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animal encounters in dallas fort worth

30 Animal Encounters to Experience Around Dallas Fort Worth

put the animal kingdom at your child’s feet

Lions, tigers, bears and more—you don’t have to go far to immerse your child in the animal world. Take a walk on the wild side at these 30 animal encounters from zoos and safari spots to aquariums and trail riding ranches.


1. Trek through a cloud forest, wave to a friendly manatee, see sharks and sawfishes swimming all around as you traverse a clear tunnel—it’s all possible at Dallas World Aquarium, a massive collection of aquarium and zoo animals located in the Historic West End District. An octopus, an ocelot, leafy sea dragons, miniature seahorses, sloths, colorful birds, a gigantic croc and a huge anaconda: They’re all there, and that’s just the beginning. Dallas; 214/720-2224

2. Sea Life Grapevine aquarium, inside Grapevine Mills mall, houses some 3,000 creatures and gives you the opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with a number of them. Check out the interactive rockpools, where you can touch sea stars and anemones, then head to the Sea Turtle Rescue Center. Your budding wildlife biologists will also enjoy Stingray Bay, the Rainforest Adventure and other exhibits. You can even take a behind-the-scenes tour. Make it a double outing with a visit to Legoland Discovery Center, also in Grapevine Mills. Grapevine; 469/444-3050

3. Experience animals from five continents at SeaQuest Fort Worth. This aquarium at Ridgmar Mall offers 20,000 square feet of land and sea adventure. You can snorkel with stingrays, feed an otter, interact with a porcupine and hang out with a kinkajou as part of the aquarium’s enhanced interactions; with regular admission, make your way through animal exhibits ranging from an Icelandic fishing village to the Great Wall of China. Need a pedicure? In a Seaside Spa Session, tiny toothless doctor fish will nibble at dead skin on your feet. Fort Worth; 817/731-5357

Horseback Riding

4. River Ranch Educational Charities at Texas Horse Park: Saddle up and experience the sights and sounds of Dallas’ Trinity Forest. Trail rides are for age 9 and up; younger kids can enjoy pony rides or lessons that will get them ready for the trail. Dallas; 469/804-2660

5. Benbrook Stables: Guided trail rides on miles of scenic trails around Lake Benbrook are available for age 8 and up; younger kiddos can get a ride on the property with a lead line. Fort Worth; 817/249-1001 

6. Stockyards Stables: Meander down the Old Chisholm Trail on horseback (if you’re 8 or older). Little ones age 3 and up can take an arena horseback ride during the week. The family will also enjoy stagecoach and carriage rides. Fort Worth; 817/247-2510

7. YMCA Camp Carter Trail Rides: Starting at age 8, kiddos can take an on-property trail ride at the YMCA Camp Carter Equestrian Center, which features a hardwood forest, grasslands and one of the highest points in Fort Worth. Fort Worth; horses@ymcafw.org

8. Little Harts Pony Parties: Gather up to a dozen kids for a weekend outing with pony carts and horse riding at Little Harts Ranch, or schedule a private pony ride. Lucas; 214/923-0370 

9. T Bar T Pony Rides: Want the ponies to come to you? T Bar T Pony Rides is based in McKinney but serves surrounding areas. They’ll bring out ponies for any occasion. McKinney and surrounding areas; 214/924-5680

10. Paws for Reflection Ranch: This ranch about a half hour southwest of downtown Dallas offers therapeutic horseback riding, including for children with special needs. The site has a covered arena, nature trail and sensory trail. Midlothian; 972/775-8966

11. Southfork Ranch Trail Rides: This Collin County ranch—home of the Ewing Mansion featured in the television series Dallas—is a great spot for horseback riding. Trail rides are open to age 8 and up. Parker; 972/442-7800 

12. Marshall Creek Ranch: Take a trail ride through wooded acreage and across creeks surrounding Lake Grapevine. Rides are open to age 7 and up. Southlake; 817/490-8796

Petting Zoos

13. During the summer, you can book a party at Country Critters Farm (about 10 minutes south of Mansfield) and let the kids enjoy goats, sheep, pigs, a donkey, a cow and a rabbit in the petting zoo—there’s even the occasional praying mantis. Other activities include a bounce house, playground areas, a pony ride, barrel train, a hayride and a wooden maze and games. The petting zoo and pony rides can also travel to you. Alvarado; 682/593-1866

14. Just north of Prosper in Grayson County, you’ll find the petting farm at Preston Trail Farms. Your family can get up-close-and-personal with about 40 farm animals—including goats, sheep, cows and even longhorn cattle. Gunter; 972/382-4995

15. Head to the Stockyard Stables Petting Zoo in the Stockyards —Historic District to see, touch and feed farm animals, the usual and some more unexpected. Fort Worth; 817/247-2510 

16. From frolicking mini horses and fuzzy alpacas to piglets, kangaroos, peacocks and iguanas, what can’t you see at Cathy’s Critters? This Collin County destination is a petting farm (a mobile petting zoo is available too) that also offers pony rides. Trail rides are available on Saturdays for age 8 and up. Princeton; 972/562-0583 

