Zoos in North Carolina
Finding an activity that all members of the family will enjoy can be tricky. While some might want to visit art museums and cultural hotspots, others might want to take on a more adrenaline-filled adventure; while some might want to visit popular tourist attractions, others might want to seek the city’s hidden gems. However, no matter how different your family’s interests are, one thing is certain: everyone, across all ages, enjoys discovering new animals at a well-designed zoo.
The Wildlife of North Carolina
Located in the Southeastern region of the United States of America, North Carolina is home to diverse terrains, ranging from vast marshlands and lakes to mountainous peaks. Alongside its impressive landscape, the state of North Carolina is also home to some of the most interesting and diverse wildlife.
One of the most iconic animals you can encounter in this state is a white-tailed deer, which has played an integral role in shaping North Carolina’s history and culture. Besides this, you can also see mountain lions and bobcats in the Appalachian Mountains in the Southern area. Near the coastal plain, you can find black bears, red and gray foxes, wild boars, raccoons, rabbits, and beavers.
While North Carolina’s natural wildlife is exciting, you can further immerse yourself in it at a safer distance when you visit one of their many zoological parks, like the North Carolina Zoo, Aloha Safari Zoo, and Zootastic Park. When you take your family to the best zoos in North Carolina, you can all get a glimpse of various animal species ranging from land and marine mammals to birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians, and arthropods.
The Best Zoos in North Carolina
North Carolina has a wide variety of places to learn about the vast animal kingdom. From zoos and aquariums to animal sanctuaries and science centers, the state offers extraordinary opportunities for all families to enjoy.
If you’re new to North Carolina and don’t have a clear idea of where you want to go first, don’t worry; we’ll take you through all of the must-see zoos in the state.
North Carolina Zoo – Asheboro, NC
The North Carolina Zoo, located in the heart of the state, is one of the largest natural habitat zoos in the world. It is nestled within 2,600 wooded acres and spans an impressive 500 acres itself. While the main purpose of the zoo is to provide safe encounters with the more than 1,800 animals in their natural habitats, the North Carolina Zoo also offers authentic, memorable, and down-to-earth experiences for families to bond and enjoy together. With a wide array of attractions like camps, trekking, and educational programs, the zoo enables visitors to get a holistic view of wildlife.
You can explore the vast array of animal and plant life in the zoo’s three primary habitats:
- The North America Exhibit: Here, you can discover some of the most well-loved animals from the continent’s diverse ecosystems. From the seals and polar bears in the rocky arctic regions to the alligators, snakes, and cougars of the cypress swamps, they have it all!
- The Africa Exhibit: If you want to go out of the continent and witness the animals native to African countries, you can take a trip down to the Africa Exhibit and immerse yourself in a safari experience to see zebras, elephants, gorillas, and lions in their natural grassy landscapes.
- The Desert Exhibit: Try traveling to the glass-domed building that features the Desert Exhibit. It was specifically designed to simulate an arid desert environment. When you visit this exhibit, you can walk among eye-catching exotic creatures like blue-tongued skinks, desert tortoises, ocelots, sand cats, cape porcupines, and laughing kookaburras. You can also see some of the colorful and eye-catching desert flora.
This zoo also has the following fun and exciting attractions, including…
- The Kaleidoscope Butterfly Garden, where you can see and learn about dozens of butterfly species thriving in the tropical regions of the world. To experience this, you’ll need to pay an additional $3 per person.
- The Acacia Station Giraffe Deck, where you can engage with giant giraffes at eye-level. To enjoy this attraction, an additional $5 fee per person is required.
- The Air Hike Ropes Course, where you can challenge your physical strength at a fun and adventurous obstacle course. To participate in this activity, you’ll need to pay an extra $15 per person.
Aloha Safari Zoo – Cameron, NC
With a mission to create a safe and loving environment for mistreated, injured, and unwanted animals, the Aloha Safari Zoo at Crutchfield has become a sanctuary for about 400 rescued animals coming from various species, most of them exotic. Aside from creating a safe haven for these animals to live comfortably, the goal of the park is to educate children, families, and animal enthusiasts about the importance of animal care and conservation.
The zoo is open from Tuesdays through Sundays during the spring, summer, and fall, and Friday through Sunday during the winter months. If you want to visit the park, you don’t need to book a reservation; you can go directly to the site and buy your tickets. Once you’re inside, you can enjoy their amenities and attractions, such as:
- Goat and Pig Field: If you love the idea of getting up close and personal with some of the zoo’s cute animals, you and your family will love feeding the animals at the Goat and Pig Field.
- Giraffe House: If interacting with giraffes is one of the items in your bucket list, this attraction is for you. By visiting the Giraffe House, you can interact with Titus, one of the zoo’s friendly giants. Just make sure to keep cell phones, sunglasses, hats, cameras, and other accessories out of his reach in case he tries to nab a souvenir.
- Safari Tour: If you enjoy seeing animals in their natural habitat, you can take a safari tour at the southern section of the zoo. This will take you across the zoo to see animals like antelopes, bison, zebras, donkeys, ostriches, water buffalos, llamas, camels, and more! Plus, you’ll get to learn more about these animals with the help of a knowledgeable tour guide. This makes the safari tour a must-see attraction when you visit the Aloha Safari Zoo.
- Reptile Room: If that’s not enough, you can also view some exotic reptiles like ball pythons, burmese pythons, and bearded dragons when you head over to the reptile room.
