Family, kids

The little Zoo that Could | Pine Grove Zoo of Little Falls, Minnesota

A huge part of the Frantic family’s No Bummer Summer is road trips. Our destinations of choice; zoos and State Parks.

In my area, there is one zoo in particular that has been a family tradition since my oldest could walk….and he’s now 14 so we’ve obviously made the trek a LOT.

The Pine Grove Zoo of Little Falls, Minnesota is the second-oldest zoo in the state and the story of it’s beginnings is pretty cool. Thanks to donated land from several area businessmen, the zoo got it start on September 13, 1907 when the land was deeded to the City of Little Falls. Once in place, it became a drive through attraction with a handful of animal cages “for the enjoyment, pleasure, and benefit of the people of the area.” It was officially opened in the summer of 1913 as a walk-through zoo.

Pine Grove Zoo

Like I mentioned, our family has been visiting since 2003. Somewhere in my picture archives I have snapshots of my fuzz-headed toddler charging down the paved paths to each exhibit and bugging me for a new stuffed critter from the zoo’s gift shop. When baby sister, Sara, came along in 2005 the zoo was already changing and adding fun new attractions. When they were 5 and 8, we went to Boo at the Zoo; Pine Grove’s super fun Halloween party. Jake went as Harry Potter, Sara went as Daphne from Scoobie Doo. Good times 🙂

As a parent, not only did I love all that this little zoo had to offer (beautiful exhibits, paved trails, nice landscaping and lots of critters) I truly appreciated the fact that it was just big enough to give my kids a great zoo experience, but small enough for us to be able to leave for the day while everyone was still in a good mood!

Unfortunately my now tween and teen don’t find the Pine Grove Zoo as enchanting as they used to…BUT, I was thrilled to be part of the discovery for two families this summer. It was a gift to see the zoo, once again, through the eyes of Littles and feel that joy at their excitement and amazement.

Pine Grove Zoo

Two other elements I have always appreciate with Pine Grove is their educational mission and their ongoing quest to make sure their animals are happy and healthy. The mission of the Pine Grove Zoo’s Education Department is to present educational programs for all ages, build partnerships with local schools, and provide interpretive information throughout Pine Grove Zoo in order to build an understanding and respect for nature and wildlife. They have unique and exciting outreach programs for kids as well and I am secretly (or, not-so-secretly) bummed I am too old for their Junior and Apprentice Zookeeper Camps (Oh, to be a kid again!).


During our last visit we were lucky enough to meet and chat with the zoo’s Executive Director, Marnita Van Hoecke. I really, really admired Marnita’s obvious passion and hearing her talk about the animals under her care was like listening to a proud parent talking about their kids. I also was thrilled to find out that they have now started a program where the public can watch the enrichment activities and the target training they provide for all animals at the zoo.

Target training is something very cool and it involves trainers teaching the big animals  a series of cues in an effort to get the animal to participate in its own health care. These training cues help to drastically reduce stress when performing routine health care as well as help stimulate the animals mentally. Trainers can also use training to encourage normal behavior such as pouncing and leaping while eliminating stereotypical behaviors.


Enrichment activities often mimic the scenarios that the animals would experience in the wild, or things that would be just plain fun for them. For example, during hot days, many of the critters get “food-cicles” that challenges them to find treats encased in ice.

Over at Up North Parent, a collaborative site myself and two other moms created, there is a fun post about the day, pictures of many of the wonderful animals we saw and the scoop on some very exciting new additions to Pine Grove Zoo in the months to come. Zip over there and see why I personally will keep visiting this magical place for as long as I am able!

Pine Grove Zoo

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