Ah, the age-old Halloween dilemma: Your kids love dressing up and trick-or-treating, but they’re still too young for zombies, werewolves, and fright fests. A fall getaway to one of the country’s most kid-friendly zoos might be just the ticket. These days, zoos across the country are offering family-friendly trick-or-treat events, minus the ghouls and goblins. This makes them ideal for the under-12 set (not to mention their scaredy-cat parents). Here’s how some top-notch zoos are putting the focus on fun, not fright:
Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo: Fort Wayne, Ind.What to expect: This highly-rated zoo sets up “merry-not-scary” displays and hundreds of jack-o’-lanterns along the paths leading to nine treat stations. Every child who plays the carnival games gets a prize and the very brave can ride an eerie express train through haunted woods. Best for: 2 to 8
Toledo Zoo: Toledo, OhioWhat to expect: This celebration is two parties rolled into one. Bring your small fries to Little Boo, a just-for-toddlers party with trick-or-treat stations, games, and a giant Fisher Price play area. Preschoolers and school-age kids will love the Pumpkin Path, with its “mystifying performances,” carnival-style games, and 20 themed trick-or-treat stations. Best For: 2 to 8
Brookfield Zoo: Chicago, Ill.What to expect: Visit during the last two weekends in October, and your little goblins can march in a parade, show off their costumes, and get up close to wolves, owls, snakes, and other creepy critters. At the end of the evening, they’ll even score a goodie bag to take home. Best For: 2 to 8
Louisville Zoo: Louisville, KentuckyWhat to expect: Thursdays through Sundays in October, “the sweetest party in town” enchants little ones with over a dozen themed attractions, including Mumpkin the Talking Pumpkin, Candyland Way, a Halloween Express train ride, and an antique carousel that mysteriously runs backwards. Best For: 2 to 10
Phoenix Zoo: Phoenix, Ariz.What to expect: It’s easy to see why this popular two-day event is in its 18th year. This year’s “creepy, crawly insect” theme translates into fun events like a bug scavenger hunt, Insect Olympics, Bug Bingo, and animals playing the “Pumpkin Stomp & Chomp.” There’s also a parade with more than two dozen cuddly storybook friends, plus a Mad Science workshop. Mark your calendar for the weekend before Halloween. Best for: 2 to 12
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden: Cincinnati, OhioWhat to expect: While kids are trick-or-treating their way around the zoo, they can discover how animals “celebrate” Halloween. Don’t miss the very popular Snow Monkey Pumpkin Hide & Seek, Gorilla Pumpkin Hunt, Elephant Pumpkin Smash and the Polar Bear Pumpkin Bob. There’s also a scare-ousel, spooktacular train ride, and pumpkin-carving demonstrations. Best for: 2 to 12
Audubon Zoo: New Orleans, LouisianaWhat to expect: Son of a gun, the big fun at this terrific zoo includes a haunted house, ghost train, carousel rides, and lots of trick-or-treating. What you won’t see are crazy crowds, since the zoo limits the number of tickets for each night—so be sure to book ahead. Best for: 3 to 10
National Zoo: Washington, D.C.What to expect: Arrive in costume with your goodie bag so you can visit the over 40 treat stations in the zoo. As a bonus, you can learn more about zoo animals during special zookeeper presentations. Best for: 3 to 10
Bronx Zoo: New York, N.Y.What to expect: During the last two weekends in October, this kid-pleasing zoo gets in the Halloween mood with magic shows, costume parades, pumpkin painting, a hay maze, and lots of giveaways. Best for: 4 to 12
San Diego Zoo: San Diego, Calif.What to expect: This popular, one-of-a-kind overnight is offered three Saturdays in October. It starts with a private bus tour to a campsite for dinner, while families learn how animals adapt to their environment through their “creepy body parts.” Later, there’s an up-close visit from some animal ambassadors, trick-or-treating in the Children’s Zoo, an arts-and-crafts workshop, and a morning-after scavenger hunt. Reservations are required and space is limited, so book well in advance. Best for: 5 to 12
Lowry Park Zoo: Tampa, Fla.What to expect: Held each weekend from the end of September through October, this “family-friendly fright zone” offers up darkened haunted houses, spooky trails, and things that go bump in the night. The littlest trick-or-treaters can look forward to free, unlimited zoo rides all evening. Best for: 6 to 12.
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