You know you’ve gotten all the mileage you’re going to get out of your Atlanta Zoo membership when your kids can identify the pandas by the cowlicks in their coats. Don’t panic. Just fill up your gas tank, lug your vat of hand sanitizer to the car, and set your GPS to any of the following three Georgia spots that are certain to inject some much needed adrenaline into your kids’ wildlife encounters.


Wild Animal Safari
Some experiences are just weird, while other experiences can be weird AND wonderful. A ride on the zebra-painted, windowless school bus through the piney terrain of central Georgia definitely falls into the latter category. Sure, it’s a little over an hour from Atlanta, but here’s how it’s wonderful: giraffes, longhorn, and deer (among other critters) run to greet your zebra bus (a la ice cream truck) because you get to hand feed them from your window. And after the 45 minute bus tour, you get to stroll through the petting zoo where llama, goats, and deer are equally pleased to see you. It’s a chance to get up close and personal with friendly animals in a safari-esque environment without the risk(they keep the predators locked up). It’s weird. It’s wonderful. It’s the Wild Animal Safari. Go.

Details: Wild Animal Safari, 1300 Oak Grove Road, Pine Mountain, GA 31822, (706) 663-8744, Open daily except Christmas, Seasonal hours vary so call ahead, Adults $19.95, Children 3-12 $16.95, Toddlers 2 and under free, Price includes the cost of admission, the bus tour, and the petting zoo walkabout, Vehicle rentals (if you choose to drive your gang yourself) and animal food are additional.


North Georgia Zoo
Part petting zoo, part animal conservation and rescue facility, the North Georgia Zoo is a far cry from a traditional zoo. Where else can you experience a traditional working farm during the first part of your visit, and then relax with a 150 pound boa constrictor draped across your arms during the second half of your stay? Reptiles not your speed? You can opt for an encounter with a baby kangaroo, baby otter, or adolescent wolves (reared by a basset hound) instead. Still not impressed? Top your day off with a hay ride out to the camel enclosure, where you’ll see water buffalo, yaks, and highlander cows along the way. And did we mention they have pony rides for the littles? You heard us. Better start looking for real estate in Cleveland, Georgia. You’re going to be there a lot.

Details: North Georgia Zoo, 2912 Paradise Valley Road, Cleveland Georgia 30528, (706) 348-7279, August and September hours are Saturday and Sunday only from 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., Mommy and Me (Reduced rates for animal encounters and admission) on September 10th, $7.00 adult, $5.00 child admission to petting zoo and working farm, $5.00 for camel encounter and hay ride, $10.00 for baby kangaroo encounter, $35.00 for otter or wolf pack encounters.


Yellow River Game Ranch
A native animal habitat and wild game preserve, this spot is ideal for short stacks who are as easily impressed by a friendly squirrel as by a water buffalo. Located near Stone Mountain Park, the YRGR is the closest option for in-towners, and most of the walking trails are stroller friendly (though you’ll be hard pressed to keep anyone strapped in when white tailed deer mosey over to see what you’ve got hiding in your pocket). Most of the animals at the ranch are native to Georgia and roam free, but for your more adventurous kiddos you can always steer them towards the black bear or cougar (both kept a safe distance from your progeny).

Details: Yellow River Game Ranch, 525 U.S. 78, Lilburn, Ga 30047, (770) 972-6643, Monday-Friday 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. (last ticket sold an hour before closing), Saturday-Sunday 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m., 12 and older $8.00, Ages 2 -11 $7.00, One child admitted under age 2 free with adult admission.


Local Options:
If a trek to one of them aforementioned wild animal adventures during the weekday is hard to swing, then you can also consider these in-town options. Please note, however, that age restrictions apply to the following interactions, so be sure to call ahead.


Zoo Atlanta
So, maybe you’ve exhausted the regular exhibits at the Zoo, but have you tried one of their Wild Encounters with the Aldabra tortoise, African elephant, or lemur? Prices and age restrictions vary by encounter, and should be booked in advance.

Georgia Aquarium
For the older set (ages 7 and up), the Georgia Aquarium Animal Encounters gives budding marine biologists a chance to visit with dolphins, sea otters, and penguins in a behind-the-scenes interaction, led by an aquarium docent.


Where does your family go wild? Tell us in the comments section below!

–Shelley Massey

Photos courtesy of Creative Commons via Flickr and the author