10 Things You Don’t Want to Miss at the North Carolina Zoo
There are dozens of amazing zoos to visit, but the North Carolina Zoo has a pretty cool claim to fame. It's the world's largest natural habitat zoo, so the animals there get to live in conditions that mimic their natural homes as much as possible.
Even with such spacious enclosures, spotting one-of-a-kind wildlife is guaranteed. Roaring lions and giant alligators aside, there are plenty of stops worth making during your visit. These 10 exhibits and activities are our top choices for families.
1. A Streamside Exhibit Unlike Any Other
Seeing local wildlife in nature is hit or miss, but at the North Carolina Zoo, visitors can get up close and personal with species native to the area.
Their stream side exhibit mimics the diversity and landscape of a Carolina stream, with massive barred owls, river otters, bobcats, and several types of venomous snakes.
Thanks for the reminder to watch our step while hiking in the North Carolina woods.
2. A Rocky Coast Exhibit Complete With Polar Bears and Arctic Foxes
Every exhibit at the North Carolina Zoo is worth visiting, but we love the Rocky Coast exhibit. There, you'll find a young arctic fox named Rizzo and their older pal, Harley.
In the summer months, they have light brown or gray fur, but winter is when they really shine. When cool weather arrives, their brown fur is replaced by a thick white coat– the perfect camouflage for hunting in the snow.
The Rocky Coast exhibit also includes a horned puffin and an adorable harbor seal, plus a few giant polar bears. We would love to hug them if their teeth weren't quite so big.
3. A Massive Grizzly Bear
While they're not quite as big as their arctic cousins, the grizzly bear exhibit is worth seeing too. "Not quite as big" is still pretty stinkin' huge, and something about a grizzly's dark fur and lumbering gait seems more ferocious. Get a load of those claws.
Most visitors just see the grizzly rooting around for hidden treats, but if you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of him running across the exhibit. At top speed, grizzlies can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour.
4. There Are 3.5 Acres of Giraffes and Zebras Galore
The Forest Edge habitat is where visitors can find all the tallest, coolest creatures from Africa. The exhibit has four different viewing areas to spot giraffes, zebras and ostriches.
The animals get to roam free across 3.5 acres, expertly designed to mimic the savannas where they live in Kenya.
Fun fact: Giraffes have the same number of neck vertebrae as humans do, even though their necks can reach six feet in length.
5. An Informative Honey Bee Garden
A stop by the Honey Bee Garden helps visitors of all ages appreciate the rest of the exhibits even more. There, you'll see a working beehive, learn about the structure of bee colonies, and find out why bees are so crucial to the health of our environment.
In short, they're responsible for pollinating the plants that other species rely on. Without them, the food chain would crumble, and all the species at the top wouldn't exist.
6. Fun Family Events for All Ages
Depending on the timing of your visit, consider attending one of the fun, family-centered events at the North Carolina Zoo. They host events from April to December, including holiday specials and workshops.
In the fall is an autumn plant sale, a military appreciation week, and a Boo at the Zoo Halloween celebration.
That last one is especially popular, with trick or treating, storytelling, a costume contest and live entertainment, plus a chance to stroll through spooky exhibits.
7. Enjoy Five Different Hiking Trails
Not a zoo person? If your family is divided between animal people and outdoorsy people, you're in luck. If half the fam gets tired of waiting for the lion to make an appearance, they're welcome to explore one (or more) of the zoo's five hiking trails.
They're open year-round from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and dogs are welcome on one of them. Trails range from a short 0.2-mile wheelchair-accessible trail to a rugged 1.5-mile trail.
Which will you try first?
8. A Natural Play Area Complete With a Stream
The North Carolina Zoo's stance on environmental protection is strong, and they back it up with action. They believe that reconnecting kids with nature is an important step to further conservation efforts long-term.
Their Kidzone section has a stream to play in, a fort making station and a mud cafe for practicing their mud pie baking skills.
Who said appreciating nature can't be fun?
9. A Playground That Makes You Feel Like a Bug
If traditional playgrounds are more up your alley, the North Carolina Zoo has your back.
Their 5,625-square-foot play area offers swings, slides and climbing structures all made of towering nature sculptures. While you're scrambling over giant squash and spiderwebs, you'll feel like a zoo creature yourself.
Parents need a break? Grab an iced tea, head to the playground near the Rocky Coast exhibit, and sit in the shade while your kids burn off some energy.
10. Gorgeous Art in the Park Fit for a Museum
Most zoos have art here and there, but the art installations at the North Carolina Zoo are worth seeing. Each animal-inspired piece has a backstory.
Check out the Art in the Park Guide to see a map of the collection, information about artists, the history of each piece and who sponsored it.
Can't get enough of trips to the zoo? Check out these other zoos worth adding to your list.