Asheboro, North Carolina – Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of elephants in the distance. You are not in Africa, but you are in the Africa section of the world’s largest natural habitat zoo. This is just one of the coolest parts of the new Snorin ‘Safari Program offered by the NC Zoo of Asheboro.
My daughter Claire and I were fortunate to be the first guests to experience this camping experience last weekend. There were about 25 people in total in our family group and most had young children (children must be at least six years old to participate).
All in all, it was an educational camping adventure with the comforts of hot food and real bathrooms. When we woke up in our tent to the sounds of elephants and lions on Sunday morning, the first thing Claire said was, “Mom, I don’t want to go home. I want to stay and camp again tonight and go home tomorrow. So, we are giving four thumbs up to this experience!
We met our group at 5pm on Saturday in the zoo parking lot and then trailered to a back entrance on the African side of the zoo. Our guides showed us around the camping area, we had an icebreaker activity and then set up our tents. Then have dinner! The NC Zoo has great food throughout the park and we enjoyed burgers and hot dogs. We then got together to discuss conservation efforts in Africa and they turned us all into vultures for our night safari! (I don’t want to give all the details of course!)
Since it was mid-March and a cold day, many animals had either gone to bed for the night or made their way to their special places to warm up. We got to see the zebras and they even followed us into their habitat. Each stop offered a close look at the animal artifacts. It was really cool having the whole zoo to ourselves and being able to walk around at night. I think once the days get longer there will be a better chance of seeing animals in the evening.
After our walking safari, we settle around two campfires for s’mores. It started to sprinkle, but it wasn’t heavy enough to really bother us. My daughter was zoned at that time since it was around 9:30 p.m. The guides had a few other activities and things to show us, but we went ahead and made it over for the night.
The next morning we had a wake-up call at 7 am. It was time to get up, pack your bags and then enjoy a hot breakfast and coffee !! We got together for a few more fun games and met some animal friends!
We finished a little before 10 am and returned by caravan to the main parking lot.
Here’s what you need to know before you go!
Check the website for available dates as they fill up quickly! Currently there are options for June, August, September and October with the option to add other dates. The program is offered on Friday and Saturday evenings. There are two adult-only dates this fall, but tickets are not on sale yet.
Adults (13 years old and over) – $ 50
Children (6-12 years old) – $ 40 (Remember: this is for children 6 years old and over.)
If you’ve been to the zoo before, there is a small lake at each entrance and a wooden bridge connecting the ticket office to the zoo. Our campsite was by the lake and the Hippo Beach picnic shelter (with restrooms on the other side of the picnic shelter).
Our cars were parked a few yards away, so it was easy to go back and forth to collect our things and set up camp.
It had rained earlier in the week so the ground was soggy, but we had a tarp to keep in our tent and set up near the paved path.
There are bathrooms on site. As are the bathrooms in the park. If you wake up in the middle of the night and need to wash, it might take a minute or two to walk. There are no showers.
The forecast called for a low of 38 degrees. I was mostly worried that we were freezing, but we were actually very hot. I purchased two emergency Mylar “blankets” which I put at the bottom of the tent to help provide additional insulation. I placed a yoga mat under Claire’s sleeping bag and wrapped an adult sleeping bag around her kid’s bag. I had a small camping mat and my old sleeping bag from my Girl Scout camping days. We had extra sleeping bags, but we didn’t need them.
It ended up raining for several hours but luckily it was light rain at night and we had a full rain cover for our tent.
In hot weather, you will definitely need bug spray.
What to bring:
The zoo provides an excellent list of what to bring. You need to bring your own camping gear, but they have tents for hire.
The only thing that was not on the list was a red light flashlight, which is ideal for the night walk because it is more pleasing to the eyes of humans and animals.
Zoor or not to zoo:
We love the zoo so we bought a family membership this year. We drove two cars so we could explore the zoo as a family on Saturday and then my husband came home with our four and one year old while Claire and I stayed for the Snorin ‘Safari. Any day at the zoo requires comfortable shoes and plenty of walking. And if you’re pushing a stroller or carrying a child or two… prepare to be tired. We had tickets to enter the zoo at 12:30 p.m. It closed at 4:00 p.m. so we had to get there a little faster than usual. We did the entire zoo loop so Claire and I were very tired. But I would always suggest going to the zoo before the camping experience rather than going the next morning. There is no guarantee that the animals will be outside during the evening safari ride, just as animals sometimes like to hide during the day. But if your kids are very keen on seeing animals, definitely explore the zoo a bit before your camping trip.
For more information, see the Snorin ‘Safari website with FAQ lists, what to bring, available dates and tickets. Asheboro is about an hour from Raleigh.
Tara Lynn is a mother of three. She is a visual storyteller for pets, people and professionals through her photography business, Between flashes. She also helps moms create and creatively capture a life filled with important moments through the Souvenir Makers Club. Find Tara on Instagram: instagram.com/taralynn_andco