Phoenix Zoo: Ideal Time to Go + 8 Amazing Animals to See

Komodo dragon at the Phoenix Zoo
© Scotwriter21 / CC BY-SA 4.0

Written by Jennifer Geer

Updated: November 20, 2023

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The Phoenix Zoo is one of the United States’ largest nonprofit zoos. That means there is no government funding, but instead, the zoo gets its support through donors, admissions, memberships, and special events. This is impressive, considering the zoo houses over 3,000 animals, which includes nearly 400 species, some of which are threatened or endangered. 

Open since 1962, the Phoenix Zoo is a must-see in the area as it hosts a variety of fascinating animals and exhibits. But when is the ideal time to go? Read on to find out and learn about eight of the amazing animals you can see there.

When Is the Ideal Time to Go to the Phoenix Zoo?

Cooperative Reticulated Giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata) at Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo (one of a series)

The Phoenix Zoo in Arizona is located on 125 acres and contains over 3,000 animals. The best time of the year to visit the zoo is in Spring, Winter, and Fall.

©Bull's-Eye Visual Arts/

In many U.S. cities, summer is the best time to head to the zoo. However, this isn’t true in Phoenix, AZ. Summers are hot in Arizona. You are much more likely to enjoy your visit and to encounter active animals during the spring, winter, and fall months.

However, if you do go in the summer, the ideal time to go is when the zoo opens. It will be the coolest part of the day and the best chance you have is to see the animals roaming about. When the sun heats up later in the day, they will most likely be napping in shady spots. 

Regardless of what season you head to the zoo, the animals are the most active in the morning right when the zoo opens. You’ll get to see them wander out from their sleeping spots to where they spend the day, and it’s when they notice their food or other enrichment activities left out by zookeepers.

The zoo also hosts several special events throughout the year, including the fundraiser ZooFari, Spooky Safari at the end of October, ZooLights in November through January, and an annual 5K race held in January.

About the Phoenix Zoo

The Phoenix Zoo is located in Papago Park at 455 North Galvin Parkway. The zoo is divided into four main trails:

  • The Africa Trail houses all of the main zoo animals you might expect such as ostriches, lions, zebras, and giraffes.
  • The Arizona Trail showcases animals and plants native to Arizona and the Sonoran Desert including the saguaro cactus, coyote, Sonoran pronghorn, and the Mexican gray wolf.
  • The Tropics Trail includes a lush rainforest landscape and includes the Andean bear and Bornean orangutan.
  • The Children’s Trail includes a petting zoo and the popular two-toed sloth.

8 Amazing Animals to See at the Phoenix Zoo

The Phoenix Zoo’s


enclosure houses both Aldabra Giant Tortoises and Galapagos Tortoises.

©5of7 / CC BY-SA 2.0, Flickr – Original / License

The Phoenix Zoo has all the big zoo animals you would expect, such as elephants, lions, giraffes, zebras, and Sumatran tigers. The zoo also is home to some unique species, such as animals you would find in Arizona in the Sonoran Desert. Here are some of the most popular and interesting species, although with over 400 species to choose from, it was hard to pick only eight!

Komodo Dragon

Komodo dragon at the Phoenix Zoo

Komodo dragons aren’t dragons at all, but giant lizards native to the Komodo Island and its neighboring islands.

©Scotwriter21 / CC BY-SA 4.0 – Original / License

In the Tropics Trail, you will find the “Land of the Dragons” exhibit. The largest living lizard species in the world is housed there, the Komodo dragon. Males can grow over 200 pounds and reach 10 feet in length.


Cownose rays live in the 15,000-gallon tank in the Phoenix Zoo’s Stingray Bay.


At Stingray Bay, guests can touch and feed Cownose rays as they glide past the 15,000-gallon pool. Check ahead before you go. At the time of this writing, Stingray Bay was closed for improvements.

Squirrel Monkeys

Squirrel monkey sleeping on a tree branch in the sun with tail curled up around the body. Monkey sleeps peacefully in the sunlight


monkeys can be seen scampering around their walk-through enclosure in the Phoenix Zoo.

©Monica Lara/

The Phoenix Zoo is home to the only the only walk-through squirrel monkey exhibit in the country. Although they are small, squirrel monkeys are incredibly intelligent. The squirrel monkey exhibit lets visitors see the animals scurry by in the lush habitat.

Two-Toed Sloth

Along the Children’s Trail, don’t miss the opportunity to meet the internet-famous sloth, Fernando. Beloved by all, this Linne’s two-toed sloth even has his blog. Fernando, like all two-toed sloths, spends most of his time sleeping and hanging upside down.

Andean Bears

Spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus), also known as the Andean bear, Andean short-faced bear, or mountain bear

Spectacled (or Andean Bears) can weigh up to 350 pounds and are the only bear native to South America.

©Danica Chang/

Meet the real-life Paddington Bear. Andean Bears are the species that the character Paddington Bear is based on. These spectacled bears are the only bear native to South America, or as Paddington says, “Darkest Peru.”

Bornean Orangutans

Bornean Orangutans are the largest fruit-eating animals in the world. You can see them up close in their exhibit at the Phoenix Zoo.

©Millie Bond – Copyright A-Z Animals

These orangutans only live on the island of Borneo in South East Asia. The zoo is home to four of them, Michael, Bess, Wgasa, and Rayma.

Galapagos and Aldabra Giant Tortoises

Head to the tortoise enclosure, where you can meet the Galapagos and Aldabra Giant Tortoises. In 2022, Galapagos tortoise parents Mopey and Mary hatched an egg. Amazingly, Mopey and Mary are in their 90s.

Big Cats of Arizona

cougar laying on rock

The Big Cat Exhibit in the Phoenix Zoo showcases bit cats native to Arizona, including mountain lions.


This exhibit on the Arizona Trail highlights big cats native to Arizona including mountain lions and jaguars. These elusive animals are hard to spot in the wild, so this exhibit gives visitors a unique experience to catch a glimpse.

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About the Author

Jennifer Geer is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on animals, news topics, travel, and weather. Jennifer holds a Master's Degree from the University of Tulsa, and she has been researching and writing about news topics and animals for over four years. A resident of Illinois, Jennifer enjoys hiking, gardening, and caring for her three pugs.

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