Zoo in Cornelius

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Exotic animals from six continents call Hollywild Animal Park home, though many have also firmly planted their paws and hooves in the entertainment business?hence the name Hollywild. Tank the rhino, for instance, has appeared in multiple national advertising campaigns, avoiding the paparazzi by hiding himself in his dressing room. But the nonprofit park gives visitors more than a brush with stardom, as many of the animals they shelter are extinct in the wild. Virtually nowhere else on earth will guests get to visit a Syrian Brown Bear or get up close and personal with a waffalo (a cross between an African Watusi and a buffalo).

Hollywild gives visitors a bounty of ways to experience this variety. On Safari Rides, knowledgeable guides drive tour buses through more than 70 acres where zebra, emus, donkeys, camels, antelope, and other animals roam free. In the ampitheater, audiences get close encounters with fascinating fauna thanks to interactive Creature Feature shows. And throughout the park, visitors have ample opportunities to pet and feed the animals.

2325 Hampton Rd.
Wellford,
SC
US

The vision of a local North Carolina man, Zootastic Park sends animal lovers on an educational, interactive journey with an ever-expanding selection of exhibits, attractions, and activities. Owner Scottie Brown?who, along with his family, has been working with exotic animals for more than 30 years?transformed his dream into reality in 2009, when the zoo finally opened its gates after several years of construction and growing inside a kangaroo pouch. Today, the zoo's themed areas, such as Western Town and the Barnyard Petting Zoo, let visitors explore reptiles, farm animals, and exotic beasts including antelope, birds, and tigers who go by the names Sasha and Jasmine. Zootastic Park also hosts or furnishes animals for special events and can provide an exotic feel for events including birthdays, weddings, and corporate gatherings. When winter rolls around, the zoo morphs into a wonderland of lights, complete with an appearance from a Santa Claus who is clearly just a zebra wearing the sheep's cast-off wool.

448 Pilch Rd
Troutman,
NC
US

Cold Blooded Encounters fills guests' days with a variety of science-related exhibits, interactive presentations, and games. The newly-opened Science Center schools visitors on topics from fossils and gemstones to fun kitchen chemistry and turtle races. At the Reptile Zoo meanwhile, an affable red-footed tortoise named Confucius and a gentle black rat snake named Oreo greet visitors. Secluded and multispecies habitats house more than 150 species of amphibians, fish, reptiles, and invertebrates, including fire salamanders, jewel cichlids, Kenyan sand boas, and whip scorpions.

Annual memberships grant gift-shop discounts, guest passes, and a family photo posed with an animal. Cold Blooded Encounters also reaches out to school groups from preschools to colleges with effusive educational programs and sends ambassadors to birthday parties, where children can help feed turtles or pose for photos with 8-foot snakes.

3513 W Highway 74
Monroe,
NC
US

People tend to walk slowly across the Mile High Swinging Bridge, though not out of fear. The view is enough to slow anyone's steps. Spanning an 80-foot chasm one mile above sea level, the bridge grants 360-degree views of the mountains, specifically a rugged peak that rises to 5,946 feet: Grandfather Mountain. Recognized by the United Nations as one of the world's most diverse nature preserves, Grandfather Mountain bristles with verdant pines and wild flowers in full bloom, including the pinkshell azalea. The flower only grows in northwest North Carolina, and Grandfather Mountain claims the largest population.

Even on the eleven backcountry trails, hikers aren't inclined to move very fast. Up-close views of the area's wild flora and fauna are enough to inspire quiet, peaceful strolls. And on one trail?Grandfather Trail?cables and ladders physically challenge hikers as they climb to the mountain's peak. Other trails, meanwhile, wind past the park's seven animal habitats, where the likes of bears, cougars, and bald eagles live in their natural environments with their expert Feng Shui.

Although primarily an outdoor attraction, Grandfather Mountain does encompass a few indoor destinations. The Nature Museum chronicles the mountain's history?which stretches back billions of years to a time when the Earth still wore diapers?with two-dozen exhibits, including Indigenous American artifacts and mineral displays. Luckily, the park's onsite naturalists can help make sense of it all. Before or after exploring the mountain and its past, visitors can fuel up at the onsite restaurant or, if they can't bear to spend time indoors, picnic outside.

2050 Blowing Rock Highway
Linville,
NC
US

The seasoned tour guides at the Conservators’ Center in Burlington, North Carolina have had their fair share of animal adventures. It is these that help them provide guests with once-in-a-lifetime experiences with exotic wildlife, with more than 30 lions, tigers, and leopards.

Tours bring customers unique experiences, such as eye-to-eye experiences with tigers, and an "oofing", the Center's description for the earth-shaking lion's roar when they call to one another. On every tour, guides will "oof" to the lions, who often respond. Visitors will also get to observe wolves romping through the woods, and the discovery of lesser-known species such as servals and binturongs.

Being true to their mission of wildlife education, conservation, and rescue, the nonprofit Conservators' Center houses animal residents who were in need of a new home. They all live comfortable lives in this haven for wild animals.

676 E Hughes Mill Rd
Burlington,
NC
US

Motor skills and movement come disguised as playtime inside of Playtopia, an "edutainment" center with indoor playgrounds and other kinetic activities. Wee ones can climb rung ladders, barrel down tube slides, swing from the monkey bars, and let out energy in the bounce house. For a more relaxed activity, the glow-putt course features nine holes that glow in the dark and pit players against motorized obstacles. Playtopia also features a playground for toddlers aged 1–3, an arcade with more than 25 games, and a viewing area for parents.

2589 Eric Ln
Burlington,
NC
US