17. Road trip to Broken Bow, Oklahoma, and make a stop at the Hochatown Rescue Center & Petting Zoo. You’ll meet Alfalfa the alpaca, Blakey the kangaroo, Pixie the flying squirrel, Queen Ruby the raccoon and more rescued animals. Broken Bow, Oklahoma; 580/494-7387

Wildlife Experiences

18. The name is wild and so are the creatures who live there! Sharkarosa Wildlife Ranch, near Lake Ray Roberts, is home to alpacas, beefalo (yep, that’s a thing), a zorse (and that’s a thing), a zedonkey (and that’s a thing), black bears, macaw, wallabies and too many other animals to list. About the only things you won’t see at Sharkarosa are, well, sharks. Pilot Point; 940/686-4600

19. The unique habitat at John Bunker Sands Wetlands Center will give you a unique wildlife experience. About 25 minutes southeast of downtown Dallas, the wetlands are home to more than 250 species of birds, including American bald eagles, plus rabbits, deer, snakes, native green tree frogs, dragonflies, turtles and other creatures. Family Fun Days are planned for the summer season, and a fishing event will be held in early August. Seagoville; 972/474-9100 

20. If your kiddo loves the family cat, visit In-Sync Exotics Wildlife Rescue & Educational Center to really blow their mind. You’ll see tigers, lions, cougars, leopards, cheetahs, bobcats, lynx, servals and ocelots—plus the honorary cats, the coatimundi (a racoon-like omnivore) and lemurs. The Big Cat Birthday Bash is set for June 12. Wylie; 972/442-6888

21. Africa isn’t the only place to go on safari. Texas Safari is the state’s oldest wildlife park and home to more than 700 exotic animals. There are even 15 species that are extinct or nearly extinct in the wild. Stay in a luxe cabin on the 1,000-acre ranch in the northern Hill Country—maybe you’ll even get a wakeup call from Marsha the camel. Go online for a live feed of the giraffe house. Clifton; 214/384-3000

22. You barely have to leave your car to experience the animals at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center. Drive through the park and see animals such as the addax, the African spurred tortoise, black-tailed jackrabbits, gazelle, southern white rhinos, ostriches, giraffes and the greater kudu. Some you’ll gaze at from afar, while other animals will be really close—eager to get some of the food pellets you’ll toss their way. Stay for the night at the lodge or in a cabin. Glen Rose; 254/897-2960

23. Arbuckle Wilderness Park in Oklahoma is another drive-through wildlife experience. Hundreds of exotic animals—American bison, aoudads, antelope, camels, donkeys, markhors, nilgai and others—roam free across more than 200 acres in the Arbuckle Mountains. And yes, you can feed these animals from your car too. Davis, Oklahoma; 800/738-7275


24. Dallas Zoo: Check out more than 2,000 awe-inspiring animals across 106 acres at the Dallas Zoo. Your family can take part in the Backstage Safari to find out how zookeepers care for the animals, then enjoy a spin on the carousel or catch a train ride for the grand tour. Dallas; 469/554-7500 

25. Fort Worth Zoo: A 2020 USA Today poll ranked the Fort Worth Zoo as No. 1 in the nation. Come see 542 species, including the herd at the new Elephant Springs habitat. Your kiddo can also be a junior conductor on the zoo train, ride the carousel and get wet at Safari Splash. Fort Worth; 817/759-7555

26. Cameron Park Zoo: Tripping through Texas? Make a stop at the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco. Rhinos, tigers, greater kudus, a Komodo dragon, orangutans (including one we hear likes to get guests wet)… There’s no shortage of animals to discover, and the kiddos will be delighted to find the zoo’s playground and splash pad. Waco; 254/750-8400

27. Frank Buck Zoo: The Frank Buck Zoo isn’t big in size, but it’s not short on experiences. Feed a giraffe or a flamingo and meet other animals at this zoo north of Dallas-Fort Worth. Gainesville; 940/668-4533

No Prob-Llama

Whether you have a Fortnite fan at home or just want to check out these very social animals, there are some places tailor-made for you.

28. ShangriLlama Castle: A herd of pedigreed llamas resides at this replica Irish castle northeast of Rockwall. This summer, book Llama Lesson—a photo session and learning opportunity inside the castle barn for age 4 and up. Barack O’Llama, the Dalai Llama, Bahama Llama, Pajama Llama and the others await the honor of your presence. Royse City; 972/632-9385

29. Llamazing Party Animals: Come visit these Ellis County llamas that get decked out in colorful finery, or let them come to you. And there’s more than just llamas—ponies, mini donkeys, alpacas, pigs and other animals are at your service. Palmer; 469/999-5989

30. Laughing Llama Farm: Book a Laughing Llama Farm Experience to meet Bruce, Callie, Bunny Pearl and the rest of the hard at this farm between Waco and Temple. Enjoy other farm activities and stay in the on-site Silo House for an eclectic getaway. Troy; 254/723-0747

Photo courtesy of Sea Life Grapevine.