Zoos can be interesting, but let’s be honest, they can seem like prisons. Safaris are much better. There’s no match for seeing animals in their natural habitat (or as close as possible). If traveling to Africa isn’t on your bucket list, but taking a safari is, these eight U.S. parks are a good alternative until you can experience the real thing. They feature open lands, caravans and animals ranging from lions to zebras. That’s about as genuine of a safari experience as you could hope for without leaving the country.
Lake Buena Vista, Florida
Photo by Christian Lambert Photography , CC BY-ND 2.0
You only have to travel as far as Florida to feel like you’re on the savanna of East Africa. The Kilimanjaro Safaris at Disney’s Animal Kingdom takes you on a nearly 20-minute tour through the 110-acre Harambe Wildlife Reserve. You’ll ride along in an open-air safari vehicle as you pass more than 30 species of African wildlife from antelopes and zebras to hippopotamus, lions and giraffes.
Camp Verde, Arizona
Photo by s0crates82, CC BY-NC 2.0
From animal spotting to tiger feeding, Out of Africa Wildlife Park offers a safari experience on a Serengeti preserve right in Camp Verde, Arizona. Their African Bush Safari Tour gets you up close and personal with the park’s free-to-roam animals that include giraffes and zebras. You can also zip line through the park for an aerial view of the animals, or you can opt to camp out in the park for an overnight safari experience.
San Diego, California
Photo by Nathan Rupert, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
There are no shortage of ways to experience the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and their countless animals. You can caravan, cart, tram and trike through the park on tours that take you through the park’s plains for close encounters with rhinos, giraffes and a variety of exotic birds, or opt to see the park via zip line or hot air balloon. There’s even a roar and snore overnight option that lets you sleep in the park and witness the animals after dark.
Glen Rose, Texas
Photo by Julie Delio, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Home to more than 1,000 animals, the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center serves as a research and conservation center that offers a 9.5-mile driving tour. This endangered species sanctuary sits in the hills near Glen Rose, Texas where animals roam freely around the park.
Photo by Valerie, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
This non-profit safari park covers more than 9,000 acres in Cumberland, Ohio and is the largest conservation center in North America. The Wilds sits on reclaimed coal mining land that today features hiking and biking trails, some 150 lakes for fishing, horseback riding and zip-lining, a butterfly habitat, all in the presence of the park’s free-roaming wildlife.
Photo by MRHSfan, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
This drive-through safari in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas takes you through 180 acres of park land that is home to a variety of animals ranging from zebras to kangaroos. While some areas of the Wild Wilderness Drive-Through Safari include enclosed habitats for animals like porcupines and exotic birds, the drive-through portion features cage-free encounters with buffalo, wildebeests and camels.
Santa Rosa, California
Photo by Mike Boening Photography, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Whether visiting for a day-tour or camping out for a week, this 400-acre private wildlife preserve will provide no shortage of animal sightings. Safari West is home to an estimated 79 native African animal species, some 900 animals in all, including cheetahs, rhinos and giraffes.
Natural Bridge, Virginia
Photo by smthng else, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
This drive-through park sits on 180 open acres in the Shenandoah Valley. The Virginia Safari Park encourages visitor-and-animal interaction, as the animals roam free and often approach vehicles along the park’s three miles of gravel road. Don’t be surprised if you look in your rear-view window and spot a bull elk or camel on your tail.
Top photo: Scott Smith, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Paste Travel’s Bucket List columnist Lauren Kilberg is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Her travels have found her camping near the Pakistani border of India and conquering volcanoes in the Philippines.