From time to time we like to take a day trip for a nice lunch and a cultural activity. Usually it’s just the two of us.  Last week, for a change of pace, we headed to the Bronx Zoo with three generations including an 7-year old, a 2-year old, and a 3-month old for a different kind of outing.

It was a great day full of adventure and discovery. The wildlife ruled – lunch was not the focus. Along the way we saw tigers, a Siberian leopard, bison and a lot more.

The Bronx Zoo, which opened in 1899, is the largest urban zoo in the United States covering 265 acres.  It’s a mix of Beaux-arts architecture, enclosed exhibits, kids activities, and natural habitats that draws more than two million visitors a year.

The ride from Norwalk is easy, less than an hour when the traffic is moving, with plenty of parking ($17).  Our usual spot is right off Exit 6 on the Bronx River Parkway. This lot is close to the gate that leads to one of our favorites – the American Bison.

With tickets purchased in advance (, adults $37, kids $27, under 3 free) we walked right in along the path parallel to the slow-moving Bronx River.  A picturesque waterfall foaming from the recent rains eased the transition from big city to animal habitat.

2. At the tigersJust up the path, a herd of about a dozen bison were grazing well within sight, but far enough back to keep their privacy.  Even while shedding down to a summer coat, they’re surprisingly large and woolly. It’s not easy to imagine the time when millions of these giant American icons thundered across the Great Plains.

Turning left at the World of Birds we came upon a herd of large Pere David’s Deer. Lounging on the far side of a duck and geese filled pond, they seemed perfectly at ease in the Bronx.  The stag, with his large rack of antlers, lay surrounded by his harem. As we walked along the path, each vantage point offered different perspectives of their life.

Our two granddaughters were fascinated with the tiger sisters lounging on their hillside.   The voluble docent explained that at three years old they play roughly, practicing their stalking and hunting skills and then settle down for a nice cuddle. Within the year, they’ll separate and become independent adults.

Patching up a scraped shin.

Patching up a scraped shin.

You might not think of the Bronx as such a natural place. After all the animals are mostly enclosed.  But when you’re seven and two, it’s not hard to find a rock to climb along the path, the perfect spot to skin a shin and scrape an ankle.  Quick action by a well-prepared mom with a box bandaids patched them up, and our exploration continued.

We began a metaphorical ascent into the Himalayan Highlands, home of the rare Snow Leopard. We were lucky to see the large cat glide across the field.  With his gray and black camouflage, he almost disappeared by tucking under some low-hanging tree branches, spots blending seamlessly with the shadows.

5. The camel rideNext up was lunch.  Our day had been planned around eating at the Jungle World plaza, site of the camel ride.  On the way, we passed under the skyscraper-tall Nature Trek, a labyrinth of tunnels, bridges, and walks at treetop level for children of all ages to see the world from above as forest dwelling animals do.  We’ll make the climb next time.

You might expect the lunch menu at Jungle World to feature things like Explorers chicken fingers, adventurers hamburgers, and safari hot dogs.  The roaming peacocks and nearby camels lend an exotic air, but the menu is more every day.

8. A peacock joined us for lunchThe well-prepared food includes burgers, dogs, chicken fingers, and sandwiches, but the lines are long and the seating limited. Next time, we may pack a simple picnic and eat on some of the many benches along the shady walks.

 It seemed like every camel excursion ($8) I watched began with some fear and apprehension and ended with big smiles.  The long-legged, intimidating, indifferent camels are boarded from a platform almost head high. From the saddle, it’s a long way down. Their lurching gait makes it necessary to hang on, but by the time the circuit was complete, seven year old Moira – on a solo ride – had mastered the technique and was having a ball.  The rest of us were either too old or too young for this adventure.

When you travel with a two-year old, nap time controls the day and is not to be trifled with.  Before we were finished we bumped up against that immutable deadline and headed back to the car.  The day had been full, but there was lots more to see, enough for many more visits. Can’t wait!

All tuckered out from a day at the zoo.

All tuckered out from a day at the zoo.