After years of traveling around the United States, both with my family and without, I have run across many drive through zoos, safari parks, and wildlife preserves. As traditional zoos have transitioned to animal conservation and education over entertainment, there has been a shift to larger, more natural animal habitats and enclosures. The nice thing about drive through zoos is that most have acres and acres of land for animals to roam in a much more natural setting.
I constantly struggle with the benefits of zoos versus the negative impacts of keeping animals in captivity. Although I know many have different views, I see many benefits of these safari and wildlife parks from seeing the simple joy of a child’s face when they see an animal in person that inspires a lifelong interest in animal preservation, to the important research that these parks provide in understanding animal behavior and saving them from extinction.
That said, I do think we need to be careful about which establishments we support, which is why I have included only the zoos and safari parks that are accredited members of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums or the Zoological Association of America.
Drive Through Zoos & Wildlife Parks
I have intentionally left out a few safari parks, even ones that I have visited, because greater research showed that they weren’t accredited by one of those two widely recognized organizations. (I found this article helpful in understanding the different types of accreditation and what it means.) As of this writing in October 2019, this list is only accredited AZA or ZAA establishments or overseen by government wildlife entities.
Lion Country Safari, Loxahatchee, FL
Founded in 1967 as the first drive-through safari park in the United States, Lion Country Safari is the largest attraction in The Palm Beaches. This park is home to more than 1,000 animals, which can be viewed along the 4-mile long drive-through preserve and walk-through habitats. Animals from six different continents can be found at Lion Country Safari, including lions, white rhinos, chimpanzees, zebras, giraffes and more.
After taking a scenic drive through the preserve, guests can enjoy the rides and attractions at Safari World. These include a boat ride on the Safari Queen, paddleboat, miniature golf, a carousel, Flying Elephant ride, and the Rio Grande Train. Safari World now also includes Safari Plunge water slides, so guests can really make a day of their visit.
Lion Country Safari is located at 2003 Lion Country Safari Road, Loxahatchee, Florida 33470. Editor’s note: I was provided with a complimentary tour tour at Lion Country Safari, and I have also visited on my own. All opinions are my own.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Orlando, FL
Kilimanjaro Safaris is one of many attractions at Animal Kingdom in Walt Disney World. Ticketed guests can ride a guided safari vehicle through the Harambe Wildlife Reserve, home to 34 species over 110 acres of plains, forests, and rocky wetlands. This is a quick 18-minute ride in which guests will see animals such as a hippopotamus, giraffes, lions, elephants, rhinos, cheetahs, crocodiles, elephants, hyenas, zebras, and more.
Animal Kingdom is located at 2901 Osceola Pkwy, Orlando, FL 32830.
Six Flags Great Adventure & Safari, Jackson, NJ
Six Flags Great Adventure & Safari is an amusement park and animal preserve combined. Guests can explore this 350-acre preserve, boating 1,200 animals from six continents including elephants, rhinos, tigers, giraffes and lions. It used to be a drive-through safari, but now guests are guided through the park on a Safari Off Road Adventure. Each tour takes approximately 45 minutes and afterwards, guests can view the smaller animals at Camp Aventura. Each tour covers the Americas, Afrikka, Wild Plains, Seregenti Grasslands, Black Bear Ridge, Kingsland, Tigris Asiana, and more.
Six Flags Great Adventure & Safari is located at 1 Six Flags Blvd., Jackson, NJ 08527.
Virginia Safari Park, Natural Bridge, VA
Visitors of Virginia Safari Park can drive their own vehicles over three miles of a maintained gravel road to see and feed the animals on the 180-acre property. These encounters include elk and deer, which are free to roam and interact with visitors and each other throughout the property. Virginia Safari Park also offers giraffe feeding, a petting zoo, and a chance to see tigers, penguins, and kangaroos in exhibits on the walk-through safari. Please note that the Virginia Safari Park is NOT associated with the Natural Bridge Zoo, which is also located in Natural Bridge in Shenandoah Valley.
Virginia Safari Park is located at 229 Safari Lane, Natural Bridge, VA 24578.
African Safari Wildlife Park, Port Clinton, OH
African Safari Wildlife Park is home to giraffe, zebra, alpaca, bison, elk, and more. African Safari Wildlife Park offers both a drive-through and walk-through safari option. One cup of animal food per car is included with admission. The park is not open year round, so check the website for current opening dates and hours.
African Safari Wildlife Park is located at 267 S. Lightner Road, Port Clinton OH 43452.
The Wilds, Cumberland, OH
The Wilds spreads across 9,000 acres and is home to rare and endangered species from around the globe living in open range habitats. This lands that was once devoted to strip mining is now a private, non-profit safari park that combines conservation science and education programs. Guests can also enjoy immersive experiences such as zip line tours, horseback riding, fishing, and more.
Open air safari tours take two hours and include a guided tour on an open-air vehicle with stops at Lake Trail and the Carnivore Center. Animals include giraffe, cheetahs, white rhinos, camels, trumpeter swans, zebras, oryx, and more.
The Wilds are located at 14000 International Rd, Cumberland, OH 43732.
Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park & Wildlife Safari, Ashland, NE
The Lee. G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari is also a wildlife preserve and part of Omaha’s famous Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. The Wildlife Safari Park offers a four mile, drive-through North American wildlife experience. On this safari you can see bison, elk, wolves, prairie dogs, deer, eagles, pelicans, and more up close and personal. There is also a viewing deck overlooking the 40 acres of woodland hills and open grasslands that make up the Bison Plains. In addition, a nature-based playground offers opportunities to explore, play and learn.
The Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park & Wildlife Safari is located at 16406 N. 292 Street, Ashland, Nebraska 68003.
Lee Richardson Zoo, Garden City, KS
The Lee Richardson Zoo is home to 300 native and exotic animals over 50 acres. The zoo is free to pedestrians or visitors can pay to drive through the park to see the wild animals. Each animal is an ambassador for their wild counterparts promoting the understanding and conservation of wildlife and wild places. Animals include lions, alpacas, addax, Amur leopards, camels, bison, ferrets, bobcats, elk, giraffes, jaguars, sloth bears, and so much more.
The Lee Richardson Zoo is located at 312 E Finnup Drive, Garden City, KS 67846.
Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, Glen Rose, TX
Recommended by Stephanie Mantilla, an animal trainer at Curiosity Trained, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center offers an 1,800-acre wildlife center with self-driven or guided safaris. Altogether they maintain 1,100 animals of 50 different species including bison, cheetah, wildebeest, emus, kudus, giraffes, zebras, wolves, rhinos, and more in a natural environment.
Unlike other safari drive-thrus, Fossil Rim has a focus on conservation and they have even successfully reintroduced an oryx species back into the wild in Chad. Fossil Rim is also the largest successful breeding facility for the endangered cheetah in the world. To date, they’ve had over 200 cheetah cubs which is critical for their conservation efforts.
Fossil Rim Wildlife Center is located at 2155 County Road 2008, Glen Rose, Texas 76043.
Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch, TX
Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch offers an African safari, Texas-style, and is one of Texas’ most recognized family entertainment attractions. Visitors can join a guided tour or drive their own vehicle through 450 acres of rolling hills, creek beds, and live oak trees. The safari trek covers miles of the scenic Texas Hill Country and takes approximately an hour to an hour and a half to drive through. Guests will have a different adventure on each visit, witnessing the behavior of over 500 animals from 40 exotic, native and endangered animal species worldwide.
After the drive, families can walk through the giraffe barn and meander over to Lemur Island, the habitat of the Ring-Tailed Lemurs.
Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch is located at 26515 Natural Bridge Caverns Rd, San Antonio, TX 78266.
Bearizona Wildlife Park, Williams, AZ
One hour south of the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, Bearizona covers approximately 160 acres. Visitors can drive through more than three miles of Ponderosa Pine Forest, viewing North American animals in natural habitats as they go. There are also more animals in Fort Bearizona, a 20 acre walk-thru area, in a zoo-like setting.
Bearizona Wildlife Park is located at 1500 E Rte 66, Williams, AZ 86046.
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Park, San Diego, CA
The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Park, located 35 miles away from the San Diego Zoo, offers a variety of drive-through safari options including a caravan, cart, and behind-the-scenes safari. You can also enjoy experiences like zip lining, adventure course, or even sleep overnight in the park on a camping adventure. Animals include rhinos, camels, cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, gorillas, rhinos, lions, tigers, zebras, and more.
The Safari Park is located at 15500 San Pasqual Valley Road, Escondido, California 92027-7017.
Safari West, Santa Rosa, CA
Coined the Sonoma Serengeti, Safari West is a Wildlife Preserve and African tent camp fully accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Safari West’s 400 acres are home to nearly 1,000 animals, including African antelopes, primates, and predators, plus a variety of avian life from around the globe. Instead of driving your own car through this safari, guests can sign up for guided tours on retro-fitted safari vehicles.
Safari West also offers unique “glamping” accommodations within the preserve using custom-built tents imported from Botswana, which overlook a view of grazing antelope and giraffe. Twilight dining and wine paired adventures are available as well as dining at the onsite Savannah Café.
Safari West is located at 3115 Porter Creek Road, Santa Rosa, CA 95404. Editor’s note: I was provided with a complimentary tour and overnight stay at Safari West. All opinions are my own.
Wildlife Safari, Winston, OR
Wildlife Safari is home to America’s most successful cheetah breeding program, with over 235 Cheetah cubs. It is also home to over 500 animals from many different species including elephants, lions, bison, elk, wildebeest, brown bears, zebra, giraffe, hippos, rhinos, tigers, and more. Wildlife Safari is dedicated to the preservation and education of native and exotic wildlife.
The drive-through safari takes approximately one to one-and-one-half hours to drive through. The safari takes you past ostrich, Watusi cattle, lions, zebra, hippos, oryx, rhinos, giraffe, and elephants. Then you will pass the land of bears, bison and elk.within the sprawling canyon forests of North America. Lastly, you will journey through the cheetah breeding grounds and past Sumatran Tigers, all from the comfort of your own vehicle.
Wildlife Safari is located at 1790 Safari Rd, Winston, OR 97496.
Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, WA
Northwest Trek Wildlife Park is a 723-acre wildlife park featuring a tram tour which takes visitors through a 435-acre free-range area. Tram tours run 40 minutes and are led by a naturalist through meadows and forests with herds of Roosevelt elk, moose, bighorn sheep, caribou and more.
Animal walking tours, keeper talks, Kids’ Trek, and hiking trails are all available. The Zip Wild Deep Forest Challenge offers five exhilarating zipline courses through a tree canopy.
Northwest Trek Wildlife Park is located at 11610 Trek Dr E, Eatonville, WA 98328.