Wildlife encounters at the impressive Phoenix Zoo


Do you remember the first time you visited the zoo?

It’s been a long time since we’ve visited a zoo. In fact, this trip to the Phoenix Zoo was the first zoo experience we’ve had together, which says a lot about our changing travel style.

When we explained to Braydon that he was going to see a real tiger and lion that morning, the look on his face was priceless. It was a combination of excitement, confusion and fear. With no context or frame of reference, his little brain had trouble understanding the words he was hearing.

“Yea, I want to see Daniel Tiger”, said Braydon, with his choppy toddler speak.

He was referring to a character in one of his favourite cartoons. He didn’t quite grasp what we were saying, but he was excited about the thought of seeing real animals.

Our Phoenix Zoo experience

The Phoenix Zoo is located a few miles north of Tempe in Papago Park. As we approached the zoo entrance, we couldn’t help but notice the ruggedly beautiful landscapes that surrounded us. Even though the zoo is located within the city limits, we felt like we were deep in the secluded Arizona desert.

The hot, dry Arizona climate is the perfect environment for a zoo, especially for the African wildlife. On that note, the Africa Trail was our favourite section of the zoo. It has virtually every animal represented, including lions, tiger, cheetah, rhino and giraffes.

We visited on a Sunday, which, we later learned, is the busiest time to visit. We arrived early to try to avoid the afternoon sun and crowds, but we couldn’t hide from either. There’s very little shade in the park and it can get very hot, even in February.

Our first stop was to the gift shop to purchase Braydon a new hat.

Our little blond hair, blue-eyed child has fair skin, so we always play it safe with the sun. He’s never had a sunburn and we want to keep it that way for as long as we can.

As we contemplated where to go first, we heard Braydon yell “WOW”.

He was pointing to a galloping giraffe in the distance.  He yelled “Giraffe! Daddy! Giraffe!”

It was an unusual sight. When we think of giraffes in captivity, we rarely envision them running. This particular giraffe was quite young and in a playful mood.

Witnessing the joy on Braydon’s little face was a moment neither of us will forget.

Visitors are also able to feed the giraffes for an additional fee. We attempted to bring Braydon closer to the giraffes to feed them, but he wasn’t having any of it. I can only imagine how big a giraffe must look through the eyes of a toddler.

Even though Braydon is good at walking by himself, the park is still far too big for a toddler, so it’s wise to bring a stroller. The park is very stroller friendly and, if needed, you can rent strollers at the entrance.

Phoenix Zoo Phino

We started with the Arizona Trail and looped around the African Savannah before visiting the Tropics. The highlights were the giraffes, tiger, rhino, elephant and monkeys.

Unfortunately, the cheetah and lions were napping, so we didn’t really get a chance to see them.

We spent about 3 hours at the park, which was enough time to see most sections and be back at the hotel in time for his afternoon nap. We could have easily spent more time there and had lunch at the park, but for a toddler and infant, half a day was sufficient.

Phoenix Zoo Tiger

Phoenix Zoo Monkey

Things to know if you go:

  • The cost is $20 per adult and $10 for children 3 and older
  • The park is large. It’s wise to rent or bring a stroller.
  • Everything costs extra, including the tram, feeding the giraffes and stingrays, and the carousel.
  • There’s limited shade, so bring a hat, sunscreen and water.
  • If you take a taxi, get a phone number ahead of time so you can arrange a pickup. There is no taxi stand at the zoo.
  • If you take a taxi and you need to use your car seat, you can check the car seat for free at the stroller rentals. (Here are more tips for traveling with a car seat)
  • It’s best to visit in the morning or later in the afternoon because many of the animals rest mid-day when it’s the hottest. So, if you want to see the big cats, it’s best to come early.
  • If your itinerary permits, it’s best to visit during the week to avoid the crowds, it gets really busy on a Saturday and/or Sunday.
  • If you’re looking for accommodations close to the Phoenix Zoo, consider the Tempe Mission Palms located a few miles south of the zoo in Tempe (this is where we stayed and we would recommend it to family and friends).

When was the last time you visited the zoo? What was your highlight?

Share your feedback in the comments section below, we’d love to read about it!

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About Traveling Canucks

Cam and Nicole Wears are newbie parents living in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. A passion for travel and outdoor adventure has taken them to over 70 countries on 6 continents in the past 10 years. Learn more about their story here. Follow them on Instagram and subscribe to their monthly newsletter.