The beautiful city of Charlotte in North Carolina has a lot to offer. As the biggest city in the entire state, Charlotte is regarded as the cultural and commercial hub of NC, featuring many tourist attractions, exciting nightlife, a beautiful cityscape, and all sorts of monuments to visit and outdoor activities to enjoy. If you’re looking for a zoo to see some wild animals in Charlotte, however, you’re out of luck. The city doesn’t have its own zoo just yet. Fortunately, many other great zoos and animal attractions can be found right nearby. Here are some details on the best zoos near Charlotte, NC.

1. North Carolina Zoo

North Carolina Zoo
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About a ninety minute drive away from Charlotte is the North Carolina Zoo, which is a must-visit for any zoo lover and anyone with even a slight interest in animals and wildlife. Why? Well, for starters it's actually the biggest walk-through zoo on the entire planet! Covering more than 500 acres of ground in total, the North Carolina Zoo is simply enormous and represents one of the best zoo experiences in the Charlotte area. Things to Do in Charlotte NC

More than 1,600 animals can be seen here from over 250 different species in total. The zoo is open almost non-stop and welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. It features the biggest collections of chimpanzees in the US, as well as many other iconic species from polar bears to rhinos, African elephants, gorillas, lions, and more.

4401 Zoo Pkwy, Asheboro, NC 27205, Phone: 800-488-0444

2. Riverbanks Zoo

Riverbanks Zoo
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A ninety minute drive in a different direction to the NC Zoo is Riverbanks Zoo, another popular zoo in the Charlotte area. This location actually doubles up as an aquarium and botanical garden too, so there's a lot to see for nature and animal lovers of all kinds. Set in a picturesque spot on the Saluda River in Columbia, SC, the Riverbanks Zoo covers an area of 170 acres and has been operating since the mid-1970s.

This zoo welcomes over a million visitors each and every year, featuring more than 2,000 animals in total. Whether you're interested in huge mammals like giraffes and elephants, thrilling reptiles like Komodo dragons, tropical fish, or something else altogether, you'll find it at Riverbanks Zoo. The 70 acre botanical garden is another beautiful part of this attraction, with the Waterfall Junction area being a huge hit with young children in particular.

500 Wildlife Parkway Columbia, SC 29210, Phone: 803-779-8717

3. Carolina Raptor Center

Carolina Raptor Center
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For a live animal attraction right near Charlotte, NC, check out the Carolina Raptor Center in Huntersville, just a 20 minute drive out of Downtown Charlotte. As the name suggests, this location is fully dedicated to raptors, also known as birds of prey, with species like eagles, owls, falcons, and hawks.

Over three dozen species of birds can be seen at this highly educational location, which does a lot of great conservation work and also runs camps, school programs, and even adult education sessions to help people of all ages learn more about these fascinating creatures. Various exciting events can be enjoyed at the Carolina Raptor Center, including live encounters and shows with birds of prey and different exhibits to be discovered along the center's trails.

6000 Sample Road Huntersville, NC 28078, Phone: 704-875-6521

4. Lazy 5 Ranch

Lazy 5 Ranch
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Enjoy the thrilling sights of live animals from the comfort of your own car at the Lazy 5 Ranch. This Charlotte zoo can be found just a very short drive out of the city and features all kinds of exotic species like giraffes, rhinos, camels, kangaroos, porcupines, tortoises, and more.

This is the only drive-through zoo experience in the Charlotte area and visitors have the choice of using their own vehicles or simply climbing aboard one of the horse-drawn wagons operated by the park staff. The safari route runs for 3.5 miles through the Lazy 5 Ranch, offering some great photo opportunities and views you'll never forget.

15100 Hwy 150 East Mooresville, NC 28115, Phone: 704-663-5100

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5. Tiger World

Tiger World
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Some people object to zoos due to the commercial side of their operations, but Tiger World is a fully non-profit organization that is totally dedicated to protection and conservation of tigers and other endangered species.

It's a highly educational place to visit, with tours running through most of the week. Located less than an hour from Charlotte, this center is staffed with animal lovers and people who really want to make a difference to these big cats and other species.

4400 Cook Rd, Rockwell, NC 28138, Phone: 704-279-6363

More Ideas: UNCC Botanical Gardens

Started in 1966, The UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens are located on the campus of the University of North Carolina Charlotte. The word "garden" often invokes images of flower bushes in a front yard, herbs in a backyard, or maintained ornamental bushes. There is a difference between these gardens and a botanical garden. Garden is a general term that encompasses a wide range of plants growing. A botanical garden, however, holds curated plant collections for conservation, education, research, and inventory.

Started in 1966, The UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens participates in each of these components of a botanical garden, and is committed to sharing the world of plants with people through its curated collections as a member of the American Public Gardens Association. The gardens are located on the campus of the University of North Carolina Charlotte, and were originally the idea of Dr. Herbert Hechenbleikner, a biology professor, and Bonnie E. Cone, the founder of UNC Charlotte.

