WACO — This week, I once again headed up the interstate to the city of Waco to check out the Cameron Park Zoo. I’ve spent more time this year in Waco exploring the city, and I must say, I have not been disappointed. It’s a cool city with its own personality. I would normally be exploring Austin, mostly because it is bigger and just a tiny bit closer. But with Travis County still being off limits, I’ve been forced to find different places to explore. But, enough about that. Let’s talk about the zoo.

The 52-acre Cameron Park zoo was established in 1955 to provide recreation and educational opportunities to Central Texas residents, and without a doubt, it does a great job of both. The animals are close enough to really see them and the signs explaining the exhibits are just as bright and colorful as the animals they describe. Just enough information to be interesting without being boring.

The zoo is located at 1701 N. 4th Street in Waco, and is only about an hour drive from Fort Hood. Not bad for packing up the family and making a morning or an afternoon out of the trip. The parking is free and prices are very reasonable, making this an affordable outing. More information about hours and pricing are available at www.cameronparkzoo.com.

Because the majority of the exhibits of the zoo are outdoors, visitors do not need to wear masks for most of the visit. A few exceptions are the indoor exhibits and the area where the orangutans are. But the majority of my visit was mask free, and everyone visiting at the same time I was there were obviously already comfortable with providing those around them a little extra space for social distancing.

When you first arrive, just past the ticket booths are a snack bar, gift shop and restrooms. Strollers are available for rent if needed. The park is arranged in a large, single loop, so it’s nearly impossible to get lost. I started in the Brazos River Country portion of the park. As you can tell by the name, it focuses on animals historically found in this area. While it has otters, bison, coyotes, bears and large cats, I spent the most time in the aquarium and other indoor exhibits. I was fascinated to the see all the native fish for the area in a very large, beautiful aquarium. I also enjoyed seeing the bats and the owls in their indoor exhibits. They are very close to the glass and you can really see the majesty of these night time predators.

The African Savanna exhibit was definitely the crowd favorite. It’s amazing to see a giraffe, rhino, and elephant in person. They are bigger than you imagine! (I’ve been to a zoo before, but it was a long time ago as a kid, so this might as well have been my first trip.)

The Asian Forest is the home of the Sumatran Tigers, Komodo Dragons, orangutans and Lemur Island. The orangutan family has a new edition. The baby caused a bit of a traffic jam in that exhibit, and once I saw him (or her), I understood why. He was too cute.

All of the exhibits I have mentioned so far are on the outside of the large loop that is the main path of the park. On the inside of the loop is The Meadows. The Meadows has eagles, macaws, Galapagos Tortoises and what is probably the most popular attraction in the park, the monkeys. The El Rey De La Montana portion has capybaras basking in the sun, sloths, and squirrel monkeys.

The Cameron Park Zoo is the perfect trip for a home schooling family or group, or just a family who wants to get out of the house for a little fun that is also educational.