A majestic pair of male and female lions lie in the grass.

African Lion Safari | Cambridge 

Family-friendly zoos and butterfly conservatories to visit

A majestic pair of male and female lions lie in the grass.

African Lion Safari | Cambridge 

Experience unforgettable, up-close-and-personal sightings and interactions and learn about the advancements in preservation and conservation of precious animals, insecta and their habitats.

Zoos and animal parks

Luckily you don’t need to travel around the world to learn all about the fascinating creatures from far places like Australia’s outback, the jungles of Asia or South America and the deserts, savannahs and bushlands in Africa, as well as ones who call North America home.

Toronto Zoo

The Toronto Zoo is Canada’s largest animal attraction, housing over 5000 animals on close to 300 hectares. The park features seven distinct sections that represent key zoological habitats of Indo-Malaya, Africa, Americas, Tundra Trek, Australasia, Eurasia and the Canadian Domain.

In addition, you’ll find fun kid approved play areas and activities like:

  • Splash Island
  • Canopy tours and zip lines and ropes courses
  • A carousel
  • The Tundra air ride

Saving wildlife and wild spaces around the world is a big priority, so the park also offers great educational opportunities.

The zoo is open year-round, although some exhibits are seasonal. Plan your visit carefully in advance, as it’s impossible to see everything in just one day. There are several on-site restaurants and cafes, as well as free water stations to refill your water bottles.

In addition to driving, there are a variety of ways to get to the Toronto Zoo by public transport. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTD), Durham Transit, and GO all run frequent buses from various parts of the city to the zoo and back.

Location: 2000 Meadowvale Road, Toronto

Brantford Twin Valley Zoo

View over 80 species of animals, including birds, primates, big cats and even adorable goats in the petting area.

This family-run property covers about 10 hectares, and in addition to the animal exhibits, features picnic spots, a playground and an educational show area, all connected by a nature trail.

Open April through October, you’re welcome to bring a picnic lunch, while some refreshments and snacks are available at the gift shop.

Location: 84 Langford Church Road, Brantford

Indian River Reptile Zoo

This is the place for the budding paleontologist and herpetologist in your family! That’s the study of dinosaurs and reptiles for the rest of us. This attraction is one of the few accredited reptile zoos in the world, and with their fascinating collection of over 400 reptile friends, it’s no wonder.

See monitor lizards, turtles, tortoises, snakes and more, then cross the Croc-Walk over an enclosure teeming with alligators, caiman and crocodiles.

Another highlight is the drive-through Dinosaur Park which features over 60 life-sized animatronic dinosaurs and even more reptiles.

Dig through the “boneyard” to discover real dinosaur bones, play a round of mini golf around a model Stonehenge and explore the property’s hiking trails.

You’re welcome to bring your own lunch or purchase something from the food truck and be sure to wear proper walking shoes.

Open daily until the end of September, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Here’s information on how to get there.

Location: 2206 County Road 38, Indian River, 16 km east of Peterborough

Safari Niagara

From lions and leopards to flamingos and parrots, meet the menagerie of over 1000 birds, mammals and reptiles from around the world. Learn all about your favourite creatures and the park’s conservation efforts with Keeper Talks, Behind the Scenes Tours and other events and demonstrations.

There are loads of additional activities to keep kids entertained:

  • Board the Gater Express Tram
  • Cool off at the Splash Pad
  • Go paddle boating
  • Hike the Silent Forest at the park
  • Try out the ropes course
  • Race on the Pedal-Bike-Go-Karts track

Additionally, there are various restaurants and food locations onsite or you can pack your own picnic.

Open early June to mid-October, hours of operation change throughout the season.

Get travel directions to Safari Niagara from Niagara Falls, Toronto or Buffalo.

Location: 2821 Stevensville Road, Stevensville, 10 minutes drive from Niagara Falls

Riverview Park and Zoo

Home to almost 50 species, including squirrel monkeys, green-winged macaws, capybaras, tortoises, peacocks, wallabies, servals, crocodiles and a red-necked wallaby, Riverview Park and Zoo is located on the Otonabee River in Peterborough.

Follow the marked walking trails to explore the park on your own or book a guided tour.

Consider ‘adopting’ your favourite resident to help support the care and conservation of that species.

The park area features splash pads, frisbee golf and a miniature train tour. A snack bar is open during the summer or you can bring your own lunch, and water refilling stations are located throughout the park.

Riverview is open daily, year-round, from 8:30 a.m. to dusk and admission is free. Whether you are driving to the zoo or booking alternative transportation options, refer to these travel instructions for directions and parking.

