Day Tripper - Turtle Back Zoo

Voted the #1 zoo in New Jersey and a 2015 winner of Trip Advisor’s Certificate of Excellence, Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange is an exciting and educational day trip for families from Staten Island and New Jersey.

Initially, the zoo was only open seasonally. Its grounds were designed with exhibits paying homage to Hans Christian Andersen’s stories and other nursery rhymes. When it opened for its first visitors in 1963, the zoo was home to 140 animals representing 40 species. Over the next ten years, the zoo grew to include more than 850 individual animals. In 1975, the Zoological Society was established to support and promote the zoo. By 2000, the zoo had a new goal: accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), a nonprofit organization that upholds rigorous standards for zoos and aquaria in the United States. Of the more than 2,000 animal exhibits in the country, only about 10 percent are accredited by the AZA.

In the first decade of the new century, Turtle Back Zoo saw rapid expansion. As it modernized its exhibits, it also completed specific development goals to move closer to AZA accreditation. In 2005, it opened the Essex County Animal Hospital to provide on-site care to its animals and its 4,000 square foot reptile center. In 2006, it opened its picnic pavilion and animal-themed playground. That same year, the zoo was accredited by the AZA.

Today, Turtle Back Zoo features hundreds of animals from around the world in exhibits that mirror their natural habitats. Some of these animals, like the amur leopard and the red panda, are endangered species.

Outback Aviary
In Turtle Back Zoo’s Outback Aviary, visitors can interact with a flock of Australian birds that include kookaburras, lorikeets, and 500 grass parakeets during the spring and summer. For an even closer experience with the birds, guests can buy sticks of bird seed and let the birds eat from their hands.

Butterfly Tent
From Memorial Day through Labor Day, guests can get up close with hundreds of butterflies in a 100-foot long tent populated with flowering plants and butterflies in all stages of life, from caterpillars to the chrysalis stage to their final form as these majestic insects.

Wolf Woods
At Wolf Woods, guests can view the wolves who call Turtle Back Zoo home in their spacious, naturalistic environment from the other side of a long, glass-paneled wall. The exhibit also has multiple viewing stations where guests can enjoy the wolves without feeling like there is a barrier between them.

Essex Farm
In a throwback to some of the zoo’s first residents, Essex Farm is a hands-on petting zoo where adults and children alike can come in contact with sheep, goats, ponies, and fowl. Right next door is the zoo’s popular pony ride area, where children can enjoy rides guided by experienced pony handlers.

Endangered Species Carousel
For a small additional fee, guests can take a ride on Turtle Back Zoo’s endangered species carousel. This carousel features 30 animal figures including a tiger, an alligator, and a panda. It is housed in a carousel house decorated with stained glass windows and a mosaic tile floor. Individuals who want to host unique private parties at the zoo can also rent the carousel and its platform for their events.

Adventure to Africa
A weekly event throughout the summer that celebrates the zoo’s new African section of exhibits. Each week’s event is themed around a specific African animal and includes live music and special performances.

Night Moves
A guided after-hours tour that introduces guests to Turtle Back’s nocturnal residents.

Turtle Back Zoo Tots Program
Three-part series for toddlers and their caregivers to learn about different types of animals through stories, activities, and animal visitors to the classroom.

Family Fun Nights
Extended evening hours on  Wednesdays and Thursdays during the summer. On these nights, the zoo remains open until 8:30pm.

Turtle Back Zoo is open year-long. It is closed only on Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and Thanksgiving. The zoo is open Monday through Sunday from 10:00am to 4:30pm. From April 1st to November 30th, the admission costs are:

Adults: $14
Children aged 2-12: $11
Seniors (62+): $11
Children 2 and under are free
Double stroller rentals are $7
From December 1st through March 31st:
Adults: $12
Children 2-12: $10
62 and over: $10
Children 2 and under are free
Double stroller rentals are $7

• In 2006, Turtle Back Zoo was accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. This is the highest achievement possible for a zoo or aquarium in the United States.
• Animals from every continent except Antarctica can be found at Turtle Back Zoo.
• The zoo was named for a rock formation on the mountainside just east of the property. This formation was known as Turtle Back Rock by the Lenape, who named it because it looks like a giant turtle shell.
• Turtle Back Zoo has a full calendar of special events, like evening tours of the zoo and educational programs for all ages.
• Every year, Turtle Back Zoo hosts “Brew at the Zoo,” an adults-only day out featuring beer from New Jersey’s craft breweries.
• The zoo is primarily supported by the Zoological Society of New Jersey, Inc. a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.
• In the summer, the zoo offers summer camps for kids and volunteer opportunities for teens. Adults aged 18 and up can also volunteer at the zoo through its docent program.
• Every year, the animals at Turtle Back Zoo eat approximately 100 tons of food.

From Monmouth County, take Garden State Parkway to Exit 145 toward Newark/ Harrison. Stay left at the fork and follow signs for 280 W for 2.3 miles. Then, merge onto I-280W. In 0.2 miles, take Exit 10 for West Orange/South Orange/Montclair. After 2.4 miles, use the left two lanes to turn left onto Northfield Ave. In 482 feet, make a slight right onto Warnick Lane. In 377 feet, turn left onto Pleasant Valley Way, then in 0.4 miles, make a sharp left onto Northfield Ave. The zoo entrance is on your right.

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10 Sep 2016

By Lindsay Kramer