Whenever I tell people about our weekend escapade to the Popcorn Park Zoo, their reply is usually "oh, where is that?". I've never met anyone who has heard of this place. Could it be the best kept secret in New Jersey?
I live just a couple miles from the Philadelphia Zoo, yet I've only been there once since having kids. I find it too expensive and busy for my taste. So when my husband told me about this small New Jersey zoo in Forked River, dedicated to rescue animals, I couldn't wait to check it out. We loved it so much the first time we went that we now make it an annual trip.
The popcorn park zoo welcomes rescue animals
All the animal there were rescued from a life of suffering, either from a private owner, a circus or places that couldn't take care of them anymore. As you walk through the park, you'll find signs telling you the name and story behind each animal. There's Kya, a blind white tiger whose enclosure was built just for her so that she could walk around safely. You'll meet Gillighan, a monkey who before finding a new home at the zoo, managed to get out of his cage where he was kept in someone's home, destroy pretty much everything in the home and lock the owner outside his own home. There are countless more unique stories to read as you explore the park. Kids will ask lots of questions about why the animals had a difficult life before, so it's a great opportunity for them to learn about how to treat and respect animals.
Just the right amount of animals
The popcorn park zoo doesn't have as many animals as at the Philadelphia zoo, but there are plenty enough for kids to discover and see from up close. Here's a list of who you'll meet there: peacocks (lots of them, roaming freely around the zoo), pigs, turtles, parrots, bears, horses, cows, goats, sheep, llamas, lions, tigers, ducks, donkeys, monkeys, an albino squirrel, and an albino peacock who looks like a bride... to name a few. Each year the zoo welcomes new animals so there's always someone new to meet when you visit.
Manageable size and a quiet place (when the lion doesn't roar)
It's a small zoo set among a pine forrest with a sandy ground. It's big enough to see everything at a casual pace in 90 minutes. It's never too crowded, and very walkable for little legs. It's quiet as long as the animals stay quiet that is. Last time we went, the lion roared towards the female lion who completely ignored him. I don't think I had ever heard a lion roar in real life before, and he was just about 4 feet from me. I was like a kid in a candy store.
Well it's simple, you can buy popcorn there ($2.50 a box), and feed it to the animals. It leads to lots of animal interactions for the kids (and adults alike). The animals expect popcorn so they are almost always closest to you when you walk by. You can throw it to the pigs, or hand feed it to the sheep. You can put them down little slides to feed the goats. Even the bears are into it. Feeding the animals adds a level of entertainment for the kids that makes the visit even more worthwhile.
Adults cost $7, kids 3-12 are $4, and free for under 3. While the drive is just over an hour, and there's a toll to get back into PA, it's still way cheaper than the Philadelphia zoo (and just as fun). Add a couple packs of popcorn and for a family of 4 it costs around $30 including the bridge toll.
Make a day of it
Driving two hours round trip for a two hour zoo visit may not seem worth it. So why not make a day of it? Have a picnic in the little park right next to the zoo entrance and hang out with the peacocks.
On your way back, stop by the Imagination Kingdom playground, a massive playground that has every possible structures imaginable. It's never too busy and your kids can get their energy out if they have any left. Then have a quiet ride back home with sleeping kiddos in the back.
A couple more things. There's also an animal shelter next to the zoo if you want to adopt a pet, as well as an animal clinic. If you are looking to adopt a pet to bring home, or sponsor an animal at the zoo, the Popcorn Park Zoo is the place to go.