Last Updated on June 30, 2021
Last Updated on June 30, 2021
If you plan to visit Western NC, please check beforehand to see if the area is safe following the recent flooding. Officials have closed some sections of Pisgah National Forest (including Forest Heritage Scenic Byway and Blue Ridge Parkway stops) to keep visitors out of danger. Please respect signage and local guidance.
Did you know that North Carolina is home to the world’s largest Zoological Park!? If not, then we’re here to tell you about the North Carolina Zoo (NC Zoo) that sits in the heart of our state on 2,600 wooded acres.
Currently, 500 acres of the land is developed. And even so, it’s still the largest natural habitat zoo in the world. Also, it’s one of only two state-supported zoos and 60 percent of resources come from the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
That’s how the NC Zoo provides world-class care to its animals while also keeping admission prices low and affordable.
And if you’ve been before, you’ll likely agree with us about no detail being left behind in the habitats and treatment of the wonderful animals who live here. It’s a big reason why the NC Zoo is part of our bucket list.
UPDATED Ticketing INFORMATION (as of 2021)
Starting July 1, 2021 reservations will no longer be required for Zoo entry. Face coverings and social distancing are recommended for individuals who are not fully vaccinated. Face coverings are required at the Acacia Station Giraffe Deck.
And if it’s not on yours yet, read through more of this guide for all the tips, food to eat, the animals and habitats you’ll see, and much more.
You can certainly find the NC Zoo in our NC Bucket List Book. This post is part of our series on our favorite children’s museums and all the fun things to do in Asheboro. We’ve also included the NC Zoo among our favorite day trips from Raleigh and also, from Durham.
The NC Zoo in Asheboro
For quick info about the NC Zoo (including hours and admission info), please scroll to the bottom of this post.
Background & History
The NC Zoo came out of a community effort by the Raleigh Jaycees in 1967. Randolph County was chosen as the site because of its position geographically in the center of North Carolina. And at 75 miles from both Raleigh (and its neighbor Durham) and Charlotte and 25 miles south of Greensboro, it is an easy day trip from most major cities in North Carolina.
The Zoo’s Africa section first opened in 1979 and expanded throughout the 1980s. North America‘s first exhibit Sonoran Desert opened in 1993 and expanded throughout the decade, along with continued improvements made to Africa.
With Asia coming in the future, it’s obvious that this place is always expanding.
Tips for Visiting the NC Zoo
We challenge you to see all of the NC Zoo in one day! Because we don’t think it’s possible. The entire complex is huge and filled with so many things to do, see, and experience in great detail.
When To Visit: The Offseason!
We’ve been several times to the zoo and know that many folks might not be able to go exactly when they want. However, we found that the offseason (between November and March) was the perfect time to go!
The animals tend to be more active during cooler temperatures too! There are fewer crowds and with the mild winter weather of North Carolina is was a perfect 51 degrees while we walked.
Also, the colder weather doesn’t mean that the warmer habitat animals won’t be out. If the temperature is below 45 degrees, the African animals have access to their indoor heated areas, so many of them will be out in the afternoon and would love to see your smiling faces!
Pro Tip: Of course, the weather has to cooperate so be mindful of forecasts before planning your trip.
The weekdays, which are usually our preferred days to travel for fewer crowds, are typically filled with school groups. So if you’re planning to come on a weekday, we recommend coming around lunch when the school crowds are starting to return home.
Note: We love school groups! However, we also love traveling without as many people around, too!
During the offseason (November through March), the main parking lot is in North America and visitors can catch the tram to either the midway point, Junction, or the end of Africa.
If you’re wanting to see as much as possible, here are some more tips to help your time there.
Lots of Walking
- Walk, Walk, Walk: The NC Zoo is built on hilly terrain and there is a lot of walking required to get around. Wear some shoes that can handle it.
- Plan Your Path: Our preferred route is to take the tram to Junction Plaza and walk downhill through Africa, take the tram back to Junction Plaza, and walk mostly downhill through North America.
- Befriend the Tram: There are approximately five miles of walking paths, so utilizing the tram is definitely worthwhile if you have young children.
- Bring a Stroller (Optional): Because of the amount of walking, we also decided to bring our jogging stroller over an umbrella stroller. While bigger to break down for the tram, we found it a lot more comfortable to navigate through the crowds.
- You Can Rent a Stroller: If you forgot your stroller or would like to rent one for the day, single and double strollers are available. Stop at the gift shop in North America or Africa to purchase your rental. The strollers are not able to be transported on the tram and are available on a first-come, first-served basis at each tram stop.
- Animal Feedings: For the ultimate experience, plan your day around the animal feeding times! These times can be found here and many of the keepers stick around for questions.
- Water: Bring your own water bottle! There are water bottle refill stations along the paths.
- Food from Home: Also, bring individually packaged snacks. Large family-sized bags and picnic item foods are not allowed inside the park, but individual small-sized snacks are not a problem. We filled up a couple of our reusable snack bags and threw a couple of apples in our stroller to keep the child happy in between meals. There are snack stations to purchase popcorn and ice cream along the way, too!
We mention a bit more about eating options in “The Food at the NC Zoo” below.
