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Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, SC: Insider Tips

I live in Charleston, South Carolina with my husband and two children—both of whom were born after my water broke.

All about Columbia's RIverbank Zoo in South Carolina.

All about Columbia's RIverbank Zoo in South Carolina.

South Carolina's Riverbanks Zoo

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:

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  • 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.

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 surprised 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 sightseeing 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 afterward. 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.

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