! Maggie and I bring our little girls there fairly regularly, actually. And I intend to make good use of the zoo’s indoor exhibits this winter on those extra chilly, gloomy days!

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Henry Vilas Zoo, here’s some info:

The land the zoo is located on was given to the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association by the Vilas family back in 1904 with the stipulation that admission would always be free. There are, however, still many ways to support the zoo.

There are numerous animals on exhibit (both indoor and outdoor) including bears, primates, giraffes, and a badger. We’ve realized that if you go too early in the day, many of the animals are still asleep, and if you go after 4pm, most of the animals are heading toward their indoor areas ready for their dinner.

The Children’s Zoo section contains more than just animals, including Milena’s new obsessions: the carousel and the electric zoo train (both of which cost $1 per ride). There is also a large play area perfect for toddlers and school-aged children. And don’t forget to check out the animal exhibits in this area – the red panda is one of my favorite animals to visit while at the zoo. This year I also noticed that there’s a small garden on your way into the Children’s Zoo (maybe it’s there every year?). In the garden there are signs by each of the fruits and vegetables with information on what’s growing and which animals in the zoo will later get to enjoy it. (Like the buildings, the entire Children’s Zoo opens at 10 am and closes at 4 pm).

If you’ve visited the zoo recently, you’ve probably noticed lots of construction happening where the goats used to live. Turns out (and how did we miss this announcement?!) they’re adding a children’s zoo barn! Along with sheep, goats and pigs, there will also be a farm-themed play area. The area is expected to open in early 2011! (For now, the goats have moved in next to the black bear.)

The Henry Vilas Zoo is located at 702 South Randall Avenue and is open 9:30 am – 5 pm daily (building hours are 10 am – 4 pm). For more information regarding the zoo’s history, exhibits, and upcoming events, be sure to visit the website.


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