I knew that the North Carolina Zoo would be large, but I had no idea how HUGE it would be! At over 2000 acres, the North Carolina Zoo is the world’s largest walk-through zoo and the largest natural habitat zoo in the United States! So how do you make the most of your visit there?
I typically take pride in how much ground I can cover during a visit to a destination. My boys and I have even conquered 7 theme parks in 2.5 days in Orlando…..but I will tell you this, to truly experience all that North Carolina Zoo has to offer, you are going to need more than one day!
We visited the North Carolina Zoo two days in a row for about 4-5 hours each day and still didn’t see everything! That says a lot about how large the home to over 1600 animals at the zoo really is!
A big part of making the most of your visit to the North Carolina Zoo is by planning ahead. Look at the schedule for the day of your visit and determine if there are additional activities that you would like to experience.
- You can bring non-alcoholic beverages that are factory sealed into the zoo but you cannot bring coolers or have a picnic inside. There are public picnic areas located near both of the entrances.
- Wear comfortable shoes because you will be walking A LOT!
- Establish a plan before you go if someone would get lost. There are lost and found stations at Guest services located in both North America and the Africa sections of the zoo.
- The animals are most active in the morning so get there early if possible.
- Look at the map online before you go and determine what animals and activities you want to prioritize. Check the daily schedule for times of animal feedings and special events.
- Enjoy art? There is a self-guided tour of the art located throughout the zoo. Get the map here.
- Admission discounts are available for AAA, SEANC and military members with member identification.
- Already a zoo membership at another zoo? Find out the North Carolina Zoo partners and which zoos have reciprocity here.
Pick Your Parking Lot
The zoo is so large that there are two separate options when it comes to parking. You can park for FREE at the North America entrance or the Africa entrance. Each entrance has its own ticket booth and rental strollers and wheelchairs are available at both entrances.
Take Advantage of the FREE Transportation
You will have no problem getting your steps in during a visit. It’s also a good idea to conserve some energy by taking the free buses or trams to save a few steps and visit the other side of the zoo. FYI Lines and wait times for the trams and buses become longer in the afternoon.
Learn Through Play
Kids will have lots of opportunities to burn off extra energy and learn through hands-on play at the Kids Zone and Garden Friends Playground located next to each other in the North America section of the zoo. You will want to allow extra time in your schedule for kids to explore and enjoy this area.
If you don’t feel like packing a lunch and going back to your vehicle, you have plenty of options. During our visit, we tried two of the locally sourced restaurants on site. There are several restaurants and seasonal snack bars located throughout the zoo.
Billy D’s Fried Chicken
Who doesn’t love fried chicken and what makes Billy D’s Fried Chicken even better is that it’s locally sourced. I highly recommend the chicken sandwich and trying several of the sauces for your waffle fries. Billy D’s is located in the Wachovia Akiba Market in the Africa section of the zoo.
Iron Hen Cafe Express
The Iron Hen Cafe Express is located in the North America Plaza in the North America section of the zoo. We tried their burgers, gravy, and grits. I love their commitment to connect their food to the farm it came from.
Enhance Your Visit With These Extras!
The following activities have an additional fee but they really do add so much to your experience!
Air Hike Ropes Course
Would you dare walk this way? Adventure awaits on 11 platforms connecting to 23 obstacles in the air at Air Hike. My boys and I had a great time challenging ourselves on this elevated course that can take anywhere from 30-60 minutes.
A few tips:
- Make sure that you have close-toed shoes and comfortable clothing. I recommend wearing athletic clothing and longer shorts or leggings because the safety harnesses make shorter shorts ride up. (No dresses or skirts allowed)
- There is a designated area for observers that does offer shade.
- The maximum weight is 250 lbs. and you have to be 60″ tall to go by yourself or 48″ and accompanied by someone on the course who is 60″ tall to participate.
Experience the Birds in Flight Show
The image above is what happens when you volunteer to sit as still as possible with your camera as a bird travels inches from above your head at the Birds in Flight Show. Yep, it was pretty awesome and I definitely recommend volunteering when given the opportunity.
The Birds in Flight show is more intimate than a typical bird show at most zoos that you may have experienced in the past. The Birds in Flight show lasts about 25 minutes and the birds aren’t forced to do anything by their trainers which can add a comical element to the show. You will witness some of the natural behaviors of falcons, hawks, vultures, macaws, and sun conures and learn more about conservation efforts to help protect their environments.
- Guests under two are free and you can purchase your tickets at the Birds in Flight Box Office at Zoo Admissions or the Junction Plaza Ticket Booth.
- Seating is limited and you can arrive up to 30 minutes prior to the show to find a seat.
Take a Zoofari African Wildlife Adventure
Zoofari guests ride in an open-air vehicle during the guided 45 minute- 1-hour Zoofari tour led by a zoo educator. The Zoofari tour is also a great way to learn more about animal conservation around the world and ask questions about the 9 exhibited species with the opportunity to observe several of them up close.
During our tour, Pearl the Ostrich (pictured above) decided to come up and greet our vehicle, creating a great photo opp. The Zoofari Tour is a wonderful experience for adults and kids alike!
A few of the Zoofari tour animal highlights are the ostriches, antelope, rhinos, gazelles, and greater kudus.
- You can only purchase tickets at Junction Plaza starting at 9 am
- Seating on the Zoofari is first come, first served.
- Zoofari tours run 3 times daily, Thursday-Sunday April-October
- The tours are weather permitting
- Kids under 2 are free on an adult guardian’s lap
FUN Ticket Activities
Available daily from April-October and weekends in November, FUN tickets provide a ticket to the following activities: Rio the 4-D Experience, Dragonfly Paddle Boats (first-come, first-served), Animal themed Carousel, Acacia Station Giraffe Deck.
- You can purchase the FUN pass at North America, Africa or Junction ticket booths the day of your visit.
- Tickets are not sold after 2pm
- Activities are weather dependent.
Dining in Downtown Asheboro
North Carolina Zoo hours are 9-5 pm April-October and 9-4 pm November-March. If you are looking for something to do in the evening, you can’t go wrong with pizza and beer right?
At Time Square Pizza, you can order NY style pizza by the slice or by the whole pie. If you don’t want to commit to just one type of whole pizza, opt to try a half and half instead. I personally prefer the made to order pizza vs. pizza by the slice for the freshest pizza.
If you are in the mood for a beer you will find plenty of craft beer options at Four Saints Brewing Company located a short walk a few doors down the street.
Where We Stayed
During our visit, we stayed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Asheboro located less than 15 minutes from the North Carolina Zoo.
Thanks again to Kia for providing our road trip vehicle, the 2019 Kia Sorento.
You can find out more about the North Carolina Zoo from their website.
Thanks again to Heart of NC for hosting our visit. All opinions are my own.
You can read more about our North Carolina Roadtrip in the articles below>>
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