The North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro was the first natural habitat walk-through zoo in the United States and it’s still the world’s largest habitat zoo. With so much space to cover and so many animals to see, you’ll want to have a game plan for your day, so I hope these North Carolina Zoo insider secrets and tips will help!
North Carolina Zoo Insider Secrets and Tips
Best days to visit: Monday – Thursday. Weekends are very busy in the park and traffic gets backed up on entrance and exit roads.
Where to park: I highly recommend parking at the Africa entrance instead of North America. Both lots are free, but there’s much less traffic congestion in Africa and it’s easier to get in and out of the zoo. Another perk to Africa is that there’s more downhill walking.
Save on admission: If you have a zoo or aquarium membership, check the list of partners to see if you’re eligible for discounted (or free) admission.
Check animal status boards: Just outside the ticket windows, you’ll find daily feeding times, keeper talks and whether there are any closed exhibits. If you can arrange to see animals at feeding time, it’s worth it.
How to dress: Wear your most comfortable shoes as there is a lot of walking if you see everything. The zoo is enormous! Make sure you have sunscreen and a hat too. There are lots of shady spots to rest, but many of the habitats are in full sun and North Carolina summers are hot and humid.
Buy a souvenir drinking cup: Why? Because you can fill them free for life, and hydration is essential!
Round-up on purchases: When you buy something at the zoo, tell the cashier you’d like to round up for conservation. Instead of getting a few coins back, your change will go toward helping the North Carolina Zoo’s conservation efforts. It’s a painless way to make a difference… a few pennies at a time!
Hike with your pet outside the zoo: Park in the North America zoo lot for free and take a walk with your leashed dog(s) on the Purgatory Trail for a fairly easy hike to the top of scenic Purgatory Mountain. Rumor has it that it got its name because at night during Prohibition, you could see all the lights from the moonshiner stills.
Go on an Art in the Park scavenger hunt: Follow the self-guided map through the largest collection of public art in any zoo.
Zoofari: (April – October) With just three first-come, first-served tours daily (at 10a.m., 11a.m. and noon) Zoofari sells out quickly, so get to Junction Plaza early to purchase your tickets. They begin selling them at 9 a.m. The $20 ticket takes you on a 45-minute ride through the 40-acre Watani Grasslands habitat where you can see rhinos, gazelles, greater kudus, ostriches, exotic antelopes and elephants. The tour is narrated by a ride-along guide who shares lots of interesting factoids about the animals.
On the back of the vehicle seats, there’s a chart of all the animals living in the Zoofari habitat, so take a photo of it to help you identify what’s in your photos later.
Hint: For the best photo ops, sit on the left side.
Birds in Flight Show: (April – October) Purchase a ticket in advance for just $3 (well worth it) and arrive early for a good seat. (Seating is limited, two or three shows daily.) There’s very little shade in this area, but if you can handle the sun, the front row is an amazing place to sit.
The birds do receive training as they demonstrate natural behaviors, but they’re never forced to do anything. That means if they don’t feel like it, they just don’t do the behavior and it’s so funny! Some of the birds you’ll visit with during the show include macaws, sun conures, owls, falcons, hawks, vultures and more.
Hint: Volunteers get some really cool opportunities, so get your hand up quick!
Where to eat: You can feel good about what you eat! Restaurants at the NC Zoo focus on sustainability and locally sourced ingredients from farms and dairies. Food scraps, plates, cups, utensils, and napkins can be placed in compostable cans placed throughout the zoo after use. You won’t see straws and lids anymore (for the protection of the animals) except on the souvenir cups which are recyclable and reusable.
The biggest crowds will always be in Junction Plaza. It’s a lesser known secret to eat in Africa’s Wachovia Akiba Market where Billy D’s Fried Chicken has recently opened up.
Another delicious option is the Iron Hen Cafe in North America. I had breakfast there first thing when I arrived and it was amazing! The grits are delicious!
Relax and have fun: Don’t feel like you need to see the entire zoo in a day (although you could). Most people spend 5-6 hours on an average visit. Take your time and enjoy the lush landscape as you stroll the walkways. Trams are also available to shuttle guests from one side of the park to the other so take advantage of the chance to get off your feet now and then.
I hope these North Carolina Zoo insider secrets and tips help you get the most out of your visit. For more information, visit the zoo’s website and contact the Heart of North Carolina Visitor’s Bureau for help in planning a trip to Randolph County.