A Review of The Turtle Back Zoo: Classic New Jersey Day Trips

Tuesday, March 22, 2022
Wondering what's new at Turtle Back Zoo? This is a must-take, classic New Jersey day trip, so if you've never visited, you MUST!  One of the very first field trips I can remember attending as a child was to the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange.  It's such a classic place, really, and will forever hold a special place in my heart.  I couldn't wait to take my son there when he was born. I think he was just barely two the first time we visited! We have been back numerous times throughout the years.  The zoo is open year round, so you really have no excuse if you've never visited.

*Be sure to visit Turtle Back Zoo's website for current hours, current attractions and ticket costs
*This post has been freshly updated for 2024!

Note:  Just a disclaimer that I have NOT been compensated in any way by Turtle Back Zoo.  I am simply sharing an honest review with you because I love you.  So there.

Where is The Turtle Back Zoo?

The Turtle Back Zoo is located in West Orange, New Jersey.  It is located in the South Mountain Reservation and you can visit their website for directions.

I love you, little red panda!

How Much Will it Cost Me?

For the most up to date ticket pricing, hours and info, be sure to check their Visitors Page.  Admission price is slightly less during the off-season, and note there is a small fee added to your ticket for renovations and upgrades. Parking is free!

One of the sweet penguins at the Turtle Back Zoo.

Who Will Enjoy the Zoo?

In my opinion, the zoo is fun for any age. Teenagers might get a bit bored, but there is a new mini safari golf course nearby and a zipline program (treetop adventure course) that you can look into if you're trying to entertain older kids.  The zoo is not huge but there is a decent amount of walking, so if you go, be sure to wear comfy shoes.  I bring a stroller no matter what, so that I can at least carry my things in it even if my son doesn't want to ride.  You can also rent a stroller for a small fee if you need to. A lot of the walking is uphill, so just be prepared for that.  If you need a break, there are places to sit in the reptile house, where it's a bit cooler and darker (as well as benches and tables throughout the zoo).  But it can get crowded in there on a busy day!

How beautiful are you?  Very!

What Will I See at The Turtle Back Zoo?

If you've never been to this zoo, keep in mind that it is a small zoo, and it's Jersey, so there aren't elephants. But there are plenty of interesting animals to see (we always love the playful gibbons), and the newer exhibits (such as the giraffes) are definitely worth seeing.  For a full list of the animals you can see and a map of the zoo itself, be sure to visit the exhibit page on their website.

A gibbon at The Turtle Back Zoo

Another favorite attraction is the prairie dogs.  You can watch these little guys running around their little dirt hills, or you can walk underneath them and climb into a viewing tunnel to see them better. Just watch your head under there!

Watch your head in the prairie dog tunnel!
Peek-a-boo, prairie dogs!
Don't miss the prairie dogs!

What Can I Eat There?

There is a Savanna Cafe with mixed foods, snacks and ice cream.  The food choices have improved somewhat over the years and the cafe has been recently remodeled.  They offer 'to go' choices, even sandwiches. Food services are closed from November-March (vending machines are available, although scarce).

We actually enjoy bringing our own lunch, especially since you can stop and eat anywhere in the zoo. There are benches and places to sit wherever you turn.  But hey, people, remember to clean up your garbage, okay?

Not To Be Missed

The "Shores of Africa" penguin exhibit is a newer addition to the zoo The penguins have always been a favorite of ours at the zoo, so these new indoor additions were exciting!

Be sure to visit the sea lion exhibit and touch tank in the center of the zoo.  We just loved it!  My son had a blast touching the slippery rays and sharks.  The sea lions were super cool as they whizzed past the picture windows. There is also a new sea turtle recovery center, so be sure to check it out!

Oooo!  Slippery sting rays at the Turtle Back Zoo.
Sea Lions at the Turtle Back Zoo

The African Cats exhibit at the top of the hill is a newer addition to the zoo in recent years, and it really is beautiful.  We also love the carousel.  Although keep in mind you need to pay an extra fee to ride it (an adult can ride with a small child for free)

Zoo Rides

The zoo offers a variety of rides and extra fee attractions if you're willing.  There is a beautiful animal-themed carousel that your child can ride for a small added fee (you can stand alongside them for free).

The beautiful carousel at The Turtle Back Zoo
The Jersey Momma's Boy liked this dragon on the carousel!

