“Don’t worry, they’re mostly plant eaters.” Apparently the prehistoric reptiles at Dinosaur Discovery are realistic enough that my daughter felt compelled to reassure her little brother. Dino Don (the company behind the creatures in “Jurassic Park”) has brought cinematic-level dinos to the Woodland Park Zoo’s newest exhibit.
After some initial unease, my lifetime zoo fans loved their recent safari (especially because no one became dino bait for the carnivorous specimens). Proceeds from this latest addition support the zoo’s animal care during a tough year for nonprofit organizations, so it also felt good to help feed the real life animals.
Every safari needs advance preparation
Most of the roughly 900 animals the zoo cares for are safely viewed from afar, or behind glass windows. Located just behind a rope fence along the Habitat Discovery Loop, these animatronic dinosaurs get up close and personal. The setup enhances the feeling of immersion in a prehistoric world, but I read before our visit that some younger visitors felt a bit afraid of the giant replicas.
I did my best to prepare for the exhibit — we looked at pictures and videos on the zoo’s website and social media accounts, talked about what the dinosaurs might sound like and looked for examples of equally tall things in our neighborhood (like telephone poles and evergreen trees).
Upon arrival, my daughter (age 5) felt excited to point out the long neck of the 35-foot-tall brachiosaurus and the sharp teeth of the allosaurus. However, despite our advance homework, my son (age 2) held my hand very tightly for the first half of our visit and darted away when the tyrannosaurus rex opened its sharp-toothed jaws. He told me later that the T-rex was his favorite dino, but other families with young children may want to stick closer than usual to their tots.
Plenty to see, with time to visit the rest of the zoo
As we waited in line for our timed zoo entry, I overheard lots of eager chatter about visiting the dinosaurs. With all that excitement, I wondered if the exhibit would feel crowded or rushed, but the zoo did a great job of spacing folks out so everyone could enjoy their visit. Dinosaur footprints provide extra visual reminders to socially distance.
More than 20 dinosaurs are spaced out along the forested path, making it feel like you’re on the world’s best hike (one that is also wheelchair- and stroller-friendly). My pre-reading daughter stayed a few steps ahead of us so she could guess whether each upcoming dino was a carnivore or herbivore based on its teeth, then confirming her hypothesis with logos on the signs below each one.
After initially asking me to hold him close, my son eventually warmed up to the dinosaurs, especially the ones with cute babies (like the Maiasaura, or “Good Mother Reptile,” and Kosmoceraptops, a smaller relative of the Triceratops). The path is one-way, meaning we couldn’t return to our favorite dinosaurs. I’ll make sure to allow more time with the friendliest ones on our next visit.
Our stroll through prehistory took about 30 minutes before we exited close to the newly reopened Family Farm habitat. In case you need a second look at your favorite dinosaur, the walk through the farm winds past the walls of Dinosaur Discovery. You can peek at tall tails and necks and listen to dino roars from a distance. No zoo trip is complete for our family without stopping by the rhinos and tigers, so my daughter was pleased we still had enough time before naps to visit our old friends.
This special exhibit was thoroughly worth the extra fee at the entrance ($5 per person ages 3 and up, or $4 for members). Luckily for us, the dinosaurs are sticking around until Sept. 6, so we’ll get to go back before they become extinct!
Woodland Park Zoo dinosaur exhibit: details
Hours: Enjoy extra time with the dinosaurs since the zoo started summer hours on May 1 (9:30 a.m.-6 p.m. daily).
Tickets: $5 for adults, $4 for members, and children under 3 get in for free. Purchase tickets at the exhibit and stay as long as you want — entry is not timed. You will still need to purchase zoo admission for entry, and reservations for this are recommended.
Safety: Masks are required for visitors over age 5 and recommended for ages 3-5, regardless of vaccination status. Social distancing is facilitated with dino footprint stickers throughout the exhibit. Touching the dinosaurs is not permitted.
This story was originally published on May 5, 2021.