A short drive from downtown Des Moines, Blank Park Zoo offers a variety of animal exhibits, education and experiences. The facility hosts nearly 1,500 animals, representing more than 100 species.

The mission of the organization is to inspire appreciation of the natural world through conservation, education and recreation, which it has been accomplishing for more than half a century. Spread over 49 acres, with 22 of them devoted to animal enclosures, there is much to see and do at the Blank Park Zoo.

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The Blank Park Zoo opened its doors in May of 1966, to significant community support and attendance. Originally designed around a nursery-rhyme theme, its features included a castle, barnyard and train. After years of service and community enjoyment, the Zoo was renovated in the mid-1980s, reopening in 1986. The Zoo moved beyond its children’s zoo past to receive its accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 1987. The Zoo continued to grow and expand through the 1990s, acquiring an additional 26 acres of land and introducing visiting animal celebrities, summer camps and nighttime zoo experiences.

The turn of the millennia saw an updated master plan for the zoo and the opening of the special events center. Momentum and expansion continued to build, with new events such as the Latino Festival and Taste of Detroit bringing new interest and attendance. With new animal additions like bald eagles joining the exhibits, and others, like the Chilean flamingo, reproducing for the first time, the Zoo family continues to grow. A major expansion in 2013 and the construction of the Medicine Animal Health Center two years later, builds on the Zoo’s history of growth and development, providing visitors with a new experience nearly every visit.

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The Blank Park Zoo showcases animals of every kind, inviting visitors to see them flutter and fly or slip, slide and swim. The Jamaa Kwa Africa exhibit, which opened in May 2013, includes ostriches, spurred tortoises, eastern black rhinos and an African aviary. The Hub Harbor seal and sea lion pool gives visitors an underwater view of these slick creatures. The penguin exhibit is very popular, and offers events to enhance the experience. Guests can feed parakeets at Budgie Bogin or view fantastic felines at the Great Cats Exhibit. Other animal enclosures include zebras, lemurs, and the petting zoo. While at the park, visitors can also purchase feed bundles. These packages give animal enthusiasts the opportunity to feed parakeets, ostriches and giraffes right from their hands, creating an interactive animal experience.

One of the most innovative and intriguing exhibits at the park is the Discovery Center. This immersive exhibit brings visitors right into the jungle, creating a scavenger hunt to identify the many birds soaring, hopping and chirping throughout the enclosure. The Discovery Center is not just for the birds; however, other animals include turtles, fruit bats, red pandas and more. It also includes a 15,000 gallon saltwater aquarium, showcasing brightly colored fish and sea creatures. The enclosure creates a safari for adventurers, with winding paths, tumbling waterfalls and an Amazonian type rainforest.


In addition to the abundant animal exhibitions, the Blank Park Zoo also offers a variety of events to enrich visitors’ experience. Such happenings can include Zoo Brew, with live music, themes and drinks, or Adventure Days Festival, with arts, crafts, live shows and keeper talks. The Zoo’s Night Eyes events in the fall feature whimsical characters, sweet treats and much more. Animal Days take place throughout the year and are dedicated to celebration and education around various endangered species. The annual fundraising gala, Zoobilation, is an enchanted evening to engage with education and conservation while enjoying cocktails, food, and entertainment. In addition to these signature events, visitors can make any day a special day, by taking advantage of the rides available for purchase. These include not only the signature carousel and train, but camel rides as well.


Education is a key attraction at the Blank Park Zoo, with a wide varied of classes, camps and clubs to engage the mind. Early Education Classes for children begin cultivating a love of animals in children as young as a year old. Safari Camps provide week long, all day fun and interaction for kids ranging from preschool to grade seven. These engrossing camps can spur an interest or hobby, as well as educate kids about future zoological career options. For those wanting to get the whole family in on the fun, Family Nature Club does just that, connecting families to the outdoors. Occurring both at the Zoo, as well as in off-site locations, these adventures encourage kids to play in nature, building tree houses, catching frogs, and engaging in sensory play. The Blank Park Zoo also connects with local schools and libraries, providing animal education to the wider community. These include Home School classes, animal library visits, and school field trip organization. The learning is not only for kids, with senior programs that target a more mature audience and bring animals out to senior facilities in the nearby area.


As an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Blank Park Zoo is actively involved in conservation. Their work focuses on seven specific endangered species: Red Pandas, Snow Leopards, Amur Tigers, Japanese Macaque, Ring-Tailed Lemurs, Golden Headed Tamarin and the Panamanian Golden Frog. These specialized plans work to manage the breeding of a species to promote a self-sustaining population of the animal. The Zoo also participates in AZA’s Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) program, which works to bring specific species back from the edge of extinction. The animals targeted by the Blank Park Zoo include cheetahs, sharks, vaquitas, gorillas, African penguins, Asian elephants, black rhinoceroses, whooping cranes and western pond turtles. If all that were not enough, the Zoo is also involved in The Chimpanzee Sanctuary & Wildlife Conservation Trust, supporting this organization that promotes the appreciation and conservation of chimpanzees and their habitats. Other conservation programs include the Zoo’s Plant. Grow. Fly program, targeted at raising awareness for pollinators like bees and butterflies through promoting the creation of butterfly gardens. Other local outreach and conservation efforts include prairie seed harvesting, creek and watershed cleanup, and many other projects.

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3.Plan Your Visit

Plan Your Visit  

The Blank Park Zoo is located just five miles from downtown Des Moines, and is easily accessible from freeways. As hours change seasonally, visitors are advised to review the Zoo’s website for more information. Additionally, the Zoo’s website also includes information on any exhibit closures, as well as recommendations for visitor safety and etiquette. For a truly memorable experience, the Zoo is also available for birthdays, which must be booked in advance. The Blank Park Zoo is an engaging and enjoyable experience any time of year, but for those wanting even more, be sure check the website for information on the many creative and fun events.

Back to: Best Things to Do in Des Moines, Iowa

7401 SW 9th Street, Des Moines, IA 50315, Phone: 515-285-4722

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Things to Do in Des Moines: Blank Park Zoo

  • History, Photo: Courtesy of ramoncarretero - Fotolia.com
  • Animals, Photo: Courtesy of EcoView - Fotolia.com
  • Plan Your Visit
  • Cover Photo: Courtesy of Blank Park Zoo