Rolling Hills Zoo: An Unexpected Find in the Middle of Kansas

Rolling Hills Zoo: An Unexpected Find in the Middle of Kansas

Did you know there is a zoo in the middle of Kansas? Neither did we until we were planned a road trip to Topeka to attend our niece’s high school graduation.

It is a long drive from our home at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado to Topeka. We wanted to break up the trip.

We found the perfect stop outside of Salina, Kansas — The Rolling Hills Zoo.

Our Journey

Although we were excited to see our niece graduate, we were unexcited about the drive to and from Topeka. We knew we had to break up the trip.

We left our home Friday night, stopping in Colby, Kansas for the night. Like a scene from “The Wizard of Oz”, we pulled off the interstate just as clouds darkened the sky and tornado sirens rang out, alerting the town of a micro burst wind in the area. We spent the evening watching a severe thunderstorm from the safety of our hotel room.

Rolling Hills Zoo road trip
Storm clouds during our drive through the Kansas prairie

The next morning, we set out with overcast skies and threatening storm clouds. Our kids did not know we planned a surprise stop to the zoo, and my wife and I hoped the weather would hold out for the pit stop.

The clouds cleared, leaving sunny skies and a perfect opportunity to visit the zoo.

Arrival at the Zoo

We played a game in the car with our kids. Can you guess where we are going to stop? We provided one clue: we were stopping at Exit 244. The kids watched diligently for road signs and billboards until our son spotted the billboard for the zoo.

You cannot imagine that a zoo would exist in this underpopulated interstate exit. Once we took the off ramp, we drove two miles down a densely tree-lined country road. The entrance to the zoo took us by surprise. Bam! Here you are. Turn right to enter the zoo.

Rolling Hills Zoo Museum Entrance
The pathway to the Museum and Zoo entrance

We walked a short pathway to the museum where we purchased tickets. The pathway was pleasantly lined with animal sculptures, shrubs and flowers.

Rolling Hills Zoo Entrance
Water feature and flowers near the entrance to the Museum

The Museum

Inside we walked through a museum featuring taxidermy animals from different regions of the world. Animatronic people move and talk throughout the exhibit. Also, in the museum, we saw a limited-time traveling exhibition of arachnids. My kids and wife hate spiders, so they walked quickly through the exhibit featuring species of tarantulas and scorpions, before heading outside to catch our tractor tram ride.

The Zoo Tram

We paid an extra $3 per person to take the tram through the zoo. The tram makes seven stops, and trams run in 20-minute intervals. Sure, we could have hoofed it through the 65-acre wildlife center, but it was nice to hop on and off the tram — which has a number of canopied seats attached to a slow moving tractor.

Rolling Hills Zoo Tram
Our kids enjoy a ride and the tractor-pulled zoo tram

Also, while on the tram, the driver served as docent, telling us about the animals, and future plans to expand the zoo  on the adjacent land. So, it was worth the extra expense for the shaded ride and the information we accrued.

Rolling Hills Zoo girl on tram
Our daughter admires the animals from the tram

Kids Country Petting Zoo

For those children who don’t live (and work) on a farm, Rolling Hills has Kids Country, featuring a traditional red barn and farm animals. Kids love petting and playing alongside goats, sheep, llamas, and chickens.

Rolling Hills Zoo Kids Country
Kids Country’s red barn and petting zoo.

The Animals

Of course, we came for the animals, especially the animals we don’t see every day. Our son wants to be a primatologist when he grows up and begged us to see the mandrill, chimpanzee and Sumatran orangutan. Our daughter always loves giraffes, so we had to stop at the giraffe barn.

My wife and I love big cats, so we enjoyed seeing the Amur leopard, cougar, tiger, and snow leopard.

Rolling Hills Zoo Cougar
A cougar takes an afternoon nap.

Although our tram driver told us that the male lion’s roar is heard six miles away, we simply drove by on the tram, without spending time marveling at the beast.

Our favorite animals during this zoo visit, however, were not the large bears, rhinos, and camels, but the smaller animals that we could get up close to.

We laughed as we watched the flamingos preening themselves near a pond, and laughed as my wife tried to get a picture-perfect shot. She had such a difficult time with the birds moving to and fro, but her perseverance paid off.