The zoo is jam packed with exciting activities that you and your family will surely love. If you want to buy a souvenir, you can drop by the zoo’s gift shop and purchase stuffed animals, shirts, and other cute items to remember your visit.
Sylvan Heights Bird Park – Scotland Neck, NC
Unlike zoos that feature different types of species from mammals to reptiles, the Sylvan Heights Bird Park located at Scotland Neck features a broad spectrum of birds from all over the world. The park stretches over 18 acres of land and houses over 2,000 birds from 200 different species, including parrots, toucans, waterfowl, and flamingos to several other exotic birds.
The facility is separated into six sections, including Africa, Australia, Eurasia, North America, South America, and Other Exhibits. Depending on where you travel, you’ll be immersed in the birds native to that continent. If you visit Africa, you’ll get to see birds like the white-faced whistling duck, the Madagascar teal, and the Maccoa. When you move to Eurasia, you can find birds like the bar-headed goose, Bewicks’ swan, European pochard, and the smew.
If you want to encounter rare and exotic animals, you can head over to the Other Exhibits section to see creatures like the great argus, the golden pheasant, the emu, and the budgerigar.
While your ticket gives you access to all areas of the park, you might want to consider a more in-depth experience through a guided tour. With this tour, you’ll be able to visit different areas and learn about the birds in the park, the exhibits, and the park’s history.
Duke Lemur Center – Durham, NC
Established in 1966, the Duke Lemur Center was founded on the Duke University campus in Durham, North Carolina. It is a global leader in the care, protection, and study of lemurs — the world’s most threatened mammal group. Featuring over 200 animals across 14 different species, the Duke Lemur Center houses the most diverse and expansive population of lemurs outside of Madagascar.
If you’re interested in the variety of lemur species, be sure to book an onsite tour online. This requires a prepaid reservation, and it gives you access to the grounds and gift shops. To preserve the health and safety of these endangered primates, walk-in visitors are not accommodated.
You will also have the opportunity to adopt some of your favorite lemurs, like the aye-aye, black and white ruffed lemur, collared lemur, blue-eyed black lemur, crown lemur, and fat-tailed dwarf lemur. The center’s Adopt a Lemur program allows you to financially support these threatened mammals to make a real impact on their conservation and care. In doing so, you can help improve the quality of their food, daily activities, and veterinary care. The support you provide also funds other conservation programs to help protect the lemurs in Madagascar.
Greensboro Science Center – Greensboro, NC
The Greensboro Science Center is a multi-faceted organization that boasts not just a zoo, but also an aquarium and an indoor museum. There, you can explore a wide range of animal species and enjoy some serious adventures. Some of the attractions you can check out are:
- The Zoo Trek: Rather than viewing the animals from afar, why not get up close and personal? This is what the Zoo Trek is all about. With the help of animal experts, you can touch and feed animals like the okapi, flamingos, cassowaries, meerkats, prehensile-tailed porcupines, and Aldabra tortoises.
- The Aquarium Adventure: if you’re an ocean lover, you’ll definitely enjoy this. Go behind the scenes of the center’s aquarium and discover a world-class underwater adventure. From close-up sharks to feeding seahorses and a cownose stingray, you can participate in many interactive activities that are sure to make this an unforgettable visit.
- The Penguin Encounters: This is a 45-minute program that allows you to meet African penguins in a controlled environment. One of the zoo’s keepers will teach you all the ins and outs of penguin care and management so you can make the most of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
- The Omnisphere Shows: Beyond the center’s four walls, you can take a trip to the great wilderness and the vast solar system or dive deep into the earth’s core through an immersive audio-visual showing at the omnisphere.
Western North Carolina Nature Center – Asheville, NC
Located and managed by the City of Asheville, The Western North Carolina Nature Center aims to connect the community with the plants and animals found in the Southern Appalachian Mountain region. To achieve this, they focus on nurturing understanding, inspiring appreciation, and promoting conservation of the area’s rich natural biodiversity. At present, the center houses 60 different species of both domestic and wild animals as well as hundreds of plant species. All of these species represent the unique ecosystem found in the Southern Appalachians.
Among their extensive collection of animals, you can encounter American black bears, American red wolves, American river otters, Angora goats, barn owls, black rat snakes, bobcats, coyotes, and hellbenders.
Zootastic Park – Troutman, NC
The last but not least on this list of the best zoos in North Carolina is Zootastic Park, located in Troutman. This park offers a unique zoo experience that allows you to get hands-on interaction with more than 200 animal species, including tigers, deer, camels, zebras, giraffes, and even barnyard animals. Outside of their walking tour, you can also experience a personal safari tour through their drive-through option. You can traverse the hundred acres of land and immerse yourself in this fun and exciting wildlife adventure.
At Zootastic Park, you can also get a private animal encounter with some of the park’s baby animals. You’ll be assigned your own room where you can get hands-on experience with some of the mammals available. Just imagine it; you could meet and play with lemurs, armadillos, kinkajous, kangaroos, two-toed sloths, and spider monkeys!
North Carolina boasts zoo experiences unlike any other. It offers diverse animal encounter options where you and your family can enjoy once-in-a-lifetime adventures. With this list in mind, you’ll be sure to have an activity-filled trip to the state with not a dull moment in sight.
You and your family can explore the great outdoors, immerse yourselves in the natural animal habitats, and discover new species when you visit all of the wonders that North Carolina has to offer.