Return to the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison – What An Amazing Place!


Henry Vilas Zoo Sign

It was time to come back to the Henry Vilas Zoo, and this time explore the ENTIRE zoo. My previous visit was on October 4, 2011 and I didn’t go through the entire zoo on that day. Also, Al was with me this time, he didn’t remember the last time he came here.

If you plan on coming, remember that its free to visit, donations are accepted though and there are donation boxes scattered throughout the zoo. Most days the zoo is open 9:30 to 5, more specifics on hours here.  Inside exhibits open at 10:00. Wear comfortable shoes, it took almost four hours to see the entire zoo in one visit. It helps to have a map with you too to check off each exhibit as you see it. Lets begin our tour!

We began at the main entrance where we find the gift shop and ice cream shop. Also two concrete lions that the kids love to take their picture with.

Vilas Zoo Gift Shop and Ice Ceam Shop


Concrete Lions at Henry Vilas Zoo

Now for a real lion, today he was sunning himself in full view, looking regal.

Lion at Vilas Zoo in Madison

 Next to the lion is the Primate House, the outdoor exhibits are also viewable from the inside.

Discovering Primates Building at Vilas

 Inside Primate House at Vilas

 After the Primate house we head along the path east and see the Anna Vilas Hall building, where many events take place.

Anna Vilas Hall at Vilas Zoo

 From the balcony of Anne Vilas Hall you could see the penguin’s home. They were not out  that morning so here they are from my 2011 visit.

Penguin Parlor at Vilas 10-4-11

Penguins at Vilas ZooPenguin Parlor plaque at Vilas


Blackfoot Penguin facts at Vilas Zoo


Our next stop was the Tropical Rain Forest Aviary, with bird, reptiles and even rodents that live in the rain forest.

Rainforest Aviary at VilasTropical Rain Forest Aviary plaque at Vilas

Inside Tropical Aviary at Vilas

McCaw at Vilas

The Capybara is here too, the largest rodent.

Capabara at Rain Forest Aviary at Vilas


Now for the new exhibit we all have been waiting for, the new Arctic Passage!

Arctic Passage Exhibit Building at Vilas

In 2011 they were fundraising, now its a reality it just opened May 23, 2015. Here is an overview of the new mega-exhibit.

Many kids were there, and they were really enjoying it. We also had lunch at the new Glacier Grill inside, which offers a view of the Polar Bears while you eat! Eating here also supports the zoo.

Glacier Grill view at Vilas

The Sea Lions were really aping the crowd, and knew how to get claps and cheers.

There are many great photo-ops to take with your kids too. Not to mention numerous animal cut-outs the can put their faces in.

Vilas Zoo kid photo ops

Orangutan Cut-out for pictures at Vilas

This is really fun, outside of the Arctic Passage exhibit is an actual Tundra Buggy, used to transport scientists across the arctic and Antarctic icy terrain. You can go inside and kids can pretend to drive it, inside it sounds like its rolling along.

Tundra Buggy exhibit at Vilas

It’s not just for scientists anymore! In Churchill, Canada you can also have a buggy tour. Cool!

Across from the Arctic Passage exhibit is the North American Prairie exhibit. In it are Prairie Dogs, Badgers and Bison.

George M. Fiat North American Prairie exhibit at Vilas

Animals at North American Prairie exhibit at Vilas

The viewing platform’s scenery has changed since 2011. on the left is 2011, on the right is 2015. Wow, what a change!

View from Prairie Platform at Vilas 2011 and 2015

Next to here is the new Jack Lussier Conservation Pavilion, also just a sign on my visit in 2011. A docent was teaching a large group of children here.

jack Lussier Conservation Pavilion at Vilas

Next is the Herpetarium, or reptile house. Outside are two tortoises and an alligator. I probably saw those same tortoises when I was a kid, or even my Mom since they live over 100 in many cases.


Discovery Center and Herpetarium  at Vilas

Alligator and Tortises at Vilas


Inside Herpetarium at Vilas

And now for the best Children’s Zoo I can remember ever seeing.

Childrens Zoo entrance at Vilas

It wasn’t this big when I was a kid.  It has a petting zoo, train ride and carousel for both kids and adults to enjoy. It’s a $1.50 to ride them each. Lets watch them in action! The carousel is customized for Madison, see the panels above with the Capitol and Bascom Hill.

Vilas Zoo Carousel

Train ride at Vilas

The animals at the petting zoo area were so funny and all vying for attention.

Petting Zoo at Vilas

There also is a large play structure for the kids here. This is a zoo in itself.

Zoo play structure

Pink Flamingos are also in this part of the zoo.

Pink Flamingos at Vilas


Also here is the Red Panda, not for petting.

Red Panda at Vilas

The last area of the zoo to see is at the east-central area, with the giraffes, hippo, tapir, plus the tiger (not seen) and lion.

GiraffesHippo and Tapir at Vilas

Lots of tables under pavilions (new) near the central building that has been there since my childhood. Access to the Children’s Zoo used to be through the central area of this building.

Vilas Zoo central area

What a great time both of us had, you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy this zoo.  Thanks also Vilas Family for bestowing this gift to Madison, your legacy begins its 2nd century!

Plaque in Vilas Zoo


3 thoughts on “Return to the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison – What An Amazing Place!

  1. Pingback: Madison’s Greenbush-Vilas Neighborhood | Adventures in Travel

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