“What is life like on other planets?” That’s the age-old question that millions of other curious individuals like you have asked. Yet, all we have to do is look around us! Lucky for us, we already live on a beautiful, far-flung planet full of diverse life forms. Aliens are all around us, walking on four legs, breathing water, or flying through the air!
The Great Smoky Mountains area offers a variety of opportunities to interact with and learn more about our fascinating planetary co-habitants. At a Gatlinburg zoo or a petting zoo in Pigeon Forge, you can see firsthand just how extraordinary our planet’s biodiversity is. Read on to find out where to visit and pet animals in the Smoky Mountains!
Support the Animal Sanctuaries
The best Gatlinburg zoo is just a short Aerial Tramway ride from downtown to Ober Gatlinburg. This entertainment complex near the peak of Mount Harrison is most well-known as an amusement park with ski and snowboarding slopes. However, the Wildlife Encounter puts Ober Gatlinburg on the map for animal lovers as well.
From bobcats to owls to snakes, come say hello to the different species of critters who make the Smokies their home! Watch how river otters play in the underwater viewing area. Then, head to the aviary to see some impressive birds of prey. Stroll through the Nocturnal House to see flying squirrels, turtles, raccoons, and skunks. Of course, the best part is the family of four black bears. All animals at Ober Gatlinburg’s Wildlife Encounter are rescues or come from other U.S.D.A licensed zoos. Only at this Gatlinburg zoo will you find native Smoky Mountain species in an environment that protects them!
Did you know you don’t have to travel as far as South America to see the creatures of the rainforest? In fact, they’re only a few minutes’ drive away at Rainforest Adventures in Sevierville. This ethical zoo provides a home for animals born in captivity and an educational experience for all curious visitors. Explore over 130 species, including monkeys, African servals, exotic birds, reptiles, goats, turtles, axolotls, and cockroaches!
Pet & Interact With the Animals
At a petting zoo in Pigeon Forge, you might grow accustomed to a sheep’s dense, coarse wool or the strange tickle of a goat’s tongue swiping food off your palm. However, what about the smooth baby-like skin of a stingray or the squishy head of a jellyfish?
Ripley’s Aquarium offers the broadest exhibition of animal species in the Smokies. In fact, it has entire sections devoted to tropical frogs, coral reef fish, sharks, penguins, jellies, octopuses, and more! Yet, it also offers so much more than just a viewing experience.
- Check out Touch-A-Ray Bay during your visit to reach out and touch the dark top-sides of stingrays as they glide past.
- In a one-of-a-kind indoor/outdoor habitat, you’ll get to befriend and pet a penguin during the Penguin Encounter experience.
- Turtle Time, which is temporarily on hold, gives you unique behind-the-scenes access to the husbandry department and a chance to feed lettuce to Sally the Sea Turtle.
- New at the Discovery Center is an educational exhibit on the most alien-like creature in the entire ocean: jellyfish. Don’t be shy – the educators will show you how to touch the moon jellies safely.
When you arrive at the four-acre property in Sevierville, you’ll feel like you just stepped into a Thomas Kinkade fantasy painting. Parrot Mountain is part idyllic paradise and part eco-tourist bird park. Stroll through the gardens along elegantly landscaped pathways and past quaint cottages, and you’ll meet hundreds of exotic birds. Parrots, toucans, magpies, lorikeets, cockatoos, and macaws greet you from their open perches with trilling songs and ruffled dancing. After touching and feeding the birds by hand, you won’t be able to resist taking one home with you straight from the nursery!
Befriend A Horse
When you think about going to a petting zoo in Pigeon Forge, you may imagine touching and feeding domestic animals. However, what if you could not only touch the animal but also ride on him through beautiful woodland trails and mountain streams? At Sugarlands Riding Stables, horseback riding tours through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are a specialty.
Once paired up with one of the 40 well-trained horses, you’ll start trekking at a leisurely walking pace with the help of an experienced guide. It’s not uncommon to catch glimpses of wild turkeys, deer, black bears, and other native species along the way. You don’t have to have any riding experience for the 1-hour tour either. However, riding experience is recommended for the 1.5-hour and 2-hour tours.
Jayell Ranch is another excellent option for horseback rides in the Smokies. Their tour covers 4 miles across a 260-acre property, from which you can spot Mount LeConte, Shield’s Mountain Fort, and parts of Western North Carolina. Enjoy the splendid scenery, and know that you’re in safe hands with their professional guides and friendly horses!
From ATVing to ziplining to mountain tubing, there are endless forms of fun to pursue at Jayell Ranch. In addition, this massive property near Dollywood offers a unique experience for animal enthusiasts looking for a petting zoo in Pigeon Forge. Hop on a train and choo-choo your way to the brand-new aviary! This 30-minute tour allows you to hold, pet, and interact with over 200 exotic birds, plus an adorable capuchin monkey named Abu. Make sure to reserve an entire day of your itinerary for all the fun animal-related activities at Jayell Ranch!
Do you remember how enchanted you were the first time you saw sharks up close at the aquarium? Do you recall how horses intimidated you as a small child until one gentle giant permitted you to run your fingers through her mane? Perhaps children gaze upon animals with such awe and admiration because Earth truly is an alien planet populated with millions of fascinating creatures. In Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and Sevierville, you and your family get to learn about them, meet them in person, and even touch them. The attractions with animals in the Smoky Mountains will surely create magical experiences that your kids, too, will look back on fondly for many years to come.
Content on this page is subject to change. Please contact the locations mentioned to see if promotions, hours, pricing, etc. are still valid.
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