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Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, SC: Insider Tips

If you visit South Carolina, you must plan a day to see the animals at Riverbanks Zoo and Garden in Columbia. I have put many, many miles on my zoo membership since my daughter was born twelve years ago. This park has so many attractions for all ages, but of course the animals are the best part. If you want to have the best animal viewing experience, follow these tips and don't forget your camera!


9:00 am - 5:00 pm, 7 days a week

Spring and Summer extended hours for Saturdays and Sundays: 9:00 am - 6:00 pm

Closed Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day

Admission Prices

  • Adults: $15.95
  • Children 3-12: $13.50
  • Children 2 and under: Free
  • Military (with ID): $14.95
  • Senior Citizens (62+): $14.95

Tips on Viewing Animals at Riverbanks Zoo

This zoo is one big loop, with a few exhibits in the center, so it is not too difficult to plan a strategy to see all the animals. These are some tips for how to fit it all in:

  • Arrive at the zoo when it opens to beat the crowd and heat, and to see the animals when they are most active.
  • Accept a map at the gate. It is easy to follow and mark off which animals you have seen.
  • On the map, you will see a schedule of "Wild Encounters" with different animals. These are interesting, but if you want to avoid crowds, plan around those busy presentations.
  • Upon entering the gates, take a right to begin your loop counter-clockwise. Most people automatically start at the left and it can get crowded.
  • Starting on the right, you will also be able to feed the rainbow lorikeets early before their tummies are full.
  • Stay on the outside loop until you get back to the main entrance, then visit the exhibits in the center of the zoo.
  • Don't miss the Meercats! They are hidden back behind the elephants near Ndoki Lodge.
  • If you are there to see the animals, don't get sidetracked by the additional attractions such as the carousel, playground, ropes course, pony ride, and kiddie train.

Other Zoo Tips

  • On hot days, tour all the outside exhibits first, saving the air-conditioned Reptile House and Bird House for last.
  • If small children need a break from walking, sit for the 20 minute 3D Adventure movie or ride the tram up to the botanical garden and back.
  • Baby animals are always fun. Call ahead or ask at the gate if there are any new additions. The active baby baboon really livened up the exhibit on our last visit.
  • The gorilla exhibit is an enclosed building, but sometimes you may see the gorillas from another angle outside. Check out the gorilla viewing area near the elephant exhibit.
  • Bring some quarters for the animal feed machines - goats and fish are fun to feed.

Paid Attractions

Listed below are some of the rides and activities available for an additional cost, ranging from $2 - $5. If you are interested in these activities, you may want to purchase the $20 all day wristband pass.

  • pony ride
  • carousel
  • 3D movie
  • feed the lorikeets
  • feed the giraffes
  • children's train ride
  • climbing wall


The food service at Riverbanks Zoo has really come a long way over the years. No longer hosting a Burger King, the zoo has opted to offer healthier choices. You can still purchase hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza and fries, but there are also salads, sandwiches, fresh fruit and a pretty healthy kids meal. The newest food hut offers tacos and nachos. The food is costly though, so don't be suprised if you have to pay $5.00 for a hot dog. There is also typical amusement park fare such as icees, doughnuts, candy, and ice cream. Be warned!

You may not bring food, drinks, or a cooler into the zoo, but don't feel limited to the zoo offerings. The following tip will save you money and give you an extra sight-seeing spot. Pack a picnic lunch and cooler and leave it in your car. At lunchtime, return to the parking lot and drive to the far right side lot, opposite the main entrance lot. There is a large shaded green area beside the river complete with picnic tables and trashcans. You can enjoy your own lunch by the water and even walk the riverside trail afterwards. Looking up from the river, you will see the bridge that leads from the zoo to the garden area. Look for turtles sunning on the rocks and birds flittering through the trees. Remember to hold on to your zoo ticket for re-entrance after lunch.

Membership and Information

If you plan to visit the zoo more than twice a year, you will want to look into purchasing an annual membership for the best value. Find out more by visiting the website.


Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on May 16, 2012:

Thanks, Robin. We really did not know what the flamingo was up to when he walked our way. I guess he thought we had some tasty shrimp and was looking for that! We have never seen one do that before. Funny bird.

Robin Edmondson from San Francisco on May 16, 2012:

The flamingo is hilarious! What a great beginning and end to your video! It's always interesting to visit the different zoos around the country. We go to the SF Zoo frequently. It's always a great day. Thanks for the virtual trip to the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia!

Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on May 16, 2012:

Thanks, Teresa! I had some wonderful stars to work with for the video!

Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on May 15, 2012:

Awesome hub. Reminds me of the Toronto zoo here in Ontario. I held a membership for years when my kids were small. Your video is amazingly well done. The music is perfect!

RTalloni on May 15, 2012:

Yes! A part 2 would be great! :)

Thanks for the extra tips.

Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on May 15, 2012:

Thanks, teaches12345. It was fun. Even though we go quite a bit, there is always something new to see. The baby baboon was the star this time. Usually, the baboons sit around picking bugs off each other, but this little guy added some fun!

Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on May 15, 2012:

Thanks, K9. The video was all from one day, so it was neat that we were able to catch some funny and interesting animal moments.

Dianna Mendez on May 15, 2012:

It looks like you all had a great time at the zoo. The kids must have enjoyed feeing those birds. For the price of entrance, the zoo offers quite a lot to visitors. Great video, I felt like I was there too!

India Arnold from Northern, California on May 15, 2012:

Fantastic video of Riverbanks Zoo! I loved the music and getting to see all of the animals and birds. The information is really helpful regarding admission and attractions. A really informative hub!


Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on May 15, 2012:

Hi, Rolly. Glad you were able to visit. It really is a well-cared for clean zoo and I think they take pride in that. It also is not too overwhelming in size.

Sarah Johnson (author) from Charleston, South Carolina on May 15, 2012:

Thanks, RTalloni. Riverbanks is a great zoo and if you go, you may enjoy the botanical garden which is a tram ride up the hill. There is also a nature trail through the woods with some historical sites along the way. Hmmm...may be a part 2 hub in the making.

Rolly A Chabot from Alberta Canada on May 15, 2012:

I spent the better part od a full day at Riverbanks several years ago while visiting Columbia. I was down doing some contract work from Canada and found I had a day to spare and could not have spent it better. Well cared for Zoo... THanks for sharing this.

Rolly from Canada

RTalloni on May 15, 2012:

What a great look at the Riverbanks Zoo! Thanks for sharing your tips. We actually hope to visit this zoo soon.

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