The Botanical Gardens were formed to act as a living classroom for biology students, as well as a botanical and horticultural resource for the entire campus and greater Charlotte community. The founders of the gardens thought that a university campus wasn't complete without the cultural and educational resource of a managed botanical garden. The first area of the gardens was the Van Landingham Glen, which provided a unique space in the city for botanists, students, and enthusiasts to come together to grow a garden. The McMillan Greenhouse was later added for the purpose of adding the Orchid Collection to the Botanical Gardens. The collection today still contains some of the original orchids.

The UNC Charlotte Botanical Gardens has now grown to include more of an array of plants and collections than any other garden in the Charlotte area. The gardens, over more than forty years, have evolved into 10 acres of outdoor gardens, a teaching classroom that includes a horticultural and botanical library of over 1,200 books, and a 4,500 square foot glasshouse with a workspace. Several underutilized spaces have been made into special collections to display unique approaches to gardening. Most recently added is the Mellichamp Terrace, which combines a love of botany, home gardening, and horticulture.

The McMillan Greenhouse at the University of North Carolina Charlotte Botanical Gardens contains eight greenhouse rooms, six different themed plant collections, surrounding plant beds, a courtyard, and terraces. A variety of plant displays show visitors scenes from around the world and through time. Featuring living fossils, the Dinosaur Garden provides a look into vegetation during prehistoric times. Plants that prey on insects are showcased in the Carnivorous and Bog Collection. Among the various carnivorous plants in the McMillan Greenhouse are Sarracenia hybrids. These plants were bred by Dr. Mellichamp for unique patterns, shapes, and colors. Orchids, Desert Succulents, Tropical Plants, and Economic Plants can also be found within the collections of the UNCC Botanical Gardens. Included in the Tropical Plants collection is the Titan Arum, whose smell, size, and shape captivates visitors, as well as many other small and large exotic plants.

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Titan Arum

Common impressions of visitors of the Titan Arum plants at the UNCC Botanical Gardens include huge, confusing, bizarre, and sometimes smelly. Although this plant resides in the McMillan Greenhouse within the Tropical Plants collection, the Titan Arum captures attention all for itself. The Titan Arum is a bizarre, smelly plant that only blooms every seven to ten years. The University of North Carolina Charlotte Botanical Gardens are home to two Titan Arum plants: Odie and Bella. Even though the bloom of these plants are both a smell and sight to behold, they are also amazing plants to see between bloomings. Between bloomings, the Titan Arum resembles a tree, with its "trunk" being one massive leaf with smaller leaflets that resemble their own leaves.

A true woodland garden, the Van Landingham Glen is the first installment of the University of North Carolina Charlotte Botanical Gardens. The plants within this garden are almost entirely all Carolina-native plants. The only exception are the dazzling Rhododendrons. Visitors to the Van Landingham Glen can enjoy a peaceful walk through a Carolina landscape. The Glen also provides a welcome respite from busy college life that not too many campuses offer. The garden is also the final resting place of Bonne E. Cone, the community leader and visionary of the University of North Carolina Charlotte. Her resting space is a tranquil space to relax and appreciate her contributions to the university, or to just delight in a beautiful day on the campus she helped create.

Susie Harwood Garden

The outdoor Susie Harwood Garden at the University of North Carolina Charlotte Botanical Gardens was designed to inspire visitors' own gardening. The garden features different approaches to landscaping, as well as a broad array of plants that grow in the Carolina Piedmont. This garden remains alive with plants year-round thanks to its winter-blooming plants. Visitors can find inspiration and tranquility during any season of the year with a stroll through the Asian Garden. The Mellichamp Terrace, the UNCC Botanical Gardens' newest addition, features a meadow accompanied by hardscaping and woodwork. A visit to the meadow while its in bloom offers visitors a chance to experience the new addition at its pique.

The UNCC Botanical Gardens offers spectacular botanical sights throughout the entire year, whether guests visit one of the outdoor gardens or the McMillan Greenhouse. The plants on display, however, reach their peak bloom at different times of the year, resulting in a unique experience with each season. A guide is available on the website of the UNCC Botanical Gardens to help visitors plan a trip to the gardens or to see what plants are currently in bloom.

Visitors will find orchids in full bloom in the McMillan Greenhouse from January to February. During this time, guests can view the largest variety of different types blooming. Also during the winter months, winter-loving plants can be seen along the Susie Harwood Garden's Winter Trail. Among the winter plants are evergreens, Japanese flowering Apricot, Witch Hazels, and ornamental barks. Late February through March brings Camelias, early bulbs, Edgeworthia, Hellebores, Cornelian Cherry, Mahonia, and several more plants to the Winter Garden in the Susie Harwood Garden.

The Van Landingham Glen begins to be filled with blooming ephemeral wildflowers, including bloodroot, Hepatica, and trout lily. These are followed by bluebells, green-and-gold, trilliums, wild geranium, phlox, and many others. The spring wildflowers continue from early to mid-April in the Glen with anemones, trilliums, jack-in-the-pulpits, mayapples, columbine, woodland phlox, foamflowers, and emerging ferns. Dogwoods, azaleas, Japanese maple foliage, redbuds, silverbell, perennials, styrax, spring bulbs, and viburnums help transform the Harwood Garden into a green paradise throughout April.

