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Day Trip to North Carolina Zoo

Plan a Fun Trip with Kids to North Carolina Zoo

A great day trip from the Charlotte area for kids of all ages is the North Carolina Zoo. Located northeast of Charlotte in Asheboro, the zoo is easy to find and just over an hour away.

Visiting the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, NC can be a fun-filled day with kids, but it can also be taxing on the children and adults. The zoo encompasses over 2,000 acres, and it is quite possible to walk for long distances in order to see a particular exhibit without actually seeing the animal.

Children are naturally inquisitive and excited to see the animals, educational opportunities, and play areas at the North Carolina Zoological Park. Find safety tips, walking hints, and ways to escape the weather at the largest zoo in the nation.

Although animal behavior is sometimes difficult to predict, visitors who particularly want to see a certain animal may wish to plan to see the animal when it is most likely to be active and viewable. Having an itinerary is great, but often the kids may have other ideas on how to have fun at the zoo. Plan to enjoy some of those spur-of-the-moment activities and breaks as well.

How to Enjoy a Trip to the Asheboro Zoo with Kids

The zoo is made up of two connecting parts: Africa and North America. We usually start on the Africa side (there are two separate parking lots, one for each entrance). We like to start in Africa out of habit, I think, but it features the zebras, giraffes, elephants and gorillas right away. We stop for lunch on the way to North America and then work our way around to the exit. You can take a shuttle back to the Africa parking lot, but on our most recent visit, we used the Connector Trail to get back to the parking lot. My mom and I easily walked the 1.4-mile gravel path in about 12 minutes. If your kiddos are walking (instead of riding in the stroller), I would definitely allow more time.

Kids and adults can enjoy seeing a wide variety of the more than 200 species of animals at the North Carolina Zoological Park in Asheboro, North Carolina. Planning a route and time schedule may help visitors to have the opportunity to see the animals when they are most active. Allowing flexibility in that schedule can offer the kids the ability to enjoy spontaneous activities as well. Readers may also want to read about weather tips, safety tips, and walking tips for the NC Zoo.

Safety Tips for Children and Animals at NC Zoo

Reinforce safety tips before arriving and during the visit as appropriate, such as:

  • Avoiding climbing on the walls
  • Waiting for an adult to touch test an animal sculpture before touching or climbing on it because some of them may get hot at certain times of the day
  • Not making sudden and loud noises around the animals
  • Placing trash in appropriate receptacles
  • Resisting the urge to throw items to the animals – The zoo now offers, for an extra fee, the opportunity to possibly feed and see the giraffes from the Acacia Station Giraffe Deck.

Unplanned Activities May be Most Memorable for Kids

Although the adults may have a specific itinerary mapped out for the day, it is helpful to be flexible with kids. Riding the tram might be their favorite part. If that is the case, perhaps several tram rides throughout the day may be high on the priority list.

Many of the displays have sculptures related to the animal exhibits for hands-on learning and photo opportunities. These have nice details and often are accompanied by an educational plaque related to the animals. Caregivers should touch test the sculptures first because they can get hot.

It may be tempting to insist on getting a photo of the child with every sculpture at the zoo, but letting the child choose the photo activities may provide for a few fun surprises along the way. Kids visiting the elephants may wish to pretend to be a helicopter pilot as they climb into the cockpit of a helicopter. A video in this building may be disturbing to some children because it shows an elephant being tranquilized.

Many areas of the zoo encourage active play. Children who like to climb and slide might particularly enjoy the Garden Friends Playground with a fun animal theme. Kids who have lots of energy to burn may try out the stationary bikes to see if they can make the large artwork move. Several games are located throughout the zoo, such as a large outdoor board game located near the elephant area and a large snail hopscotch area in the African Pavilion. The KidZone play area located near the North American entrance gives kids the opportunity to dig and explore.

If the group is getting hot or storm clouds are brewing, the Forest Aviary offers several benches, controlled temperatures, and a nice collection of birds that roam freely. Spots nearest food and water sources tend to lure animals in the aviary, and many of the birds and ducks may come quite close to the visitors. Although the African Pavilion does not contain animals, it does offer another opportunity to enjoy a break from the weather while seeing some plants. Guests in this building will do well to exit through the lower exit as the upper exit seems to elude guests.

Entrance Areas and Tram Stops

Each of the two ticket booth entrances is connected to a tram stop that only stops at one junction point south of the African exhibits. All three areas feature affordable dining like pizza, hot dogs, and burgers. Souvenir shops sell park mementos and plush animals. The Junction tram stop has a carousel and theater. Most of the “kid-friendly” venues are geared toward younger children; teens would be bored.

Older students and adults can benefit from special programs allowing them to participate in feeding the animals or taking to animal keepers. These opportunities are detailed on the zoo website and must be prearranged. Local students act as volunteers while zoology is incorporated into school curricula. Programs at Randolph Community College afford interested students “hands-on” work opportunities.

Animal and Specialty Exhibits

The park entrance fee covers all exhibits except a $2.00 fee to watch the feeding of giraffes. Currently, the zoo is hosting the “Swamp Ghosts” exhibit, located in the African section of the park. Swamp ghosts feature two white alligators. The goal is to provide livable habitats that function as close to the real thing as possible.

The African exhibits, located in the “Watani Grasslands Reserve,” contain elephants, zebras, antelopes, and rhinos. Enclosed habitats feature baboons and gorillas. Lions are sandwiched between Chimpanzees and Red River Hogs. Although trams run regularly (every half hour), the round-trip walk to Africa from the Akiba Market ticket booths is approximately two and a half miles.