Location: 1300 Water Street, Peterborough

Elmvale Jungle Zoo

Mighty tigers, graceful zebra and giraffes, playful lemurs and rare exotic birds are just a few of the amazing animals you’ll see at this family-orientated attraction just north of Barrie. Established in 1967, the park has grown from under one hectare to over 12 today.

The shady trails and pathways are stroller-friendly, while daily presentations, animal feeding and the goat petting zoo offer great opportunities for little ones to enjoy interactive experiences.

There’s a small snack bar and gift shop onsite. Hours of operation are weather dependent and change seasonally between mid-June and late September and are posted on their website.

Location: 14191 Simcoe County Road 27, Phelpston

Jungle Cat World Wildlife Park

Love big cats? At Jungle Cat World Wildlife Park, you can get up-close-and-personal with the big cats, plus you’ll have the chance to pet and feed baby lions, tigers, lemurs and other furry friends.

This family-friendly park hosts educational feeding tours, night safaris and other exciting activities seasonally, just be sure to wear proper footwear for all the walking. If you’re so inclined, stay a night at the park to listen to the lion's roar, wolves howl and peacocks squawk – it’s an adventure none of you will soon forget.

Open daily 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily, year-round, weather permitting in winter, tickets must be purchased online in advance of arrival. There’s a seasonal café onsite, or you can bring your own snacks to enjoy at the sheltered picnic areas.

Location: 3667 Concession Road 6, Orono

African Lion Safari

In true African safari fashion, most of the animals at this park roam free in seven large game reserves and you get to view them from a vehicle tour along the nine-kilometre safari trail.

Choose to safari in your own vehicle or on the guided Safari Tour Bus. Be sure to read their vehicle restriction guide, if you do choose to bring your own vehicle.

Over 1,000 beautiful birds and animals like rhinos, giraffes, zebras and of course, lions call this large animal park home. Other sightseeing attractions include:

  • The ‘African Queen’ boat cruise
  • The ‘Nature Boy’ scenic train tour
  • A kids’ water park and playground
  • A pets corner to get a little closer to some of the friendly residents, such as alpacas, parrots, rabbits and more.

Food facilities are located throughout the park selling snacks and treats. Open seasonally, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. weekdays (to 5:00 p.m. weekends), purchase timed tickets in advance online.

Location: 1386 Cooper Road, Cambridge/Hamilton

High Park Zoo

Established in 1893 for deer, the High Park Zoo has since been a popular destination in Toronto.

The zoo is easily accessible and has paddocks located in close proximity to each other, making it convenient for families to navigate and enjoy other park activities as well.

Fast forward over 125 years, and the Zoo's eleven paddocks now house a variety of animal species such as bison, deer, llamas, peacocks and highland cattle.

The zoo is open from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (spring, summer, fall) and 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. during winter.

Location: 1873 Bloor Street West, Toronto

Butterfly conservatories

Ontario is home to two conservatories that house thousands of butterflies, while protecting endangered ecological systems and providing a memorable experience to those that visit them.

Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory

Nestled on a sprawling 43 hectare, which encompasses the ecologically fragile Kossuth Bog, the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory is a remarkable 2322 square metre (25,000 square feet) facility.

The indoor tropical garden spans close to 1000 square metres (10,800 square feet) and houses a multitude of free-flying butterflies. Enjoy the captivating experience of witnessing butterflies emerge from their chrysalis and embark on their inaugural flight.

The conservatory also places strong emphasis on educating kids about ecosystems and butterflies through the following in-house programs:

  • Virtual School Class Field Trips: Students and teachers can visit the conservatory virtually and be guided by a nature interpreter.
  • School Group Programs: These are in-person class visits with a core focus on inspiring curiosity regarding butterflies, insects, and their importance in the natural world.

During summer (early July to early September), the conservatory is open seven days a week from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. For the rest of the year, the conservatory is open Tuesday to Sunday, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Location: 2500 Kossuth Road, Cambridge

Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory

The Butterfly Conservatory was built in 1996 and remains the largest facility of its kind in North America. The facility includes a 1021 square metre (11,000 square foot) conservatory which has welcomed millions of guests to explore and learn about the beauty and fascinating lifecycles of butterflies in a tropical environment.

Walking through the conservatory, guests come across feeding trays where they get an up-close look of butterfly gatherings, and a picturesque waterfall mimicking the atmosphere of a rain forest.

The Behind-the-Scenes tour is their latest attraction that takes visitors through the back-of-the house infrastructure and discover where the butterflies come from, how they are transported to the conservatory and how they are cared for by the staff from that point on.

The conservatory is open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday to Friday and until 6:00 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Location: 2565 Niagara Parkway, Niagara Falls

Whether you want to enjoy a night safari or spend a day surrounded by beautiful butterflies, in Ontario, you have plenty of options to choose from for a memorable family outing.

Last updated: August 22, 2023

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