From Late April to Mid-May, The Susie Harwood Garden features a new wave of blooming plants, such as Japanese iris, hardy tropical plants, daylilies, water plants, and hydrangeas. During this time, carnivorous plants are also in full bloom and growing at the McMillan Greenhouse. Within the outside plant beds and courtyard, colorful annuals, tropical, and vines abound. Visitors can find shade in the woodland Van Landingham Glen, which gives guests a taste of the mountains in the Piedmont around this time. The McMillan Greenhouse is spectacular to visit any time of the year. Outdoor tropicals and carnivorous plants remain blooming and colorful through October. From late May to early July, the Susie Harwood Garden's Asian garden, butterfly garden, water garden, and hardy tropicals flourish.

The fall brings autumn leaf and fruit colors to the Susie Harwood Garden and Van Landingham Glen in November, turing the gardens into a fall kaleidoscope. The berries of the Idesia trees are particularly interesting to see in the Harwood Garden. Sasanqua camellias can also be found in full bloom during the crisp, colorful fall season. Visitors can forget about the winter temperatures outside while exploring the McMillan Greenhouse in December. The arid desert room, vibrantly colorful orchid collection, lush dinosaur room, and humid tropical room offer an escape from the cold and fascinating sights to behold.

The University of North Carolina Charlotte Botanical Gardens offers a variety of educational programs. The At Home in the Garden Series offers participants a chance to gain a better understanding of how to take care of their own garden, as well as using the plethora of natural materials to enhance their own home. The classes include demonstrations and lectures about pruning hydrangeas, Japanese maples, planting trees, growing orchids, holiday greenery, and creating pressed flower art. The classes in this series, designed to improved guests' gardening knowledge and skills are led by garden enthusiasts and experts.

The UNCC Botanical Gardens also provides the Certificate in Native Plant Studies program. The native plant courses give participants an opportunity to explore a broad array of topics, all taught by local experts. Courses covering topics such as plant identification, botany for gardeners, propagation, meadow gardens, and natural heritage field trips are available for guests to take as many or as few as they want. Participant also have the chance to pursue the certificate. While some of these classes are taught at the University of North Carolina Charlotte Botanical Gardens, others are held at other botanical sites, such as Pearson's Falls, prairies in Cabarrus and Union counties, and Forty-Acre Rock Preserve.

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9090 Craver Rd, Charlotte, NC 28262, Phone: Phone: 704-687-0720

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More Ideas: Carowinds Park

Visitors to Carowinds Park can enjoy a wide variety of rides, from roller coasters to thrill rides to kiddie rides. Located in Charlotte, North Carolina, the amusement park also includes waterpark filled with various waterslides and other attractions. The park also hosts SCarowinds around Halloween and Winterfest around Christmas.

Guests can "feel the sting" on the Fury 325, the fastest and tallest giga coaster in the world. Riders on open-air trains reach a height of 325 feet before soaring down an 81-degree drop. The ride then flies into a huge 190-foot barrel turn and high-speed curves, reaching up to 95 mph. Fury 325 is the longest steel coaster in North America at 1.25 miles.

Nighthawk at Carowinds Park is the closest visitors will get to flying. Riders soar through the sky and above water as they twist, dip, and dive on a daring ride. The first flying coaster of the Carolinas starts with a tense climb and then flies down eight inversions, mostly flying face down, towards the ground and then towards the sky. The first drop of the ride is 115 feet, reaching speeds of 51 mph.

One of several thrill rides, Drop Tower drops guests from 100 feet at speeds of up to 56 mph. Riders ascend into the air in an open car, and have a few seconds to take in the view of the park before the free-fall drop. The ride stops above the ground at sixty feet before slowly bringing riders back to the ground. The Southern Star, a looping giant Viking ship, swings riders in a pendulum motion, providing them with a weightless experience through rapidly changing directions and forces. For guests spending a hot summer day at Carowinds Park, Rip Roarin' Rapids offers the perfect way to cool off. Riders will get soaked as their raft journeys around waterfalls and over bumps.

Plants vs. Zombies™ Garden Warfare 3Z Arena is the first intra-active 3-D attraction in the world. Based on the franchise, players are immersed within the game's universe to find the golden gnome. The intra-active feature allows guests to interact with the screen of the opposing team. Players step inside the state-of-the-art complex, complete with massive screens, 3D technology, motion-based seats, and surround sound to enjoy imaginative and outrageous encounters while competing against another team.

There are also plenty of more laid-back family rides, as well as rides designed for Carowinds Park's youngest guests. Carolina Skytower, one of the signature and original attraction at the park, is an air-conditioned cabin that climbs a tower of 262 feet. Visitors can enjoy panoramic views of North Carolina and South Carolina, as well as the park's scenery, as the tower rotates.

The thrills of the Carowinds Park meet the charm of coastal Carolina within the Carolina Harbor waterpark. One of the newest additions to Carowinds, the expansive waterpark includes everything from wave pools and massive waterslides to a giant children's area and large structures for playing. From easy-going to thrilling, Carolina Harbor has plenty of attractions to enjoy, as well as a restaurant.

14523 Carowinds Blvd, Charlotte, NC 28273, Phone: 704-588-2600