The Food at the NC Zoo
While picnicking in designated locations is allowed, we found that the food at the NC Zoo is both affordable and sustainable!
Delicious (and locally sourced) crispy chicken at Billy D’s Fried Chicken in Africa and artisan sandwiches from Iron Hen Café Express in North America are a couple of your options. Both restaurants are dedicated to keeping things as local as possible and both work hard to reduce landfill waste through composting.
More restaurant and snack options are available along the walking paths. There, you can purchase Dippin’ Dots, popcorn, Pepsi products, burgers, fries, and snacks.
Inside the Zoo
Africa and North America
The North Carolina Zoo currently consists of two main areas, Africa and North America. During peak season, visitors can park at either parking lot to minimize travel time.
As we mentioned earlier, between North America and Africa, 500 acres of the property’s 2,600 acres are currently developed.
Animals at the NC Zoo
With more than 1,800 animals and 200-plus species, the NC Zoo has quite a variety of residents. Whether you’re hanging with Nikita the Polar Bear or Obi the Chimpanzee, you’ll have a fun a day seeing as many animals as you can.
The zoo is also notably known for having the largest troop of chimpanzees and Alaskan seabirds in America. One of the reasons that the NC Zoo is so huge is because replicating the space and conditions of the real world is very important to the people who built it.
In North America, visitors will find this vastly different region represented by diverse exhibits and habitat displays. The Cypress Swamp, Rocky Coast, Streamside, Prairie, and the Sonoran Desert are all featured here.
Some of our must-see animals in this region include the polar bear, vampire bats and sand cats, river otters, bison, red wolves, and black bears.
Africa is home to zebras, giraffes, elephants, rhinos, chimpanzees, lions, and more. With a 40-acre habitat in the Watani Grasslands, visitors can spot nearly 100 animals and even 10 different species of antelopes.
Curious about an animal after you left the zoo? The NC Zoo has an incredible resource list on their website. Check out to learn more after you visit to further your experience.
Coming Soon: Asia
Funds from 2015’s Connect NC Bond were approved to be used toward expanding and building an Asia-themed complex. Asia is set to open in 2023 and tentative plans include tigers, red panda, Komodo dragons, and native Asian plants.
Bonus Things to Do at the NC Zoo
If you want to take your NC Zoo experience up a notch, purchase FUN tickets for extra experiences along the way. FUN tickets are $3 each or 4 for $9 and can be used at the Carousel, Butterfly Garden, Giraffe Deck, Treehouse, and Africa Virtual Reality.
Note: These experiences typically closed during the offseason.
Get an up close experience inside of the Watani Grasslands in the Zoofari experience!
Want our pro-tip? Try to get on the first ride of the day.
Why? The animals are either eating or have just eaten during this time and are much more active as opposed to the last ride of the day when it’s nap time.
You aren’t guaranteed to see the animals up close for any ride. But still, being inside and getting a tour from one of the animal handlers is a unique and educational experience in itself!
Tickets for the Zoofari can only be purchased at Junction Plaza the day of and sell out quickly. Tours last 45 minutes and cost an additional $25 and is only operates April through October.
The Air Hike is located in Africa near Lemur Island. It is a physical ropes course for those seeking something fun and challenging! The elevated course tests balance and strength while you climb over 23 obstacles.
Tickets for the Air Hike can be purchased on site. Participants must be at least 60 inches tall or 48 inches and at least 4 years old while accompanied by an adult.
Kidszone is a unique play space located near the North America entrance. We think it’s the perfect place for kids to get all their wiggles out!
The 5,625 square-foot space features a giant spider web for climbing. There’s also a leaf for sliding, and other bug and flower-inspired sculptures for climbing and playing!
Bonus: It’s open year-round and a great spot for kids to play after grabbing a bite to eat at Wild Burger!
Our Thoughts and Yours, Too!
As you can tell from all the info here, there really is a lot to the NC Zoo. A visit here is absolutely one of the best things to do in North Carolina and we can’t wait for our next trip there.
And finally, we know many folks come from all over to check out the NC Zoo. However, we think even more should stick around and enjoy Asheboro and the rest of Randolph County. This is a great spot for a weekend trip, as you’ll have access to the potters of Seagrove and delicious food at places like The Table.
If you don’t believe us, come and find out for yourself and I’m sure you’ll be proven wrong…in a good way!
But if you are familiar with the area, we’d love to know from you. What are your favorite things to see and do at the NC Zoo? Got a tip you’d like to share? We’d love to know about it in the comments section!
NC Zoo Quick Guide
Address: 4401 Zoo Parkway, Asheboro, NC 27205
- April to October: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm
- November to March: 9:00 am to 4:00 pm
- NC Society Members: FREE
- Adults: $15
- Senior Citizens (62 and Older): $13
- Children (2 to 12): $11
- Members with reciprocal agreements through the AZA. Participating members include Durham’s Museum of Life and Science and Greensboro Science Center): 50 Percent Off with Membership Card and Matching ID
Note: Ticket sales end one hour before the Zoo closes.
The NC Zoo hosted us during one visit for the Zoofari experience. However, we’ve been back on our own dime and even took advantage of reciprocity, thanks to our Museum of Life and Science membership! All opinions within this article are our own.