If you are looking for unique animal encounters, the Catoctin Zoo has plenty. Whether you ride a camel, take a safari, or visit the petting zoo, the zoo has plenty to offer that the other nearby zoos – the Maryland Zoo and Smithsonian’s National Zoo – don’t have.

Visiting Catoctin Zoo

Located in Frederick County, Maryland, the Catoctin Zoo has 35 acres of natural habitat with exotic animals. Only a 20 minute drive from Gettysburg, the Catoctin Zoo has plenty of free parking and can take anywhere from two to four hours to visit. Whether you are taking a quick day trip or a last-minute adventure, you can visit the zoo with little planning and still have an excellent time. Check out a few things to do when you visit.

Riding Camels

If your children dream of an incredible animal experience, riding a camel is a must-do during your visit. Camel rides are a small additional price after paying admission, and they are well worth it. Two or three children can fit on each camel, and moms can ride with young children. Although the ride itself is not very long, it is very memorable. This was my daughter’s favorite part of our trip. I liked that the guide paused to make sure you got a good picture before the ride ends.

Check out these camels resting at Catoctin Zoo in Maryland. Did you know you can ride camels at the Catoctin Zoo?

Catoctin Zoo Wildlife Safari Ride

Next, take a Wildlife Safari Ride. You should plan this part ahead of time. Ask when you get your admission tickets to also get tickets to the safari. You will receive a time for your safari ride, and you should stay close by when that time arrives. We got to the zoo a couple of hours before our safari, and we took the last four available tickets. You can check out a video with some highlights of our visit below.

As the safari began, I was impressed with how close we were to the animals. This experience was especially neat for my children, who have not been around exotic animals much. Every time the tour guide feeds the animals, the truck pauses, and the animals come up to see you. Listen closely to the guide and make sure you do as he asks. You can only stand at certain times. While you can pet nearly all the animals, the guide will make clear if there are any exceptions.

Take a safari ride at the Catoctin Zoo to get up close to exotic animals!

My favorite part was seeing the African Zebras come up to the truck. You aren’t allowed to pet the zebras because they can bite, but you can see from the photo below how close they come! Another rider asked if you can domesticate zebras. The guide answered that people have tried, but since their general instinct is to bite, they don’t make good pets. Even from a distance, they were quite beautiful.

On the safari at the Catoctin Zoo, you can see zebras!

You will also see some farm animals. We saw donkeys. Although you can see these animals at petting zoos and other local events, it was still neat to watch them come up to the truck.

Driving through the safari helped my children cool off on a warm summer’s day. If we had walked around the zoo for the entire time we were they, they would have wanted to leave much earlier. The safari helped us turn the visit into a full day adventure. Riding on the truck was relaxing, while it also was an exciting educational opportunity for the children.
Donkey walk by a safari truck at the Catoctin Zoo

We also saw deer, reindeer, and other horned mammals. I enjoyed seeing these beautiful creatures come close to us! They were all much friendlier than I would have imagined. Even though the animals had large, pointy horns, they were very sweet when they came up to ask for food. With gorgeous markings and twisted horns, the antelope was especially breathtaking to see in person!

A horned animal walks up to a safari truck at the Catoctin Zoo.

The guide generously gave my daughters food to feed some of the animals. I didn’t buy the food from the guide, but I would recommend it if you have children with you. My daughters had fun feeding the animals and would have done it more often if they could have, but the animals do come up to you even if you don’t have food because they are so used to being fed.

At the Catoctin Zoo, you can see horned animals, pet them, and feed them!

Even though the animals are close to you, the situation seemed safe at all times. The guide was very clear about how to treat certain animals differently, such as the emu, which would be more likely to bite if you fed it the wrong way. One funny moment was when a camel almost walked directly into my camera, but luckily it resulted in a cute photo instead of a broken lens.

Taking a safari at the Catoctin Zoo offers a close encounter with animals!

Animals On The Safari

The only animal that ever got a little rowdy was a goat who would leap up to the truck and demand food. When he leapt up, his hooves made a loud, rumbling sound that caught our attention. Most of the other animals had quietly begged for some food, but this one had a much more noticeable way of asking. 
A goat leaps up to the safari truck at Catoctin Zoo in Maryland.

Even the silly goat calmed down when it got a bite of food, and it was very calm as my children fed it. I had never had an animal encounter like this safari ride before, and I really enjoyed it. Not only are the animals used to being around people, but the guide also knows the tips you need.

We thought it was hilarious when the North American bison licked the food right out of our hands! His tongue felt super slippery. I had no idea they had such long tongues! Since we had never been this close to these types of animals before, the day was a very memorable way to end summer.

The safari ride takes you through 25 acres and four different paddocks of animals. You do have to pay an additional fee per visitor to do the safari ride, but it is well worth it!

Seeing The Zoo Animals

When you visit the zoo, you can find plenty to do that doesn’t involve an added fee. With the price of admission, you can check out a wide range of animals. You can visit areas that include Eurasia, North America, Africa, Latin America, Australia, Madagascar, and more. 

One of my daughter’s favorite animals to see was the alligators. We watched several of them swimming in the Alligator Bayou, and we were impressed with how well they blend in with the green water.

We spent about three hours at the Catoctin Zoo. One of those hours was spent at the safari, and about ten minutes at the camel rides. Walking around to see the other animals took us about two hours. At that point, we could see that our child was getting tired, which meant that it was time to head home. We missed some animal shows, but we went to the main attractions we wanted to see.

Whether your family often visits zoos or only goes once a year, checking out different zoos is a valuable activity. Children can see  a bigger variety of animals and make new connections. Plus, this can make the visit more worthwhile for parents, who enjoy doing something new.

The Petting Zoo

At the petting zoo, children can see llamas, pot-bellied pigs, alpacas, dwarf goats, and mini donkeys. You can purchase food directly at the petting zoo station for 50 cents. Bring quarters. You can also buy animal food when you enter the zoo. We only bought a small quantity of food. A few generous people gave my daughters some extra food to make the experience more special.

Eventually, the animals got tired of eating and went back to rest, but for a while, several of them came up to greet us and ask for food. Even though we have several petting zoos not far from our house, seeing the goats was a favorite activity.

Visiting Catoctin Zoo is an awesome experience for the whole family. Many of the opportunities we had here, we would not have been able to find at another nearby attraction. Since everyone had a wonderful time, this was the perfect day trip to have before summer ends.

Tip For Visiting Catoctin Zoo

  • If you don’t find parking directly in front, you can find parking to the side and back of the zoo.
  • Check for discounts on admission tickets in advance. Currently, CertifiKid has a deal on adult and child tickets.
  • Wear comfortable shoes for walking.

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