GUIDE: North Carolina’s Zoos and Aquariums
There are lots of ways to see animals up close all over our state.
North Carolina has an impressive array of places to see and learn about animals. We have zoos, aquariums, animal sanctuaries, science centers and more, offering in-person experiences with animals from aardvarks to zebras. Whether you walk through, drive through or ride a tour vehicle, seeing real animals and learning about them is universally appealing to all ages. Before you venture out, make sure to verify operating days and times and whether or not advance reservations are required. Check out this list of places you can take the family for some fun animal watching.
Aloha Safari Zoo 159 Mini Ln., Cameron (near Pinehurst)
Winter hours are in effect until March 1 at this sanctuary for rescued animals, so safari rides are only available on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. View animals like llamas, water buffalo, camels, zebra and more on the safari tour; see tigers, lemurs, monkeys and more on the walking tour. No reservations or advance purchase of tickets is required.
Animal Park at the Conservators Center 676 E. Hughes Mill Rd., Burlington
View 70 animals from over 20 species at this 45-acre refuge. Lots of types of tours are available, but all must be booked in advance. COVID-19 precautions are in place to protect visitors and the animals.
Carolina Raptor Center 6000 Sample Rd. Huntersville (near Charlotte)
Hike the short, ¾ mile walking trail with over 30 birds of prey on display. Open Wed.-Sun. for either morning OR afternoon tickets; make sure to grab those in advance since capacity is limited. The facility is closed each day from 12:30-1:30 p.m. for cleaning. Be sure to view the center’s COVID-19 protocols before you go.
Carolina Tiger Rescue 1940 Hanks Chapel Rd., Pittsboro (near Raleigh)
Advance reservations are a must at this sanctuary for big and small cats rescued from roadside zoos, back yards, basements and other improper conditions. Tours normally sell out 1-2 weeks in advance.
Greensboro Science Center 4301 Lawndale Dr., Greensboro
This sprawling facility boasts both a zoo, an aquarium and a large indoor museum. Admission is limited, so reservations are strongly recommended. Walk-ups will only be accommodated if space allows.
It’s A Zoo Life 4313 NC Hwy 2, Macclesfield (near Rocky Mount)
Open Thurs.-Sat. during the winter for reserved, guided tours, this exhibit has over 100 animals. Tours last approximately 90 minutes and features lots of close encounters.
Lazy 5 Ranch 15100 Mooresville Rd., Mooresville (near Charlotte)
This drive-through zoo has an assortment of animals from around the world. Many of the animals walk right up to your vehicle to eat from your feed bucket! Wagon ride tours are suspended due to COVID-19 concerns, and other protocols are in place for everyone’s safety. No advance purchase is required.
North Carolina Aquariums (coastal)
Fort Fisher (900 Loggerhead Rd., Kure Beach, NC) • Pine Knoll Shores (1 Roosevelt Blvd., Pine Knoll Shores, NC) • Roanoke Island (374 Airport Rd., Manteo, NC)
All locations are open, but due to limited capacities, advance tickets and reservations are absolutely required.
North Carolina Zoo 4401 Zoo Pkwy, Asheboro
Capacity is limited, so advance purchase of your timed tickets/reservations is recommended. Walk-up will be accommodated only if space is available. View their COVID-19 visit protocols and list of temporarily unavailable exhibits and services.
SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord Aquarium 8111 Concord Mills Blvd., Concord (near Charlotte)
Walk through North Carolina’s only underwater tunnel and check out their 50 new “Upside Down Jellyfish” and more at this aquarium located within Concord Mills Mall. Purchase tickets in advance (highly recommended) or at the door. Make sure to familiarize yourself with their COVID-19 safety protocols before your trip.
Tiger World 4400 Cook Rd., Rockwell (near Charlotte)
Carnivore Feeding tours and walking, self-guided tours are available to view a wide array of animals. Advance purchase and reservations are not required.
Western NC Nature Center 75 Gashes Creek Rd., Asheville
Home to 60 species of wild and domestic animals native to Western North Carolina, the center allows entry daily from 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. with the park closing at 4:30 p.m. Many activities are not available due to COVID-19 concerns, but there is still lots of fun for all. Purchase your tickets online.
Zootastic Park 385 Ostwalt Amity Rd., Troutman (near Charlotte)
See kangaroos, primates, large cats and more at this park with walk-through and drive-through options. Wagon rides are no longer being offered because of COVID-19. No reservations or advance purchase is required.
The NC Lemur Center in Durham boasts world’s largest and most diverse population of lemurs outside of their native land, Madagascar. The facility is closed to visitors due to COVID-19, but offers some exciting virtual experiences.