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The Best Zoos and Petting Farms in the Washington, D.C. Area for Animal Encounters

Things to Do DC/MD/VA
Green Meadows Petting Farm, Ijamsville, MD Green Meadows Petting Farm, Ijamsville, MD

Whether their fascination lies with farm animals, aquatic life or exotic wildlife, kids love to get up close and personal with animals. Lucky for us, the Washington, D.C. area has plenty of farms, aquariums and zoos that offer interactive experiences for kids of all ages to learn about and play with all kinds of animals -- from feeding farm animals to petting penguins to wagon safaris and even having a sleepover at the zoo!

Check out our picks for the best zoos and petting farms in the Washington, D.C. area for encounters of the animal kind.

Smithsonian’s National Zoo, Washington, D.C. - FREE
Located in the heart of Washington, D.C.'s Rock Creek Park is one of the oldest zoos in America, the National Zoological Park featuring more than 2,700 animals. Visitors can enjoy daily programs such as animal training, feeding demonstrations, and chats with zoo experts. Family-friendly walking tours are available on the second Sunday and fourth Saturday of the month at 9:45 a.m. on a first-come basis, which includes a fun classroom session followed by an hour-long guided tour. In the warmer months, sign up for the Snore and Roar family sleepover which includes a night walk through the zoo, games, and other activities. Bring your own food or purchase from an array of dining outlets on site. The family education guide to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and other activity sheets can be downloaded HERE. Admission to the zoo is free, but there is a fee to park (and parking is limited). Public transportation is recommended.

Giant Panda Bei Bei at Smithsonian's National Zoo, Photo by Skip Brown
Giant Panda Bei Bei at Smithsonian's National Zoo, Photo by Skip Brown

National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD
Located in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium consistently ranks as one of our nation's top aquariums. The site is home to award-winning habitats for more than 20,000 fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and marine animals. Before arriving, download the Aquarium app to help plan your visit, complete with a schedule of activities, animal education and building navigation. Enjoy a 4D Immersion film that will bring you closer to the action through sight, feeling, sound and smell. The Aquarium hosts an abundance of special programs, such as the behind-the-scenes tour of the marine animals and a sleepover with the sharks (oh my!). 

National Aquarium, Photo by Theresa Keil
Blacktip Reef at the National Aquarium, Baltimore, Photo by Theresa Keil

Glen Echo Park Aquarium, Glen Echo, MD
Glen Echo Park Aquarium
 is a small interactive Chesapeake Bay discovery center. The Aquarium includes live animal exhibits and static displays. Learn about water from rain clouds through the watershed of Chesapeake Bay, experience aquatic life up close with the touch tank, and venture the grounds to visit the wooden shipjack structure or dig for treasure in the sand pit.

Glen Echo Park
Glen Echo Park Aquarium, Glen Echo, MD

Catoctin Wildlife Preserve, Thurmont, MD
Catoctin Wildlife Preserve
 features exotic animals and more interactive touch and feed opportunities than any other animal park in the region! Take a safari ride to get up close with bison, ostrich, zebra, camels and more. Wander through the lush landscape and meet over 600 animals on your adventure, including monkeys, jaguars, llamas and giant reptiles. Check out the alligator feeding, go gem mining, take a ride on a camel or visit the aviary where a bird might just land on your head!

Oxon Cove Park & Oxon Hill Farm, MD
Originally a plantation home during the War of 1812 and then a hospital farm, Oxon Cove Park and Oxon Hill Farm are now part of the National Park Service and a great place to get out of the city and explore 512 acres of wildlife, hiking trails, and bike paths. The park has an active avian fauna with 58 species of birds and even bald eagles can be seen flying overhead.  At the farm, see horses, sheep, pigs, chickens and goats; take a wagon ride; milk a dairy cow and explore the kids' activity corner to color, play games and read books.

Clark Elioak Farm, Ellicott City, MD
The 540-acre historic Clark Elioak Farm comes complete with a petting zoo and an enchanted forest with fairy tale-style playground equipment, from an enchanting castle to the Three Little Pig's brick house. The farm has all your barnyard favorites, such as chickens, pigs, cows, horses, ducks, goats and more. Take a ride on the cow train, experience a pony ride or get comfortable in the hay wagon ride. Before heading out, stop by the farm store for homegrown vegetables and 100% grass-fed beef and pastured pork. 

Clark's Elioak Farm
Clark's Elioak Farm, Ellicott City, MD

Maryland Zoo, Baltimore, MD
Located in historic Druid Hill Park, the Maryland Zoo is the third oldest zoo in the country and home to nearly 200 species of birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Check out the award-winning African penguin exhibit, arrange a penguin encounter, watch polar bears slide in and out of water, feed a giraffe, or groom a goat. The Zoo also has a carousel, train ride, face painting and unique events and educational programs, such as Junior Photo Safari and Zoo Snooze sleepover.

