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Winter Zoo Camp


It’s time to leave your den and enjoy ours! When winter comes to the Henry Vilas Zoo, our animals stay cozy and so will you. All our programs include a mix of time spent exploring the outdoors and experiences in our warm indoor spaces. With a different topic each day, campers will gain a greater awareness for the individual animals at the zoo and how to help animals in the wild, all while building their science skills and making new friends.

Registration is now open!

Click Here to Register

Winter Zoo Camp Details

  • 2020 Dates: Week 1 – December 21 – 23rd, Week 2 – December 28 – 30th
  • Fee: $180 (per each 3-day session) – Henry Vilas Zoo Members at the Family level or above receive a 10% discount
  • Camp is geared toward students in 1st-3rd grade
  • Hours: drop off is between 8:00 – 8:30 am, camp activities are from 8:30 am – 3:30 pm, pick up is between 3:30 – 4:00 pm. An optional aftercare is available from 3:30 -5:00 pm for an additional $8 per day
  • Each day includes: a science challenge, thematic games and activities, and of course an up-close animal encounter!
  • Lunch and snack are not provided. Please pack your own lunch and snack.

2020 Theme: Around the World!

We’ll travel the globe (from the safety of the zoo) to learn about amazing ecosystems and the animals who live there. In this winter camp, we will pack our bags each day for a fun adventure in different countries and habitats.

In order to minimize the mixing of camp groups this year, we are only offering registration for two three-day-long sessions, rather than single-day registrations. You can register for both weeks, or just pick your favorite.

Around the World – Week 1 (Dec 21-23)

From the dense rainforest to the open prairie, and from coast to coast, we will be traveling to some amazing habitats this week! We’ll start our adventure on Monday in the rainforest as we immerse ourselves in our tropical aviary and learn about the animals and people who make the rainforest their home. On Tuesday we will learn about the prairies and forests of North America, and meet a few animals who make their home on the range. Finally, Wednesday, we’ll try out our sea-legs to learn about animals who live in oceans and coastal regions of the world, and we’ll find out what it takes to care for animals who live on land and in water.

Around the World – Week 2 (Dec 28-30)

We’ll continue our journey around the globe from the hottest places on Earth to the coldest, and we’ll meet some animals who have amazing adaptations to survive. We start our week with a Monday warm-up in the arid desert environments of Australia and Mongolia, and have a chance to meet some desert animals up close. On Tuesday we’ll pack our safari gear and head to the African savannah to learn about some of the largest animals at the zoo and how they influence the cultures of the places they live. Then we’ll bundle up for Wednesday to travel to the coldest regions of the Earth to find out how animals can survive in the cold and what Henry Vilas Zoo is doing to help protect them in the places they call home.

Zoo Camp FAQ

What modifications have you made this year due to Covid-19?

Please read through our 2020 Safety Modifications.

How much time do campers spend with the animals and behind the scenes?

This is the heart of the Zoo Camp experience! Each day, campers will have an opportunity to step into the role of the zookeepers: putting out food for an animal or helping to prep an animal enclosure for the day. At least once each day, campers get to see or touch an animal up close. We also focus on investigating the real life challenges zoo staff and vets face. Campers will have opportunities to build their teamwork skills as they complete our science challenges.

What does a typical day at Zoo Camp look like?

  • Campers are welcomed with some games or activities while everyone arrives.
  • Small group bonding activities start the day.
  • Some days campers do a “keeper chore” to help the keepers set up for the day.
  • The challenge of the day is revealed. The group comes up with questions and suggestions for which animals to observe.
  • Campers explore the zoo to make observations that will help them solve the challenge.
  • Meet an animal up close or go into an enclosure to learn more.
  • Lunch offers a chance to eat, relax, or play at the playground (campers must bring their own lunch).
  • After lunch, campers discuss solutions to their scientific challenges and work together to design or build a model to solve the problem they have been working on.
  • The afternoon continues with thematic activities, games, and often another up-close animal encounter, before wrapping up and reflecting on the day.
  • Campers who are pre-registered for the extended day have a snack (provided by camp) and more time to explore the zoo, play at the zoo playground, or play games together.

Why are daily science challenges used to shape the camp experience?

With easy access to information online, teaching children how to approach a novel challenge is more effective than telling them animal facts. Our instructors build on campers’ innate curiosity by encouraging them to carry out scientific investigations. The challenges also create natural teamwork situations that bring groups together and are lots of fun!

What kind of science challenges are you talking about?

We work with the kind of challenges zoo staff and scientists are faced with everyday, such as:

  • What kinds of food should we feed the animals?
  • What should we add to the enclosure to encourage natural behaviors?
  • How do we design the best habitat for an animal?
  • How do we care for an injured animal?
  • What new inventions can we create by studying animals?

At Zoo Camp, we use age-appropriate scenarios based on real life. The campers then have room to observe, wonder, and come up with their own solutions – some of which we can actually put into place at the zoo!

Will it feel fresh and new to attend more than one session of Zoo Camp?

Yes! We have a new theme each day, with different animal encounters, and a new daily challenge and science investigations. The process of asking questions and carrying out new investigations feels fresh each time.

What is the adult-to-child ratio?

We keep our group sizes small. Camps are limited to ten children with two adults.

What group do I sign my child up for?

We group our sessions by the grade your child is in for the current school year. If you don’t see a session that works for you, please call or email us to discuss if it would be a good fit to sign your child up for a younger or older camp. We are willing to make exceptions if everyone thinks it will be a good fit. Email: or call 608-283-1610.

Click Here to Register

Questions about Zoo Camp? 

Email the Education Department at