The Pittsburgh Zoo in January = Awesome

I've lived in Pittsburgh for a long time, and I never had the idea to go to the zoo in the winter.  I didn't even know if they were open year round, and besides, the zoo just seems like a summer sort of thing.

But now we have an annual membership to the zoo, and I always insist on getting my moneys worth on things like that.  We also have a toddler who frequently has pent up energy to burn off, and we always hope that running around at the zoo for a few hours will wear him out (it usually doesn't.)

So, with warnings of wind chills as low as negative 40 degrees coming up in the next two days, we decided to get some outdoor time while we still could.  I had no idea what to expect from a January 5th visit to the zoo, but I return from the experience to report that it is definitely worth it (although not without it's share of cons.)

So, here are some of the pros and cons:

PRO: Almost no one there
If you hate crowds like we do, you'll love the zoo in the winter. There were no more than 50 cars in the entire parking lot - we literally felt like we parked at the front door and waltzed right in.

CON: They're only so so on the snow clearing
The cleared sections of their parking lots, but not the section we parked in.  They also cleared the main paths within the zoo, but not all of them, so if you want to go "off the beaten path" that will mean trekking through some snow.

PRO: Easy to see the animals
Since there wasn't a crowd, we could walk up to any of the animal exhibits and not worry about EH not being able to see.  And we didn't have to worry about him getting pushed by bigger kids, or knocked over by adults who weren't paying attention.  The lions, tigers, snow leopard, red panda, sea lions, polar bear, monkeys, meerkats, snakes, and black bear were among some of the highlights.

CON: Many exhibits closed
Except for the cats mentioned above, none of the African safari animals were out.  You could see the elephants indoors, but the smell was overpowering, and EH refused to go in.  The giraffes, rhinos, ostrich, and everything else related to the safari area were not out, and were not on display indoors.  This was disappointing because EH really wanted to see the giraffe.  The deer park was also closed, and since that's the usually path to some of the other animals - like the kangaroos - we weren't able to see any of those.  The sea otters exhibit and most everything in the outdoor "waters edge" area was empty.

PRO: Fresh, crisp air
And no sweat pouring off of my skin, like it is in the summer!  It was actually really nice to be comfortable wearing a winter hat and gloves - I also get too hot when we're there in the summer!  Also there are plenty of indoor spaces (elephant house, monkey house, aquarium, etc) so if you get cold you can easily go inside and still be entertained!

CON: Most concessions not open
This actually didn't bother us since we never eat there and never buy anything in the shops, but if you enjoy this sort of convenience, nearly everything was closed.

And finally, the biggest PRO of our January trip!!!!

Penguins on Parade!
The penguins were out and about in the snow when we arrived, and it was so neat to watch them playing around.  Once kept going down on his stomach like he wanted to try to slide around.  Most just waddled around but they were all really adorable. EH was weirdly not impressed, but I was loving it - the penguins are so adorable!

So, in conclusion - even considering all of the cons listed above - we highly recommend visiting the zoo during the winter.  The entrance fee is discounted (probably because there are fewer animals out) if you don't have a membership and will be paying cash.  The animals that are out are easy to see and very entertaining.  There's no pushing or crowds, and in some sections you feel like you have the entire zoo to yourself.  It was in the mid-30s when we were there and it seemed like the perfect temperature (although DH was cold in only his sweatshirt, EH and I both felt great in our winter coats.)  The winter animals, like the penguins and the polar bear, are much more active and it's neat to see them in a climate that more resembles their natural habitat, compared to the summer when you can tell that poor polar bear is sweltering in the heat. 

We will definitely visit the zoo again this winter (although it will NOT be in the next two days, when these freezing temperatures are predicted.)  Stay warm everyone!


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