Spend the day among more than 2,000 animals at this gigantic zoo. The highlights? First, there's the 7½-acre Great Bear Wilderness exhibit, a sprawling replica of North American woodlands for the zoo's population of grizzlies, polar bears, bison, Mexican gray wolves, and bald eagles. It's the largest exhibit built in the zoo's history. Be sure to watch the polar bears from the popular underwater viewing area. Monkeys, otters, birds, and other rain-forest fauna cavort in a carefully constructed setting of rocks, trees, shrubs, pools, and waterfalls at Tropic World. At the Living Coast you can venture through passageways to see sharks, rays, and Humboldt penguins. Daily "Dolphins in Action"shows are a favorite even for adults. Harbor seals, gray seals, and sea lions inhabit a rocky seascape exhibit.
One of the best educational exhibits is Habitat Africa, where you can explore two very different environments. If you look closely in the dense forest section,
you might be able to spot animals like the okapi; in the savannah section, which has a water hole, termite mounds, and characteristic rock formations, you can spy such tiny animals as the 22-inch-tall klipspringer antelope. Another winning option, The Swamp, is about as realistic as you would want an exhibit on swamps to be. It has a springy floor and open habitats with low-flying birds that vividly demonstrate the complex ecosystems of both Southern and Illinois wetlands. For hands-on family activities, visit the Hamill Family Play Zoo ($3.50), where kids can play zookeeper, gardener, or veterinarian. Special events—most notably Holiday Magic, which lights up the zoo on select December evenings—are also worth checking out. If you don't want to trek around the 216-acre property, don't worry. You can hop aboard a motorized safari tram ($5) in warm weather or the heated Snowball Express tram (free) in the colder months.