Beyond the Zoo- Best Places Around Columbus and Ohio to See Animals


My children are animal lovers so we fill lots of our family time with visits to farms, zoos, sanctuaries and parks. We are lucky to have one of the best zoos in the country right here in Columbus, but there are many other unique places to see and interact with animals. You’ll find a list of experiences in Columbus, quick day trips, and spots to explore throughout Ohio.

Slate Run Living Historical Farm

This is one of our favorite Metro Parks. My children find it fascinating to learn about what life was like back in the late 1800’s. The volunteers and staff are dressed in old-fashioned clothing as they do chores and upkeep for the farm, barns, garden and animals. There are many special events, so be sure to check out the event calendar.

New additions have been added to the playground. It’s a great spot for climbers. Check out some pictures here: Slate Run playground

Animals You May See: pigs, cows, geese, horses, sheep

Location: 1375 State Route 674 N., Canal Winchester OH, 43103

Website: Slate Run Living Historical Farm

Slate Run Living Historical Farm
Milking a cow at Slate Run Historical Farm

Stratford Ecological Center

Be sure to walk the wooded trails on this beautiful property. This is a non-profit organization with a mission of educating children and adults about the environment and living things.

Animals You May See: sheep, chickens, cows, goats

Location: 3083 Liberty Road, Delaware, OH 43015

Website: Stratford Ecological Center

Animals in Columbus
Stratford Ecological Center

Sunrise Sanctuary

This non-profit animal shelter fosters over 170 abused, neglected and unwanted farm and companion animals. These animals freely roam around the property and you can pet and interact with them. The volunteer staff is full of knowledge and have always been so willing to answer our questions and fill us in on the animals. Sunrise Sanctuary allows the public to come to the property on one Saturday each month from April-October for Open Barn Days. Check out the upcoming schedule for Open Barn Days and be sure to click the link to purchase tickets in advance. The cost is $10 per adult, $5 per child age 4-17 and children 3 and under are free.

Animals You May See: cows, horses, sheep, pigs, goats, llamas, turkeys, ducks, dogs, cats

Location: 6730 Martin Welch Rd., Marysville, OH 43040

Website: Sunrise Sanctuary

 Sunrise Sanctuary

Olentangy Indian Caverns

From exploring the caves, to mining for gems, hitting golf balls on the miniature golf course, playing on the playground and seeing animals there are so many things to do here.  There are prices for each of the activities, but the 50,000 square foot animal encounter exhibit is only $4.00 per person. The new Treasure Hunt Maze opened two years ago.

Animals You May See: deer, goats, cows, chickens, rabbits

Location: 1779 Home Rd, Delaware, OH 43015

Website: Olentangy Indian Caverns

Ohio Wildlife Center

(NOT currently open to the public due to the pandemic but keep it mind for one day in the future.) Stroll the grounds of this wildlife rehabilitation center and see various animals. Be sure to check the calendar for the dates this facility is open to the public. Wild Story Time is geared towards preschoolers and is on the first Wednesday of each month. 2nd Sundays and Family Night Hikes (not recommended for under 5) are other opportunities to explore the Ohio Wildlife Center.

Animals You May See: birds, coyotes, opossum, snakes, red fox, turtles

Location: 6131 Cook Rd. Powell, OH 43065

Website: Ohio Wildlife Center

Gallant Farm

Although there aren’t many animals on this farm, children will enjoy hearing from the volunteers, seeing the barn and taking a look at the farmhouse.

Animals You May See: chickens, ducks

Location: 2150 Buttermilk Hill Road, Delaware, OH 43015

Website: Gallant Farm

Nature Centers

Currently all of the Nature Centers are closed at the Columbus Metro Parks but use the information below to plan out where you’ll go once they reopen.

Battelle Darby Creek

This state of the art Nature Center is amazing. My children love sticking their hands in the live stream that flows through the exhibits. There are often many events such as story time. The bison roaming outside of the Nature Center are also a big hit. The hours vary by month, but I love that in the summer months the Center stays open until 8 p.m. Be sure to also check out the wonderful hiking trails.

Animals You May See: bison, frogs, fish. There are also tables where you can touch many different types of animal fur.

Location: Nature Center- 1415 Darby Creek Dr., Galloway, OH, 43119 (There is a different entrance into the park for the hiking trails.)

Website: Battelle Darby Creek Nature Center and Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park

Animals in Columbus
Battelle Darby Creek Nature Center

Blacklick Woods Nature Center

Sit and watch the wildlife and you never know what you might see. There are other activities too that will keep the kids occupied such as books, art materials, small toys and some animal related items to touch.

