North Carolina Zoo (Asheboro): Top 5 Reasons To Visit

You might expect the North Carolina Zoo to sit in one of the state’s larger cities. Visitors and new residents often search to find out whether there is a zoo in Charlotte or Raleigh. Instead, the zoo is proudly located in Asheboro, North Carolina, which is between Charlotte and Raleigh.

This might seem odd until you visit and see the massive zoo grounds. There is no way a zoo of this size would fit near uptown Charlotte or downtown Raleigh. Plus, it is perfectly situated 75 miles northeast of Charlotte, 75 miles west of Raleigh, and 25 miles from Greensboro.

The NC Zoo might not be as widely heralded as the San Diego Zoo, but it is definitely worth visiting.

Chimpanzee at North Carolina Zoo

Top Reason To Visit NC Zoo

The NC Zoo is the largest zoo in North Carolina and serves as home to more than 1,800 animals. Needless to say, there are more than a few reasons to visit. And the zoo is more than just a place to visit on Saturday with your family.

They are committed to wildlife conservation and offer various educational programs designed to make a difference in protecting wonderful animals across the globe.

1. Interactive Experience For Kids

Zoos are fun to visit regardless of your age, but there is something extra special about visiting the zoo as a kid or with your kids. The awe and wonder that kids experience as they see the majestic animals are pure.

Visiting the zoo to see the animals is enough reason to visit with kids, but the NC Zoo goes out of its way to make the zoo beneficial for kids. Visiting is informative, interactive, and outright fun. The educational activities are available for all ages, from preschool up to adults.

Still, visiting with kids is particularly fun. For instance, the zoo provides pamphlets to kids as they enter the zoo. Children can collect stamps on their pamphlets as they visit the various regions of the zoo.

We will warn that the zoo is large enough that it can be a tough day for smaller kids. While all are welcome and will have a great time, children 7 and up will likely have the most fun collecting stamps.

They will also have a better shot at making it through the entire zoo 😀. Our children make it halfway through the exhibits before hitting their max.

Kidzone & Nature Play Areas

The Kidzone and Nature Play Areas are located near the North America Plaza and are must-visit areas if you visit with children. This is a great place to grab lunch for kids, as they have kid staples like grilled cheese sandwiches.

Beyond snacks and food to relieve kiddo hangriness (you know – hunger + anger), there are interactive activities like a tub of sticky mud, which the kids can use for mud-slinging.

In fact, you might want to dress your kids in swimwear or bring a change of clothes, depending on the season. Kids can play in a nearby stream, assuming they have the required swim diapers and footwear (rain boots or water sandals).

The NC Zoo historically offered animal encounters at the Kidzone, but these were suspended due to the pandemic.

Still, my favorite part of the Kidzone might be the fort-making zone in the woods. I loved making forts when I was a kid, so I love that my kids can experience the same joy I experienced. When you are a kid, there is something very satisfying about problem-solving, hands-on construction, and building something of your own.

Kids Interactive Play Area At NC Zoo

2. Fun Add-on Activities Like Ropes Course

While the traditional zoo activities are enough reason to visit, other fun add-on activities are worth considering. The most obvious and exciting option is the Air Hike Ropes Course.

From April through October, you can participate in the Air Hike Ropes Course for an additional fee of $15, which is well worth the added cost, in our opinion.

The Air Hike Ropes Course sites near the Africa section of the zoo, near Lemur Island. The course is designed to safely allow you to test your balance and physical aptitude using skills you don’t often use in modern life. And ‘safely’ is the keyword. Participants wear a harness and a helmet, while an experienced guide provides help along the way.

The elevated course features 11 platforms and 23 obstacles, which you will access after conquering the initial rope tunnel. What types of obstacles, you ask? Think about obstacles like a balance beam, Burma bridge, plank walk, swinging logs, and a tight rope.

If you’ve never done a ropes course before, it’s like a low-key and safer version of American Gladiator for families and friends!

The course usually takes between 30 minutes and an hour, but that depends on how busy the course is and how much you are having a good time.

Naturally, there are weight, height, and closing restrictions, but the big thing to know is that kids must be at least four years old before they try their skills at the course. You should also ensure everyone has closed-toed shoes (no flip-flops!).

