In Lufkin, Texas, about seventy miles northeast of Huntsville, lies a hidden gem called the Ellen Trout Zoo.
Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a nonprofit dedicated to the advancement of conservation and education through zoos and aquariums, the Ellen Trout Zoo is home to exotic and domestic animals from 5 continents, including nearly fifty endangered species the zoo helps to save as part of the American Species Survival Plan.
Just outside the zoo entrance, visitors find two playgrounds, picnic areas,
and a small train to ride around the zoo grounds for $2 per person.
Open 7 days a week from 9am to 5pm, admission is a very affordable $7 for adults; $6 for seniors; $3.50 for children ages 4 to 11; and children under the age of 4, along with those with a zoo membership, are free. A lesser-known fact is that zoo admission is waived on Monday mornings before 10 am, making this an advantageous time to take the whole family or a large group.
Within the zoo, animal exhibits are grouped into categories: Asia, Africa, Australia, North & South America, and the Small Animals building.
The Asian animals include a Komodo Dragon named Rajah, Malayan Tapirs, and an impressive Malayan Tiger. There is also a walk-through aviary, home to colorful, exotic birds.
In the African Loop, visitors find a large pond with underwater viewing to see the resident hippos, 20-year-old Nakili and Jazi, who celebrated her 16th birthday with a zoo celebration in early July. A replica African Savannah is home to several Masai Giraffes, and next door are the White Rhinos. The White Rhino, named for an Afrikaans word meaning “wide” rather than their color, is the third-largest land mammal on earth and was nearly hunted to extinction during the 18th and 19th century due to the mythical healing properties thought to be found in their horn. Today, the two rhino brothers at Ellen Trout Zoo are contributing to the saving of the species via breeding.
Enjoy a “walkabout” in the Australia section, featuring wallabies and emus.
Emus are the second-largest living bird, only slightly smaller than their relative the ostrich.
North and South American exhibits showcase flamingos, whose beautiful red to light pink coloring is caused by the beta-carotene in the shrimp they eat. Visitors will also see the alligators and the huge Galapagos Tortoises, which can grow up to 919 pounds! Not to be overlooked are the family of raccoons climbing up on their perch to inspect the passersby. Raccoons may be a pest in your backyard, but they are quite cute and highly intelligent up close.
Finally, the small animals building is where visitors will find a number of reptiles, amphibians, birds, and small animals like the adorable and endangered cotton-top tamarin.
Multiple concession areas and a gift shop are available for snacks and souvenirs throughout and at the conclusion of the journey through the zoo.
A special thrill at the Ellen Trout Zoo is the magnificent peacocks that roam freely across the grounds. This was one of the favorite parts among the group of children with whom I explored the zoo. While most of the peacocks had glorious blue and green coloring, there was at least one all-white peacock. Four-year-old Sadie and six-year-old Kyndal Ehlert said the free-range peacocks were beautiful, and Korey McMillan said her two-year-old son Ryan asked to see pictures of the peacocks for weeks after the visit.
Along with Ryan, Korey brought her nine-year-old son Logan, and shared, “Logan loved seeing the lion and going on the train. I loved the mix of more exotic creatures–alligators, tortoises, emus, and, of course, the free-range peacocks!”
Courtney Ehlert, mother to Kyndall, Sadie, and 2-year-old Emersyn said,
“The Lufkin Zoo is by far one of my favorite zoos I’ve been to. It is small enough to make a day trip and see it all, and it’s shady the whole way through.”
Lauren Abbott, who visited the zoo with her children, nine-year-old Ashlynn, and six-year-old Jaxen, said, “Jaxen loved the snakes, and Ashlynn
and I loved the peacocks just walking around everywhere.” Because Texas is so hot in the summer, she added with a laugh, “I especially loved the shaded trails!”
There is so much to love about this zoo! My oldest children, six-year-old Asher, and three-year-old Juliet, also loved riding the train, were amazed at the big cats (tigers, lions, and leopards–oh my!), and appreciated that we could walk the whole zoo, still taking time to explore the exhibits that most interested us, in less than two hours. As I also had my newborn daughter Norah with me, I appreciated that all the trails were stroller friendly (you can bring your own or rent one at the zoo), and there were many shaded seating areas for resting or nursing a baby. Despite going on a Monday morning, when zoo admission was free, the zoo was not crowded, and we could easily linger by the giraffes and white rhinos without holding up walking traffic.
All in all, a day trip to Ellen Trout Zoo is a great idea! After taking in the zoo for a couple of hours, our group rode the train, enjoyed a picnic lunch, and played at one of the playgrounds until all the children were thoroughly exhausted and ready to nap the whole 90-minute drive home.
The Ellen Trout Zoo is located at 402 Zoo Circle, Lufkin, TX 75904. They run a variety of fun and educational programs year-round. For more information, follow the zoo on Facebook or check out the website: ellentroutzoo.com