If you’re planning a family vacation to the Knoxville or Pigeon Forge area in eastern Tennessee, you may be looking for activities to do with kids.
East Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains are home to many kid friendly tourist attractions, including water parks, Dollywood Theme Park, an aquarium, and so much more!
One of the most fun activities for kids in east Tennessee sits right in the heart of Knoxville.
Does Knoxville have a zoo?
The short answer is yes! Much to the delight of families visiting the area, the city of Knoxville does have a zoo.
After scoping out the official Zoo Knoxville website, you will see that it’s actually fairly big in size AND that it is home to lots of really cool animals!
In this post, I will discuss the animals you can find at Zoo Knoxville along with other fun activities available.
Directions to Zoo Knoxville
Zoo Knoxville is conveniently located just off Interstate 40 northeast of downtown. The entrance to the zoo is clearly marked with a gigantic sign so you can’t miss it!
Prior to my visit, I read that Zoo Knoxville offers parking for $5 in an upper lot or in a lower area. We tried to find a spot in the upper lot first, as this is closer to the zoo’s entrance. The lot was completely full at around 10:30 in the morning, so we drove down to the lower level.
(It’s worth noting that the upper lot did have plenty of available parking spots at around 1:00 when we left the zoo.)
We were able to find plenty of parking spots available in the lower lot. You will also see stairs that take you from the lower lot to the upper area where the entrance to Zoo Knoxville is located. If you don’t want to make the hike to the entrance, you can take the tram that picks up at the lower level and takes you to the front gates.
Since I had a stroller with my toddler inside, I decided to just walk along the sidewalk from the lower level to the upper parking lot. This was roughly a ten minute walk and a lot of it was uphill, but it’s completely doable if you can’t take the stairs.
How far is the Knoxville Zoo from Pigeon Forge?
Zoo Knoxville is just under an hour from Pigeon Forge, TN and the Smoky Mountains. Since the zoo is located just off the interstate, it may actually sit on your way to the Pigeon Forge area.
We determined that Zoo Knoxville is a great place to stop on the way to a Gatlinburg or Dollywood vacation.
Tickets for Knoxville Zoo
You can purchase your tickets to Zoo Knoxville on the official website or at the gate when you arrive.
Discounts for Knoxville Zoo
If you are looking for coupons, promo codes, or discounts for Zoo Knoxville, you can check their website to see if they are offering one of their deal days during the dates of your visit. The Knoxville Zoo sometimes runs promotions like $1 Admission Days, Kroger Discount Days, Senior Day, etc.
One of the best ways to score a deal at Zoo Knoxville is through annual passes. If you plan to visit the zoo multiple times a year, the season passes will save you a bunch of money.
In addition, if you have a membership at a partnering zoo, you can receive BIG discounts between 50-100% off your ticket. You can see the list of partnering zoos here.
Things to Do
Since Zoo Knoxville is a fairly large zoo, I recommend taking a screen shot of the map to guide you through your day. Also, if your are planning to visit with a toddler, you may be interested in the rental strollers available at the entrance. My three year old got really tired of walking around in the hot summer sun, so the stroller was definitely needed.
Some of the fun activities you will find while strolling around at the zoo include:
The zoo in Knoxville offers lots of different animals for viewing (and some even for interacting). Some of our favorites include:
- black bears
- red pandas
…plus many more!
You will find multiple dining areas inside Zoo Knoxville, including sit down restaurants and quick service carts. Food options range from snacks to hotdogs to full entrees. You can also cool off with ice cream or Dip n Dots.
The photos above are just a couple of examples of places to eat around the zoo.
Can you bring food into the Knoxville Zoo?
If you prefer to pack a picnic lunch or bring snacks from home, Zoo Knoxville allows you to bring in food and beverages. You can easily find outdoor dining spots to grab a seat and enjoy your pre-packed meal. (Note that alcoholic beverages are not permitted to bring into the zoo.)
Kids love visiting Zoo Knoxville for its additional activities as well! While touring the zoo, you will find some fun spots like:
- The Clayton Safari Splash Pad
- Zoo Choo Train
- Zipline Canopy Adventures
- petting zoo
The above activities (with the exception of the splash pad) are available for an additional fee and are NOT included in the price of your zoo admission ticket. The Clayton Safari Splash Pad is free for guests to enjoy.
Zoo Knoxville offers several fun events for families throughout the year. You will want to check the official website to confirm dates and times, but currently the special events on schedule include:
Craft Bear Nights
Craft Bear Nights take place on most Thursday evenings in June from 5:00-8:00. During this event, visitors can try out local beers and food options.
Boo at the Zoo
Taking place from 5:30-8:00 on select evenings in October, Boo at the Zoo is a fun event for kids to dress up and trick-or-treat. The decorations, activities, and entertainment aren’t scary, so they are perfect for even the smallest of kids.
The Zoo Lights event at Zoo Knoxville is a great way to get into the holiday spirit. This event typically runs from the end of November through early January. (Note that it is closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day.) During Zoo Lights, visitors can enjoy colorful decorations along with festive food and drinks.
Final Review of Zoo Knoxville
Overall, Zoo Knoxville is a great place to spend time with toddlers and kids in the Knoxville area.
Some common questions I’m asked about visiting the zoo in Knoxville include:
How long does it take to walk through?
Since it offers so many animals along with extra activities for little ones, Zoo Knoxville is a place you will want to spend at least two hours. If you plan to eat at the zoo and partake in most of the additional activities (like the splash pad), you will want to add another hour onto your visit.
Which zoo is better: Zoo Knoxville or the Chattanooga Zoo?
As mentioned above, we are members of the Chattanooga Zoo and really enjoy spending time there multiple times a year.
Zoo Knoxville and the Chattanooga Zoo are very different in that the zoo in Chattanooga is MUCH smaller. Zoo Knoxville offers way more animals and activities.
However, the Chattanooga zoo has its pros as well. These include being:
- small and easy to tour.
- less crowded.
- less time consuming.
If you are interested in visiting the Chattanooga Zoo, you may like this post where I review and give tips for your visit.
In addition, you may be interested in the post below if you are planning a stop in east Tennessee and looking for kid friendly things to do.
Do you have any tips for visiting Zoo Knoxville (or any zoo) with a toddler?
Comment below to share them with us!
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