If your budget isn't up to an African safari, don't panic. There are plenty of places closer to home where you can enjoy an animal encounter without blowing your life savings. If you want to watch cheetahs and tigers, giraffes and elephants from the comfort (and safety!) of your car, check out our guide to the 10 best drive-thru safaris in the United States.
10. Disney's Animal Kingdom, Florida
You don't have to love Disney to get a kick out of Disney's Animal Kingdom, but you do have to love animals - with over 34 species calling the park home, you're going to see a lot of them on your whistlestop, 18-minute drive through the Harambe Wildlife Reserve. Expect to see elephants, rhinos, crocodiles, cheetahs, hippopotamus, giraffes, lions, hyenas, zebras, and more.
9. Rocky Mountain Arsenal, Colorado
Drive just a little outside of Denver and you'll find Rocky Mountain Arsenal. Perfect for animal lovers looking to escape the city and indulge in some wild adventures, the drive-thru experience will take you through 15,000-acres of habitat. Keep your eyes peeled for bison, deer, bald eagles, and more besides. The tour takes around 45 minutes to complete, but there's so much to see, most people end up circling back around for a few extra goes.
8. Bearizona Wildlife Park, Arizona
If you want to take a drive on the wild side of life, take the advice of Mommy Nearest and head for Bearizona Wildlife Park. The three-mile-long experience passes by some of North America's most popular native species, including bison, black bears, and wolves. The animals tend to be most active in the morning and late afternoon, so try to time your visit around those times. Just be aware that, for obvious reasons, the park discourages people from cruising along in a convertible. Unless you want to be someone's lunch, make sure that whatever car you drive is fully enclosed.
7. Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour, South Dakota
Did you know that American Buffalo can run at speeds of 40 miles per hour? If you don't believe it, check it out for yourself by heading to Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour in Custer State Park. Recommended by Fodors Travel Guide as one of the best safaris in the U.S., the site boasts 71000 acres peppered with buffalo, prairie dogs, pronghorns, and elk. As to how you tackle the drive-thru, you've got one of two options: drive your own car through the self-drive 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road or park up and hop aboard an open-air jeep for a guided tour.
6. Lion Country Safari, Florida
The Palm Beaches in Florida isn't short on attractions, but the Lion Country Safari ranks as the largest and quite possibly the best. Established in 1967 as the very first drive-thru safari park in the United States, the park is home to over 1000 animals from six different continents, many of which can be seen on the 4-mile drive-thru preserve. Those that can't be seen on the drive-thru can be encountered in the walk-thru habitats. Expect to see lions, chimpanzees, white rhinos, zebras, giraffes, and more besides. Once you've finished your drive, you'll find plenty of other things to enjoy, including boat rides, miniature golf, carnival rides, and water attractions.
5. Pine Mountain Wild Animal Safari Park, Georgia
Named by studenttravelplanningguide.com as one of the best safari parks in the US, Pine Mountain Wild Animal Safari Park offers visitors the chance to encounter over 120 species of animals, including parrots, peacocks, lemurs, lizards, wolves, and wallabies. The 3.5-mile drive-thru can either be made in your own vehicle or, if you prefer, you can rent a van or a bus directly from the park. Once you've finished the drive-thru section of the experience, head for the stroll-friendly area, where you'll get the chance to pet and feed some of the park's smallest and friendliest members.
4. African Safari Wildlife Park, Ohio
Located around two hours from Cleveland and Columbus in Ohio, the African Safari Wildlife Park is a great place to encounter some of the state's wildest residents. On the drive-thru section, you'll pass through fields of bison, Bactrian camels, and Scottish Highland cattle. If you're visiting during the summer months, be sure to check out the white-handed gibbons and warthogs playing in the stroll-friendly area. Other must-do activities include watching the pigs race at the somewhat insensitively named Pork Chops Down and checking out some of the park’s seasonal educational animal shows.
3. Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch, Texas
Occupying 400 acres of land in between San Antonia and New Braunfels, Texas, Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch premises an exciting day full of animals, adventure, and activities. The drive-thru will take you through fields filled with Japanese sika, eland, and Damaraland zebra, most of whom will come running the moment you rattle the bucket of tasty eats provided with your admission. Other key attractions include a walk-about section where visitors can meet a pair of rare twin reticulated giraffes and watch the lemurs play in their enclosure, along with a petting barn with pygmy goats and llamas.
2. Wildlife Safari, Oregon
Along with boasting one of the most successful cheetah breeding programs in the U.S, the Wildlife Safari in Oregon is home to a huge variety of animals, including African elephants, hippopotamuses, American alligators, and Tibetan yaks. The drive-thru section is thrilling enough, but it's worth stumping up the extra fee to get up close and personal with your favorites at one of the various animal encounters. You can ride a camel, walk with cheetahs, or even enjoy some wine and art with George, Alice, and Tava, the park's very friendly and very cultured resident elephants.
1. Virginia Safari Park, Virginia
Virginia Safari Park is a drive-thru safari in Natural Bridge, Virginia that offers animal lovers a great day of adventure. Its three-mile self-drive safari offers visitors the chance to see the elk and deer that roam its 180-acre ground. The animals are allowed to roam freely and act without any interference, so expect to see males fighting for breeding rights and even live births. Before you head out, you'll be offered a bucket of grain to feed the animals. You're free to drive through as many times as you like, but be sure to leave plenty of time to enjoy the park's other attractions, which include a petting zoo, giraffe feeding, and the opportunity to see tigers, penguins, and kangaroos on the walk-thru safari.
Written by Dana Hanson
Read more posts by Dana Hanson