A day at the North Carolina Zoo

We've had a visit to the North Carolina Zoo on our minds for a long time. Last weekend, we finally got the opportunity to go, so I wanted to share our experience and some tips with you.

The zoo is in Asheboro, North Carolina, which is about an hour away from Winston-Salem and 1.5 hours from Charlotte. I didn't know this before going, but it is the largest walk-through zoo in the world. You'll see why when you get there.

I highly recommend arriving first thing in the morning. We went on a Sunday and were the first people in the gates at 9am. This was perfect because the animals seemed to be eating and out and about. Natural habitat zoos are amazing, but it can mean that it's more difficult to see the animals. We had no issues with this throughout the day, but the morning was probably the best time.

Tickets cost $20 per adult or $16 with the AAA discount. When approaching the zoo, you have the option to park in "North America" or "Africa." We highly recommend starting with Africa. After purchasing our tickets, we knew that we wanted to go on the Zoofari, which is a special tour on the 40-acre Watani Grassland exhibit. This your gets you up close and personal with the African wildlife at the zoo in an open-air bus. Tickets are first-come, first-served, so we immediately headed to Junction Plaza once we purchased our zoo tickets. Junction Plaza is the only place you can buy Zoofari tickets and it was about a 10 minute walk from the entrance.

This is about the time when I realized that I should have brought bug spray. The zoo is essentially like walking around in the woods, so if going in the summer, definitely pack the spray. I didn't have any issues later in the day, it was just in the earlier part of the morning.

We were first in line for the tickets. These are an additional $20 per adult, but it was 100% worth it in my opinion. There are three tours per day at 10am, 11am, and 12pm Thursday-Sunday from April to October. Check the zoo's website for the most up-to-date timing. Ticket sales stop half an hour before each tour leaves. 

After we bought our Zoofari tickets, we had time before the tour started, so we saw the lions and gorillas and got some fun pictures. At 9:45am, we got on a bus that took us to the entrance of the Watani Grassland exhibit. From there, we got on a smaller bus that took us around the property. Our guide was very informative and it was clear that she was passionate about the animals and conservation efforts.

My favorite part of the tour was seeing the elephants and there are currently two baby Southern white rhinos. We also saw lots of other animals and it is amazing that they live together in the exhibit. The elephants were separated, though. This is definitely a great addition to your day at the zoo for families, friends, and couples. 

After the Zoofari, we walked to see the elephants up close. It was a hot day, so they were splashing in the water. Right by the elephants, there's a "giraffe observation deck." This costs $3 per person and I had to talk Sam into doing it. We weren't really sure what to expect. When we got on the deck, we were so excited and surprised to find out that we were able to feed them. Giraffes snack for 16 hours a day, so there was no shortage of lettuce for them. The total experience lasted around 15-20 minutes, but we did not feel rushed. The staff offered to take pictures for us and educated us on the giraffes and life at the zoo. We were so glad that we did this and highly recommend it.

By this point, we were getting pretty hungry, so we hopped on the shuttle to grab lunch. You could also bring your own lunch in a cooler and leave it in your car. We saw others doing this. The food was not amazing, but it also wasn't crazy expensive. My Greek chicken salad was $9. Don't forget your refillable water bottle! You are allowed to bring one in.

After lunch, we walked to the North American section of the zoo. There are also shuttles. Sam and I both wore sandals, but we didn't realized how much we'd be walking. I definitely recommend wearing comfortable walking shoes. 

In our opinion, the Africa section was much better. Everything was closer to together and had more going on. We enjoyed the polar bears in the afternoon, but besides that, I would spend the majority of your time in Africa.

We finished our day around 2pm and drove home. It was such a fun day and a memorable experience to feed giraffes and come so close to Southern white rhinos. We also really appreciated the conversation efforts that the zoo is making and were happy to support them with our ticket fees. 

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