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8 Animal Encounters You Have to See to Believe

Take a walk on the wild side at these insane animal attractions.

By Sarah Miller on February 13, 2023


Lions, tigers, and bears–oh, my! And that’s just the start. How about spying primates on a safari cruise or zip-lining over crocodiles? Without leaving the country, open-aired safaris and nature sanctuaries invite you into a world of adventure. These one-of-a-kind encounters support conservation efforts and eco-education. From mild to wild, a whole natural world awaits! Here are eight places to commune with incredible creatures. 

1. Bearizona

Williams, AZ
Yes, Arizona has a “Bearizona.” Just 60 miles from the Grand Canyon, Bearizona crosses the iconic route 66, providing 160 acres of natural beauty. Spy North American animals in their natural habitats, like black and grizzly bears, bison, bobcat, javelinas and more. Drive your vehicle past ponderosa pine forest on a three-mile driving trail that jogs through the property. 

Fort Bearizona is directly behind the driving tour. This portion allows visitors to walk through acres of winding paths for up-close animal encounters, shows and feedings. Both parts offer a rare glimpse into these clever creatures. Discover and learn from orphaned wildlife, like bears, who find a home here.

2. The Wilds  

Cumberland, OH (affiliated with the Columbus Zoo)
“Safari” and “Ohio” are words not usually used in the same sentence. However, The Wilds is the exception — a hidden gem in Ohio, just southeast of Columbus Zoo & Aquarium. The Wilds is one of North America’s largest wildlife conservation centers, with 9,154 acres. Over 500 animals like giraffes, rhinoceros, camels, zebras and several endangered species roam the open range. 

What makes The Wilds a far-flung destination? By day, you can fly on a safari zipline, cruise past animals in an open-aired safari vehicle, ride horseback and even fish on the property. Night brings sunset safaris and overnight stays at the exclusive, adult-only yurts at Nomad Ridge. Families can sleep in cabins, tents or a group lodge. 

3. St. Augustine Alligator Farm–Zoological Park

St. Augustine, FL
Ever smile at a crocodile? Visitors to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm can do that while zooming across Crocodile Crossing — a zipline and challenge course spread across seven acres. Adventurers will have crocs and gators whizzing under their feet while tropical birds surround them in the treetops. Or, test your strength at Python Challenge, a 40-foot tower with a rock climbing wall, cargo net and other rope challenges. 

Looking for less adrenaline-pumping activities? Slow down with a Sloth Encounter, or try the relaxing Galapagos Tortoise Encounter. Whatever your speed, learn about these incredible creatures and what the park is doing to support conservation, all while soaking up the Florida sunshine. 

4. Buffalo Jeep Safari Tour

Custer, SD
Want to go where the buffalo roam? Head to Custer State Park Resort in South Dakota. In spring, spy baby buffalo in the sloping green valleys. Your safari starts at The State Game Lodge, built in 1920. This grand stone and wood lodge once served as the “Summer White House” for President Calvin Coolidge. 

Next, board the open-aired jeep and learn about the amazing wildlife like pronghorns, elk and noble buffalo. Riding into the ponderosa pines and green grasses to spy these gentle grazers is like stepping into the old American West. The Buffalo Jeep Safari Tour takes about 1.5 to 2 hours and takes you off-road into South Dakota’s beauty. Make a weekend out of the experience, and stay overnight at the state park’s Creekside Lodge or one of their other scenic lodges. 

5. Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch

San Antonio, TX
Remember The Alamo? Or, how about a stroll on San Antonio’s River Walk? Of all the attractions, there’s one that literally stands out heads above the rest — Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch. Yes, we’re talking about giraffes! Here you can commune with one of the largest giraffe herds in the nation. Located on 500 acres in the scenic Texas Hill Country, the ranch boasts 500 animals from 40 species worldwide. Drive through in your own vehicle or take a guided tour aboard the Safari Shuttle with your family. Spy gazelles, giraffes, ostriches, antelopes, lemures and more. 

Conservation efforts to protect endangered species are paramount at the ranch. Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch has been featured in NatGeo Live and other media for its giraffe success. Over 40 baby giraffes have been born on the ranch, and now fourth-generation giraffes call this park home.  

6. The Wild Animal Sanctuary

Keenesburg, CO
Just 30 minutes from the Denver airport, The Wild Animal Sanctuary has some of the coolest cats in town. Get an aerial view of over 450 large rescued carnivores like lions, tigers, bears, leopards, hyenas and more. An elevated walkway–one of the largest in the world–covers 3 miles roundtrip. In addition, an immersive educational building lets visitors understand the animals’ plight and the sanctuary’s work. 

Next, enter the great outdoors of Colorado, and plan to spend around 3-6 hours above these wild creatures. The Mile Into The Wild Walkway connects to observation towers offering the perfect perch for watching animals dip in a lake or playing on “jungle gyms.” 

Plan on visiting other parts of Colorado? The Wildlife Animal Sanctuary operates four facilities — three in Colorado, while the fourth is in Texas.

7. Lion Country Safari

Loxahatchee, FL
Just 20 miles from West Palm, Lion Country Safari has it all. From a four-mile drive-thru safari that meanders past large herds of zebra, giraffe and rhinos to the friendly ostrich that might poke his head in to say hello — animals are everywhere. Cruising on the Safari Queen Pontoon Boat is included, where visitors drift past primates and birds. In addition, lion Country Safari participates in several conservation and breeding programs for threatened species. 

Besides cool animals, visitors can cool off in Safari Splash — a 4,000-square-foot water spray ground with areas for wading and playing. Adjacent to the park is a KOA Journey campground for those wishing to stay longer in the area. 

8. San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Escondido, CA
You’ve probably heard of The San Diego Zoo — one of the top zoos in the country. But did you know that they also operate the San Diego Zoo Safari Park? Just 35 miles from San Diego, this safari park encompasses 1,800 acres and is home to 3,600 animals. The Safari Park also boasts millions of lush plants, making it an accredited botanical garden. 

Visitors can stroll the park or participate in various safari experiences that fund the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance’s conservation efforts. Choices like the Sun Up Cheetah Safari or the Africa Tram Wildlife Tour are just a few of the many safari options. In addition, Walkabout Australia is the park’s newest attraction, where visitors can view tree kangaroos and cassowaries up close. Plus, meet the two platypuses — the only two in the world residing outside Australia. 

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