Share this page:

Why Fall is the Best Time to Go to the Zoo

Leaves are falling and so are temperatures, which can only mean one thing — autumn has arrived. There’s no better activity for a fall day in D.C. than a trip to the Zoo. Crowds are smaller, days are cooler and changing leaves bring a burst of color to the park. We’ve gathered a few tips to help you make the most of your day, with plenty of animals to fall for and events you won’t want to miss.

Have a scary good time

A group of six women dressed up in Halloween costumes and face paint pose for a photo at Night of the Living Zoo

Put on your favorite costume and kick off the Halloween festivities a few days early. Families can head to Boo at the Zoo for a frightfully fun evening of trick-or-treating, dancing and kids’ karaoke.

21 or older? Grab a ticket to Night of the Living Zoo where adult ghouls and goblins can enjoy craft beer, food trucks, music, performance artists and a costume competition, hosted by Science on Tap (with a $1,000 prize for the winning costume!).

Fall for these adorable new animals

It doesn’t get much cuter than a pair of clouded leopard cubs, and Jillian and Paitoon are not the only new faces at the Zoo.

After you visit the cubs at Asia Trail in the morning, make your way to Small Mammal House where you might just see some jellybean-sized, newborn naked mole-rats. Similar to bees, these eusocial critters have a single reproducing female, called the queen, who can give birth to a new litter about every 80 days.

Next, stop by Reptile Discovery Center to meet the new 5-year-old Aldabra tortoises. Aldabra tortoises can live for a very long time (even longer than humans!), so you’ll be able to visit them for years to come — and so will your children, and your children’s children. Rulon and Chyna, the Zoo’s adult Aldabra tortoises, are estimated to be between 80 and 100 years old and may have even met your parents or grandparents.

Chubby, whiskered and born to glide! Continue on to see Celia the sea lion pup making a splash at American Trail. Celia (pronounced Cell-e-uh) was born in June and made her public debut in September.

A California sea lion pup with sleek, wet fur rests its front flippers on its mom's back

Then, head to the rainforest in Amazonia to see if you can spot titi monkey Henderson and his new companion Kingston. You might hear these two monkeys before you see them in the trees, as they call to each other with “squeaks” and “wok-woks.”

Finally, stop by Kids’ Farm to say hello to Willow, the newest Hereford calf to join the herd — the largest (and only) cow herd in D.C.

Don’t sleep on Sloth Day at the Zoo

Mark your calendars for International Sloth Day on Sunday, Oct. 20. You’ll see sloths up close, talk to animal keepers and learn how to help save sloths in the wild. Don’t miss the Zoo’s other upcoming Animal Discovery Days — Orangutan Caring Day on Thursday, Nov. 14, and International Cheetah Day on Wednesday, Dec. 4.

Meander down American Trail

American Trail is one of the Zoo’s secret treasures. It’s literally off the beaten path, or in this case, off the Zoo’s main thoroughfare (known as Olmsted Walk). This homage to conservation success stories is uphill from Amazonia, tucked between the Andean bear habitat and the elephant outpost.

The winding path is lined with tall trees, making it ideal for a sunny afternoon stroll under the red and orange autumn leaves. You’re bound to see plenty of cool-weather animals along the way, including gray wolves, beavers, ravens, seals and North American river otters.

Pro tip: On weekends, stop by Ben & Jerry’s® at Seal Rock for a scoop of ice cream.

Make a beeline for the Me and the Bee Playground

If you want to hang on to summer for just a bit longer, head to the pollinator-themed playground where towering flowers are always in bloom. Kids can climb on larger-than-life bees, slide down a honey-covered hive and hop along particles of pollen.

Pro tip: Don’t miss the real pollinator garden that lines the playground, where you’ll learn all about pollinators and find out how you can help protect bees in your own backyard!

Sugar, pumpkin spice and everything nice

In the weeks leading up to Halloween, animals all around the Zoo enjoy pumpkin enrichment. As you explore, see how many animals with pumpkins you can spot!

Keepers also scatter spices, extracts and other scents around habitats to encourage animals to sniff and explore. During the fall, you might spot a lion or a panda investigating objects sprinkled with pumpkin spice.

The pumpkin-themed fun doesn’t have to stop when you leave the Zoo. Try your hand at creating a giant panda jack-o’-lantern with this Bei Bei pumpkin carving stencil. Just print out a copy and trace it onto your pumpkin to get started.

Share your favorite fall Zoo moments with us on social media by tagging @SmithsonianZoo on Instagram or @NationalZoo on Twitter and Facebook.