Virginia Safari Park
I probably get more excited about animals than anything else, so we try to incorporate a unique animal experience into our vacations whenever we can.
The Virginia Safari Park is located in Rockbridge county, at exit 180/180-B off I-81 in Natural Bridge, Virginia tucked away at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is conveniently located in the Shenandoah Valley, only minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway and historic Lexington. In 2015, we took a short detour to visit on our way to the Omni Homestead. It's just about 3 hours from DC Metro and the drive is absolutely beautiful as you get close.
Looking to see animals up close? I mean REALLY close?
Virginia Safari Park is a 180 acre drive-thru adventure, with over 1,000 animals from around the world. The zoo is known as "two zoos for the price of one". It definitely lived up to the hype! It was a fun interactive zoo with lots of animals. There is a drive through "safari" and a walk through "village" featuring a kangaroo walk-about, giraffe feeding station, petting zoo, tiger territory, budgie aviary, and more.
We each grabbed a bucket of feed as we paid for our admission and entered the park. As we drove through the gated area where the actual safari began we were immediately surrounded by a family of llamas and ostriches. It was hilarious how they all crowded the entrance because they knew there was guaranteed food. It was actually kind of intimidating at first b/c the llamas and ostriches are super food aggressive! I kept rolling my window up when the guy below was near, he followed us all the way up the hill - and he kept pecking at our window! Ah!
It was so funny how demanding they are for food - they will just stand directly in front of your car and not let you leave. In fact, a ranger had to rescue us to shoo this pretty lady out of our way. I think she had us pinned for about 10 minutes - she kept heading for our windows, but any time we'd inch forward she would run back to the front of the car to block us. LOL! Look at her batting her lashes at us!
Each animal herd would bombard the car with their adorable faces begging for treats. Some of the animals would stick their whole heads in the windows looking for food. I felt badly for the deer, who were the most gentle and sweetest on the tour, because we had run out of food :(
I recommend asking for some extra buckets and then splitting up the food. Keep one under your seat for the animals you see later on the drive up the hill. That way, you can make it last.
Be careful with your buckets though - some of the animals are STRONG and will try to snatch that entire bucket right out of your hand! There is a sign warning that they steal food buckets, so I held on tight, but it was tight enough! I lost mine to a cow. These animals are serious about their food!
Your car will be covered with food pellets, so be prepared to vacuum when you get home! I think we found food up to a year later, even after many car-washes! If this isn't for you, they have another option to safari in their open air wagon for $6.50 per person.
You are free to feed most of the animals. However, you are not supposed to feed, touch, or pet the zebra, bison, or watusi cattle. But, this one Zebra hoped we had food and got right up next to us.
After driving through, we parked and got out to walk around the petting zoo. Don't skip this part! It's another 10 acres, and there were so many fun animals to see.
Sadly, the giraffes were not near the fence line when we visited, so we couldn't feed them all. But we made friends with several kangaroos! This one really loved Sean and was holding his hand.
My favorite was the tiny little baby held by his/her mama. So tiny!!!
And the barn animals were pretty cute too!
I didn't get photos of all of the animals - there are MANY more to see!
At the end, I was pretty dirty - they have a bathroom attached to the gift shop where you can wash your hands, but you may consider bringing a change of shirt - my shirt was filthy and we had plans for dinner that evening and did not have a chance to change first.
It was such a fun day! The park is fun for all ages - even big kids like us had a blast! If you are ever on your way down I-81 through the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains and looking for a place to stop to stretch your legs, I highly recommend Virginia Safari Park (or one of their sister zoos if you are in those areas - Reston Zoo in Vienna, VA or Gulf Breeze Zoo in Gulf Breeze, Florida).
Start planning your visit!
The Virginia Safari Park re-opens for the season this weekend on March 10th!
There is so much to do in the Lexington, VA area! It makes a great day trip - we combined our trip to Virginia Safari Park with a visit to Natural Bridge State Park to see one of the seven wonders, the Natural Bridge. See my post on Natural Bridge HERE.
Make sure you go to the correct zoo! Very close by to Virginia Safari Park is the Natural Bridge Zoo, which is totally unrelated.
Arrive early for wagon rides. There are no reservations and the tickets are first come, first served. Once all tickets are sold for the day, not other tickets will be available.
Wear comfy shoes - the walkable village is 10 acres.
In the summer months, visit in the morning - animals are much less likely to be active when the sun is brutally hot.
Allow enough time. Prepare to spend a few hours at the park even when it's not crowded. The safari alone took us over an hour to slowly wind our way through the 3 miles. Taking our own vehicle through was nice b/c we could do at our own pace.
Bring a camera! You do not want to miss these photo ops! These babies are expressive and hilarious! I wish we had our regular camera since my old I-phone was slow on the shutter speed. I missed a lot of pics b/c the animals are quick!
Buy the animal feed. You will regret it if you don't. The animals will come to you begging for food and it's a much more interactive fun experience to help attract them.
Admission is good all day - consider breaking up your visit and leaving the park for lunch (or bring a picnic - but eat before the animals slime you!) and come back to explore more.
Visit other nearby attractions. There is much to do/see in the Lexington area. Although a visit to Virginia Safari Park could take up most or all of your day, you'll still have time to visit one of the breath-taking natural wonders of the world, Natural Bridge! See my post on the Natural Bridge and Natural Bridge Caverns HERE.
Virginia Safari Park is located at 229 Safari Lane, Natural Bridge, VA 24578.
You can find out more on their tour rates and hours of operation, by visiting their website HERE.
Have you been to Virginia Safari Park? What was your favorite animal?
Enjoy your visit!