Whether you’re a family with kids or grown-ups who love critters, the zoo is always a fun place to visit when you travel.
They’re usually affordably priced, they’re friendly for all ages, most are accessible and easy for all family members to enjoy, and best of all you get to see incredible animals from around the world!
When you visit Gatlinburg, you’ll definitely want to visit the zoos around the area for a well-rounded experience. Check out the fantastic wildlife parks and zoos in Gatlinburg below so you can plan the best vacation possible.
Wildlife Parks and Zoos in Gatlinburg, TN
- Smoky Mountain Deer Farm Exotic Petting Zoo
- Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo
- Santa’s Land Fun Park & Zoo
- Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies
- Zoo Knoxville
- Briarwood Ranch Safari Park
- Ober Gatlinburg Wildlife Encounter
Before you plan your tour of wildlife encounters, check the details of each of these zoos and parks to find the best options for your family fun.
The Deer Farm and Zoo is an exciting option for folks looking for real, up-close encounters with critters of all kinds. You could truly spend all day here enjoying exotic animals, local wildlife, farm animals, and more.
Pet the goats, deer, camels, zebras, zonkies, elk, camels, and emus. Enjoy encounters with miniature horses, reindeer, miniature donkeys, Watusi, pot-bellied pigs, exotic cattle species, and many others.
And if you’re game, hitch a ride at the stables and for trail rides, or take the kids on a fun pony ride if they’re not quite ready for the trail yet.
Enjoy the natural beauty of the area, with stunning scenery while you enjoy feeding, petting, or riding the animals. The park is open year-round, seven days a week, except Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. The park is open between 10 am and 5:30 pm.
If you’re looking for a wild time, head over to the Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo! The unique park is home to a host of unusual, exciting animals from the rainforests of the world.
The park was themed by one of the country’s foremost zoological contractors whose works include famous parks you’ve probably already been to – including Disney World’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Florida.
The park features over 600 live animals, with over 130 species present. You’ll learn all about any of the animals you choose to visit and hang out with, including
- Black-Capped Capuchin monkeys
- Sugar gliders
- African Serval
- Blue & Gold macaw
While you’re here, enjoy the critters, but take in the educational programs, enjoy a snack, and pop into the gift shop where you can purchase great gifts and trinkets, art, jewelry, and more in support of conservation and international artists while supporting the zoo.
The park is open year-round, from 9 am to 5 pm daily.
For a thematic adventure full of fun, visit Santa’s Land Fun Park & Zoo. Located about an hour from Gatlinburg, the park and zoo are tucked away into Cherokee, North Carolina, at the southern entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
While you’re here, bring the kids over to Santa’s summer home for a meet and greet, great pics, and loads of fun. Pass on your Christmas wishes and receive your own “good conduct diploma” for all the good kids, whatever your age.
Then pop over to the baby bear area and watch the staff feed the cubs with bottles. Ask Bali the zookeeper all your questions about bears and enjoy the shows three times daily.
And, of course, head to the zoo itself where you’ll catch sight of deep, sheep, kangaroos, tropical birds, South American serval cats, bears, porcupines, lemurs, and many others.
Don’t miss out on the magic shows, little train rides, Ferris wheel, roller coaster, boats, motorcycles, helicopters, an antique carousel, and paddle boats while you’re enjoying the park. Plus, the arcade with skeet-ball, pick-up ducks, air hockey, basketball, and other arcade games are ready for your quarters, so grab a roll from the bank before you head over.
And if you’re looking for some memorabilia from the day, pop into the gift shops for collectibles, souvenirs, gifts, t-shirts, and other goodies at the Christmas Gift Shop, Frosty’s T-Shirt & Collectives Shop, the Magic Store, and Rudi’s Zoo Emporium.
The food venues around the park offer candies, homemade fudge, deli sandwiches, pizza, burgers, hotdogs, fries, nachos, hot pretzels, funnel cakes, popcorn, fresh-made pork rinds, snowcones, and other goodies.
The park is open seasonally, from mid-May to early November, every day.
Okay, so Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies isn’t exactly a zoo, but it is certainly in the wildlife park/animal park family for sure. There’s more to do and see than you could take in, so be sure to plan plenty of time for your visit!