The ropes course is a lot of fun and adds an element of active adventure to your visit that is totally worthwhile.

Giraffe Deck, Tours, Carousels & More

Of course, not everyone will be interested in the ropes course. Rest assured that there are plenty of other activities for you to consider.

Have you ever noticed how tall giraffes are? Of course, you have, but their long necks make them difficult to feed. That is unless you feed them from a deck built up in the tree line. Fortunately for you, the North Carolina Zoo features a deck that places you face-to-face with giraffes, which creates an unforgettable experience.

The Acai Station Giraffe Deck does charge an additional fee from the rest of the zoo, but it is just $5, which is totally worth it to be face-to-face with a giraffe.

In addition to the ropes course and giraffe deck, you will also find a carousel, special tours, and more. The NC Zoo is the type of place you could visit multiple times and never have the same experience twice.

Is the NC Zoo Worth It?

3. Variety of Habitats & Animals

The NC Zoo is currently divided into areas representing three regions, but plans are underway to add a fourth area focused on the Asian region. We can’t wait for the Asian region to open because, let’s be honest, Komodo dragons are very cool.

The current three areas represent Africa, North America, and Desert regions. The result is that visitors can see various animals from around the world, including some endangered animals.

It’s an exciting experience to learn about animals from around the world. This is also one of the main reasons that people of all ages enjoy the zoo. Sure, gets get a thrill from seeing elephants for the first time, but something tells me that adults do too.

Adults may just temper their excitement a little more than the kiddos. On the inside, we are confident that the inner kid is trying to break out 😁 – as they encounter alligators, bears, elephants, and lions.

African Region

The African region at the NC Zoo was one of the original exhibits. The original five habitats in the African region opened during the summer of 1980, and they have been a staple in Asheboro ever since. Among the animals representing the African region, the NC Zoo features:

  • African Elephant
  • African Lion
  • Bongo
  • Gazelle
  • Giraffe
  • Red River Hog
  • Southern White Rhinoceros
  • More
Africa Habitat at NC Zoo

North American Region

Surprisingly, the North American exhibit didn’t open until 1994, when three polar bears arrived in Asheboro. While there is something special and exotic about visiting the African region, many of the North American animals are just as interesting in their own rights.

You won’t want to encounter many of these animals in the wild, but observing them in a safe setting is a fascinating experience. Among the animals representing the North American region, the NC Zoo features:

  • Alligator
  • Bison
  • Black Bear
  • Bobcat
  • Cougar
  • Polar Bear
  • Various Snakes
  • More
North America Region at NC Zoo

Desert Region

Desert animals are an interesting bunch. There aren’t as many large predators living in the desert, which makes sense since food and water are less abundant. The desert animals may be smaller than the rhinoceros, but they are just as interesting. Among the animals representing the Desert region, the NC Zoo features:

  • Beaded Lizard
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Laughing Kookaburra
  • Mouse Lemur
  • Ocelot
  • Sand Cat
  • Tortoise
  • More

4. Easy Parking & Navigation

Sometimes visiting big attractions means crazy parking lots and shuttles. Parking lots and long lines have long stolen the joy from fun events. Fortunately, parking at the North Carolina Zoo is no big deal, plus it’s free.

Still, this is by far the largest zoo in North Carolina, so getting from one end to the other takes some doing. A trail connecting the African parking lot to the North American parking lot is nearly 1.5 miles long! This actually a nice addition when the weather is nice, and you have time on your hands.

On the other hand, a 1.5-mile trail is a daunting nightmare when you have two kids in tow. Fortunately, the zoo runs a shuttle between the two parking lots from April through October. The convenient shuttle runs every 30 minutes between 11 a.m. and 5:30 pm, so there are ample opportunities to catch a ride.

A tram inside the park will also help you make your way from one zone to another. The tram is both convenient and efficient. Even when there was a line, the line moved quickly, and we could make it on without much trouble.

The tram makes visiting the zoon much more enjoyable than it might otherwise be to walk all over the world (pun intended). Just keep in mind that the tram inside the park stops running 30 minutes before closing (to encourage people to make their way to the exits).

Getting to North Carolina Zoo

Asheboro is nice enough, but it was largely chosen to host the NC Zoo due to its proximity in the middle of Charlotte, Raleigh, and Greensboro. Asheboro itself is not a booming metropolis. And that’s ok! But it does mean you should give extra thought to transportation.