Rolling Hills Zoo Flamingo
The flamingo preening at the pond

But, that wasn’t my wife’s only laugh-worthy encounter at the zoo. While trying to photograph the giant tortoise, she got a little too close to the animal. The tortoise looked at her, hissed, and hightailed it away from her (it moved as fast as we’ve ever seen a tortoise move).

Later on, we did a Google search and found that when startled, a tortoise exhales quickly, making a hissing sound. It hated her (at least that’s what we like to think), and the look on its face seems the proof we need to make our case.

Rolling Hills Zoo Tortoise
We know that the tortoise is thinking, “Get away from me, lady.”

We also enjoyed watching the anteaters and aardvarks. While we usually spend time admiring the larger animals, it was a fun opportunity to spend some quality time with these smaller animals.

Rolling Hills Zoo anteater
Anteater looking for a mid-day snack.

The Facilities

We ate lunch at the restaurant inside the zoo. There were plenty of menu options and the prices were modestly priced compared to other zoos we have visited.

Rolling Hills Zoo lake
The kids and I watch ducks and Canada Geese in the lake

The central feature of the zoo is a large lake, which provides pleasant scenery, but also makes for a lot of walking to animal exhibits.

Rolling Hills Zoo Lake
Our son, at the lake, telling us he has spotted Monkey Island.

The zoo also has a playground area, a number of benches and picnic areas, and plenty of restrooms.

At the end of our visit, we made the obligatory Gift Shop stop where our son bought a stuffed animal orangutan and our daughter got a stuffed animal tortoise.

Overall, we were more than happy to make this pit stop in the middle of Kansas. There are many places you can stop along I-70 in Kansas, but Rolling Hills Zoo has to be one of the more unexpected and enjoyable of those stops.

Have you been to Rolling Hills Zoo? What’s your favorite stop in Kansas? We’d would love for you to share with us. Leave a comment below.

Interested in other great U.S. zoos? Check out We Go With Kids’ post here.

13 thoughts on “Rolling Hills Zoo: An Unexpected Find in the Middle of Kansas”

  • Long road trip with kids has its challenges… and not only for the bored kids (so glad my kids are all grown up ;)) but it may also have a few rewards, like finding something unexpected. as you did.. OR… my ultimate reward would have been those amazing storm clouds. How I would love to drive (without the kids) through the Kansas prairie watching the storm clouds.  Amazing, almost spiritual. Great photo.

  • I took a road trip with my friend and her 6 year old song the other week just for a few hours. I can see how it can be a bit challenging keeping them from getting bored! A stop at the zoo sounds perfect! |I also love a Good old prairie storm!

    • I think our kids are better about long road trips than their parents. But, even they get a little punchy at times. It was enjoyable watching the storm from the safety of our hotel room.

  • Driven through Kansas so many times and whenever there are storm clouds they are so very very impressive. Perhaps due to the flat landscape and the towering sculpted thunderheads. I had no idea there was a zoo / wildlife park like this just outside of Salina. Will have to bookmark this post for the next time I find myself driving through. Sounds like an interesting visit.

    • Yes, the flat landscape may make the storm clouds that much more dramatic. I was surprised at how many places there were to stop and see along the Interstate, but the zoo was probably the most surprising.

  • Ah that flamingo! Looks amazing, doesn’t it? It’s always fun to go on a trip to the zoo with kids. There’s always something eventful! I remember going to a zoo in India with my nephew who threw a tantrum because the tiger would not come out of his cave into the visible part of the enclosure. Sorry about the tortoise though…wonder why it didn’t like your wife! Maybe it was the camera and not her.

    • Yes, the animals don’t always cooperate, do they? But, we had a good time appreciating the animals we could see and interact with.

  • The visits to the zoo are some of the nicest memories I have from when my daughter was little.
    However, I cannot get over the storm clouds – you are brave that you did not just cuddle up in a cozy hotel room….

  • Spiders and snakes are both terrifying to me, so I would have moved pretty quickly through the spider section myself! Those storm clouds look pretty spectacular. I grew up in the midwest but am now on the west coast so while we don’t get many thunderstorms here I do remember them – both fondly and but also with a healthy dose of respect as I saw a few in my days that turned into something stronger than just thunderstorms. Glad everything was safe for you on your drive!

  • It is always nice to find something exciting where you least expected it. The serendipity of travel is indeed amazing. The kids must have really loved the surprise visit to the zoo. Though we are personally against zoos and prefer to seen animals in their natural habitats, can see that this zoo is very spacious and the animals are well taken care of.

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