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If you’re looking for an animal adventure in the Smoky Mountains, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve got traditional zoos, wildlife encounter zoos, petting zoos and even an underwater zoo… I mean, an aquarium!

These are places that my kids absolutely love going to. They each have their own favorite and we love visiting as often as we can.

watching a giraffe at a local zoo

Traditional Zoos

These zoos are your classic animal experience. You’ll see a variety of animals from all over the world, usually with educational information about them.

Knoxville Zoo

Just a short drive from Gatlinburg, Zoo Knoxville is one of the best in the area. With an amazing variety of animals representing multiple different species, there’s something for everyone to see. They have wonderful kid’s activities with a splash pad and carousel. It will take about an hour to get to Knoxville from Gatlinburg.

Things to Do: Animal encounters, behind the scenes tours, carousel, scooter pals, zipline, splash pad, zoo choo train and more.

Location: 3500 Knoxville Zoo Drive, Knoxville, TN

Learn more about the Knoxville Zoo here


Chattanooga Zoo

The Chattanooga Zoo is smaller than the Knoxville Zoo, but it’s still a great place to visit. They have a wonderful selection of animals, especially for being a smaller zoo. This is also farther away, at about two and a half hours, but there are so many other things to do in Chattanooga, including the Tennessee Aquarium. See our Chattanooga info here!

Things to do: Animal encounters, behind the scenes tours, giraffe feedings, petting zoo and more.

Location: 301 North Holtzclaw Ave, Chattanooga, TN

Learn more about the Chattanooga Zoo here

river otter in underwater viewing area

Wildlife Encounter Zoos

Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo

This is a rainforest zoo and a great place to visit if you want to see a lot of exotic animals very close to Gatlinburg. There are over 600 live animals representing over 130 different species from the rainforests of the world. It is open year round.

Things to do: Animal encounters and tons of animals including reptiles, mammals, birds, bugs and amphibians.

Location: 109 Nascar Dr, Sevierville, TN

Learn more about Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo here

Wildlife Encounter at Ober Gatlinburg

This is a great place to see animals in their natural habitat. You can ride the Ober Gatlinburg aerial tramway up to see bears, elk, deer and more. The black bears are a huge hit in this zoo attraction, and they have a black bear family in the Wildlife Encounter.

There are also many other species native to the area, including birds of prey, and we really love the river otters and their underwater viewing area. Please note that the bears hibernate during the winter months so they can’t be seen December through February.

Things to do: Animal encounters, educational shows, tram ride and more.

Location: 1001 Parkway, Suite 2, Gatlinburg, TN

Learn more about the Wildlife Encounter here

Feeding a small goat at a petting zoo in early spring

Petting Zoos

Smoky Mountain Deer Farm Exotic Petting Zoo

Animal lovers of all ages will love this chance to see and pet animals. They have over 50 different species of animals, including zebra, miniature horses, llamas, camels, emu and more on over 140 acres.

Things to do: Animal encounters and feedings, pony rides and horseback riding.

Location: 478 Happy Hollow Lane, Sevierville, TN

Learn more about the Smoky Mountain Deer Farm here


Parrot Mountain and Gardens

This is another great place for little ones to see animals. They are known for their beautiful gardens, but they also have a petting zoo with hundreds of tropical birds. Parrot Mountain also offers educational shows about the beautiful creatures that call Parrot Mountain home.

Things to do: Animal encounters and feedings, shows and more.

Location: 1471 McCarter Hollow Road, Pigeon Forge, TN

Learn more about Parrot Mountain and Gardens here


Big Rock Dude Ranch

This place is a little different than the others on our list. Big Rock Dude Ranch has great horseback riding on mountain trails, and they also have a petting zoo. You can feed and pet the animals, and buy a bag of feed for $3.

Things to do: Petting zoo, picnic area, horseback riding, fishing pond, gem mining and more.

Location: 909 Little Cove Rd, Pigeon Forge, TN

Learn more about Big Rock Dude Ranch here


Smoky Mountain Llama Treks

This is a great place to see llamas, and they offer llama treks where you can hike with one of their llamas. They also offer visits to the llama farm for those who aren’t into hiking but want to visit the llamas. While there you can feed and pet the llamas, too!

Things to do: Llama treks, feedings, and petting.

Location: 640 Padgett Mill Rd, Cosby, Tn.

Learn more about Smoky Mountain Llama Treks here

Ripley's Aquarium underwater shark tunnel

Underwater Zoos (AKA Aquariums)

Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies

Okay, so technically this isn’t a zoo… but it’s an amazing place to see all kinds of animals! (And aren’t aquariums really just underwater zoos?) Ripley’s Aquarium is one of the best in the country (it’s considered a world-class aquarium) and it’s right here in Gatlinburg. You can even feed the stingrays or touch a jellyfish!

Things to do: Animal encounters, glass bottom boat tours, educational shows, indoor play structures, interactive exhibits and more.

Location: 88 River Road, Gatlinburg, TN

Learn more about the Aquarium of the Smokies here

Final Thoughts on Zoos Near Gatlinburg TN

If you’re looking for a great place to see animals, Gatlinburg is the place for you! With so many zoos and animal encounters, you’re sure to find something that everyone in your family will love.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and explore the best zoos near Gatlinburg TN!

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