If you ain’t from around these parts, you may have never visited the North Carolina Zoo. But at just an easy hour-long drive away in Asheboro, there’s no excuse not to see as many of its 500 developed acres as you can fit in a day.
The North Carolina Zoo is divided into two continents: North America and Africa (Asia is currently under construction). There are parking areas for both continents, but everyone knows the proper way to structure a visit is to start at North America, visit those animals, and then either walk or take a tram ride to Africa. The two continents are joined at Junction Plaza, where you’ll find food, a gift shop, a carousel and a butterfly garden. Pro tip: Skip the line and order ahead of time. Yes, it’s worth it, even if you go on an “off-season” weekday, which is peak field trip season.
- In North America, you’ll see alligators, bobcats, bears, river otters and fish. You’ll see polar bears and our personal favorite, horned puffins. There is a 5,000-acre playground called “Garden Friends” near the Rocky Coast exhibit, which creates a natural stopping point. There’s also a restaurant called “Wild Burger,” which is just a bit unsettling.
- Africa is where you’ll find the more exotic animals like lions, elephants and rhinos. Snack options beyond Junction Plaza can be limited, so plan accordingly.
You can spend a whole day at the zoo just seeing the exhibits. But you can also pay an additional $5 and feed lettuce to a giraffe, or an additional $3 if you’d like to try and get over your fear of winged insects landing on your body in the butterfly garden. Cards are accepted at both stations, so you can add experiences on depending on the level of meltdown your kids are currently experiencing.
You can also break up the day by visiting several playgrounds like the aforementioned “Garden Friends” in North America, or the new-ish “Treehouse Trek” in Africa. The latter is near the Air Hike Ropes Course, that includes 11 platforms and 23 obstacles for those who are at least 60 inches tall.
Important Things to Note:
The North Carolina Zoo is a popular summer destination. We’re also convinced it’s the hottest place on Earth in July and August. We have no idea why, and no evidence to back this up. Just be prepared. There are some sprinkler stations for very temporary relief.
If you have kids under age 8, you might want a stroller. If your kid has aged out of such gear, you can rent a hard plastic one from the zoo. You can also pack earplugs and ignore the whining. Water stations are fairly prevalent, so pack a bottle.
As you might expect, the world’s largest natural habitat zoo is in the middle of nowhere. Cell service is not great, so grab a paper map on your way in.
Pets are not allowed. ADA-approved service animals are.
Quiet days are offered for a more sensory-friendly experience.
There are large rocks along many paths. Your kids will want to climb them. That is OK. Every North Carolinian has a photo or 10 of themselves on a zoo rock as a kid — it’s a rite of passage.
This post was not produced in partnership with the North Carolina Zoo. We just made a recent visit into content. See something we should add? Let us know.