Discover 17 Amazing Zoos With Polar Bears
One of the most attractive critters at the zoo splashes through frigid waters in transparent-white fur and black skin. These creatures, the incredible critters are polar bears, the beauties of the Artic Circle. In the wild, most humans will never see a polar bear. So, we have to rely on places like zoos to witness these incredible mammals. But where do you go to find polar bears in zoos? Let’s take a look at these amazing options below to find out.
Facts About Polar Bears
Before diving into Arctic temperature waters with the thrilling animal, let’s take a look at a few polar bear facts.
- The species thrives almost exclusively in sea ice of the Artic Circle. The species has firmly adapted to the cold and snow, hunting for other Artic animals and fish and knowing how to cuddle up in the cold for the coolest season (i.e., most of the year).
- Polar bears blend into the snow with their transparent-white fur.
- The fat reserves these bears store keep them alive all year long, particularly when sea ice isn’t available for their usual hunting.
- All that fat equals buoyancy. Polar bears are great swimmers for long distances because of it. This allows them to hunt for seals and other marine mammals far from shore.
Why Are There Few Polar Bears in US Zoos?
Polar bears are, unfortunately, marked as Vulnerable according to the IUCN. This status is largely believed due to loss of sea ice, or habitat of the bears, which means they have less and less habitat for food and shelter.
Studying the animals is far easier in captivity, so many zoos seek to keep some polar bears for these purposes. However, building enclosures suitable to the species is cost prohibitive and requires a great deal of space, time, and effort, as well. Each bear requires a minimum of 1 acre of space, with deep, chlorine-free yet clean saltwater pools. These are difficult to maintain safely for the animals. Polar bears also require cold temperatures for their health, which a maximum of 77-degrees Fahrenheit, but preferred temperatures much lower for thriving status. Various other reasons also make caring for polars bears extremely challenging, like the bears requiring panoramic views and the required food to simulate natural prey.
Additionally, it is now illegal to import polar bears from other countries and therefore breeding in captivity is required to produce more bears in captivity for both study and care.
Columbus Zoo and Aquarium — Powell, Ohio
You might be surprised to learn it, but the Columbus Zoo, in Powell, Ohio, is the largest zoo in America. The suburban zoo features polar bears in their award-winning Polar Frontier Exhibit. The bears may be seen from above ground or alongside their swimming pool via an acrylic tunnel and glass viewing area. You’ll also spot Arctic foxes and brown bears in the exhibit.
Lincoln Park Zoo — Chicago, Illinois
One of the nation’s top free admission zoos, the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, along the lake front, offers some of the best polar bear viewing in the Midwest. The zoo has been around since 1868, before the Great Chicago Fire, with some 35 acres of land encompassing animal habitats, wildflower preserve, and stunning public art. The zoo hosts over 1,000 animals in all, including big cats, bears, camels, sloths, and kangaroos. And, of course, the exciting polar bears in their habitat in the Walter Family Arctic Tundra Exhibit. The exhibit offers a large overhead viewing of the polar bear as well as a glass viewing area into the swimming pool.
Buffalo Zoo — Buffalo, New York
Situated in Buffalo, New York, the Buffalo Zoo lays claim to one of the few polar bears in zoos in the United States. The zoo has been around since 1875, making it one of the oldest in the country. Here you can see over 1,200 animals, including monkeys, big cats, zebras, giraffe, and, of course polar bears. You’ll also find arctic foxes, Eurasian lynx, and bald eagles in the Arctic Edge Exhibit with the famous bears.
Saint Louis Zoo — Saint Louis, Missouri
Another free zoo, the St. Louis Zoo in Missouri welcomes visitors from all over the world with its award-winning exhibits and animal management and conservation projects. The beautiful zoo campus lies within the large park district of Forest Park when the famous Muny Theatre and Saint Louis Science Center also reside. The zoo hosts one polar bear, an adult male named Kali, in its McDonnell Polar Bear Point Exhibit. Visit kangaroos, big cats, hippos, Andean bears, and giant ant eaters while visiting the incredible zoo with polar bears.
Brookfield Zoo — Brookfield, Illinois
Located just outside of Chicago in the suburb of Brookfield, the Brookfield Zoo makes number two on the Illinois list for zoos with Polar Bears. The zoo contains moats and ditches separating folks from the animals with great respect for distance for the critters living there. The polar bears call the Great Bear Wilderness their home, with three habitats for bears, shared with American bison, grizzly bears, Mexican gray wolves, and bald eagles. Watch polar bears from above and from the glass swimming hole viewing area. Be sure to head to the Seven Seas and Tropic World exhibits for dolphins, gorillas, and more exciting animals when you visit.
Detroit Zoo — Detroit, Michigan
Around since 1928, the Detroit Zoo has earned its standing as an international animal welfare, conservation, and sustainability provider. It also happens to be one of the zoos where you can find polar bears in United States. Their Arctic Ring of Life Exhibit contains four acres of outdoor and indoor terrain for the bears, including a freshwater pool, ice area, saltwater pool, and grassy tundra. These massive four acres makes this one of the largest zoo-contained polar bear habitats in North America.
For the most exciting views of the polar bears, head to the Frederick and Barbara Erb Polar Passage, a 7-foot acrylic tunnel under the water. You’ll also find the Polk Penguin Conservation Center full of penguins, and Dinosauria featuring animatronic dinosaurs and a 4D theater at the zoo.
Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium — Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Living in the Water’s Edge Exhibit at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, the polar bears enjoy an air-conditioned cave and icy pool. The leading facility for research allows guests to learn about these amazing animals while watching them swim in their pools. You can also find sea otters, California seal lions, and elephant seals in the exhibit. Other exciting spots at the Pittsburgh Zoo is the Kids Kingdom with a petting zoo and reptile house, the African Savanna where lions, giraffe, and rhinos roam, and, of course, the aquarium housing exciting marine animals.
San Diego Zoo — San Diego, California
Perhaps one of the most famous zoos in the world, the San Diego Zoo maintains its role as one of the best zoos with polar bears in the world. Mimicking the Arctic tundra, the Conrad Prebys Polar Bear Plunge houses polar bears happily in an inviting exhibit. The bears enjoy their swimming pool while visitors enjoy watching the bears from the viewing room. You’ll also spot life-sized polar bear statues within for some great family photo ops. A Inside Look Tour for Polar Bears and Friends also offers a unique 90-minute experience with exclusive access to the polar bear habitat.
Hogle Zoo — Salt Lake City, Utah
Situated in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Hogle Zoo is the state’s largest zoo and most visited paid attraction in town. The zoo has been around since 1931 when its 42-acre facility began homing what now is more than 800 animals from around the world. Included at this wonderful zoo are big cats, grizzly bears, monkeys, giraffes, and, of course, polar bears. In the Rocky Shores Exhibit, you’ll find the polar bears share space with grizzlies, seals, otters, and bald eagles. Find the Tidewater Cover for watching the polar bears swimming while hanging out indoors.
Henry Vilas Zoo — Madison, Wisconsin
Situated in Madison, Wisconsin, the Henry Vilas Zoo has earned its places as one of the absolute best zoos in the Midwest. The zoo also remains of the last free zoos in the country, meaning at least three of the 12 or so exist in the Midwest. To visit the polar bears here, visit the Arctic Passage, where they inhabit the exhibit along with harbor seals and grizzly bears. Viewing areas exist for overhead and water-point viewings. The sustainable habitat relies on solar panels to cool the polar bear habitat, along with rainwater collection and filtration for the swimming pools. For a closer look, take their Behind the Scenes Tour for a greater education in sustainability and the polar bears themselves.
Alaska Zoo — Anchorage, Alaska
What more appropriate place could there be than Anchorage, Alaska for a zoo with polar bears? The Alaska Zoo first came into being in 1969, with the 25-acres housing over 100 animals. Here you’ll find moose, reindeer, big cats, birds of prey, bears, and, of course, the amazing polar bears. Look for them in the Polar Bear Habitat where they swim, enjoy fresh fish, and basking in the sun on cold winter days.
Como Park Zoo and Conservatory — Saint Paul, Minnesota
Another zoo in the Midwest, the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory resides in Saint Paul, Minnesota, part of the Twin Cities. The 17-acre zoo has been around since 1897. Giraffes, arctic foxes, bison, wolves, big cats, and many other animals call Como home, along with the fabulous polar bears. Visit the white bears in the Polar Bear Odyssey Exhibit, designed to emulate the Hudson Bay ecosystem. You’ll find a stream, rocky cliffs, and evergreens in the area. And guess what? Como Park is another one of the many free zoos in the Midwest.
Kansas City Zoo and Aquarium — Kansas City, Missouri
If you’re looking for massive zoos with polar bears, head to the Kansas City Zoo and Aquarium. Here, you’ll find the bears roam in their exhibit situated on the 202-acre grounds. More than 1,700 animals call this zoo home, including big cats, wallabies, elephants, monkeys, tortoises, otters, black swans, and caracals.
Louisville Zoo — Louisville, Kentucky
Head east from Kansas City and find another one of the best zoos with polar bears in Louisville, Kentucky. Here at the Louisville Zoo you’ll find the 134 acres filled with 1,700-plus animals, including sloths, albino alligators, orangutans, giraffes, and camels. The zoo has been around since 1969 and maintains a lovely habitat for the polar bears in an area known as the Glacial Run Exhibit. You’ll also find seals, sea lions, snow leopards, and grizzly bears in the area.
Memphis Zoo — Memphis, Tennessee
One state south of Louisville’s Glacial Run Exhibit, you’ll find the Memphis Zoo loaded with intriguing animals on the 76-acre grounds. Head to the Northwest Passage Exhibit to witness zoo’s polar bears, along with bald eagles, ravens, and sea lions. The zoo has been around since 1906, housing over 3,500 animals along with the polar bears. You’ll find zebras, giraffes, capybara, wombats, Vampire bats, sloths, and red pandas, among others.
North Carolina Zoo — Asheboro, North Carolina
Situated in Asheboro, North Carolina, one of the best zoos with polar bears contains 2,140 acres. The huge zoo began in 1974 and houses over 1,700 animals. You’ll find wolves, zebras, alligators, snapping turtles, bison, arctic foxes, bobcats, bongos, gila monsters, and, of course, polar bears at the North Carolina Zoo. Here, the polar bears call the Rocky Coast Habitat their home. They share the exhibit with puffins, harbor seals, arctic foxes, and other suited to the cold.
Oregon Zoo — Portland, Oregon
Head to the Pacific Northwest to find the amazing zoos with polar bears like Oregon Zoo in Portland. The zoo first came up in 1888, with its now 64-acres of land hosting more than 1,800 animals. Here you’ll find those lovely polar bears in the Pacific Shores Exhibit, along with harbor seals, sea otters, penguins, and more. You’ll also find red pandas, lemurs, giraffes, elephants, porcupines, beavers, dwarf mongoose, flying foxes, and otters.