ASHEBORO: The N.C. Zoological Park is an expansive natural-habitat zoo with one area featuring animals from North America and another with those from Africa. North American highlights include seals, gators, bears, elk and wolves; the African section features elephants, rhinos, giraffes, zebras, lions, chimps, gorillas. Wear comfortable shoes (the exhibits cover 500 acres) and bring binoculars: Animals in large, enclosed grasslands can be hard to see. Admission: $12; $10 for 62 and older; $8 for ages 2-12. Details: www.nczoo.org.
CHARLESTON: Charles Towne Landing State Historic Site (see page 25) has a 22-acre Animal Forest displaying animals that lived in the Lowcountry when it was settled in the 1670s: bison, bears, otters, elk, mountain lions and turkeys. It’s covered in site admission: $10; $6 for ages 6-15. Details: www.southcarolinaparks.com.
COLUMBIA: There are no wide-open spaces between exhibits at Riverbanks Zoo & Garden – a plus when you’re traveling with kids or seniors. There are roughly 2,000 animals representing more than 350 species from around the world, from giraffes and elephants to kangaroos and siamang apes. Admission includes entry to the 70-acre botanical area (eight gardens) and Riverbanks Farm (cows, goats, alpaca, owls). Admission: $13.95; $12.95 for 62 and older; $11.50 for ages 2-12. Details: www.riverbanks.org.
DURHAM: The Museum of Life + Science has more than indoor exhibits. There’s Magic Wings Butterfly House and Explore the Wild – a wetland habitat explored on a boardwalk, where keepers show you black bears, red wolves and ring-tailed lemurs. Admission: $14.50; $12 for 65 and older; $10 for ages 3-12. Details: www.lifeandscience.org.
GREENSBORO: The Greensboro Natural Science Center is a museum, aquarium – and a zoo with animals ranging from armadillos to wallabys and including a rare Javan gibbon. Admission: $12.50; $11.50 for ages 3-12 and 65 and older. Details: www.greensboroscience.org.
ROCKWELL: Tiger World in Rowan County is home to big cats – Bengal tigers, white Bengal tigers, Siberian tigers, ligers (the rare offspring of a female tiger and male lion), jaguars and leopards in outdoor enclosures, plus animals ranging from baboons and bears to lemurs and snakes. Admission: $15; $12 for ages 2-17 and 63 and older. Details: www.tigerworld.us.
SCOTLAND NECK: Sylvan Heights Bird Park, northeast of Rocky Mount, is a waterfowl conservation and breeding preserve for 2,000 birds. Admission: $10; $8 for 62 and older; $6 for ages 3-12. Details: www.shwpark.com.
SOCASTEE, S.C.: Waccatee Zoological Farm is a home-grown facility 15 minutes from Myrtle Beach. Zebra, buffalo, yaks and big cats live here. Admission: $8; $4 for 12 and younger. Details: www.waccateezoo.com.