Fun and Easy Day Trip: Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens

Excursion 315
Elizabeth Day

Editor's note: Prices updated November 2017

Located about 90 miles from Charlotte's city center, Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens makes for a fun and easy day trip for Charlotte area families. My family of four took a day trip to the Riverbanks Zoo. After purchasing our tickets and renting a double stroller, we started off on our zoo adventure.

The zoo itself is smaller than the North Carolina Zoo at Asheboro and a flatter landscape, which means less walking and an easier day for families with young children. Despite being a smaller zoo, it represents considerably more species, including hyenas, tigers, siamang apes, kangaroos and koalas.

A favorite for my boys were the Aquarium Reptile Complex — or ARC. The ARC is huge, with tons of unusual creatures than can be viewed up close, including a King Cobra and a beautiful snake with gleaming iridescent scales. You can feed the Lorikeets a cup of nectar at Koala Knockabout. Nectar cups cost $2 each, and I highly recommend doing so. Both of my boys loved the experience of having the colorful birds perch on them and drink nectar as they held the cups. Be careful, though, the birds are on a high volume liquid diet all day long, so be aware of what's above you.

Other animals at the zoo include elephants, gorillas, lions, penguins and lemurs. There is also a carousel, a children's train ride and pony rides for a break in the animal action. A ride wristband is available for $20, or individual rides cost between $2 and $5 in addition to zoo admission fees.

Plan Your Day

We stayed at the zoo for more than four hours, and were able to see almost all of the animals, however we didn't have time for the gardens. Hailed as one of the 20 best public gardens in America by HGTV, and featuring several themed gardens, including the Old Rose Garden, Asian Garden, Play Garden, and more, we will definitely be back to check them out on a return visit.

Admission is reasonable, $15.95 for adult tickets, $13.50 for ages 2-12 and free for children under age 2. (Editor's note: Prices update to reflect 2017 admission rates). The zoo is open Monday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. with extended hours spring through early fall. Be forewarned: There are no restrooms available outside the gate, and you may have to stand in line before entering, so plan accordingly. 

Elizabeth Day performs with The Village Washer Wenches at the Carolina Renaissance Festival each year and throughout Charlotte, and lives with her husband and two boys in Kannapolis.