The Virginia Safari Park is a fun zoo, minutes away from Interstate 81 in the Shenandoah Valley, where you can see and feed animals up-close from your vehicle as you drive through the scenic rolling hills.
On our first visit to the Virginia Safari Park, a water buffalo gored the roof of my Prius and got its head stuck in my car. I didn’t believe them when they said we were the first to have an animal get its head stuck in a car — the water buffalo was just too blasé about the experience, ambling away as if she did this every week. But as we entered, I mentioned that the last time, a water buffalo had gored my car, and they said, “Oh, you’re THAT travel writer.” (I was afraid for a moment that they wouldn’t let me back in.) It seemed like it was an unusual enough event that two years later, they still remembered. This visit was just as exciting — although not as damaging to my vehicle. And I think it was even more fun!
Virginia Safari Park is home to more than 80 animal species, including rhinos, giraffes and king cheetahs and a variety of deer from all over the world. There’s also elk; llamas; Watusi cattle; pot bellied pigs; emus, rhea and ostriches; and more. You’ll notice the llamas first, though. They greet you as you roll into the park with an orchestrated effort to slow your vehicle down to a stop by loping confidently in front of your car. Then, as you roll to a stop, they’ll turn their heads, make eye contact with you, and grin.
The fallow deer, a deer species native to Europe, work collectively with the sika deer, a species native to Japan, to make good on the llamas’ effort, and in the wake of the llamas, crowd around the windows looking for the feeding buckets. Hang on tight, because the animals have learned to grab the buckets and there’s often a brief tug of war (and as you drive around the park, there are numerous buckets along the road, which I suspect the park personnel pick up each evening).
The animals are lovely though, and the slow drive through the safari is fun, whether you’re a 10 year old kid or a middle-aged woman. There’s a lot of laughing at the antics the animals put you through to get the food — so make sure you purchase at least two buckets; the park recommends one bucket per person.
But like its sister parks, Gulf Breeze Zoo in Florida and Alabama Safari Park, the Virginia Safari Park has a more serious mission: these three zoological parks support wildlife conservation through ongoing support of organizations doing work in the wild. The parks also provide annual grants to deserving programs located in the region, in the United States and abroad.
Word of warning: All persons entering the safari park do so at their own risk. The park is not responsible for injuries to any individual or damage to any vehicle. Now, while that seems to be a fairly standard caveat, our car was damaged on the last visit. This time we escaped without even scratches from the Watusi horns.
Know before you go: Your vehicle will get messy and the animals specialize in knocking the buckets of food out of your hands. The llamas can be quite wily in their efforts to gain access to the feed — they have incredibly long necks and don’t hesitate to lean their heads all the way into your vehicle looking for some feed. The park offers car vacuum cleaners in the parking lot on the way out of the park, so you can clean up after your park experience.
Getting there: 229 Safari Ln, Natural Bridge, VA
Hours: Closed between late November and first week of March. March – November, opens at 9 a.m. but closing times vary, so check the website below.
Website: VA Safari Park