Everything to know about Riverbanks Zoo
The Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, SC is a world-class zoo attracting visitors from all over the region.
The wide array of animals, activities, learning opportunities and beautifully maintained grounds make it one of Columbia’s most popular attractions. The zoo is by far our number one recommendation for things to do in Columbia with kids, though it’s great for people of all ages!
Riverbanks Zoo holds the top spot on our guide of Things to Do in Columbia, SC. This post will give you all you need to know to get the most out of your next Riverbanks Zoo visit.
Table of Contents
- Riverbanks Zoo Map
- Animals at Riverbanks Zoo
- Other Riverbanks Zoo Attractions
- Riverbanks Zoo Admission
- Parking at Riverbanks Zoo
- Riverbanks Zoo FAQs
Riverbanks Zoo Map
To get yourself acquainted with all there is to see at Riverbanks Zoo, make sure you check out the map of the grounds before your visit.
The Riverbanks complex is broken into the zoo area and the botanical garden area on the other side of the Saluda River.
Animal Habitats at Riverbanks Zoo
We generally break the zoo into three areas — looping around to the right, walkway up the middle and looping around to the left. We’ll give you an idea of all the exciting animals you will see in each area below.
We are starting with the loop to the right because it seems to be the most popular route.
Loop to the Right
Starting off by looping around to the right from the entrance, you will immediately find some exciting animal habitats! The first few animals to greet you will be river otters followed by grizzly bears. Once you get your fill of the cuteness of the otters and grandness of the grizzlies, you’ll probably hear some primates calling you to move along.
As you walk down the sidewalk you will next see the baboon habitat on your right and the siamangs on the left down the hill (these are the really loud ones). Near the Siamang island enclosure, you will also find the koala house where you can check out the sleepy koalas eating eucalyptus.
Past the primates, you are really in for a treat with two big cat habitats. First, you’ll see a lion pride playing together or enjoying the sun. We heard the dad roar once and it was… wild! After that is the tiger enclosure where you’ll have to use your keen eyesight to spy the Siberian tiger.
At the end of this section, you will arrive at Carousel Plaza and which has plenty of activities for little ones (including the Feed the Lorikeets enclosure.)
Check out more details on this in our rides and attractions section. The bridge across the Saluda River to the botanical gardens is also located in this area. You can cross by foot or take the tram.
To continue the loop you can walk around the back of the koala house. Don’t miss the komodo dragon habitat when you do this! You’ll meet up with the center walkway near the Riverbanks Farm if you go this way.
Center Walkway of Zoo
After entering through the main gate, straight ahead you will find four exciting complexes full of diverse wildlife: Sea Lion Landing, the Aquarium Reptile Complex, the Birdhouse at Riverbanks and Riverbanks Farm.
Sea Lion Landing
Sea Lion Landing, a reproduction of San Fransico’s Pier 39, features a large tank habitat with California sea lions and harbor seals. Visitors love watching the seals swim underwater from the large tank wall as well as from above for the zoo’s sea lion shows.
Aquarium Reptile Complex
Beyond Sea Lion Landing you will find the Aquarium Reptile Complex which is home to a vast array of snakes, reptiles, fish and other deep-sea species. In the center of the complex, you will pass through a humid room that feels like you are walking through a rainforest.
Please note that the Aquarium Reptile Complex is currently being renovated and will be reopening in 2022.
Just outside the reptile complex, you can see a group of Galapagos Tortoises grazing in the grass.
Birdhouse at Riverbanks
Across the main walkway from Sea Lion Landing and the Aquarium Reptile Complex, you will find the Birdhouse at Riverbanks. This is much more than the birdhouse in your yard!
Before you enter the birdhouse you will be greeted by a flock of flamingos outside the entrance. Inside you will find the main attraction of the birdhouse: a habitat with various penguin species. Throughout the rest of the birdhouse, you will find other species from around the world. Beware that the birdhouse has a certain smell that some people don’t care for.
At the end of the center walkway past the Tuskers Restaurant, you will arrive at the Riverbanks Farm. Here you will see goats, pigs, alpacas, bunnies and many other farmyard animals. Kids love walking through the big red barn and seeing all of their favorite farm animals up close.
Loop to the Left
If you decide to go left after the entrance, you’ll pass the gift shop (it’s right there) and the sea lion exhibit mentioned above. After that, you’ll encounter a habitat with kangaroos and wallabies. The cool thing about this habitat is that you can walk through the kangaroo habitat and be right in the enclosure with the animals.
Gorilla Base Camp and the Conservation Outpost Tunnel
Once you’ve finished hanging out in the Australian bush you’re ready to move on to the Gorilla Base Camp. This is a 4,000-square-foot habitat that gives guests indoor and outdoor viewing opportunities of the troop of western lowland gorillas.
You can view these amazing animals from inside or from the other side of the habitat after you pass through the Conservation Outpost tunnel.
Speaking of the Conservation Outpost Tunnel, that’s your next stop! As you walk through the tunnel, you will see a range of small unique and rare small mammals like a black-footed cat, golden-lion tamarin, tree kangaroo and various lemurs.
