Imagine holding on tightly to the crash bars of a jeep as it rambles across the huge plains of Africa in search of exotic animals not seen elsewhere in the wild. As the vehicle slows down to observe a herd of giraffes or a pack of lions you quickly grab your Nikon and focus in to get the perfect shot. Once the sun begins to set the jeep heads back to camp where your hut with all modern amenities awaits your return.
Reality check. Though many might dream of such an adventure, at an average of $1000 per person per night for an African safari, few have the time or resources to be able to drop everything and catch the next flight to Kenya. Same goes for Australia, China, or Southeast Asia.
Luckily, there are places right here in the U.S. where you can view free-range wild and exotic animals from around the world without breaking the budget. Drive through safari parks allow guests a close-up and personal look at the same animals they would see by spending thousands of dollars traveling to another continent.
Here are just a few drive-through safaris which require no more than filling up the gas tank and tossing the kids in the car.
Arbuckle Wilderness Park – Davis, Oklahoma
Voted as a top attraction by the Oklahoma Tourist Board, Arbuckle Wilderness Park is spread over 200-acres in the Arbuckle Mountains. In addition to the over 200 animals roaming free, there is also a petting zoo for the kids and a house of reptiles full of slithering snakes.
The wilderness park features animals from five continents living freely in habitats very similar to where they originated from. Alpacas, blackbuck antelope, nilgai, rhea, white rhinos, aoudads, bison, and so much more will thrill the entire family.
To maintain the integrity of the wilderness area the roads are gravel and a bit bumpy. The speed limit through the park is only 5-MPH so as not to disturb the typical goings-on of the animals in their natural setting.
Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch – Texas
Located between San Antonio and New Braunfels, Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch has been hosting visitors for over 30 years and has won Trip Advisors Award of Excellence for the past eight years in a row. The ranch consumes 450-acres and takes about an hour and a half to drive through. It’s recommended to drive through more than once since different animals will be spotted on each ride.
Lemurs from Madagascar, Damaraland zebras, Bactrian camels, southern white rhinos, and ostrich, are only a few of the 500 species which thrive in the Texas environment. The ranch also serves as a giraffe conservatory. In 1999 there were over 140,000 giraffes worldwide. Today there are as few as 98,000.
Visitors are not allowed to ride in the back of pickup trucks or with van doors open and they are asked to not feed the animals as they are on special diets.
Pine Mountain Wild Animal Safari – Pine Mountain, Georgia
The wildlife park sits on 500-acres and features over 550 animals of 75-species which includes parrots, peacocks, lemurs, lizards, wolves, and wallabies. The developer of the park, Ron Snider, wanted to build a park which catered to kids between 3-12 years old to give them a greater love and understanding of animals in the wild.
Parks! America purchased the grounds in 2005, upgrading it and adding more animals. Guests can drive their own vehicles, rent a zebra painted jeep, or take a bus tour. The entire drive is 3.5 miles.
Many of the animals will approach vehicles but they are tame and won’t cause any harm. Children get a huge thrill from hand-feeding American bison and staring a zebra directly in the eyes through a car window.
Out of Africa Wildlife Park – Camp Verde, Arizona
Located halfway between Flagstaff and Phoenix, Out of Africa Wildlife Park is nothing short of a great time for the entire family. In addition to viewing animals in the wild, the staff puts on interesting shows to entertain their guests. Watch a tiger go swimming or laugh at their armadillo mascot named Tucker as it struts around seeking attention.
Though driving a personal car is admissible, the park also offers a three-hour tour where guests can actually approach certain animals. Ever hug a llama?
For a real adventure, visitors can watch wild predators ravish their evening meals from the safety of a zip line as they soar over the top of them.
The park’s list of mammals, reptiles, and birds, is incredibly extensive. While many of them come from Africa, there are animals representing five continents.
Virginia Safari Park – Natural Bridge, Virginia
1,000 animals take up 180-acres in the only drive-through safari park in Virginia. It’s a three-mile drive through the park and visitors are free to walk around the Safari Bridge area where children are treated to a petting zoo and can interact with the very tame animals.
Kangaroos, tigers, reptiles, giraffes, penguins and exotic birds are all on display. Wagon rides are available and guests have a blast when they are approached by some of the animals just wanting a friendly pat on the head.
A wheelchair accessible ramp allows visitors to come face to face with 18-feet tall giraffes as they place treats on their giant tongues and watch as they lap them down.
San Diego Zoo Safari Park – San Diego, California
Inappropriately called a zoo, this is the crowned jewel of safari parks located on 1,800-acres. The park features 300 species of animals from six continents. A zip line which runs over the top of the massive expanse gives visitors a birdseye view without disturbing the animals below. For the safety of its guests, bust tours must be taken. Tigers, lions, bears, flamingos, cranes, rhinos, and plenty more approachable and unapproachable animals can be seen in their natural habitats.
Other safari parks are located all over the U.S. so it’s only a matter of finding one that’s convenient to travel to, which won’t be difficult. Visiting any one of them is both recreational and educational, and makes for a perfect family outing.