See exotic animals, birds and critters at the many zoos, aquariums and animal parks for a memorable family vacation.
Talk about taking a wild ride! At Tennessee Safari Park in Alamo, you can pet and feed more than 80 species of animals, and all you have to do is roll down your car window. The drive-through zoo located on a century farm is known for its friendly and enthusiastic exotic animals, including giraffes, zebras, bison, primates and tapirs. Feed them cups of food from your car window along the 5.5-mile drive before strolling through the park’s 20-acre, walk-through petting zoo.
Take in the beauty of the majestic Great Smoky Mountains on horseback at the Smoky Mountain Deer Farm Exotic Petting Zoo in Sevierville. Nestled in the foothills of the Smokies, the 140-acre farm invites guests to walk among and hand-feed gentle-mannered deer, as well as interact with kangaroos, camels, emu, pot-bellied pigs and more. The farm’s riding stables offer pony rides for children and horseback riding for all ages along scenic wooded trails.
Behold the Buffalo
You may not expect to see buffalo (American bison) in a big city, but you will at Shelby Farms Park in Memphis. One of the nation’s largest urban parks, the farm overflows with more than 200 species of animals. The resident buffalo herd roams a fenced-in, 50-acre range and is often visible along the paved Chickasaw Trail. Let the kids burn off some energy at the park’s creative Woodland Discovery Playground.
Under the Sea
Home to 10,000 animals, the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga is rated the best aquarium in the U.S. for overall guest satisfaction. Enjoy regional and international underwater habitats in the aquarium’s two buildings. After making your sea-filled journey, head to the IMAX 3D Theater for an immersive movie experience.
Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg features upper and lower levels in its beautiful building that features a tropical rainforest, massive tanks filled with ocean creatures and the Penguin Playhouse. Look up when you walk through Shark Lagoon to see sharks of all types silently gliding the waters above. You can even have a slumber party at Ripley’s Aquarium’s Sleep with the Sharks event, complete with a dive show and late-night scavenger hunt.
In Union City, Discovery Park of America educates guests about marine life with its 22,000-gallon aquarium. At Discovery Park’s touch table, you can pet turtles, snakes and other critters, as well as interact with an eccentric talking parrot named Ziggy.
Life is never boring at Eagleville’s Lucky Ladd Farms, home to the largest petting zoo attraction in Tennessee with more than 100 friendly farm animals. Watch with amusement as confident goats scale the Goat-A-Coaster over the roof of the barn, or peek in the chicken coop to see baby chicks hatch. You can brush, pet and feed animals in Lucky’s Barnyard where sheep, llamas and goats roam free among visitors.
This Place is a Zoo
Ever taken a selfie with a kangaroo or watched a spider monkey swing? You can at the Nashville Zoo, where 365 different animal species roam. The zoo’s newest exhibit “Expedition Peru: Trek of the Andean Bear” opened in 2018, immersing guests in a Peruvian village among bears, pudu, guinea pigs and freshwater stingrays. More red pandas have been born at Zoo Knoxville than at any other zoo in the world. See them play in their exhibits; take a behind-the-scenes tour or even a night safari. You can also go behind the scenes with a WILD Encounter at the Chattanooga Zoo and hand-feed a meerkat. The Memphis Zoo is one of the only four zoos in the U.S. where you can see giant panda bears, one of the most endangered species in the world. At Brights Zoo near Jonesborough, you can be a Keeper for the Day and distribute food to zebras, giraffes, bongos and more (advanced registration is required).
The Fauna of the Great Smoky Mountains
A trip to the Smokies provides an opportunity to see nature at its finest - from beautiful birds and deer to skunks and rabbits. But you’ll want to check out Ober Gatlinburg’s Wildlife Encounter where you can view an American black beer family including parents Minnie and BJ and their grown kids, Holly and Chief. You can also see birds of prey, river otters, bobcats and snakes.
A Trip to the Tropics
Hundreds of tropical and temperate animals make their home at Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo in Sevierville. Bring your camera to capture some of the more than 600 birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and even bugs at this Great Smoky Mountains attraction. Before you head out, stop by Amazon Traders, which sells zoological-themed items from around the world, including many that are handmade by indigenous people of the rainforest.