Maryland Zoo, Baltimore MD
Photo Courtesy of the Maryland Zoo, Baltimore MD

Green Meadows Petting Farm, Ijamsville, MD
Located south of Frederick, Maryland, the beautiful Green Meadows Petting Farm offers up-close encounters with over 250 animals. There's loads of family fun to be had at the farm such as watching pig and duck races, feeding animals, enjoying a hayride, and milking a cow. 

Green Meadows Petting Farm
Green Meadows Petting Farm, Ijamsville, MD

South Mountain Creamery Dairy Farm, Middletown, MD
Located in the heart of the Civil War Heritage area, South Mountain Creamery Dairy Farm is a real working farm open 365 days a year offering up-close animal encounters. Your family can take a guided or self-guided tour, pet or feed the calves, watch the cows being milked, and best of all, taste delicious handcrafted ice cream at Karen's Kountry Store. Save 34% on guided tour and ice cream with this CertifiKID deal.

South Mountain Creamery Dairy Farm
South Mountain Creamery Dairy Farm, Middletown, MD

Leesburg Animal Park, Leesburg, VA
Located about 40 miles west of Washington, D.C. in Loudoun County, Virginia, Leesburg Animal Park features live animal shows, a Contact Area to hang with the critters, wagon rides, a three-level indoor Jungle Play Zone and more! Sit on a camel, ride a pony, feed a goat and explore the park animals, which include African Serval Cats, gibbons, zebras, lemurs, sloth, large tortoise, llamas, various farm animals, birds, reptiles and more. 

Leesburg Animal Park
Leesburg Animal Park, Leesburg, VA

Frying Pan Farm Park, Herndon, Virginia - FREE
A neighborhood gem in Fairfax County, Virginia, historic Frying Pan Farm Park, features a carousel, playground, wagon rides, farm animals and more. Experience farm life as it was in the first half of the 20th century while visiting with cows, sheep, goats and more. The recreational working farm hosts camps, programs and classes, including puppet shows, crafting and farm skills. Their "Putting the Animals to Bed" program is a kid favorite where little guests get to bring their flashlights and learn how the farm animals settle down for the night.

Frying Pan Farm Park
Camp Activities at Frying Pan Farm Park, Herndon, Virginia

Great Country Farms, Bluemont, VA
Located approximately an hour northwest of Washington, D.C., Great Country Farms is full of family fun with wagon rides, a cow train, putt-putt golf, playgrounds, fishing pond, and even a one-of-a-kind Farm Ninja Course where kids can test their agility skills. Meet the local pot-bellied pig, visit with the chickens, goats and roosters, pick your own crop, jump on the huge orange jumping pillow or sift through a bag of sand to discover hidden treasures at the Gem Mine Sluice. 

Great Country Farms
Great Country Farms, Bluemont, VA, Photo by Ashley Augustine

Roer’s Zoofari, Vienna, VA
Get your animal fix at Roer's Zoofari which comes complete with a petting barn and safari bus rides around the park for unique learning and exploration opportunities. The 30-acre park is home to camels, monkeys, sheep, goats, zebras, horses, buffalo, small animals, reptiles, a giraffe and more. Guests can feed birds in the Flight Aviary or bottle feed baby goats for a hands-on animal experience. 

Roer's Zoofari, Vienna, VA
Roer's Zoofari, Vienna, VA, Photo Courtesy of Roer's Zoofari

Wilson's Wild Animal Park, Winchester, VA
Nestled in northern Shenandoah Valley, Wilson's Wild Animal Park is home to more than 40 species. Explore the 25-acre park to see lions, tigers, lemurs, camels and more. Feed machines are available for visitors to hand-feed deer, llamas, goats and sheep. A picnic area is available to take a break for lunch. 

Land of Little Horses Performing Animal Theme Park, Gettysburg, PA
Enjoy a family fun day in the country about 80 miles outside of Washington, D.C. at the delightful Land of Little Horses Performing Animal Theme Park located in picturesque Adams County, Pennsylvania. This one-of-a-kind park offers animal grooming experiences, pony rides, gem mining, barn displays and showcases the talents of the furry creatures with daily animal shows that are sure to bring a smile to audiences of all ages. Save on admission with this CertifiKID offer.

Land of Little Horses
Land of Little Horses Farm Park, Gettysburg, PA, Photo by Lindsay Jones

For more fun, affordable things to do with kids in the Washington, D.C. area, check out our family-friendly Washington, D.C. activities and events deals.

Tags: zoos farms animals nature centers wildlife encounters kids families washington, d.c. virginia maryland dmv


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