Location: 6975 E. Livingston Ave, Reynoldsburg, OH

Website: Blacklick Woods Nature Center

Highbanks Nature Center

Watch wildlife out of the windows, read the books on display, assemble the puzzles, interact with the puppets and climb in the play tree. There are a few live animals on display inside, but one of the coolest things is to walk over the indoor stream and see if you can discover any creatures.

Location: 9466 Columbus Pike (US Rt 23 N), Lewis Center, OH

Website: Highbanks Nature Center

Animals in Columbus
Highbanks Nature Center

Day Trips from Columbus

The Wilds

There are various tours available to explore this 9,000 plus acre open-range animal area.  This picturesque setting is a beautiful way to imagine what it would be like to see wildlife roaming in their native habitats. Several different tours are offered including open air, zip line tour, sunset tours, horseback tours and more. Another neat experience is to go glamping and stay in a yurt at Nomad Ridge (21 and older only) or stay in a private luxury cabin at The Lodge. Bring a map or download directions before you go because your GPS may not work. *Remember to book this ahead of time because it is reservations only now due to the pandemic.

Animals You May See: cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, rhinos, deer, camels and more.

Location: 14000 International Road, Cumberland, OH 43732

Website: The Wilds

Outdoor Zoo
The Wilds

Boonshoft Museum of Discovery

There are so many options here to explore! Discovery Zoo is indoors and has over 100 animals to view. My children love the pretend play area (Explorers Crossing) where they can dress up and work at a grocery store, veterinary clinic, pizza shop, courthouse and more. It’s a science center, zoo and children’s museum mixed into one.  Even better, if you are a COSI member, admission is half off!

Animals You May See: river otters, meerkats, porcupines, Burmese python and more.

Location: 2600 DeWeese Pkwy, Dayton, OH, 45414

Website: Boonshoft Museum of Discovery

Young’s Jersey Dairy

This working farm has a long history.  Here are some of the things you’ll find: farm animal petting zoo, two miniature golf courses, covered batting cages, driving range and more! The food is really good and be sure to save room for the delicious homemade ice cream! There are a lot of seasonal events that take place here (the Halloween activities are some of our favorites), so be sure to check out the event calendar.

Animals You May See: goats, cows

Location: 6880 Springfield-Xenia Rd, Yellow Springs, OH 45387

Website: Young’s Jersey Dairy

In the area near Young’s Jersey Dairy, you’ll find three great parks to go hiking and explore wildlife: John Bryan State ParkClifton Gorge State Nature Preserve and Glen Helen. The eclectic town of Yellow Springs is a fun place to explore. For more details on what to do and eat while you are in the area, refer to this post: A Day Trip to Yellow Springs. places to see animals

Marmon Valley Farm

Take a horseback trail ride through the scenic countryside in Logan County. The guided tours are for ages 6 and up. There are many events offered throughout the year. One to note is Summer Fun Days where in addition to horseback riding there are other experiences like visiting with dozens of farm animals, hayrides, swimming and paddle boating in the pond, climbing wall and play barn.

Animals You May See: horses, cows, chickens, miniature horses and rabbits

Location: 7754 State Route 292 S, Zanesfield, OH 44681

Website: Marmon Valley

The Farm at Walnut Creek

Explore this working farm on a horse-drawn wagon ride or drive-through in your own car and see the exotic animals. The majority of these animals roam freely and you can hand feed the animals. The property is beautiful and very serene. *They don’t accept debit or credit cards so remember to bring cash.

Animals You May See: Over 500 animals are on this farm, including exotic ones. Examples: giraffes, kangaroos, camels, llamas, porcupines, horses, cattle, pigs, birds, tortoises and more!

Location: 4147 County Road 114, Sugarcreek, OH 44681

Website: The Farm at Walnut Creek

Hershberger’s Farm and Bakery

Head to Amish Country and make a stop here. Not only will you find wonderful bakery goods but there’s also a free family petting zoo. There are pony and horse rides for a small fee.

Animals You May See: goats, pigs, sheep, cows, and horses

Location:5452 OH-557, Millersburg, OH

Website: Hershberger’s Farm and Bakery

Ohio Bird Sanctuary

What a wonderful way to spend some time walking the property and observing various bird species. While we were visiting, we went into the Songbird Aviary and my children were excited to feed the birds and see them up close. This Sanctuary charges a small fee.

While in the area, be sure to venture to Little Buckeye Children’s Museum (it’s about 9 miles away)-it’s currently closed but is supposed to reopen soon. It’s a great place for kids to be creative, engage in pretend play, explore and learn. If the weather is nice, there’s a hand-carved wooden carousel you can walk to from the museum. Check it out: Richland Carrousel Park

Animals You May See: all different types of birds including eagles, raptors, vultures, songbirds, owls, etc.

