Asheboro North Carolina Zoo: One of the country's great zoos

Photo by Tom Gillespie. Read more about great zoos at

The state-supported North Carolina Zoo is located in rural Randolph County, near the town of Asheboro, almost equidistant between the state's three largest cities of Raleigh, Charlotte, and Greensboro. With nearly 1,500 acres, it is the nation's largest walk-through zoo, with exhibits that closely mimic the animals' natural habitats.

We rated the Asheboro Zoo as the nation's best for North American animals and exhibits. Its North America section's highlight is the beautiful Rocky Coast, an Arctic habitat where polar bears, puffins, seals, and sea lions live among jagged rocks, waterfalls, and deep pools with wide underwater windows.

Under a glass dome, the Sonora Desert is filled with creatures from the American Southwest. Among its cacti are roadrunners, hummingbirds, vampire bats, spotted ocelot cats, and desert reptiles.

A boardwalk leads through the Cypress Swamp, a convincing Florida swampland, where cougars and alligators are main attractions. Nearby, the Streamside complex includes North Carolina fish, venomous snakes, and river otters with underwater viewing. The eleven-acre Prairie has bison and elk roaming on real prairie grass. Red wolves and both black and grizzly bears dwell in attractive wooded habitats.

In the zoo's Africa section, the Watani Grasslands Reserve, new in 2008, is among the best elephant habitats anywhere. A small herd roams within view of the panoramic African Plains. At nearly 40 acres, this savanna is larger than in many much larger zoos! Use binoculars to view its white rhinos, ostriches, and seven antelope varieties.

One of the nation's largest chimpanzee troops inhabits the Kitera Forest Chimpanzee Reserve, which is modeled after an African national park. Other realistic habitats display giraffes, zebras, lions, red river hogs, gorillas, baboons, and an island of fast-running Patas monkeys.

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Allen W. Nyhuis, father of four, has travelled extensively throughout the USA and Europe, visiting over 200 zoological institutions. Jon Wassner has worked as a zookeeper in three zoos, loves photographing animals, and hopes to someday design zoo exhibits for a living. Together, Allen and Jon wrote America's Best Zoos: A Travel Guide for Fans & Families (Intrepid Traveler, 2008).

Photo by Tom Gillespie

Updated: October 2, 2016

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