Rhinos, Zebras and Giraffes- oh my!
Once you emerge from the tunnel, you’ll be ready to embark on what will feel like a safari. Along this stretch, you will encounter the exterior viewing area of the gorilla enclosure followed by the new white rhino habitat on the left. We were sad to see the elephants move on, but the newly remodeled habitat with the rhinos is so cool.
Moving on further you will reach the giraffes, where you can get up close and personal on the giraffe-height deck. You can even feed them for an additional explorer credit fee.
Beyond the giraffes, you will arrive a the zebra and ostrich habitat which is cool to see the two animal species together. The ostriches are surprisingly interested in people and may come over to the wall to check you out.
Other Riverbanks Zoo Attractions
Rides at Riverbanks Zoo
Spots & Stripes Railroad: This fun passenger train ride is great for young kids and is located in a wooded area near the Riverbanks Farm. Even if you don’t ride, it’s fun for kiddos to watch it drive around!
Endangered Species Carousel: The carousel has been a fixture at the Riverbanks zoo since its early days and is still a blast for kids to enjoy.
Sky-High Safari: If you are into heights and ropes courses, this attraction is for you. Near the giraffe exhibit, you will find this structure stretching several stories into the air to give you an adventure and a birds-eye view of the zoo.
Wild Adventures Rock Wall: This rock wall, located near the koala house and Carousel Plaza is a great spot to test out your rock climbing skills.
Engage with the Animals at Riverbanks Zoo
Experience the Farmyard: At the farmyard, visitors can enter the farm area where they can get up close and personal with the animals in a traditional petting zoo-style enclosure.
Feed the Giraffes: This attraction is a favorite at the zoo. You have the chance to feed giraffes by hand. It’s quite amazing how long their tongues are!
Feed the Lorikeets: The lorikeets are so colorful, fun and friendly. It’s always a blast to enter their space to feed them. Sometimes they even land on your arms and shoulders!
Mingle with Marsupials: The kangaroo and wallaby exhibit is unique in that you can walk right through the enclosure and get close to the animals. Even better, the Mingle with Marsupials experience is free with admission!
Admission to the zoo will not only give you access to the world-class Riverbanks zoo but will also get you into the beautiful Riverbanks Botanical Garden.
The Botanical Garden is an attraction that stands on its own two feet even without the zoo. It spans over 70 acres and with manicured gardens and nature trails.
Kids also love Waterfall Junction, a 3-acre children’s garden with a 25-foot cascading waterfall, splash pad, dinosaur bone to dig and a giant treehouse.
Eats at Riverbanks Zoo
If you are going to be at the zoo over lunch or if you just get hungry while there, plenty of dining options are available. Note that hours vary and all of the restaurants may not be open when you are visiting.
- Tuskers Restaurant: this is the zoo’s main restaurant and is open daily. They serve standard American fare including burgers, chicken tenders, sandwiches, pizza and salads.
- Wild Burger
- The Coop
There are also various snack bars and kiosks around the zoo serving ice cream, soft pretzels, popcorn and other snacks. Full diclosure– the food is park pricing.
Riverbanks Zoo Admission
There are a few options for admission to Riverbanks Zoo depending on how often you plan on visiting. They have general admission pricing for infrequent visitors and year-round memberships if you plan on being a regular visitor. By the way, if you think you’ll go more than once in a calendar year, the membership may be worth it! Check out the details below.
General admission tickets to Riverbanks Zoo can be purchased in advance on the Riverbanks Zoo website. We recommend purchasing tickets online to receive free parking. If you purchase tickets at the gate you will have to pay the $5 parking fee.
General admission ticket pricing is as follows (please check the Riverbanks Zoo website for the latest pricing):
- Adults: $21.99 plus tax
- Children (ages 2 – 12): $18.99 plus tax
- Children (under 2): Free Admission
- Military: $19.99 plus tax
- Senior Citizens: (Ages 62 and up) $19.99 plus tax
As you can see, the general admission tickets can add up quickly for families or if you are planning to visit multiple times per year. If this sounds like you, the annual membership is a great option.
There are several membership packages to choose from. You can find all the details about the memberships here.
- Individual: $59
- Individual Plus: $109
- Family OR Grandparent: $129
- Family Plus: $159
- Individual Explorer: $169
- Family Explorer $229
Free and Reduced Admission Opportunities
Free Fridays in January and February for residents of Richland and Lexington County in South Carolina.
Toucan Tuesdays during summer for two for the price of one admission with a donation of two cans of nonperishable food.
Parking at Riverbanks Zoo
Riverbanks Zoo has a large primary and overflow parking lot. But beware! On busy weekend days, the parking lots can fill up so plan to arrive early! When you approach the zoo a parking attendant will direct you to the primary or overflow lot depending on how full they are.
We have seen days where they close off the parking lot after 11am due to it filling up. Arrive early and you’ll be fine!
That’s a wrap on our Riverbanks Zoo guide!
We hope you enjoy your next trip to Riverbanks Zoo! We love visiting with our kids and taking out of town guests there. It’s such a magical place and feels like another world. We are so glad to have something so amazing in our hometown!