Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, DC was founded by an act of Congress in 1889. Since 1890, the Zoo has been part of the Smithsonian Institution, which is the world’s largest museum and research complex, comprised of 18 museums and galleries, as well as the National Zoo.

The zoo is home to more than 2,000 animals, representing over 400 species. Comprised of two campuses, the main zoo is spread across 163 acres in urban Washington, DC. The second campus, located in Front Royal, Virginia, is the headquarters for the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI) and covers 3,200 acres. A member of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Zoo receives more than two million visitors annually. The Smithsonian National Zoo delivers its mission of leadership in animal care, science education and sustainability to each of these visitors.

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The Smithsonian National Zoo in DC is comprised of 6 main exhibits, with many smaller exhibits and animal enclosures also available to guests. These larger exhibits are centered on a main them and conservation message, which tell the story of the featured animals. This approach provides an educational and entertaining experience.


Spread over 15,000 square feet, including a 55,000 gallon aquarium tank, the Amazonian Exhibit brings one of the world’s largest rivers to life, as well as the embankments and area surrounding it. The exhibit features freshwater fish from the Amazon, some up to 10 feet long. More than just fish, this exhibit contains mammals, birds, reptiles and invertebrates. Examples include pirhanas, tiki monkeys, red-tailed catfish, poison arrow frogs and more. The exhibits brings to life not just fauna, but flora as well, with Amazonian trees such as the cocoa, kapok, and avocado. The largest and most complex exhibit in the Zoo, keepers and zoological staff circulate to answer questions and provide additional information. Guests are advised to visit this exhibit at least 30 minutes before closing.

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American Trail

The American Trail Exhibit highlights the wildlife of North America, many of whom face significant conservation threats. In all, eight animals in the North American Trail exhibit have been rescued from the wild. Conservation efforts from many organizations, including the National Zoo are helping these creatures and habitats to recover. While exploring the exhibit, meandering trails through carefully landscaped paths highlight the flora of various ecosystems, such as the Eastern Woodland and Coastal Upland. These trails take visitors through to the many enclosures of the American Trail. In Beaver Pool, visitors can watch beavers dive and play in pools and ponds, while marveling at beaver lodge, constructed almost entirely by the beavers themselves. The seal and sea lion enclosure feature enormous aquarium tanks, 150,000 gallon for the seals and 300,000 gallon for the sea lions, enabling guests to watch these great sea animals swim and interact with their keepers. The grey wolf exhibit recreates a typical North American Forest for the wolves who live there and the guests who visit. Next are the tide pools, which recreate areas found on North American coast line, and are teeming with sea stars, sea urchins and barnacles. Other North American animals in the Zoo include the bald eagle and the American Bison.

Asian Trail

Opened in 2006, the Asian Trail path winds around enclosures and streams, guiding visitors to views of the animals and informational graphics. The exhibit showcases seven species of Asian animals. These include red pandas, clouded leopards, sloth bears, fishing cats, small-clawed otters, Japanese giant salamanders and great pandas. One of the most popular exhibits in the Zoo, the new Giant Panda enclosure spans more than 12,000 square feet, and includes a new research center and panda cam. Visitors are recommended to check the National Zoo website for optimal viewing times prior to entry. Asian elephants can also be found at the Smithsonian National Zoo at the Elephant Trails Exhibit.

Cheetah Conservation Station

Showcasing the fastest animals on the planet, the Cheetah Conservation Station is a fun and engaging exhibit. Daily cheetah exercise programs allow visitors to see how fast these cats can go. As times change periodically, visitors are recommended to check the website or ask a keeper for the day’s schedule. There are more than just cheetahs at this exhibit, however, with many creatures from the East African Savannah to be seen. These include red river hogs, Ruppell’s griffon vultures, Grevy’s zebras, dama gazelles, a scimitar-horned oryx, and a sitatunga (an amphibious antelope).

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2.Kid’s Farm & More

Kid’s Farm & More
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Children will have the opportunity to learn a bit about where food comes from at the Kid’s Farm. The exhibit features a variety of animals, many common to the farm setting, which include cows, goats, hogs, donkeys and alpacas. Kids and families can interact with these animals up close, petting or evening feeding them. Guests can then head to the Pizza Garden where children learn how pizzas “grow” and see the process of turning plants into pizza.