If weather permits, check out the bird enclosure, where you can feed parakeets millet seeds (for an additional cost- I think it's $2 as of the publication date of this entry).  This is open seasonally.

You can feed parakeets from millet seed sticks in the aviary.  Photo courtesy of c.heller

There is a petting zoo where you can feed some farm animals by purchasing food from a little machine, although you can't feed all of the animals there, only the ones designated for feeding.  Like that piggy- I think he's off limits for feeding!

Hello, little goat!
You can feed farm animals at The Turtle Back Zoo, but not this big guy- he's had enough!  Hee hee.

You can ride a sweet little pony near the bird enclosure, too (weather permitting, and seasonally). *Please check their website for availability, since the pony rides are usually only available weekends off-season. On-season is usually every day.

Pony rides at The Turtle Back Zoo

Certain times of year there is also a butterfly walk-through for an added fee.  When we went, there were not many exotic looking butterflies in there (this is New Jersey, after all) but it was still fun to see some of the native species fluttering about, especially the monarchs!  (Did you know you can raise your own monarch butterflies to help the monarch population?  Find out how to raise your own monarchs here!)

photo courtesy of e.cox
photo courtesy of e.cox

And of course, don't miss my son's favorite attraction at the zoo (I think he would go just for this, and skip seeing all of the animals), the train ride.  It's free and runs throughout the day.  It will not run in bad weather or in the winter time, so just be aware of that if you're bringing a little train enthusiast along!  

The Turtle Back Zoo train

Also take a stop at the jungle playground.  This has been refurbished within the past year, and it's free with admission.  The new playground has a prehistoric theme, and is located at the top of the hill near the barnyard animals. There are slides, climbing areas, a 'fossil dig,' and plenty more (all included with admission, no extra fee).

photo courtesy of e.cox
Dinosaur Playground photo courtesy of e.cox
Dinosaur playground courtesy of e.cox

And Don't Forget...

Sometimes overlooked is the Aquarium exhibit.  It's very small and in a tiny dark building just opposite the gibbons.  We love escaping for some peace and quiet in there!  You'll find some beautiful seahorses and colorful fish.  It's one of my favorite attractions at the zoo.

Don't miss the aquarium at the Turtle Back Zoo
We love the quiet aquarium at the Turtle Back Zoo
Beautiful aquariums at the Turtle Back Zoo.


*The zoo hosts tons of family-friendly events (and adult oriented events, too, like beer tasting nights and more).  So be sure to check their events calendar or Facebook page if you'd like to attend one of their special activities.  You can also have birthday parties and special events here.

*If you have not visited the zoo in a few years, know that there have been many positive changes!  In addition to the new playground, new sea lion and stingray exhibit, and the butterfly exhibit, the zoo also moved its entrance.  You'll find it closer to the parking deck now, so don't be confused when you drive in the lot and things seem 'switched around!'

*Bring a lunch to save some money.  If you're going off-season, keep in mind that the cafe is usually closed.  During one off-season we couldn't even find a working vending machine, so keep that in mind if you venture to the zoo in late Fall or early Spring.

*Stroller rentals are available or you can bring your own.  Paths are well paved for strollers.  If you come off season, some of the paths might be snow covered and hard to maneuver with a stroller.  We visited in early spring once and found some of the areas a little muddy from snow melting, so just plan accordingly.

*Many attractions are closed off-season (train, pony rides, bird enclosure, etc.), so if there is something specific you wanted to see off-season, give them a call in advance to check their operations.  The train sometimes won't run on slow days during the week, too, or if the weather is bad.

*Field trips can overwhelm viewing areas, so if you get to the zoo and find buses and kids flooding the area, start at the top of the zoo (at the top of the hill) and work your way down.  The school kids usually hit the first attractions and work their way up the hill.  You can avoid them if you do the opposite.  Most schools clear out by lunchtime, so you might even consider a later arrival time!  In the summer, you might find that the groups/camps stay all day.

*Call in advance to check on this, but last year, the zoo was offering FREE ADMISSION after 2:00 on Tuesdays.  I can't guarantee that this is still true, but call ahead if you happen to be visiting on a Tuesday.  It's worth a shot!

*the gift shop has some inexpensive, cute items.  We enjoy making our flattened penny in the penny machine there, too


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks! Come visit and we'll take you there, Rebecca Black!

  2. HI, I found you via the Parental Journey! You have some great activites on here! Thanks!


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