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The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens Reopens as an “outdoor recreation facility”

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens reopens daytime operations as an “outdoor recreation facility” tomorrow Thursday, December 17. WildLights remains canceled.

Under the State of California’s December 6th regional stay-at-home order, outdoor recreational facilities are permitted to operate with additional safety precautions.

Set on more than 1,200 total acres, The Living Desert features miles of hiking trails and paved garden pathways, allowing guests the opportunity to pursue physically distanced, personal health and wellness through outdoor exercise.

“The Living Desert is known for a variety of attributes including being a beautiful place to walk and hike,” said Allen Monroe, President/CEO of The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens.

“We are grateful that we can continue to provide our community the opportunity to safely connect with nature during these challenging times.”

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens will reopen daytime operations as an outdoor recreation facility Thursday, December 17.

To adhere to the State of California’s outdoor recreation facility operating requirements, The Living Desert will close all food and beverage outlets, areas of gathering, indoor exhibits, giraffe feeding, and the carousel.

Advanced reservations are required for all admissions including members and guests. In addition, face coverings continue to be required for all guests over 3 years of age.

The original mandate from the State of California included zoos, however, The Living Desert does not fit the traditional zoo definition with its vast hiking trails and more than 50 botanical gardens. The cities of Palm Desert, Indian Wells, and Rancho Mirage, along with the Coachella Valley Association of Governments (CVAG) wrote formal letters to Riverside County stating that The Living Desert officially meets the criteria and intent of an outdoor recreation facility. After legal review, the City of Palm Desert issued a determination that The Living Desert was officially classified as an outdoor recreation facility. Therefore, The Living Desert has outlined a revised COVID-19 reopening strategy with the following modifications:

Health and Safety Precautions:

Advanced reservations required, limited guest capacity, required face coverings for all guests 3 years and older, easy access to numerous handwashing/sanitizing stations, in addition to the Park’s current COVID-19 safe operating procedures.

What will be Open:

Paved walking paths and unpaved hiking trails; The Appel Gift Shop will be open with 20% capacity.

What will be Temporarily Closed:

All food and beverage outlets, indoor exhibit spaces, outdoor play spaces, giraffe feeding, wildlife and reptile shows, keeper chats, carousel, private tours, and other points of gathering. WildLights remains canceled.

For more information, visit LivingDesert.org/Health

google map and directions

Covid-19 updates

reopening preparedness plan


  • Limited Entry: Safety precautions require us to employ timed ticketing to pace the number of guests entering the zoo. Once you enter the zoo you are welcome to stay as long as you like or until closing time.  This limit includes both members and daily visitors. 
  • Timed Ticketing for Contact-Free and Expedited Admissions: All tickets must be purchased in advance using our online system to enable us to control capacity and limit the number of guests who are inside the Zoo at any given time – including current Zoo members. Reserve your tickets online up to two weeks in advance for contact-free and expedited admissions!
  • Hours of Operation: As of Thursday, December 17, The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens will be operating under Regular Park Hours. The grounds and gardens open at 8 a.m. for both members and non-members and will remain open until 5 p.m. with the last admission at 4 p.m.
  • Face Coverings: For the health and safety of our animals, staff, and guests, masks that cover both the nose and mouth or face shields must be worn by all guests over the age of 3 years old while on Zoo grounds.

faqs – new operations 


The Living Desert is currently open for daytime operations as of December 17th.  

The Living Desert is operating as an outdoor recreation facility, as permitted by the State of California. 

Park Hours are open 8a.m. until 5p.m. with last admissions at 4p.m.

Guests are required to: 

Not enter if they are showing any signs of illness, including fever or flu-like symptoms 

Wear a face covering (mask, bandana, or neck gaiter) that covers their nose and mouth or a face shield while on grounds 

Maintain proper social/physical distancing of at least six feet 

Refrain from congregating with others that are not within their household 

Obey all posted signage, conditions for entry, and staff instructions 

Guests are encouraged to: 

Maintain proper personal hygiene including frequent handwashing 

Utilize hand sanitizers available 

The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, Wonderfully Wild.


What’s Open:  The paved walking paths and unpaved hiking trails. The Appel Gift Shop will be open with 20% capacity.

Temporarily Closed: All food and beverage outlets, indoor exhibit spaces, outdoor play spaces, giraffe feeding, wildlife and reptile shows, keeper chats, carousel, private tours, and other points of gathering will be closed.


The Living Desert is committed to providing our members with twelve months of benefits, which includes year-round access to the Zoo. Members will receive an auto-extension of 10 days added to their membership. There is no action needed by you and members can use their existing membership card and ID. 


All food and beverage outlets will be closed. The Appel Gift Shop will be open with 20% capacity. 


We are looking forward to welcoming our community back to The Living Desert, and we appreciate your patience and understanding as we navigate this new normal. Given the change in the season, you are encouraged to come prepared for the heat (hat, sunscreen, water, proper footwear, cool clothing). In addition, guests should bring a face covering or face shield as they are required for guests over age 3, although a limited number of masks will be available for purchase at the Appel Gift Shop. Guests assume the liability for the potential of exposure to COVID-19.


The Living Desert has implemented several additional safety protocols to ensure guest, staff, and animal safety. 

  • Enclosed buildings and tactile exhibits remain temporarily closed.  
  • Hand sanitizing stations are placed in 8 locations around the Zoo. 
  • Touchable surfaces including counters, doors, restrooms and drinking fountains are disinfected regularly. 
  • Capacity limits have been implemented – limiting guests per hour.
  • The Zoo exit has been modified. 
  • Ticketing/admissions has been moved to contact-free. Guests are encouraged to pre-purchase their tickets online or at one of the ticketing kiosks.  Each guest will then present their ticket to be scanned at the admission gate. A clear, acrylic shield has been installed at the admissions windows to minimize contact between staff and guests. 
  • Staff and volunteers are required to follow OSHA and CDC health guidelines and are not to report to work if they are experiencing any signs or symptoms of COVID-19. 


Anyone with general admission tickets during our temporary closure of December 7-17, 2020, should have received an email with information on how to reschedule, receive a refund for their booking or donate their unused tickets back to the Zoo. 

Ticket holders who had reservations while we were closed have a couple of options: 

  • Visit another day: 
  • Ticketholders may choose to simply keep their tickets and use them for a daytime Zoo visit in the future (excluding special events). Tickets will remain valid for one year from the date of issue.  
  • Request a full refund: 
  • Call The Living Desert at 760-346-5694 between 8:00am-5:00pm daily  
  • Request a call-back at LivingDesert.org/refunds  
  • Donate the cost of the unused ticket(s) to The Living Desert: 
  • Call The Living Desert at 760-346-5694 between 8:00am-5:00pm daily 

Please be aware that response time may be slow, as we are managing a high-volume of inquiries. We thank you for your patience. 


WildLights reservations between December 11-27, 2020 should have received an email with information on how to reschedule, receive a refund for their booking or donate their unused tickets back to the Zoo. 


Our existing WildLights season has been cancelled; there are no WildLights nights scheduled at this time. 

We are currently evaluating the feasibility of rescheduling WildLights for dates in the future, but do not have a decision yet. 

Tags assigned to this article:
ReopeningsThe Living Desert

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