13 Places To Have Amazing Animal Encounters in America

One of the things I never really considered when I started Bill On The Road was how many animal experiences I’d get to have during my travels. Perhaps only second to posts about food, people love seeing photos and videos of animal encounters from my road trips.

So, I thought it would be fun to share a highlight reel of sorts and pass on some ideas for places where you can have some of these amazing animal encounters when you travel!

1. Gulfarium Marine Park – Fort Walton Beach, Florida

This was one of those animal experiences where I didn’t even realize how cool it was until it was over. The dolphins we interacted with were rescued and unable to live on their own in the wild.  It was fascinating learning how they are trained using positive reinforcement and when they make a mistake – the trainers simply ignore it.  And we learned, according to the photo below, that dolphins are not afraid of pasty looking white guys.

This particular animal encounter was at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. But I’ve also enjoyed dolphin encounters at Oceans Adventure Marine Park in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Dolphin Destin

2. The Wilds – Cumberland, Ohio

This is a really cool safari park in southeast Ohio, not too far from Columbus. You can ride in an open-air bus and see a variety of animals roaming freely. Giraffes, zebra, camels, and more. You can also have up close animal experiences with some of the animals after the tour is finished. We had the opportunity to pet some of the baby rhinos and even watched as a camel ate the mirror off of the tour bus!

The Wilds is located in Cumberland, Ohio

3. Biloxi Shrimp Tours – Biloxi, Mississippi

I’m not sure if this one qualifies under animal encounters, but it’s still pretty interesting. If you’ve never been on board a shrimp boat, it’s pretty interesting. What’s even more interesting is watching all of the birds that know what you’re up to and can’t wait to dive bomb your boat to try and steal your catches! These brazen seagulls had no fear and stole many of the shrimp before our guide could even show us an example of what we’d caught.

Hop on a shrimp tour in Biloxi, Mississippi to learn about how the shrimp are caught and enjoy some time on the water with one of their great tour guides.

Shrimp Tour in Biloxi

4. Penguin Encounter – Little Rock Zoo

Let’s just say I thought watching March Of The Penguins would have better prepared me for meeting an actual penguin in person. Turns out, penguins are really just strange and not typically very nice.  Or in the words of the zoo trainer I met at the Little Rock Zoo: “They are usually a bunch of jerks.”   This one at least didn’t try to bite me or anything.  Oh and they stink.

Aside from that… many zoos around the U.S. offer special programs where you can get up-close to a penguin. This one was at the Little Rock Zoo in Arkansas.


 5. Lemur Encounters – Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo

Patti Hall, the director of the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo in Gulf Shores was adamant that this little female lemur doesn’t like to get close to anyone.  She was truly surprised how it crawled right into my arms and as you can see – she looks pretty comfortable.

The Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo near Gulf Shores is a wonderful, family-friendly zoo where visitors can get super close to a lot of rescued animals. The zoo also offers up-close experiences that you can’t normally have in most settings.


6. Feeding Elephants – Topeka Zoo

What an awesome experience getting to go behind the scenes at the Topeka Zoo and feed elephants snacks while their outdoor living space was being cleaned. Two elephants were both sticking their trunks through the fence to get a treat. So cool!

animal encounters

7. “Mike The Tiger” – Louisiana State University

On the campus of Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge, “Mike” the tiger is king of the school.  Tradition is that the tiger is given the opportunity to load onto a trailer that will take him over to the football stadium on game days. The faculty and students are huge fans and forked out millions of dollars for an outdoor, glassed in paradise for their beloved team mascot. It’s really quite a sight to see.

Mike The Tiger

8. Feeding Giraffes – Saint Louis Zoo

I never and I mean never pass up an opportunity to be around giraffes. I absolutely love them! Feeding the giraffes and watching that crazy 18 inch tongue do its thing is always wild. But, they just seem to be so peaceful and loving. What great, incredible creatures!

There are lots of zoos around the U.S. where visitors can have up-close encounters with giraffes.


9. Feed An Ant Eater – Tanganyika Wildlife Park

I never thought I’d be feeding an ant eater during my life time and yet there I was. This little guy hopped up and ate some sort of yogurt concoction to his hearts content. By the way, the anteater makes a giraffes tongue look like a pinky finger.  I swear, that thing could have lassoed around my head and strangled me if I had dropped his cup of yogurt.  Weird animal!

The Tanganyika Wildlife Park near Wichita, Kansas has other great up-close animal experiences and animal encounters during the regular reason.


10. Budweiser Clydesdales – Busch Brewery

Living in the Saint Louis area, I’ve been spoiled with year round access to the world famous Budweiser Clydesdale’s. They often roam in a park area near my home and it’s always a treat just to drive by and catch a glimpse. There’s also an amazing breeding facility about two hours west of Saint Louis called Warm Springs Ranch where you can see the youngest ones.

Here’s a look at getting up close to the Clydesdales on your next visit to Missouri.

11. Ride A Mule Into The Grand Canyon – Arizona

Navigating around the south rim of the Grand Canyon, I put my faith in a stubborn “sure footed” mule that was hand picked for me by one of the guides at Grand Canyon National Park. This is one of the longest running animal encounters in the U.S. For over 100 years, visitors have taken mules into the Grand Canyon. While it was definitely worth the experience, it lasted about an hour too long. 

Grand Canyon Mules

12. Meet A Linx – Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo

Oh sure, he looks cute.  But this meet and greet with an Eurasian Linx was absolutely horrifying!  I’ve never been this close to something that could literally just claw my head off. This was another encounter where I didn’t realize how awesome it was until I was safely back in my car looking at the photos on my phone.

This was another one of the unique animal encounters at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo.

animal encounters Alabama gulf coast zoo

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