Location: 3774 Orweiler Rd, Mansfield, OH 44903

Website: Ohio Bird Sanctuary

Feeding birds at Ohio Bird Sanctuary

Malabar Farm State Park

Since 1939, this Ohio State Park has been a historical landmark. This is a working farm so animals have the freedom to roam the 300-acre property. There are guided tours (farm tours or houses tours), hiking trailsspecial events and camping. On the property you will find “The Big House” where author Louis Bromfield lived. Also, part of the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” was filmed here.

Animals You May See: beef cows, miniature horses, Shetland pony, turkeys, chickens, ducks, rabbits, sheep, dairy goats, cats, etc. Get more information about the animals here: farm animals and livestock

Location: 4050 Bromfield Road, Lucas, OH 44843

Website: Malabar Farm

Velvet Ice Cream- Ye Old Mill

Seasonally, there’s a small petting zoo on the property. The FREE ice cream factory tours are a great family activity.  Be sure to check the schedule. Also, mark your calendar for the popular Utice Sertoma Ice Cream Festival which typically happens Memorial Day weekend.

Location: 11324 Mount Vernon Road, Utica, OH 43080

Website: Velvet Ice Cream

A Bit Farther in Ohio

African Safari Wildlife Park

There are two options to view animals: walk-thru safari or drive-thru safari. Other activities include a giraffe adventure, camel rides, rabbit row, kangaroo feeding, gem mining and educational animal shows. *This is close to Cedar Point so that’s another place you might want to visit before or after.

Animals You May See: white alligator, white-handed gibbons, warthog, camel, elk, bison, zebra and more.

Location: 267 S Lightner Road, Port Clinton OH 43452

Website: African Safari Wildlife Park

Lake Metroparks Farmpark

This working farm in the Cleveland area is a great family activity! There are wagon rides, lots of animals, interactive displays, indoor play areas, a playground, greenhouse, cafe and more.

Animals You May See: Cows, pigs, goats, horses, sheep, chickens and more

Location: 8800 Euclid Chardon Road (Rt. 6), Kirtland, Ohio 44094

Website: Lake Metroparks Farmpark

Take a short drive to Penitentiary Glen Reservation for hiking trails, forest, fields, deep gorge and nature center. Right next to the nature center is the Kevin P. Clinton Wildlife Center-this and the nature center are currently closed. Injured and orphaned animals come here for rehabilitation so they can hopefully be released back into the environment.


Animals in Ohio
Lake Farmpark

Idle-Hour Ranch

This is a family owned and operated agricultural facility with animals and other activities such as gem mining.

Animals You May See: There are over 200 animals, representing 45 species. Some include red foxes, two-toed sloth, river otters, kangaroos, wallabies, wolves, skunks, coyotes and more.

Location: 4845 W Fenner Rd, Troy, OH 45373

Website: Idle-Hour Ranch

Noah’s Lost Ark

This non-profit animal sanctuary provides a place for abused and unwanted animals to live.

Animals You May See: lions, tigers, cougars, leopards, wolves, bears, and other animals.

Location: 8424 Bedell Rd., Berlin Center, OH 44401

Website: Noah’s Lost Ark

Safari Adventures Animal Park

Resort guests and the public are welcome to this animal park operated by Kalahari.

Animals You May See: giraffes, camels, birds, rabbits, kangaroos, porcupine, zebra, ostrich and more.

Location: Kalahari Resort (7000 Kalahari Drive, Sandusky, OH 44870)

Website: Safari Adventures Animal Park

Wagon Trails Animal Park

This family-owned park was featured as one of the ten great places for a North American Safari as featured in USA Today.

Animals You May See: zebras, donkeys, kangaroos, ostrich, emu, porcupine and more.  See the full list here: animals

Location: 907 Youngstown Kingsville Road SE (State Rt. 193), Vienna, OH, 44473

Website: Wagon Trails Animal Park

Surprisingly, there are even more animal encounter spots I didn’t list in this post. Do you have a favorite you’d like to see added?

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Amy Onifer
Amy is an "on the go momma" to two spunky and fun loving kids (ages 9 & 8). She came to Columbus to pursue a career in elementary education and decided this was home. She’s an avid traveler, yet can’t master the art of packing. Her philosophy is bring it all because you don’t know if you’re going to need it. If you ever decide to take a trip with her, don’t worry about bringing a camera because she’ll take enough photos of the experience that it will likely crash your hard drive. Before kids, you could find everything neatly organized and straight vacuum lines in her carpet, but these days she's not bothered with worrying about the small stuff. You can catch her belting out her favorite song, “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and using her two left feet to bust a move with her family during their frequent impromptu dance parties. She loves living in such a family-friendly city!


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