6 Reasons Why the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo is Perfect for Kids

When my 3-year old daughter stretched her hand out, I couldn’t believe my eyes. As the fallow deer stuck its nose into the cup of animal feed, she flinched a little. So, I placed my hand on her back and encouraged her to ‘just be brave.’ Once again, she held out the cup and let all the deer take turns eating from her outstretched hand. A few weeks ago, this would have never happened. Ever since she was nipped on the finger by a goat when she was a baby, Sweet Pea was pretty scared of petting zoo animals.

So, today was special.

My 3-year old daughter was being so brave. Throughout the day there were many opportunities to be brave, because the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo offers many hands-on animal encounters. This is the biggest reason why this zoo is absolutely perfect for kids! Read on for 6 more reasons you should consider taking your kids here for a great family day trip

Related: Check out the Kid Friendly Maryland comprehensive resource for parents: Things To Do In Maryland With Kids!

catoctin wildlife preserve and zoo

Here are 6 reasons you should check out the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo

1. Small, shady, flat

This may seem like a boring reason for a zoo to be perfect for young kids, but it is one of the best reasons. The zoo is small enough that you can leave your stroller in the car if your kid walks well. There are lots of places to sit and linger and tons of shady areas. It doesn’t take long to walk in between the major areas of the zoo.

Also, there are at least two play areas (that I saw) with a few pieces of playground equipment, sand pits, etc…

2. Feeding the goats, ducks, alpacas, etc…

Make sure you pick up a few cups of animal feed when you buy your tickets. There will be plenty of opportunities to feed various animals. There are ducks waddling all over the zoo grounds. Also, there are a few petting farm and feeding areas where you can feed alpacas, pot-bellied pigs, goats, and fallow deer.

3. Koi Pond

Speaking of a cool animal feeding experience, there are many areas where kids can feed Koi. The main lake/pond is full of Koi. However, there is also a Japanese garden area that puts you on level with the fish. We didn’t have this experience, but I hear that many visitors actually have the Koi sucking fish food out of their fingers. How neat is that?

catoctin wildlife preserve and zoo

4. Safari experience

If you can afford it (and extra $12/person), the 1-hour Global Wildlife Safari Ride is a definite must-do experience. Basically, you hop onto an open wagon and make four stops to see the animals up close. By up close I mean, really really close. They will come to the safari wagons and for a small fee (I think $1/per cup of food) you can feed some of them. Some of the animals we experienced on this tour included American Bison, camels, ostriches, zebras, water buffalo, llamas, fallow deer, mountain sheep, and emu.

catoctin wildlife preserve and zoo

5. Fun add-on’s

I know what you are thinking– everything I have talked about so far is a fun add-on. Well, that is the biggest draw for this zoo. The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo is all about hands on encounters. In addition to everything mentioned above, you can pay a small fee to ride a camel, feed tortoises, or feed parakeets.

One of the add-on’s that is a bit more expensive is also one of the coolest experiences though. The zoo is in the process of building a new wolf habitat, but since the zoo is private, the funding for this project is also all from private donors. About 2-3 months ago, wolf cubs were born. Now, you can pay $20 for a Wolf Cub encounter. This basically consists of the animal specialist holding the wolf cub and letting you pet its head and rub its belly. They only offer this experience 1-hour a day, but that 5 minutes was probably the highlight of the trip for Sweet Pea.

catoctin wildlife preserve and zoo

6. Animal Encounters

Not all of the animal encounters incur an additional cost. Twice a day, there is a ‘Habitats of the World’ Animal Encounter. When we visited, that encounter included the opportunity for my preschooler to touch a snake and an alligator.

catoctin wildlife preserve and zoo

The zoo itself is small, but that also means you have the opportunity to see the animals up close. We were mesmerized by the antics of the Gibbons, the Peacocks unfurled their feathers for us a number of times, we got to see a pile of alligators stretch and yawn during their group nap, and the colors of the macaws were glorious!

Know Before You Go

  • The cost: This zoo is a special treat and you should either a) view it as a special treat or b) invest in a membership. Why? It can be kind of pricey. The admission rate is $18.75 for adults and $13.75 for kids (3-12). To put this into perspective, the Maryland Zoo is $18 for an adult and $14 for a kid. Why the steep price for a small zoo? Well, like I said before, this zoo is privately funded and that could be the reason for the sticker shock. If you were to go with a family of 4, and you were to sample a number of the add-on’s, the price per person could easily reach about $35/person (ticket, safari ride, and a few animal feedings).
  • Food options: The Safari Cafe offers standard kid-friendly food (we ate hot dogs and chips), nachos, pretzels, and ice cream. You can also buy ice cream in the gift shop. Additionally, you can pack a picnic lunch as there are picnic areas around the zoo grounds.
  • Smaller zoo: I personally love the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo, but it is a smaller zoo. Some of the enclosures are bigger than others. However, everything looked clean to me. The website reiterates that the animals on exhibit at the zoo come from other zoos or private collections, and are not taken from the wild.
  • See a waterfall too!: The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo is literally 10 minutes from the entrance to Cunningham Falls State Park in Thurmont, MD. That means you could visit the zoo while you are camping at the park, or you could easily add a short hike to Cunningham Falls to the beginning or ending of your zoo trip day.


I can’t say enough great things about the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo. Sweet Pea and I had a blast and we stayed literally all day long.

If you decide to take your kids, I hope you have a great time as well!

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