The Blank Park Zoo is Iowa’s only accredited zoo, with over 100 animal species and more than 1400 wild animals. Kids and adults of all ages will enjoy watching the animals, riding the train, and learning. So, whether you’re from Des Moines or just visiting, the zoo should be on your list of things to do!
A Brief History of Blank Park Zoo
In the early 1960s, Fort Des Moines donated a plot of land to the City of Des Moines for recreational use. A few years later, a $150,000 donation from A.H. Blank spurred the construction of a new community zoo. By 1966, the zoo opened to the public with child-centered exhibits like Noah’s Ark, a petting zoo, and a miniature railroad.
But by the early 1980s, the zoo fell on hard times. As a result, community members banded together to form the Blank Park Zoo Foundation. Soon, through a bond referendum and fundraising, they had enough money to revive the zoo.
It closed in 1982 to undergo millions of dollars in renovations. Then, in 1986, the newly renovated zoo reopened with brand new exhibits for visitors of all ages. Finally, it got accredited in 1987, and as they say, the rest is history.1
Since its reopening, the zoo has continued to expand and grow. It now has a Conservation Committee to focus on environmental and animal protection. And part of the annual fundraisers and admission fees go toward conservation projects.
Visiting the Blank Park Zoo
Whether you just have a couple of hours – or an entire afternoon – the zoo is a great stop for some family fun!
You can see most of Blank Park Zoo at a leisurely pace in about two hours. But plan for a bit longer if you want to stop at the petting area or ride the train or carousel.
Hours & Admission
The zoo is open every day from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm (even in the winter!). It’s also open after regular hours for special events, like Night Eyes at the Zoo.
- Children ages 2 to 12: $10.
- Adults ages 13-64: $16
- Senior Citizens (over 65): $14
- Admission is free for members (see membership info here).
- For group rate and field trip information, see the zoo website.
*Part of the proceeds go to conservation and helping wild animals.
Zoo Directions & Parking
The Blank Park Zoo is at 7401 SW 9th St, Des Moines, IA 50315. There’s free parking on-site.
From Highway 5: Take Exit 96 toward SW 9th St. Go north on SW 9th St. for 1½ miles. Turn right onto Blank Park Drive.
From I-235: Take the Keo Way exit. Take Keo Way south and merge right onto 9th St. Continue south on SW 9th Street for 5 miles. Turn left onto Blank Park Drive.
You’ll see a range of wild animals, from Wallabies and Rhinos to Giraffes and Penguins! A few popular exhibits include the Australia Adventure, Jamma Kwa Africa, and the Great Cat Complex. Also, see penguins, flamingos, lions, tigers, gibbons, birds, lemurs, and more! But, with over 100 species of animals, there are too many to list here.
Don’t miss the free camel exhibit near the zoo’s entrance. There’s also a playground, picnic shelter, and observation deck for all to enjoy.
Other zoo activities
Add a little extra fun to your zoo trip! Take a ride on the train, a spin on the carousel, or feed animals (where allowed!). These activities cost a little extra but definitely add to the zoo experience.
If you’re hungry while you’re there, stop at the Safari Grille for a bite to eat. It’s open on the weekends only.
Other ways to check out the zoo
There are other ways to learn more about the zoo and the animals – some without visiting in person. Here are a few examples:
- Invite zoo animals to your Zoom meeting! “Wild” Video Conference Meetings will really liven up your next Zoom call!
- Check out the Blank Park Zoo YouTube channel to learn more about the zoo and wild animals.
- See the zoo’s at-home resources.
- Request a zoo program for your group.
- Sign up for Safari Camp – for kids ages 3 to 12.
Blank Park Zoo Events
The zoo has many special events and programs each year. Below are a few events to check out!
Wild Lights Festival
See over forty dazzling giant Asian lanterns shaped like animals, from dinosaurs and flamingos to dragons and crocodiles. Words can’t describe the awesomeness of the Wild Lights Festival!
The festival is inspired by Chinese New Year festivities and started in the Spring of 2021. The good news is that, so far, it’s an annual spring event from April through May. So, grab your tickets for an evening you won’t forget.
Night Eyes at the Zoo
Put on your costume and head to the zoo! Experience the Fun Zone, ride the train and carousel, and eat some candy. While you’re there, see performances, play games, and see the light displays. This non-scary Halloween event is an annual family-friendly zoo event!
Zoo Brew usually takes place every Wednesday evening throughout the summer. This one is for adults over 21, and it’s a local favorite for a date night! See the animals, listen to live music, and, of course, have a brew! See the zoo website for more.
Things to do nearby
Go golfing! The AH Blank Golf Course is next to the zoo. It’s a regular golf course and a fun mini-golf course with a cool waterfall feature!
Fort Des Moines Park is super close to the zoo! It’s a beautiful 135-acre county park with trails, picnic shelters, fishing, etc. So make a day of it – spend half the day at the zoo, and a half at the park!
1. Zoo History. Blank Park Zoo. https://www.blankparkzoo.com/about-us/history/