«  Return to Explore More

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

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

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.

National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD

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

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!). 

Glen Echo Park Aquarium, Glen Echo, MD

Glen Echo Park
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.

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

Clark's Elioak Farm
Clark's 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. 

Maryland Zoo, Baltimore, MD

Maryland Zoo, Baltimore MD
Photo Courtesy of the 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.

Green Meadows Petting Farm, Ijamsville, MD

Green Meadows Petting Farm
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. 

South Mountain Creamery Dairy Farm, Middletown, MD

South Mountain Creamery Dairy Farm
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% off South Mountain Creamery Dairy Farm Tour plus ICE CREAM!

Leesburg Animal Park, Leesburg, VA

Leesburg Animal Park
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. 

Frying Pan Farm Park, Herndon, Virginia - FREE

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

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.

Great Country Farms, Bluemont, VA

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

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. 

Roer’s Zoofari, Vienna, VA

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

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. 

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. 

Plumpton Park Zoo, Rising Sun, MD

"Maryland's favorite family zoo," Plumpton Park Zoo, is located about two hours north of Washington, D.C., making for a great family day trip. Plumpton Park is home to over 180 animals, half of which have been taken in from owners that could no longer care for them. This quaint zoo offers intimate and personal animal interactions with plentiful opportunities for visitors to easily feed and pet the animals. The zoo's special mascot, Jimmie the Giraffe, in particular, loves interacting with humans. The zoo boasts a variety of animal species, including tigers, bears and wolves, as well as smaller barnyard and farm animals like owls, rabbits and goats. Admission prices are more wallet-friendly than some of the larger zoos in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore areas, and parking is free!

Land of Little Horses Performing Animal Theme Park, Gettysburg, PA

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

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. 


For more ideas for family fun, check out our round up of The Best Indoor Play Places for Kids in Washington, D.C.

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


CertifiKID was founded by a mom with a passion for helping parents provide the best experiences for their children on a budget. From outings to adventures, classes to camps, theater to sporting events, amusement parks to getaways, CertifiKID provides the best family-friendly experiences at unbeatable prices. Sign up for family-friendly deals in your area and start saving!