When it comes to learning about animals, St. Louis more than earns its tiger stripes, with options ranging from traditional farm experiences and wildlife viewing to adventure-packed safaris amongst animals from far-off lands. Take a walk on the wild side with your little critters at these top destinations for animal encounters of the fuzzy, furry and feathered kind.
Big Joel's Safari With more than 60 animal species in an intimate, farm-like setting, Big Joel's Safari is a neat spot for little animal lovers. Visitors can meet camels, zebras, llamas, porcupines, ostriches and numerous reptiles. Open Thursdays through Sundays April through October, Big Joel's also offers holiday events for families. General admission is $6 and free for 2 and under.
Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary Make a drive to Ste. Genevieve to visit Thor, Alexis, Gracie, Izzy and Survana, the big cats that call Crown Ridge Tiger Sanctuary home. Crown Ridge advocates wild cat conservation and education and provides lifelong care for abused, neglected and unwanted big cats. The sanctuary offers 45-minute walking tours of the facility, including an opportunity to observe and learn more about tigers. General tours are $10 per person (free for 3 and under). Visit the sanctuary's website for the current tour schedule.
Endangered Wolf Center A visit to the Endangered Wolf Center is a great way to introduce children to the concept of conservation and the importance of protecting endangered species. Families can learn more about wolves and the Endangered Wolf Center's efforts to protect them by taking a tour, working with animal trainers, and participating in spring and summer camps. For an unforgettable experience join the center for a Campfire Wolf Howl, which includes campfire stories about wolves, hot cocoa and a bit of howling at the moon. Costs for tours and programs vary.
Endangered Wolf Center is located at 6750 Tyson Valley Rd., Eureka, MO, 63025. Reservations are required for all tours. Call 636-938-5900.
Grant's Farm For many local families, bottle feeding hungry goats at Grant's Farm is an annual summer tradition. Don't be fooled by the name; this "farm" is also home to zebras, elephants, camels, lemurs and more. Visitors can take a tram ride through Deer Park, feed the parakeets and explore the famed Budweiser Clydesdale Stables. Though admission is free, additional charges apply for parking and certain attractions.
Grant's Farm is located at 10501 Gravois Rd., St. Louis, MO, 63123.
Purina Farms With dog shows, pet care resources, and free admission, Purina Farms is a dog-lovers delight. In the barn visitors can explore a hayloft, swing from ropes and watch cow-milking demonstrations. In fall the barn is converted into a Haunted Hayloft, and in the spring it becomes a Springtime Village, where visitors can see baby bunnies, chicks and more.
Purina Farms is located at 200 Checkerboard Loop, Gray Summit, MO, 63039. Saint Louis Zoo With fun opportunities for interaction like the sea lion shows, memorable exhibits including River's Edge and the Fragile Forest, an abundance of children's programming and free general admission, it's no wonder the Saint Louis Zoo remains not only one of St. Louis's most popular destinations, but among the top zoos in the nation. Families visiting the Saint Louis Zoo for the first time should plan a full day in order to fully explore the zoo and all it has to offer.
The Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House For kids that are more interested in creatures of the creepy, crawly variety, a trip to The Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House is a must. The Butterfly House's tropical conservatory is two parts science, one part pure wonder as visitors explore lush foliage surrounded by delicate, fluttering butterflies. Throughout the year The Butterfly House offers a Bug Hunt, a Firefly Festival, classes, tea parties and more. Kids who can't get enough of entomology will enjoy the Insect Keeper for a Day program, which includes a behind-the-scenes look at The Butterfly House.
The Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House is located in Faust Park at 15193 Olive Blvd., Chesterfield, MO, 63017. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for seniors, $5 for children ages 3-12 and free for children 2 and under.
Suson Farm For farm fun that's sure to earn a stamp of approval from Old McDonald himself, spend a day exploring Suson Farm, which is home to the usual menagerie of farm animals. Families can also pack a rod and reel and head to the old fishing hole at this St. Louis County Park. Admission to Suson Farm is free.
Suson Farm is located at 6073 Wells Rd., St. Louis, MO, 63128.
Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge Though curious minds can research animals in the pages of books or with a great documentary, the best way to truly understand an animal is to observe it in its natural habitat. Managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge is a perfect vantage point to view more than 200 bird species throughout the year, including waterfowl in the spring and bald eagles in the winter. Turkeys, beavers, muskrats and deer can also be spotted at the refuge, which is located on the Mississippi Flyway in Brussels, Illinois. In addition to wildlife viewing, Two Rivers National Wildlife Refuge offers hiking trails, fishing and environmental education programs.
Wildlife Rescue Center Visitors to the Wildlife Rescue Center can learn how this wildlife rehabilitation center provides tender loving care to even the tiniest creatures. The center treats more than 2,000 sick, injured and orphaned native wildlife, many of which are able to return to the wild. Located on 15 acres near Castlewood State Park, the Wildlife Rescue Center includes woodland, grassland, a creek and a pond, making it a perfect spot for injured animals to heal and a neat place for children to visit and explore. Wildlife Rescue Center also offers educational programs including camps and family events like Spring Tails, which celebrates the center's floppy-eared inhabitants.
World Bird Sanctuary How do veterinarians treat the fragile bones of injured birds? Find out during a visit to the World Bird Sanctuary, which treats more than 300 injured birds each year at its onsite wildlife hospital. World Bird Sanctuary also works to protect bird species through education, rehabilitation and propagation programs. Nestled in more than 300 acres of forest near Lone Elk County Park, the World Bird Sanctuary offers Owl Prowls, a popular Birds in Concert summertime series, Keeper Talks and more, as well as events like Midwest BatFest and World Eagle Day. All events and parking at the World Bird Sanctuary are free.
Best Bets articles represent the views and the research completed by St. Louis Sprout & About journalists and are not driven by advertising or requests by vendors or venues. Best Bets do not imply an endorsement of a business or activity.