Best Places To Visit If You Adore Animals (That Aren’t Sea World)

By Natalia Kvitek,

While visiting zoos and marine parks might be entertaining, we’ve put together a list of places in the U.S. that focus on animals being happy doing their thing in a respectful environment. Visit and be happy knowing that the beautiful creatures you see are just as happy!

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Feed your curiosity at the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center and feed theirs!

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Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose, Texas is an endangered species research and conservation center with over 1,000 animals from 50 species, including exotic creatures like the maned wolf and the white-nosed coati. You drive your car through the 9.5-mile tour and can occasionally feed some of the curious animals who stop in! Stay in Dallas, which is only an hour and a half away.

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Your opportunity to get licked by a giraffe is at the Global Family Wildlife Center

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Around 4,000 endangered animals call the Global Family Wildlife Center in Folsom, La. home, where they roam freely on this wildlife preserve. It’s the largest in the United States so you’ll cross 900 acres and get cozy with bison, giraffes, and antelopes. Baton Rouge is only an hour drive away so it’s a perfect day trip away from the city.

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Count actual sheep during your nights at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary

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Woodstock Animal Farm Sanctuary in Willow, N.Y. welcomes visitors to get friendly with cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, sheep, goats, and rabbits. They operate on the principle that these animals are friends and not lunch! Located in the scenic Catskill Mountains, you can spend a peaceful night here and know what you pay goes straight back to the care of your new friends.

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Safely spot the gigantic residents of Yellowstone National Park

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Imagine the sheer thrill of seeing an animal on its own stomping grounds. Take a hike with a park ranger who will explain details about the creatures of Yellowstone and take you to locations where you are sure to safely spot bison, elk, mountain goats, moose and bears.

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Stroll with avian royalty at the Los Angeles Arboretum

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Los Angeles Arboretum peacock

(CC) Xu Hua

Los Angeles County Arboretum and Botanic Garden, Arcadia, Calif. Drive or stroll through the surrounding neighborhood of the arboretum — for free! — and see the peacocks strolling with babies in tow. Did you know that only the colorful males are called peacocks? The ladies go by peahens. Please drive carefully and be respectful of the birds! Park your car and spend the night in Pasadena.

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Pony Up on Assateague Island

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The wild ponies of Assateague Island, Va. & Md. really exist, just like in the beloved children’s story Misty of Chincoteague. They hang out on the beach all day and while interacting with them is discouraged, many of them are friendly and rather brazen when asking for treats and pats. Stay on the nearby island of Chincoteague where they auction the ponies off every year to help pay for their keep.

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Flirt with gators at the Everglades National Park

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Everglades river teaming with gators

(CC) Qewk

Everglades National Park, Fla. protects the southern 20 percent of the original Everglades. Filled to the brim with alligators, the park is also home to 36 federally protected animals including panthers, sea turtles and manatees. This protected environment is crucial to the survival of its rare and endangered species, so appreciate it while you still can. Visit during late April to watch the alligators flirt and shake their booties while performing their mating dances. Miami is an easy place to base your Everglades adventure.

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Skip the aquarium to see the live action in Monterey Bay

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Outside of the Antarctic, Monterey Bay, Calif. is the best place to see marine mammals including seals, sea lions, whales, dolphins and porpoises — more than 20 marine species hang ten in this locale. August and September is the best time to see whales feasting on krill. Spend the night in nearby Santa Cruz.

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Take bets on what you’ll spot at Rocky Mountain National Park

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Rocky Mountain National Park, Colo. delivers with a huge variety of wildlife. We’re willing to bet you’ll see an elk herd, some bighorn sheep, mule deer and quite likely, a coyote. Elk are spotted very frequently, especially at the edge of meadows. Keep your eyes peeled and your finger on your camera’s shutter button. There are plenty of places to sleep nearby.

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Experience a true American safari at Grand Teton National Park

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Wyoming Bison

(CC) Aaron

Grand Teton National Park, Wyo. offers a safari excursion that would rival any in Africa. Check into the Four Seasons Hotel in Jackson Hole and take one of the four-hour park outings alongside a wildlife biologist. They can pretty much guarantee a meet and greet with elk, bison, wolves, grizzly bears and mountain lions — well, maybe not so much a meet, and even less of a greet than just a glimpse. The wildlife shots are sure to amaze any and all wildlife photography experts.