The Latest From Carolina Traveler

When it comes to searching for “animal encounters near me” in North Carolina and South Carolina, you're bound to bump into a mountain of options! Let us save you some time (and in some cases, disappointment) with our recommendations for the “best animal encounters near me” in the Carolinas.

Additionally, we're making a toast to the Triangle's newest social district (aka, place where you can drink alcohol in public and not get arrested). Downtown Cary Park is already living up to its hype as a family-friendly, dog-friendly attraction.

If you're in search of a day trip, check out our deep dives on two coastal hidden gems: Summerville SC (just minutes from downtown Charleston) and Harkers Island NC (an Outer Banks island that just got more accessible with the help of a brand new, ground-breaking style of bridge).

Finally, don't miss out on our top recommendations for family-friendly fun parks in the Carolinas. Here's to having no excuse for anyone to say “I'm bored” this weekend!

Don't have time to search for “events, itineraries, and animal encounters near me” in 2024? Stay up to date with insights on the best things to do and places to see in the Carolinas; follow us on Facebook, where we regularly offer free tickets and other giveaways, and make sure to become a 2024 subscriber to Carolina Traveler magazine!

Baby lemurs -- one of the best animal encounters near me in NC

Baby lemurs at the Duke Lemur Center | Photo credit: @zooborns (Instagram)

The Top 10 Animal Encounters Near Me in the Carolinas

If you're looking for “animal encounters near me” in the Carolinas, you're in the right place! With such vast ecological diversity, North Carolina and South Carolina are home to a wide range of species. Every year, it seems that there are more animal encounters to add to our bucket list. That said, our top 10 animal encounters in the Carolinas for 2024 include:

  1. Duke Lemur Center — Durham, NC
  2. Bee City Zoo & Honey Bee Farm — Cottageville, SC
  3. The Carolina Horse Park — Raeford, NC
  4. Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge — Manns Harbor, NC
  5. Sunset Ridge Buffalo Farm — Roxboro, NC
  6. Spring Haven Farm — Chapel Hill, NC
  7. Animal Park at the Conservators Center — Burlington, NC
  8. Myrtle Beach Safari — Myrtle Beach, SC
  9. Wild horses of Corolla encounter — Corolla, NC
  10. Eudora Wildlife Safari Park — Salley, SC

Curious to learn of many more “animal encounters near me” in the Carolinas? Swipe your paws at our top NC animal encounters guide and SC animal encounters guide, updated as of 2024.

Downtown Cary Park cardinal play structure

A playground nod to NC's state bird: the Northern cardinal.

Downtown Cary Park: A Shining New Edition to the NC Social District Scene

While Downtown Cary Park likely won't show up in a Google search for “animal encounters near me”, it will absolutely appear at the top of “dog-friendly places in Cary”. The Bark Bar offers a dog-friendly place for pet owners to drink local craft brews while their dogs play.

The seven-acre Downtown Cary Park boasts an array of captivating features, meticulously crafted to harmonize urban flair with natural serenity. From its verdant expanses to meandering pathways, every element beckons exploration. Carefully preserving existing trees and integrating native plant species, the park embraces sustainability and ecological balance. Among its highlights are The Nest, a haven of play structures and splash pads for children, Park Street Courts for sports enthusiasts, and the versatile Gathering Garden rental space.

With its botanical gardens, tiered water features, and diverse amenities, Downtown Cary Park promises a delightful escape for all.


Wet N Wild Emerald Pointe waterpark

Hold on to your tube — this slide will end with a big splash!

Fun For All Ages! The Best Family-Friendly Fun Parks in the Carolinas

When you search for “animal encounters near me” you're bound to run into some of the best family-friendly fun parks in the Carolinas! Give each one of these careful review, as many may feature seasonal events involving animals. Our recommendations for the top 5 family-friendly fun parks:

  1. Rush Hour Karting — Morrisville, NC
  2. Carowinds — Charlotte, NC
  3. The Quarry at Carrigan Farms — Mooresville, NC
  4. Broadway at the Beach — Myrtle Beach, SC
  5. Charleston Aqua Park — Johns Island, SC

Learn more about other fun parks and other worthwhile additions in our Carolina fun parks guide.

Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site in Summerville SC

Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site is one of the top-rated South Carolina attractions. Photo credit: Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site (Tripadvisor)

Frolicking in Flowertown: A Day Trip in Summerville, SC

Searching for “animal encounters near me” in the Lowcountry? You may find a gator or two at Colonial Dorchester State Historic Site.

Venture into the annals of history and unearth the echoes of early American life dating back to the late 17th century. The haunting remnants of St. George's Anglican Church stand as silent witnesses to bygone glory, its weathered brick ruins a testament to the ravages of time and conflict, notably the Revolutionary War's impact. Wander leisurely along the nature trails crisscrossing this historic enclave. Traverse wooded glades, marshy expanses, and the meandering banks of the Ashley River, where the whispers of indigenous flora and fauna intertwine with the breeze.

Read more about what places to include on an our itinerary for the perfect Summerville day trip.

View of Cape Lookout from Harkers Island

You can easily admire Cape Lookout Lighthouse from Harkers Island. Photo credit: Harkers Island (Tripadvisor)

This NC Outer Banks Island Just Got Way More Accessible

From immersing in the rich maritime heritage at the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum to exploring the pristine shores of Cape Lookout National Seashore, adventure awaits at every turn for those in search of “animal encounters near me”. With the recent completion of a new bridge, accessing this idyllic island gem has never been easier. Visitors can now effortlessly traverse to indulge in crabbing, fishing, and kayaking along its picturesque waterways. Whether admiring historic lighthouses or savoring fresh seafood delights, Harkers Island promises an enchanting escape for nature enthusiasts and history buffs alike. Learn more about Harkers Island NC

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