Services like Uber, Lyft, and taxis don’t have sufficient coverage in the area, so you shouldn’t plan to use ride-share on your way home. The zoo is awesome, but no one wants to sleep in a parking lot overnight.

Your best bet is to drive or carpool to the zoo. Still, here is some good news: The zoo proudly features electric car charging stations! Learn about the importance of preserving animals and their habitats while you do your part to help the planet.

Stream in Kidzone Play Area Where Kids Can Interactively Explore The North Carolina Zoo and Build A Habitat.

5. Affordable Price

Life is expensive, and there may be no worse feeling than wanting to do something fun and educational with your family and not having the funds. Fortunately, the NC Zoo is very affordable.

Every ticket that the North Carolina Zoo offers is less than $20, and there are also senior and military discounts to consider. Children’s tickets are even cheaper than discounted adult tickets.

Join The NC Zoo as a Member

If you live near Asheboro, you might even consider the annual memberships, which are a FANTASTIC deal. How affordable are the passes? A family can purchase an annual pass for less than $100.

The zoo offers memberships at annual and two-year price points, with the two-year membership offering even steeper discounts.

The North Carolina zoo grounds are massive and still adding new exhibits. You may not be able to see the entire zoo in one visit anyway, so purchasing the membership makes a lot of sense if you live within reasonable driving distance of the zoo.

More About North Carolina Zoo

The North Carolina Zoo likely doesn’t receive all of the credit it deserves because the big city residents which the zoo was in their city. Still, this hidden gem in Asheboro should be a source of pride for the great state of North Carolina. It may not attract many out-of-town visitors, but it serves state residents very well.

The Biggest Zoo In North Carolina

There are two state-supported zoos, but the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro is the largest zoo in North Carolina. Just how big is the zoo? Well, it is nestled on more than 2,600 acres and features more than 1,800 animals.

Fortunately, there are trams and shuttles to help you navigate your way around. Nonetheless, the zoo is large enough to offer an awesome workout for anyone looking to hit a certain number of steps.

Boardwalk at NC Zoo

Does Charlotte, North Carolina, Have A Zoo?

There is no zoo in Charlotte, North Carolina, but the NC Zoo in Asheboro is only 75 miles away. It is close enough that you can easily drive up to the zoo in the morning and still be home around dinner time. The NC Zoo features 500 developed acres and is well worth the short drive to Asheboro.

Zootastic Park of Lake Norman is a much smaller option closer to home for those who don’t want to trek to Asheboro. The state-supported NC Zoo is cheaper and has more animals and habitats, so we recommend you drive to Asheboro if you have the time.

For an altogether different experience, the Lazy 5 Ranch in Mooresville, North Carolina, is worth a visit. You can actually drive your car through the Lazy 5 Ranch and feed the more than 750 animals out of feed buckets. The Lazy 5 Ranch has been around for 30 years and even features endangered animals like the Grevy Zebra, Scimitar Horned Oryx, and Ring-tailed Lemur.

The Largest Zoo in The World?

The North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro is the largest natural habitat zoo in the world. The zoo features 500 developed acres across 2,600 wooded acres. A shuttle service connects the parking lots on either end of the zoo, which are about 1.5 miles apart. There is also a tram to use inside the zoo.

This is one of those fun facts to keep stuffed in your back pocket for the next time you end up in an awkward conversation with no direction. I would have never guessed that the NC Zoo is the largest zoo in the world, but the natural habitat requires significant acreage.

Walking Through North Carolina Zoo

The North Carolina Zoo is big! Walking across the 500 developed acres takes some time. Of course, there are also exhibits and habitats along the way. There is more to do than you can get to in one day, especially if you have smaller kids in tow. You will be convinced that the NC Zoo is the best value around by the time you finish.

If this sounds intimidating to you, keep in mind that a tram connects inside the park. Plus, a shuttle connects the two furthest parking lots during peak seasons. Keep in mind that you can take a stroller for smaller kids. The zoo also rents single and double strollers on a first-come, first-served basis.

Does North Carolina Zoo Have An Aquarium?

