By LeeAnn Rhoden

The Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden in Columbia, SC is a treasure trove of activities and opportunities. It is close enough to visit just for the day and with the many exhibits and interactive activities, it will take the whole day to see and enjoy the complete park. The zoo and gardens are open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Riverbanks has natural habitat exhibits for the larger animals and provides a number of viewing angles to make it easy to observe the animals. You should see these first thing in the morning when the animals are most active.

The zoo has theaters for some of their animal exhibits with scheduled shows so you can see the care and training that the keepers take with the animals. There are also a number of indoor exhibits such as the aquarium, aviary and reptile house which you should save for the afternoon. For smaller children, there is the Riverbanks Farm which is home to animals such as goats, owls and alpacas where children learn how people and animals serve each other.

There are a number of interactive activities that children and parents can enjoy such as feeding the animals or walking through open pens. You can easily plan your tour of the zoo and participate in most, if not all of the activities.

Backstage tours are offered with some of the animal exhibits that let you see and assist the handlers in making meals, feeding and even physically interacting with the animals. There is also an opportunity to participate on stage with the sea lions and seals. These tours have specific times, days and additional costs so be sure to check with the Visitor’s Center or online.

Riverbanks Zoo has a number of rides. There is an old fashioned carousel, a rock wall for climbing, a four story vertical ropes course and pony rides. For the more adventurous, there is the zip line course which takes you through the zoo and across the Saluda River. Be sure to check out the requirements for the rides at the Visitor’s Center or online.

The botanical gardens is across the Saluda River and Waterfall Junction is a 30-acre play area for kids. There is a gigantic tree house, dinosaur dig and splash pad. This is a great place to let the little ones play, climb and explore.

More than just a day visit, there are opportunities for birthday parties, events, educational and also extracurricular learning opportunities and programs. And don’t forget their fund raising events such as Lights Before Christmas, Boo at the Zoo, Twilight in the Garden, Brew at the Zoo and the wine tastings. You can find out more online at

Distance: 74 miles, 1 hour 10 minutes

Budget: $15.95 for adults, $13.50 for children ages 2-12. Children under 2 are free. Discounts for military and seniors. Parking is free. Be prepared to pay for lunch and snacks and don’t forget the gift shop. Annual memberships are available and some packages include admission to the special activities.

What To See: See the whole park . Be sure to take the opportunity to participate in some of the interactive activities too.

If You Go: Wear comfortable clothes and shoes and be prepared to walk all day.


This article appears in the February 2018 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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