If you are an animal lover traveling to Wisconsin Dells off-season, you HAVE to stop at Timbavati Wildlife Park! This zoo is open year-round but has a completely different feel in the winter. As the cold weather arrives and the crowds disperse, The only way to enter the zoo in the winter is to buy a VIP tour, a sloth encounter, and/or a red panda encounter. Then you get to see the critters up close and personal, which is an animal lover’s dream! There is something fun for everyone, from kids to grandmas. Animal lovers of any age will remember this amazing Wisconsin Dells off-season activity for years to come.
The VIP tour at Timbavati is awesome! What you get to see and do changes depending on the animals available at that time. One thing is for sure-amazing animal encounters right in downtown Wisconsin Dells. The cost is $300 for a group of up to 5, and it is absolutely worth it! It lasts a couple of hours, and you will have a private tour guide with you the whole time. The guides are knowledgeable about the animal species in general in addition to the personality quirks of each individual animal on tour.
Giraffes on the VIP Tour
The giraffes are a consistent feature and always a favorite. I have fed giraffes and loved it at a handful of other locations across the country. None of them come close to comparing to this experience.
The VIP private tour group gets to walk into the giraffe house and spend roughly 30 minutes feeding a group of giraffes. There are no lines and no rushing to get a picture and move on. There is plenty of time to interact with each giraffe and ask all the questions you can think of. We found the giraffes to accept some gentle petting and were very attentive and ready for the carrots the guide provided for us.
The Animal Nursery in Wisconsin Dells
The nursery at Timbavati houses a rotating selection of “guests” who may be young or need a little extra care for a variety of reasons. They also may be there simply to be a part of the VIP tour for guests.
One of our favorites was the kangaroo. One year there was a young joey who could be held. He was so adorable! The next time there was a slightly older kangaroo, who was too old to be held but adorable nonetheless!
We have seen and learned about tortoises, snakes, and skinks. There were flamingos, baby camels, and bats. You never know what you will get to see! Different tours see different animals, and Timbavati employees were clear that there is no guarantee about what animals will be there at any particular time.
Parakeets on the VIP Tour
I have to admit, I am a sucker for a cool parakeet aviary. I couldn’t stop smiling during my visits to the Timabavati aviary. Each participant got a seed stick, and the birds were quick to investigate us. You may want to skip this if you don’t care for birds. They are flying all around, and some may land on guests. The birds landed on heads, phones, and arms, and for some reason, they seemed to love our shoes.
Large Cats, Monkeys, and More on the VIP Tour
While the hands-on activities of the VIP tour were my favorites, it was still fun to see some of the other animals in their enclosures. You have the advantage of being the only group at the zoo and having a private tour guide. I enjoyed hearing about the individual backstories, names, and personalities of some of the animals, such as Diva, the white tiger, and Reggie, the overprotective Alpaca. Other animals we got to see included lions, cougars, lemurs, gibbons, cotton-top tamarins, fennec foxes, and more.
Red Panda Encounter
What animal lover doesn’t adore Red Pandas? They look like living teddy bears-so soft and fluffy. I have loved these little guys since the first time I saw one, and Wisconsin Dells is the best place for an up-close look at this animal! Timbavati offers 20-minute encounters, which is separate from the VIP tour, where you and a friend, along with with a trainer, go right inside the red panda enclosure! The cost is $100 per person, which seems a bit steep at first, but this felt like an exceptional and unique opportunity. I’m so glad I went ahead with it.
The enclosure isn’t very large, but there is quite a bit of vertical real estate for the pandas to climb around in until they get comfortable getting closer to the visitors. You are not allowed to pet the animals, but you do get to hold some treats to help entice them to visit you. I was lucky enough to have one of the red pandas, Puck, come up to me for a little sniff. Even the chance to be so close and see these beautiful animals made this worth it. For those who wouldn’t enjoy it if they can’t be guaranteed an interaction that includes touch, you may want to skip the higher price tag on this encounter and stick with the more reliable and less skittish sloths.