No, the North Carolina Zoo does not have an aquarium, but the bears, elephants, giraffes, and rhinoceros are still worth making the trip to see. There are four aquariums in North Carolina, including those in Kure Beach, Pine Knoll Shores, Manteo, and Nags Head.

The aquariums at Manteo and Nags head are just a few miles apart in the Outer Banks, so make sure to visit both if you are in the area. The aquarium in Kure Beach is near Wilmington, another popular North Carolina destination.

The Drive-Through Zoo in North Carolina

The North Carolina Zoo is not a drive-through zoo unless you count the tram that stretches across the 500 developed acres. The Lazy 5 Ranch in Mooresville, North Carolina, is a true drive-through ranch (zoo). Animals walk straight up to your car and will put their heads through your windows to pull the feed buckets out!

In all seriousness, the Lazy 5 Ranch is an awesome experience, but we may still have one family member that is still traumatized by the more aggressive animals. You should also be aware that the longhorns and other animals will walk up and bump your car.

Thousands of vehicles have made their way through the Lazy 5 Ranch, so this is nothing to be concerned about. Still, you might want to have the full picture if you are driving a brand-new Porsche with fresh wax 🤠.

Still, the North Carolina Zoo and Lazy 5 Ranch are both one-of-a-kind experiences in their own rights.

North Carolina Zoo Discounts

While the zoo offers cheaper tickets for seniors and military personnel, the North Carolina Zoo does not off single-day admission discounts. Still, the NC Zoo is one of the cheaper activities you will find, so the price shouldn’t be a deterrent. Discounted memberships are also available if you plan to frequent the zoo often.

The NC Zoo is one of the best day trips from Charlotte or Raleigh. This is particularly true if you have kids, so take advantage of those discounts!

Largest Natural Habitat Zoo In The World - The North Carolina Zoo

Is North Carolina Zoo Worth It?

The North Carolina Zoo is the largest natural habitat zoo in the world, and you can purchase an annual pass for a family for less than $100. The 500 developed acres and 1,800 animals make the NC Zoo one of the best-kept secrets and best values in the entire state. The zoo is definitely worth visiting.

For those that grew up in North Carolina, you might have visited the school on a field trip growing up. Well, it’s time to make your way back as an adult to truly appreciate the zoo! For transplants to North Carolina, don’t be deterred by the fact that the zoo is in Asheboro. The location is deceiving, and this is a serious (and big!) zoo.

Plus, the location in Asheboro is kind of cool. People like to compare Charlotte vs. Raleigh and discuss which city is better, but the NC Zoo sits almost halfway between the two in Asheboro.

Hotels Near North Carolina Zoo

Most people know that the NC Zoo is in Asheboro, but did you know that the North Carolina Aviation Museum is also in Asheboro? The central location between three major cities makes Asheboro a logical choice for the aviation museum as well. It also means that Asheboro has a thriving visitors scene.

Note: Don’t confuse the North Carolina Aviation Museum in Asheboro with the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte. The Carolinas Aviation Museum, located near Charlotte Douglas Airport (CLT), is home to the Miracle on the Hudson airplane.

Asheboro (also known as Zoo City) features several hotels you can consider using when visiting the North Carolina Zoo. Plus, downtown Asheboro features restaurants, retail, and summertime events at Bicentennial Park. You can also look for a short-term rental, like those offered by Airbnb and VRBO.

The North Carolina Zoo is More Than a Field Trip

The North Carolina Zoo is much more than just a childhood field trip. Sure, it is an AWESOME place for a field trip and offers great exposure to animals and habitats from around the world. But the NC Zoo is much more than that.

As the largest natural habitat zoo in the world, the NC Zoo offers awe-inspiring access to a world of wildlife that modern society neglects. I mean, how many places can you stand on a deck to feed a giraffe?!? They are beautiful animals, and this is just one example of what a unique experience the zoo offers.

Take the family, or go by yourself to enjoy the wonders of this world. Go once, or go often, but make a point to visit the North Carolina Zoo!

Jeremiah moved to the Charlotte area with his wife, Erin, back in 2013. The family has grown over the years, and they now call the Carolinas home. They enjoy hiking and adventures, road trips, backyard fire pits, and pizza night. Jeremiah loves to explore, and looks forward to sharing tips, tricks, and resources for your next trip.