Think Tank

The next exhibit is fairly distinctive among most attractions, even at zoos. The Think Tanks Exhibit gives visitors the unique opportunity to see behind the scenes of a research program. Here, researchers work with orangutans to explore the question: what is thinking? The program focuses on three main areas of cognition: tools, language and society. Visitors can watch researches test the orangutans’ thinking and/or memory capabilities. The enclosure connects to the Great Ape House exhibit, and is connected via a line, affectionately referred to as the O line, or Orangutan Transit System. This connecting cable allows the great apes to move back and forth between the enclosure and the research area. Think Tank educates visitors on many fascinating areas, including the scientific process, the brain itself and the understanding of animals as cognitive beings.

Other Animal Exhibit

Other animals not included in the main exhibits above consist of a variety of species. The aforementioned Great Ape House includes howler monkeys, gibbons, several gorillas and many more varieties of primates. For a closer look at cats, visitors will want to visit the Great Cats exhibit to view the Sumatran tigers and African Lions. The Reptile Discovery Center is home to dozens of species of reptiles and includes a Komodo dragon. To appreciate the little things in life, visitors will want to head to the Small Mammal House to see incredible creatures such as the prehensile-tailed porcupine, naked mole rats, the three-banded armadillos, or the golden-lion tamarin, just to mention a few. Alternatively, guests can explore the Prairie Animal exhibit to watch black-tailed prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets scurry through tunnels built right up on the glass.

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There are a variety of programs available at the Smithsonian National Zoo that enable visitors to become students and for students to take their education further. These include classes for everyone, from preschoolers to adults, which provide opportunities to learn more about the animals, or even become a curator for a day. Family programs and children’s workshops range from Animal Architects, which explores nature’s builders, to Feasts with the Beasts, which examines what animals eat. Classes and workshops are available for purchase through the Zoo’s website. Camps are also available for those looking for a truly immersive experience. Field trips, symposiums and lectures also provide additional education opportunities for students of all ages.

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For those looking for a more extraordinary experience at the Smithsonian National Zoo, several different overnight adventures are available. The Snore and Roar allows guests to set up camp near lion hill, and go to sleep hearing the roars of lions mixed with the sleeping snores of campers and includes a keeper led tour of the exhibit. The Scout Snooze experience includes evening and breakfast snacks. This overnight stay allows visitors to select where to set up camp from the following exhibits: Amazonia, Bird House, Small Mammal House, or Reptile Discovery Center. Scout Snooze also includes a guided zoo tour, a keeper led exhibit tour and various activities.


The conservation efforts at the National Zoo are led primarily through the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI). Launched in 2010, the SCBI is part of a global effort to conserve species and train future conservationists. Collaborating with universities, zoos, and government agencies worldwide, the Institute is leading conservation and sustainability nationally and internationally. Projects take place in regions all over the globe, from Central Africa to the Peruvian Amazon.

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4.Plan Your Visit

Plan Your Visit
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In addition to the abundance of exhibits available year round, the Zoo also hosts special events throughout the year, as well as daily shows and activities. As these events and shows change regularly, visitors are recommended to check the National Zoo website for daily schedules of activities. The National Zoo is located in the heart of Northwest Washington, DC, with easy access from freeways, the Metro or by bike. Parking is free and can be reserved ahead of time. Visitors are also encouraged to download the Smithsonian’s National Zoo App to enjoy the Zoo from anywhere. Available from the App Store and Google Play, the app includes an animal index with facts and figures, several live animal cams, an interactive zoo map, self-guided tours, animal demonstration schedules and children’s activities.

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3001 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008, Phone: 202-633-4888

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The National Zoo in Washington, DC

  • Exhibits, Photo: Courtesy of Jay -
  • Kid’s Farm & More, Photo: Courtesy of Jay -
  • Programs, Photo: Courtesy of Jay -
  • Plan Your Visit, Photo: Courtesy of Jay -
  • Cover Photo: Courtesy of swgwecp -