This day trip to the North Carolina Zoo was originally published in September 2018 and updated in January 2022
This is a great time of year to take a drive to spend the day at the North Carolina Zoo. The zoo offers quite a bit to experience and will likely take a whole day and you still won’t see everything in one day. The North Carolina Zoo does incredible conservation work and serves as a world class research facility as well as a delightful spot for entertainment. Here are some tips for visiting the North Carolina Zoo and spots to check out while you are there.
A Day Trip to the North Carolina Zoo
What to Know Before You Go to the North Carolina Zoo
Our state zoo is on 2600 wooded acres located in the center of North Carolina, right outside of Asheboro. There are 500 developed acres, making the NC Zoo the world’s largest natural habitat zoo and is one of two state-supported zoos. With that in mind, be prepared to walk a lot. Wear comfortable walking shoes. You may want to bring your own water bottles to stay hydrated, especially on a hot day. And definitely remember to wear sunscreen. Face masks are required in indoor areas and enclosed vehicles.
Tickets are $15. Any add-ons are extra, and the Zoofari is one of the more popular add-on tickets. The Zoofari is a specially outfitted, open-air vehicle for an exclusive tour of the 40-acre Watani Grasslands. You’ll be introduced to nine species by one of the experienced zoo educators. You will see rhinoceroses, gazelles, greater kudus, ostriches, and many antelope, plus you may get a special view of the elephants! A public add-on of this is $25 or you can rent this out as a private event.
There are plenty of other experiences that are included in the base price ticket, including Art in the Park. Art is the Park features a variety of art mediums, including sculptures and paintings spread across the two continent features. The largest sculpture in the zoo is the Elephant Group, made of bronze. There is a specific Art in the Park map that highlights the public art installations throughout the North Carolina Zoo.
Additional attractions include a carousel, the kaleidoscope butterfly garden, and the Acacia Station Giraffe Deck, which is an additional $5. The giraffe deck is open seasonally from April-October, and is a great experience of being able to get eye level with the giraffes. This is one of our favorite experiences at the NC Zoo.
If you are taking your trip on a cooler day, spend some time in the bird aviary! It’s cozy in there as the birds here are tropical and it is quite a collection. We spend quite a bit of time here enjoying the flora as well!
Where to Eat at the North Carolina Zoo
There are picnic areas located directly outside the zoo entrances if you opt to bring your own meal for lunch or an early dinner. However, if you opt to try the restaurants on site, you will not be disappointed! Billy D’s Fried Chicken is a delicious spot located at the Africa entrance. Our favorite was the hot fried chicken sandwich with waffle fries. Plus, there is a sauce bar with a wide variety of sauces, including comeback sauce, which paired well with the hot fried chicken! At the North America entrance, there is Farm-to-Table Cafe that features bbq sandwiches, burgers, salads, speciality coffees, and soft-serve ice cream. There are also seasonal cafes that serve burgers, pizza slices, ice cream, popcorn, chicken tenders, and other snacks that you may be craving after a long day of walking around!
Whether it is to fuel up before your day at the zoo or a stop on your way out of town, be sure to make time for the Table in Asheboro. It’s a delicious restaurant located about 15 minutes from the zoo and serves up delicious bowls, sandwiches, and brunch treats!
Parking is free at the NC Zoo. The North America lot is open year-round, while the Africa lot is open April-October.
This post was originally published in 2018 and has since been updated and recirculated for 2022.