On the upper level of the aquarium, you’ll find the Ocean Realm, Touch a Ray Bay, Shark Lagoon, and Tropical Rainforest viewing areas. On the lower level, you’ll find the Coral Reef, Discovery Center, Gallery of the Seas, Stingray Bay, Penguin Playhouse, Penguin Profiles, and Live Shows.
For an extra cost ($19.95), take in the turtle time program and learn all about the sea turtles housed at Ripley’s. The show runs for 45 minutes at 11:30 am Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday each week, and is geared towards ages 7 and up.
Or add on the Glass Bottom Boat Adventure in the Shark Lagoon, where you’ll get up close and personal (only 3-inches of glass keeping you apart!) with sharks in the lagoon!
Additionally, you can add on the Penguin Encounter or Penguin Painting Experience for an incredibly unique day out. Interact with the penguins in the indoor/outdoor habitat, pet the penguins and get a photo with them. Or help create an 8×10 penguin painting!
If you have extra time or plan ahead, you could enjoy a “Sleep with the Sharks” sleepover adventure, a Pints & Penguins 21+ Sleepover adventure (with full bar and apps), the Sips, and Sharks 21+ Sleepover, or the kid-friendly mermaid slumber party. Your pick!
Check the calendar for available dates of upcoming sleepovers.
The aquarium is open 365 days a year, Mondays through Thursdays, 9 am to 10 pm, and Fridays through Sundays from 9 am to 11 pm.
Special events will have additional hours, especially sleepover adventures and special occasion events. Check your bookings for details.
Zoo Knoxville is about one hour from Gatlinburg and provides you with some of the most exciting experiences any zoo in America could offer.
While you’re here, you can see the many exotic animals you’ve come to love at big zoos like this one, including
- Red Pandas
The zoo has many activities for the whole family too, beyond the usual peering through the fence experience. Enjoy educational animal encounters in many sections of the zoo (otters, red pandas, apes, and many more).
Or take a ‘Behind the Scenes’ tour where you can meet red pandas, giraffes, elephants, penguins, and giant tortoises one-on-one. There is also the late-night zoo tour to see the nocturnal animals active.
There is plenty to do here, you can enjoy the carousel, the zipline, ride the scooters, play in the safari splash zone, ride the Zoo Choo Train, or enjoy a special event while you’re visiting. Check the calendar for details.
The zoo is open from 9 am to 5 pm every day of the year, except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, or the occasional special private event.
The Briarwood Ranch Safari Park is a great self-drive experience for folks looking for an enjoyable, laid-back animal experience.
The scenic safari is four miles through the pasture lands and hills, with animals from six continents available for encountering on your drive through.
For the safari, you’ll need to drive slowly (and never get out of the vehicle!). Feed the animals from buckets (never your hands!) as you make your way through, and simply enjoy the excitement as critters come up for a friendly hello and snack.
And, if you love it, you can repeat the drive-through a second time, or third – or as many times as you like while the park is open that day.
Animals you could see while you drive through include
- Polar bears
If you don’t feel like driving, you can schedule a wagon ride ahead of time (appointments required). Purchase feed buckets before you drive through.
The ranch is open Mondays through Sundays, 9 am to 4 pm, with the last safari permitted one hour before closing time.
The Wildlife Encounter at Ober Gatlinburg is one of the exciting attractions at the amusement park and ski resort. The resort rests atop the mountaintop and provides you and the family with many, many exciting activities.
Ski, dine, take the aerial tram, ride the coaster, go hiking, summer tubing, ice skating, scenic chairlift, alpine slide, play mini golf, climb the rock wall, ride other rides, and water rafts, and visit the Wildlife Encounter!
The Wildlife Encounter is home to bears, otters, bobcats, foxes, birds of prey, raccoons, skunks, flying squirrels, turtles, snakes, and other local wildlife that you can see up close.
This exciting zoo in Gatlinburg TN helps bring the wildlife of the region to you so you can enjoy the “real wildlife” of the area in a safe, enjoyable, and meaningful way.
The zoo is open daily from 10 am to 7 pm.