Animal lovers and zoo enthusiasts all over the globe likely have Omaha, Nebraska, on their radar since Omaha is home to one of the premier zoos in the country. Right in the middle of the USA, the Omaha Zoo, also known as the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, is on the short list as one of the best zoos in the world.
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium is an incredible, award-winning paradise for wildlife, as well as being a leader in conservation and reproductive sciences. More than 2 million visitors a year come through the gates of the Omaha Zoo to visit their favorite animals in their native habitats, ride the train or skyfari through the massive grounds, catch a movie, participate in an overnight adventure, and more. The Omaha Zoo offers thoughtful, interactive ways for people of all ages to engage with the animals. With programs like Sleepover Camps, Late Nights at the Zoo, Halloween’s Ghouls & Glow, and more, there are many ways to spend your time at the Omaha Zoo.
One word of warning: Get ready to walk. The Omaha Zoo is huge — more than 130 acres! If walking a lot isn’t your thing, you can hop on one of the trams to get from one side of the zoo to the other. You can also check out the Skyfari and train to get a lift around the zoo grounds.
Here are nine experiences at the Omaha Zoo that you won’t want to miss.
1. Desert Dome
You’ll see the gigantic Desert Dome from the road as you enter the zoo. The Desert Dome is the world’s largest indoor desert and showcases plants and animals from three different continents: Africa, Australia, and the United States. Imagine coming up with the idea of 80,000+ square feet inside a dome — not to mention actually constructing it! The Desert Dome replicates the conditions of three different parts of the world: the Sonoran Desert of the U.S., the Namib Desert of Africa, and the Red Centre of Australia. You’ll see a wide variety of plants and animals from all three continents. And you’ll see a 55-foot-tall mountain, a 35-foot-tall sand dune, and a bunch of rattlesnakes and other reptiles.
2. Lozier Theater
If you love IMAX movies like I do, you’ll definitely want to check out what’s playing on the big screen while you’re at Henry Doorly. The screen at the Lozier Theater is giant — 40 feet by 75 feet — so you’ll feel like you’re part of the action. I’ve seen many movies there and can honestly say I’ve never been disappointed. The movies shown are usually nature themed and are really well done. You’ll typically have a choice between two different movies. To give you an idea of what plays there, right now there’s a movie about sea lions and a movie about sea turtles.
There is a separate charge for the IMAX theater, but it’s worth it in my opinion. When you’re at the ticket counter, tell them you want a combo zoo/IMAX ticket, and you’ll pay one price for both. I’d recommend deciding what movie you want to see and when as soon as you enter the zoo, because the movies do sell out.
3. Glacier Bay Landing
Check out the Alaskan-inspired Glacier Bay area of the zoo. Here you can take a break from walking and grab some food. You’ll like the shade provided by the umbrellas at the tables in the Glacier courtyard. There are plenty of snacks available, including crab cake sliders and sweet treats. If you want to have lunch inside, head over to the Treetops restaurant, a casual spot.
4. Owen Sea Lion Shores
The sea lion exhibit, with its enormous 275,000-gallon pool, is one of the latest additions to the zoo. It even has a sandy beach where the sea lion pups can hang out until their parents teach them to swim. I really like the fact that there’s a viewing area where you can see the sea lions swimming around underwater and sunning themselves on the beach. What’s neat about the exhibit is that it replicates the animals’ natural habitat. The pool even has a current to simulate the ocean the sea lions are used to.
5. Scott Aquarium
This is my favorite area of the zoo. The Scott Aquarium is huge and includes all types of exotic fish and other water-loving species. The penguin exhibit is set up so that you can get really close to the glass. Visitors can see the penguins both inside and outside of the water, so you get a great view of the tuxedo-clad birds gliding around. They are so fun to watch! Another cool feature of the aquarium is the shark tunnel, where you’ll feel surrounded as sharks swim above and around you.
We spend a lot of time in the aquarium when we go to the zoo. When it’s hot outside, the air conditioning feels so good. And when it’s super cold, it’s nice to be able to hang out at the Omaha Zoo and stay warm inside.
6. Lied Jungle
The Lied Jungle is another exhibit that I absolutely love. It’s a huge indoor rainforest — the biggest one in America. The Lied Jungle replicates the rainforests of South America, Asia, and Africa. It includes all the elements of a real rainforest, like lush plants, waterfalls, and the humid climate you’d expect (that feels wonderful in the winter months). Plus, you’ll see the animals of the rainforest in their natural habitat. Look out for monkeys, macaws, tapirs, and hippos as you meander through the jungle.
7. Kingdoms Of The Night
The Kingdoms of the Night is a super creepy, super dark experience that you won’t want to miss. The exhibit is located underneath the Desert Dome and is filled with all your favorite nocturnal friends! The exhibit is divided into smaller exhibits, each showcasing a different environment. As you walk in the dark through various paths and over bridges, you will feel like you’re part of the swampy environment. You’ll see creatures of the night like bats, beavers, and alligators, all in a dark and steamy habitat. There’s nothing else like it in any zoo anywhere!
8. Train And Tram Rides Through The Omaha Zoo
Make sure you take advantage of either the train or the tram to get around the zoo. Especially when it’s hot, I don’t like to walk the entire zoo. The train and the tram are convenient ways to get around. The train is located near the entrance by the carousel, as well as way up in the African Lodge. You can take a round-trip ride or just go one way. I usually like to walk up to the African Lodge and then take the train back. The tram is another option and has multiple stops around the zoo.
9. Overnight Experiences
Talk about a unique thing to do! The Henry Doorly offers a few different ways to experience the zoo at night. One of the most fun ways to see what goes on after hours is to go on a Sleeping Bag Safari. As part of the overnight adventure, you’ll get a guided tour, campfire, a grab-and-go breakfast, and a free day at the zoo.
For an adults-only zoo encounter, try a 21+ Safari Tent Camp experience. Adults 21 and over can stay overnight and experience all the zoo exhibits and more after dark. The Safari Tent Camp includes a picnic dinner and drinks, an evening hike, a movie, snacks, a grab-and-go breakfast, a morning hike, and a free day at the zoo. You’ll spend the night in an onsite tent that feels more like glamping, with an electrical outlet, director chairs, a lantern, and a fan. It’s a fabulous way to immerse yourself in the Omaha Zoo!
When To Visit The Omaha Zoo
The zoo is open every day of the year except Christmas Day and Thanksgiving Day. Any season is a perfect season to visit the zoo. The entire zoo is completely open even in winter and many exhibits are totally inside. We like to take in one of the outside viewing activities, then run to an indoor exhibit to warm up.
Looking for something to eat after your day at the zoo? You’re in luck: Omaha has a fantastic food scene.