Camping at the Toronto Zoo

Lion at the Toronto Zoo. Photo by Heather Kelly.

Waking up to lion roars and hyena chuffs – I’m guessing that’s who the sounds came from – is pretty amazing. Camping overnight at The Toronto Zoo is a supercool experience.

The Zoo just started offering camping this summer, since they currently can’t offer their regular overnight program in their tents with group activities, due to covid-19. I love the idea of camping at the Zoo, but I don’t have kids and I would never have done the regular program. I am glad they adapted and ended up creating a program that is much more accessible and appealing (to me).

Hyena at the Toronto Zoo. Photo by Heather Kelly.

Called “Wild Tails,” the overnight experience includes:

  • Individual campsite reserved for the night
  • Self-guided exploration of the Zoo, including after-hours and pre-public morning access to the African Savanna and Canadian Domain regions
  • Burger or hotdog dinner with drink, chips, and small frozen dessert
  • Light breakfast snack and coffee or tea in the morning

Campers are provided with a handbook by email before arrival (it is also on the Zoo’s website) and are expected to bring their own tent and camping equipment. Only tents are permitted, no trailers or RVs, since the campsite is delineated spaces in a small field.

We found it a little confusing when we arrived, as there is no signage at the arrival location with instructions or to indicate where to meet the staff person. But a staff person soon arrives and they have a well-structured system for informing guests and leading everyone through the Zoo and to the campsite location.

It is a bit of a chore to haul everything from the vehicle to the designated site, and then park the vehicle in another field area nearby. But the campsite location is well-situated in the Zoo, with washrooms and covered picnic/seating area nearby. There were two staff people based in the covered seating area to support the campers for most of the evening, and snacks and beverages were served from that area in the morning.

Wild Tails campsite at the Toronto Zoo. Photo by Heather Kelly.

After unloading our vehicle and setting up the tent, at around 5:30pm we went to walk around the Zoo and visit the animals. The Zoo was still open to the public at that time. We enjoyed the experience more after the Zoo was closed and there were only the other overnight campers – far fewer people on the paths.

Common Eland at the Toronto Zoo. Photo by Heather Kelly.

My husband Jeff was particularly enthralled by the rhino and the hippos.

I love all creatures (as you know from reading other posts on this blog) but I was especially thrilled to meet baby longlegs, a.k.a. Amani, the beautiful baby giraffe who was born there this springtime. I had been watching livestreams and online videos of her on the Zoo’s great YouTube and Facebook channels, and she is (of course) even more gorgeous in person.

Amani (baby longlegs) at the Toronto Zoo. Photo by Heather Kelly.
Giraffes at the Toronto Zoo. Photo by Heather Kelly.
Bison at dusk. Toronto Zoo. Photo by Heather Kelly.

It was also especially lovely to see and photograph the animals in the dusk and dawn light. The photos above were taken in the evening. Here are a few of the animals in the morning light:

Ostrich at Sunrise. Toronto Zoo. Photo by Heather Kelly.
Zebra in morning light at the Toronto Zoo. Photo by Heather Kelly.
Lions in the morning at the Toronto Zoo. Photo by Heather Kelly.

The Wild Tails camping program is primarily set up for families with children, but it also fun for adults who are happy to camp in a makeshift campsite in the middle of the zoo. Members get a discounted rate but you don’t have to be a member to book the camping experience.

Of course masks were worn and protocols were followed. All of the staff we spoke with were knowledgeable, helpful, and friendly, and helped to make it a really enjoyable experience.

Details are here: