Nice Way to Spend a Few Hours
Written: Apr 27, 2007
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:Clean, free train ride, can see many animals up close
Cons:dirt paths, somewhat pricey, no elephants, lions or giraffes.
The Bottom Line: I would recommend this zoo as something different to do for the day, but don't expect the Bronx or Philadelphia Zoo!
Ive been to Turtleback Zoo a few times now with my young boys. It is a nice way to spend a few hours, but dont expect anything extraordinary. Each time Ive gone to the zoo, Ive left being neither impressed nor disappointed. I would recommend the zoo if you are relatively close by (driving time of 1 hour or less) and if you are just looking for something different to do for the day.
Location and Parking
The Turtleback Zoo is located in West Orange, NJ. It is relatively easy to access via Route 280, and can alternatively be accessed via Route 24, Route 78, and the Parkway. It is only a 10-minute drive once you exit Rt. 280 (it is longer if you take one of the alternate roads listed above). There are signs along the route that indicate that the zoo is ahead of you.
There is ample parking in the zoo parking lot. They recently completed construction of the zoo parking lot and surrounding area, which includes an arena and a Park N Ride. I assume in the event of a full zoo parking lot, one could park at the Park N Ride garage and walk to the zoo. It would be a long walk and would be inconvenient if you are traveling with small children, but the main zoo parking lot is large enough where I doubt it would reach capacity often (if ever).
It costs $7.00 per adult and $3.00 per child (children are defined as ages 2 through 12) to enter the zoo. While on one hand I did not think the price was unreasonable, I have read reviews on other zoos that are similar in features and are much cheaper or even free (i.e., Van Saun Park Zoo)! Once inside the zoo, there is little, if any, out of pocket cost other than food. The train ride (which I will describe below) is free, as are the activities that were planned at the time I have visited the zoo. These activities on my last trip included a presentation on wolves and some art projects for children.
The Turtleback Zoo contains a variety of animals including: penguins, wolves, monkeys, various birds, bears, kangaroos, emus, horses, chickens, pigs, peacocks, and a cougar. I am definitely forgetting some animals, but this list represents about 75% of the animals in the freestanding exhibits. Unlike your major zoos, there are no elephants, giraffes, lions, tigers, or other larger, exotic animals. However, your children will probably be just as excited by seeing the penguins frolic in their little pond as they would to see an elephant.
The zoo is set on a mountain, so the terrain is hilly and the paths are dirt. They are smooth, however, and easy to navigate for the most part with strollers. Young children may not be able to walk the entire area without getting tired, but adults can handle it without a problem. The zoo in general is surprisingly clean. Paths are wide and it has not been crowded during my visits.
Most animal exhibits are small enough where one can get close to the animals. No, you cannot get close enough to pet the cougar, but my two year old was close enough that he was at least able to see the cougar. We have been to other zoos where the exhibits were so large that one could not even find the animals in their exhibit. There are other exhibits where you can get very close to the animals. In fact, there is a petting zoo area where you can pet horses, sheep, pigs and cows. You can also go on pony rides.
They have a reptile house that I have not visited. As mentioned before, there is also a train that runs through part of South Mountain Reservation, which is the mountain upon which the zoo is located. At two years old, the train ride was my sons favorite part of the zoo.
Finally, there is a small playground within the zoo, and there is a gift shop as well.
I have not eaten at the zoo, but there is a small area where you can purchase food or snacks. There is also a covered area that contains picnic tables and benches. You are allowed to bring your own food to the zoo, so we have opted to bring our own meals to eat at the picnic tables. Locally, there is a McDonalds across the street. There are various other small restaurants in the area (i.e. pizza, Chinese), but no other chain restaurants within 5 minutes of the zoo.
I have been to the zoo a few times already, and I do intend to go back more in the future. I think it is a nice zoo and I am happy it is relatively local for me. It is a nice way to see and learn about animals without having to drive all the way to the Bronx or Philadelphia Zoos. Those zoos, however, do have much more to offer than Turtleback.
I would not drive very far to get to this zoo. If you live more than an hour away from West Orange, I would look to see what is local to your area before deciding to drive all the way to Turtleback. You could walk through the entire zoo in two hours or less; it is not the type of zoo that takes a day or multiple days to really experience. It also does not have any exhibits that are unique and therefore worth a long drive. But, if you are close by and looking for something different to do, then the zoo might be for you.
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