The Riverbanks Zoo is largest and most popular zoo in South Carolina and is located in the city of Columbia. In addition to being a zoo, the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is host to an excellent botanical garden and an aquarium. Riverbanks Zoo Columbia was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and was first found in the early 19th century. The Saluda River runs parallel to the Riverbanks Zoo, which covers an area of over 170 acres.
Riverbanks Zoo Columbia is home to more than 3,000 animals and has become the largest gated attraction in South Carolina, attracting more than 800,000 visitors each year. The animal collection at the Riverbanks Zoo includes one of the country’s premier birding habitats, called the Birdhouse, as well as reptiles (check out the Aquarium Reptile Complex), koalas, penguins and more. The Riverbanks Zoo Columbia has also recently added African elephants and gorillas (visit Gorilla Island) to its African Wild exhibit. The Riverbanks Zoo and Garden is also home to many endangered species and has made a name for itself by working actively to protect endangered species throughout the world. A Farm exhibit is also found at the Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, showcasing domestic animals of the United States such as goats, pigs and cows.
The botanical section of the zoo is also well worth a visit. The botanical garden covers over 70 acres. Here, visitors will find more than 4,200 species of plants, including native and domestic plants as well as plants from all over the world. The plants and special gardens are connected by a trail system which goes on for several miles. This is a great place to spend the afternoon walking and gazing at the plants and flowers. There is also a gift shop located onsite where you can buy seeds and some gardening novelties. To reach the gardens, you must cross a bridge over the Saluda River (you can easily walk). While you are in the area, you might also consider bringing along your swimming suit (during the summer). The Saluda River itself is a popular location for swimming and picnicking and is the perfect place for lunch if you bring your own.
Guests will only need to buy one ticket to see the zoo and the gardens, as your ticket will include entrance to both. Admission prices are around $9 for adults and around $6 for children (ages 3-12). Children under age 3 are free. The zoo is open from 9am until 5pm all year (except some holidays). On weekends during the summer the Riverbanks Zoo stays open one hour later until 6pm. If you plan to be in Columbia and visit the zoo in the summer, try to get there early, and avoid the weekends if you can. The zoo is quite busy during the summer as it is a major attraction for families and kids on summer vacation. Columbia public transit does make a stop near the zoo, and for longer stays in the area Columbia hotels are available without much trouble during the entire year, though expect prices to be a bit higher during the summer.