Enjoy close encounters with plants and animals from all over the world at zoos, wildlife ranches and gardens in the Orlando area, including Harry P. Leu Gardens (pictured).
Updated June 21, 2021
Feeling the call of the wild? Come to Orlando, where unique zoos, wildlife ranches and gardens invite you to get up close and personal with an amazing array of flora and fauna. Orlando's great outdoors provides plenty of space to spread out while exploring an unexpected side of the wonders of Orlando. What's more, our zoos, gardens and other businesses are prioritizing guest safety with enhanced health and sanitization measures designed to protect you, so you can enjoy our wilder side with confidence!
Please note: Depending on the timing of your visit, some experiences may be temporarily modified. Learn more about healthy travel in Orlando, and check with your favorite attractions for their current status.
Orlando-Area Zoos and Wildlife Ranches
Disney's Animal Kingdom® Theme Park
Granted, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park at Walt Disney World® Resort isn't technically a zoo or a wildlife ranch — but it's still a great place to see all manner of fascinating beasts. Animal-lovers will particularly enjoy Kilimanjaro Safaris, which provides an 18-minute vehicle tour of real African creatures in their natural habitats, and Wild Africa Trek, a VIP tour featuring exotic wildlife.
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Self-guided walking tours are also available, including The Oasis Exhibits, Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail and Discovery Island Trails. Even closer encounters can be enjoyed at Conservation Station and Affection Section, the latter of which is a petting zoo.
Like Disney's Animal Kingdom, this long-running Orlando attraction is more theme park than zoo or ranch. Regardless, you'll find no shortage of fascinating reptiles at Gatorland — including the titular mascots — as well as birds, plant life and fun attractions like the Screamin' Gator Zip Line and Stompin' Gator Off-Road Adventure.
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Speaking of birds, from February through early June, Gatorland's Photographers Pass invites photo buffs and birding enthusiasts to enter the park at 7 a.m., Thursday through Sunday. It's a great opportunity to explore one of the largest and most accessible bird rookeries in Florida.
Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens
Located in Sanford, about 25 minutes north of downtown Orlando, Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens presents a relaxing, entertaining and educational experience for all ages. Inside, you'll find more than 400 animals representing over 150 local and exotic species, including mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and even insects. And as the zoo's name implies, it's also home to several unique and native plant species.
Learn more: Ecotourism in Orlando
Any zoo will let you get close to the featured animals, but Brevard Zoo is the only one in the country that offers a guided kayak tour around an animal exhibit. You'll also have the chance to feed giraffes, come in close contact with a massive rhinoceros and even stroke the scales of a baby gator ... if you dare! Other features include a shaded boardwalk and a kid-friendly lagoon. They're located in Melbourne on Florida's east coast, about an hour from downtown Orlando.
ZooTampa at Lowry Park
Although ZooTampa at Lowry Park is a little more than an hour from Walt Disney World on Florida's west coast, animal fanatics will find it to be worth the drive thanks to more than 1,300 critters in a beautiful, tropical setting. Up-close experiences abound, and the on-site manatee hospital provides the chance to see Florida's gentle giants year-round.
Save on discount tickets: ZooTampa at Lowry Park
Safari Wilderness Ranch
Head to Lakeland, about 40 minutes southwest of Walt Disney World, for Safari Wilderness Ranch, a unique attraction where you can opt for safaris via vehicle, kayak or camelback. Private safaris are also available, as are extras such as feeding lemurs, budgies and guinea pigs. Tours are offered daily at 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. by reservation only.
Don't let the name fool you — you'll encounter a lot more than the titular creatures at Giraffe Ranch, which offers intimate vehicle, camelback and even Segway safaris. Here, you can hand-feed giraffes and other species while learning about exotic animals and the ongoing conservation efforts to protect them. They're in Dade City, a little more than an hour northwest of downtown Orlando, and reservations are required.
Harry P. Leu Gardens
Featuring 50 acres of gorgeously cultivated gardens boasting more than 40 diverse plant collections from around the world, Harry P. Leu Gardens is located 15 minutes from downtown Orlando. It's also the site of a beautiful, 1880s-era family home, the Leu House Museum, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Learn more: Downtown Orlando
Bok Tower Gardens
One of Florida's oldest attractions, Bok Tower Gardens has been drawing visitors to Lake Wales, about an hour south of Walt Disney World, since 1929. The 250-acre gardens host a wide variety of plant life, including azaleas, camellias and magnolias, as well as 126 bird species, the threatened gopher tortoise and the endangered eastern indigo snake. Its centerpiece is the 205-foot Singing Tower, a neo-Gothic and Art Deco structure with a 60-bell carillon that rings daily.
Mead Botanical Garden
Not only does this 48-acre garden feature several different ecosystems, but admission is always free! Other reasons to visit include an expansive butterfly garden, as well as a boardwalk and bike trail that wind through the park. It's located in Winter Park, about 20 minutes from downtown Orlando, and open from 7:30 a.m. till dusk daily.
Learn more: Winter Park
Kraft Azalea Garden
Also located in Winter Park, this 5-acre public garden on the shore of Lake Maitland is open all year from 8 a.m. till dusk, and admission is free. Billed as the charming city's "secret garden," it's shaded by enormous cypress trees and boasts unique features like the Exedra, a columned, neoclassical structure that's perfect for wedding ceremonies and other special events.
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