Visiting North Carolina Zoos & Aquariums

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North Carolina is home to a plethora of different places to see wildlife. And as a momma to two little girls, I’ve been to a few of them, six actually. Here’s my guide to zoos and aquariums in North Carolina. What worked and what didn’t. Where we go back to and where we won’t go again. 

Let’s get started!

1. North Carolina Zoo

The NC zoo located in Asheboro and is the worlds largest natural habitat zoo. This is a zoo that we have returned to time and time again. Be warned though, there is a lot of walking! If you are a step counter, you will get your daily steps in in no time at all. There are two different entrances to the zoo; North America and Africa. I recommend starting at the the North America side because it is the bigger of the two sides of the park. You’ll have to do the most walking between animals on that side so you can enjoy not having to walk that far between exhibits once you get to the Africa side and you are all hot and tired from your time spent at the zoo so far.

There are shuttles at each entrance to the zoo to take you back to the entrance that you parked at. Once you enter the North American entrance there is a kid zone, a playground, and dragonfly paddle boats. In between the two sides of the zoo is the Junction Plaza. This is where you can eat, get an ice cream cone at the creamery, buy souvenirs, and ride the carousel. Other opportunities at the zoo include: ropes course, giraffe deck, and Africa VR experience.

Average time spent at the zoo: 5 hours-full day
Cost of adult ticket: $15
Cost of child ticket: $11
Under two: FREE
Will we return: YES

2. Aloha Zoo

The Aloha zoo is located in Cameron, NC. This isn’t what you would call a “high-end” zoo. (If they can be categorized like that.) What I’m trying to say is it isn’t a fancy accredited zoo. That said, we have been several times and will go back in the future as well. The best part about the Aloha Zoo is that they currently have over 400 animals, all of which have been saved by the zoo and given a new home. All the animals there were either previously injured, abandoned, abused, neglected, or were unable to be cared for by their previous owners. We always buy feed while we are there. It’s $3 for a regular feed bag and  $1 for a feed bag for Stretch the giraffe. 

Another reason we love the Aloha Zoo is that you can get a ride through the zoo to feed the animals. Everyone piles onto a covered trailer being pulled by a tractor. Under all the seats there are loaves of bread that you can use to feed the animals as you drive by the different habitats. And the best part is that the ride is free with your admission ticket.

Average time spent there: 2 hours
Cost of an adult ticket:$12
Cost of child ticket: $12
Under two: FREE
Will we return: YES

3. Nature Center at J. Bayard Clark Park

This nature center is a very small exhibit of animals in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The building is in the J. Bayard Clark Park which is a huge bonus if you are visiting the nature center. The park itself has a playground, amphitheater, paved walking trails, and natural trails as well. Theres a large field that my daughters love to run around in and have picnics. While on the trails you can get a view of a waterfall and walk through a covered bridge.

In the nature center theres an area for children to read and play with stuffed animals. They exhibit a number of reptiles and amphibians and they have built a replica coal mine for the children to learn about rocks and minerals. Our favorite part of the nature center is the turtle pond. If you are local, then by all mean stop by the nature center. However, if you aren’t from the area the trip to Fayetteville really isn’t worth the time in my opinion.

Average times spent there: 20 minutes-nature center 1 hour-park
Cost: FREE
Will we return: YES

4. North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knolls

The aquarium is in Pine Knoll Shores, North Carolina which is on the central part of the coast. Of the three aquariums that I have been to in North Carolina, this one is my favorite. It’s by far the largest and has a bigger variety of marine animals. We are an aquarium lovin’ family and I am big on conservation so it’s important to me that I take my girls to learn about rehabilitation, conserving, and keeping the ocean clean. Although we enjoy our time at the aquarium we probably won’t go back, only because we have been a few times and are honestly feeling tired of it. However, if you’ve never been before, it’s definitely worth your time.

Average time spent there: 2 hours
Cost of an adult ticket: $12.95
Cost of a child ticket: $10.95
Under two: FREE
Will we return: MAYBE


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5. North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fischer

The second aquarium on our list is the aquarium is in Kure Bech. Located near Wilmington this aquarium is much smaller than most aquariums. It’s a fine aquarium that is clean and well maintained. However, it didn’t work well for toddlers that seem to need more stimulation than was provided. For adults though you will probably enjoy the educational aspects of the aquarium like I did. This may be best for adults and older children.

Average time spent there: 1 hours
Cost of an adult ticket: $12.95
Cost of a child ticket: $10.95
Under two: FREE
Will we return: NO

6. SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord Aquarium

This aquarium in Charlotte, North Carolina is another small one. In fact, its located in a mall. My children had a blast while they were there. It’s very colorful and wonderful for small children. With a lot of different exhibits, a touch pool, and indoor play structure-this is my daughters favorite aquarium. Added benefits of the SEA LIFE aquarium are the behind the scenes tours and toddler Tuesdays. (where you get one free child ticket with the purchase of an adult ticket) Despite this being the family favorite; this is too long of a drive (3 hours) for us to justify such a small and expensive aquarium.

Average time spent there: 40 minutes
Cost of an adult ticket: $21.95
Cost of a child ticket: $16.95
Under two: FREE
Will we return: NO

There you have it. The highs and lows of some of North Carolinas zoos and aquariums. If you have ever been to any of these leave me a comment to let me know what you thought about them. Am I missing some of the best zoos or aquariums in the state? Let me know!

You can follow along with me on my travels on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest !


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