This fall, when I was looking for an adventure that would appeal to toddlers, teens, and my elderly parents, I found just the thing a drive-thru zoo. With this full range of ages, our car rocked with laughter as we enjoyed the many free-roaming animals that came (aggressively) to our vehicle for food. We had so much fun; we drove the three-mile course twice, after stopping to restock ourselves with more food.
Virginia Safari Park is 180 acres, located in the Shenandoah Valley, near Natural Bridge. We saw many of their over 400 exotic animals from six continents, including: a double-hump camel, a single-hump camel, Galapagos tortoises, zebras, a giraffe, antelopes, emus, bison, kangaroos, elk, ostriches, spider monkeys, and a whole lot more that we couldn't begin to identify.
We went early in the morning (the park opens at 9 a.m.) hoping the animals would be hungry. Hungry they were! Many times, our vehicle was surrounded by an assortment of huge bison, zebras, and ostriches trying to get into the car. We were generous with the food (five buckets cost $10.00). You need at least one bucket of food per person, preferably two.
This is an escapade where a station wagon would be better than a van. In our station wagon, we all had our windows down and the back window was open as well. (With a van, back windows don't open and I wouldn't want to have the whole sliding door open!) Those who felt a bit intimidated with an animal whose huge head was coming through the window could control the animal's access by rolling up their window. My father had a buffalo grab the bucket of food with its teeth and take the whole thing from him! I had a tug-of-war with a zebra trying to do the same thing. My three-year-old friend was just astounded that a giraffe was eating from his bucket and he could touch it. My teens took turns driving through the park (that has a speed limit of 5 MPH)-and they had as much fun as the rest of us.
The animals appeared healthy and well cared for; they were all born and raised in the United States, with over a hundred that have been born at the park. Their habitat was wonderful and I found the environment a major improvement over many of the zoos I have visited across the country. Virginia Safari Park reminded me a lot of Northwest Trek Wildlife Park near Mount Rainer National Park in Washington State. Except, there you rode through the park with a guide and you were certainly not allowed to feed the animals. Seeing the animals up close is what made it so much fun.
From Staunton, follow Interstate 81 South to exit 180-B. Cross Route 11 and follow the Safari signs. Virginia Safari Park is located next to the KOA. Admission is $8 for adults, children 3-12 years old are $6, and senior citizens are $7. Children under two-years-old are free. There is no AAA discount. There is a group discount ($1 off) once you exceed 15 people.
For more information, you can visit their website at www.virginiasafaripark.com
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