Take a Trip to Riverbanks Zoo and Garden

Rhythmic, jungle themed music awakens my spirits and puts a bit of bounce in my step as my children pull me toward the entrance of the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden. I have a feeling my feet will need that extra bounce to keep up with my energetic and extremely excited offspring. After one-and-a-half eager hours in the car on the drive from Charlotte to Columbia, South Carolina, I am not sure what is more wild, my kids or the animals. The drive time luckily gave me time to enjoy a large travel mug of coffee. 

What's New at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden

The zoo welcomes new attractions and new animal babies this spring. Visitors must see the two 5-month-old lion cubs, Hasira and Cleopatra, and two 5-month-old western lowland gorillas, ZaKota and Moya. There also is a young giraffe and three lion cubs that celebrate their first birthday in April.

The zoo also opens an all-new farm experience this spring with new enclosures and adorable Nigerian dwarf goats. Though perhaps not as exotic as Komodo dragons and kangaroos, the farm is still a must-see for children, especially since you can feed the goats. Riverbanks Zoo gives guests a number of opportunities to feed the animals. For a $2 additional fee, feed the lorikeets at Koala Knockabout or the giraffes at Giraffe Overlook, just look out for those tongues.


Feeding giraffes at Giraffe Overlook is part of the experience of Riverbanks Zoo.

courtesy of Tiffany Wolff

If you prefer to watch others do the feedings, catch a scheduled animal demonstration, which sometimes include treats for the performers. Demonstrations include penguin presentations, wildlife up-close appearances, aquarium dives, gorilla feedings and sea lion presentations.

What's for Lunch?

Animals are not the only ones who need to eat. The zoo recently opened a new eatery, Wild Burger that serves made-to-order specialty burgers. Other food options throughout the zoo include Tuskers Restaurant with air-conditioned indoor seating, and various grab-and-go spots. Kid favorites include Dip and Dots ice creams and giant ICEEs in reusable take-home cups. 

If you have a toddler, you may want to pack a straw or empty sippy cup. For conservation reasons, the zoo does not offer straws.

Try the new eatery, Wild Burger.

Tiffany Wolff

Rides and Other Attractions

In addition to the animal sightings, extra rides and attractions at Riverbanks entertain. Tots cannot get enough of the Spots and Stripes Railroad and the Endangered Species Carousel. Older kids will like the Sky-High Safari ropes course, rock wall and zipline tours.

Guests looking to keep cool can also explore Waterfall Junction, which remains open year-round during park hours. This unique area features fun places for play, like a dinosaur dig, large splash pads and a 25-foot waterfall.

Kids enjoy a spin on the carousel.


A Few Extras

Be sure to bring sun protection and a camera to capture those wild moments. If you plan to visit Waterfall Junction, be sure to also pack a swimsuit and towel.

Families of little ones may also bring a stroller, though Riverbanks Zoo and Garden does rent single and double strollers for $8 and $11. Wheelchairs and electric mobility scooters are also available for rent. Leave pets, and outside food and drinks at home.

Riverbanks Zoo and Gardens is open year round, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Purchase tickets online to save time and money. Memberships are also available and also include guest passes.

Tiffany Wolff is the calendar editor for Charlotte Parent and mom to two boys.