North American Animals

Exhibits in the North American section are the oldest. The “Rocky Coast” is home to Willie, harbor seals, puffins, arctic foxes, and an owl. An adjacent enclosure features a variety of snakes, otters, bobcats, and frogs. The trail ends at the “Prairie” where visitors can gaze at black bears, bison, elk, and grizzly bears. The entire walk is uphill until reading the Prairie Outpost. Park officials recommend starting the walking tour in North America and following the down-hill path to Africa.

Zoo Proximity to Other Sites of Interest

Asheboro itself boasts a quaint downtown peppered with novelty shops, bistros, and local eateries including the royal pizza feat at Sir Pizza, as profiled in Our State magazine. The renovated downtown is home to “hip new restaurants” and art galleries.

Greensboro, High Point, and Burlington are within driving distance, each community adding to the list of interesting visitor destinations. Greensboro, for example, features the Natural Science Center and the Guilford Battleground Park and museum. The Science Museum duplicates some animals found at the Asheboro zoo and even displays tigers and kangaroos – not see at the zoo. Burlington is well known for its many outlets, including a new Tanger complex.

Interstates 85 and 40 connect many of the destinations; the N.C. zoo is off of state highway 220 south, connecting to both I-40 and I-85. A well-planned excursion can include the zoo as well as other area destinations. Ticket prices begin at $14 for adults, $12 for seniors, and $10 for kids ages 2-12. Day passes are also available. The park is closed on Christmas Day. The park is open year-round but closes at 4 p.m. between November and March. After Labor Day, park attendance decreases while cooler temperatures make the visit more comfortable. Parking lot shuttles ferry visitors from gate to gate, but this service is discontinued between November to April.

Animals at NC Zoo and the Weather

Pack a hat and sunscreen because the majority of displays are outdoors, which can get quite hot and humid in the Southern heat of North Carolina. Young children will appreciate a shaded stroller. An umbrella may provide instant relief from a downpour but can also provide some instant relief from the sun’s rays as well. A few indoor areas are available, which can be quite helpful if the kids or adults are beginning to get overheated.

The Forest Aviary is a great indoor place to cool off and perhaps avoid a storm. Cool air blows up from the floor in various areas on the walkway, and several benches are located alongside the paths. While resting, visitors may be delighted to see a scarlet ibis, Victoria crowned pigeon, Eclectus parrot, or a mandarin duck, among many others. Selecting a bench insight of water and/or food will increase the likelihood of seeing some of these beautiful animals.

Several of the underwater animal exhibits offer shade and limited seating. The North American side offers an underwater glimpse of polar bears, sea lions, and otters. Many of these animals will swim right up to the windows of these viewing areas, and some may even show off some aquatic acrobatics.

The NC Zoo offers a 4-D movie featuring Dora the Explorer and several restaurants where visitors can get a break. Guests may consider purchasing discounted combo tickets at the park entrance, which include three tickets for either the movie, carousel, or Acacia station giraffe deck.

Another option for cooling off includes the African Pavilion. Although this area only includes plants and no animals at this time, it does offer a large picture window from which visitors may be able to watch the antelope, ostriches, rhinoceroses, and elephants.

Expect to Walk a Lot at NC Zoo

Although guests do not walk the entire 2000 acres, they may feel like it by the day’s end. Plan for plenty of time to get from one area to the next.

It is helpful to pack a stroller for the younger kids. Adults who need mobility aids may be greatly helped by the use of a wheelchair or motorized scooter. The zoo offers stroller rentals as well as renting out manual and electric mobility aids for adults if needed.

Comfortable shoes are highly recommended in order to fully enjoy the NC Zoo. The zoo has two entrances: a North American side and the African side. Guests may also ride a tram to a junction stop that is between the two sides after entering the zoo. It can easily take five to six hours to travel from one end of the zoo to the other while checking out the various exhibits. The paved trail from one end to the other is approximately five miles.

Giraffes, elephants, and zebras are on the African loop, and some guests may like to park there to enjoy African animals on the backside of the loop, ride the tram to the far end of the North American side and then walk straight back while seeing the chimps and lions on the way out. Alligators, polar bears, and black bears are located on the North American side. Some guests like to park there, take a tram to the center, circle through Africa, and then walk straight back through the North American side.

The North American side is one straight line, with the highest point about midway along the line, so guests can expect a gradual uphill climb for half of the North American side regardless of which direction they travel. Water fountains are available along with several locations on both sides, but bathrooms are located only at about four locations on each side.

The Endangered Species Carousel and other ticketed offerings tend to close an hour before the park closes. Allow for plenty of time to arrive at those destinations, whether walking or riding the tram to that area. Tramlines may be quite long on certain days and times.

How to Beat the Heat, Avoid Blisters, and Have Safe Fun at the NC Zoo

The North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, North Carolina is a large habitat for a wide variety of animals from North America and Africa. Incorporating a few safety tips, planning for the heat, and a lot of walking can help the day to be more enjoyable for everyone.

Final Word

Readers who enjoy seeing wild animals on vacation may wish to read about the beautiful wild animals of Hunting Island, which is located on the coast of South Carolina. Families with children may also particularly enjoy seeing the amazing details of the Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem.

Readers who enjoy seeing animals may wish to read about some of the animals at the Lazy 5 Ranch, a unique drive-through safari in North Carolina. Families on a budget may enjoy Dan Nicholas Park, which hosts a variety of animals from ducks to bears as well as many other family-friendly activities that are free or very reasonably priced.

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