There is not a firm age minimum at the time of this publishing, but the employee thought my 3 and 5-year-olds were too young. Now having done the encounter, I completely agree. The animals are a bit cautious, and I think my squirmy kiddos would have made the animals stay up high. I also think the kids would not have appreciated it as much since there was a bit more patience involved.
I have done a sloth encounter at a much larger city in the past, but the sloth encounter in Wisconsin Dells was so much more. The number of sloths on-site varies, but on the day we were there in March of 2023 there were five two-toed sloths. We were allowed into their enclosure two people at a time, costing $50 per person for 20 minutes. This is not included in the VIP tour. During that time, we got an up-close look, took tons of pictures, fed the sloths, and even pet their fur. Our guide was informative and answered all of our many questions.
I was expecting the sloths to sleep the whole time, but they were pretty mobile. I’m not sure if that was typical or not. We had two sloths climbing back and forth on their tree limb, and three of them accepted the sweet potatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers we offered. The other two chose not to interact with us, which the keeper was supportive of.
Tips and Tricks
Be sure to dress for the weather. Parts of the tour are outside; you want to be warm enough not to feel rushed to the next indoor exhibit. Dressing in layers is helpful as indoor buildings, especially the nursery, can be warm. Keep in mind you are in an animal exhibit; some of the areas smell like a barn. This often does not dissuade true animal lovers. There is hand sanitizer at the entrance/exits of the buildings.
Check out the gift store on your way out for souvenirs. We had a tough time passing up the super soft stuffed animals.
Nearby Outdoor Activities
Before the Dells was known for waterparks and tourism, it was known for its natural beauty and unique geography. Rocky Arbor state park is less than 10 minutes from Timbavati and offers a wonderful way to get away from the hustle and bustle. A one-mile hike going past the bluffs is a great walk at all times of the year.
Mirror Lake state park is also less than 10 minutes from the wildlife park. This large park offers numerous trails. Pulpit Rock Trail (0.7 miles loop) and the nearby Fern Dell Gorge are our favorite winter trails. It is also fun to check out Echo Rock Trail (0.3 out and back). For something longer, try the Bluff-Canyon Trail(2 miles). In the winter, many trails are groomed for cross-country skiing, but plenty of trails are still available to explore on foot.
Check out one of the Wisconsin Dells Duck Tours for a relaxing trip on both land and water.
Nearby Indoor Animal Activities
Alligator Alley is another animal attraction in the Dells. You can buy food, dead or alive, for the gators as well as hold an alligator to pose for a picture at the end. There are a few other types of reptiles to see as well. I am not an expert on reptile care, but it didn’t seem like the animals had enough space, so I doubt I will go back. I was also disappointed by the lack of educational signs. Many of the enclosures didn’t even have a sign with the type of animal.
Other Animal Attractions
Take a peak at the Wisconsin Dells website for their recommendations on other animal attractions though many of these are better enjoyed during the summer season.
Right next door to the Timbavati Gift Shop is Goody Goody Gum Drop, which sells all varieties of chocolates and sweets. We chose to head downtown and share different varieties of tater tot dishes at the Dells Distillery in addition to indulging in some of their craft cocktails. The Dells Distillery has the same great vibe as Monks Bar and Grill, a favorite of locals and tourists and just down the street. Another top choice would be the Grateful Shed which hosts funky and bright decor, unique seating, and several food trucks inside a large warehouse-type building.
For more food recommendations check out some of my favorites here.
While some people may avoid Wisconsin Dells in the winter, I have to say the Timbavati Zoo is an animal lover’s dream during the off-season. Both my family, and the girls’ group I went with LOVED all the animal interactions. You get to be up close and personal with all sorts of amazing animals. The guides were informative and personable. The price tag is a little high but for those who have a little extra to spend and are looking for a unique, memorable, and furry exerpeince, you will not regret it.