There are many zoos that promise you’ll get ‘up close and personal’ with the animals. The Catoctin Mountain Wildlife Preserve and Zoo delivers. In one wild ride.

Yesterday, we packed a picnic and drove an hour west to Thurmont, Maryland, home of Cunningham Falls State Park and Catoctin Mountain Park (along with the Zoo). The Zoo was running a ‘dads get in free’ deal in honor of Father’s Day.

First stop on our trip? The Global Wildlife Safari Ride, of course! The Bug, Pat and I boarded the army surplus troop carrier (called a deuce and a half) for a bumpy jaunt through four paddocks and over 25 acres of roaming wildlife. We were given popcorn or stale bread to feed the animals in each paddock. We were licked by long purple tongues of North American Bison, brushed noses with Arabian Camels, cooed to a herd of standoffish Water Buffalo, and so much. more.

They warned us at the start of the Safari that it would be bumpy. That may have been the understatement of the year. The three of us were sitting in a trailer behind the deuce and a half, which lumbers through the terrain with the dexterity of an elephant. Once we hit a crater in the soil that sent me airborne – – and I ended up grabbing a fellow passenger’s leg in order to steady myself and the Bug. {{Now THERE’s a way to make friends….}}

The Bug loved every minute of our one hour trek.

The ‘hands on’ activities didn’t end there. Once we left the safari ride, we purchased $2 worth of ‘zoo food’ and could feed very grass feeding animal in the park. Giant tortoises, goats, llamas… you name it. We had a chance to chat with the keeper at the Bengal Tiger exhibit (and watch a white bengal tiger cub bound around his yard) and the . Our visit ended with a stroll through the butterfly garden, feeding the Koi at the Japanese-inspired pond, and watching the booted monkeys swing back and forth.

What I loved most about this park was the lush grounds and gorgeous landscaping. You didn’t feel like you were at a zoo at all. It felt like you were wandering through a wetland, or rainforest at some times. Well, the landscaping and the beyond friendly staff. Seemed like everywhere we turned there was a keeper asking us how we were, or ready to answer our questions.

Zoo admission is required for the Safari Ride, so the trip can be a little pricey. Even with Pat and the Bug having free admission to the zoo, our total cost was $54 and change. Safari rides are $14.95 for ages 13 and up, or $9.95 for children 2-12. Babies and toddlers under 36″ are not admitted on the ride because of safety concerns. One day admission for adults (over 13 years of age) is $16.95, and $9.95 for children 3-12. Kids under 3 are always free.

Worth every penny.

A few rookie mistakes we made:

  • Bring change. It costs two quarters to feed the koi. We didn’t have any and had to scramble.
  • Pack the hand sanitizer. As mentioned before, this zoo is very hands on. There are hand sanitizer stations around the zoo, they never seemed to be handy when we needed one.
  • Fruit Snacks. We forgot the fruit snacks (Currently, we’ve got a bag of Mots for Tots All natural ones in the house). There was a major public display of tantrum. Epic proportions. Only remedied by an organic vitamin c lollipop. Gotta love the terrible twos.
  • Make sure the camera battery is fully charged. There are TONS of great photo ops!

A great trip — and fabulous way to spend Father’s Day.

By the way, completely stroller friendly. Not that your kid will actually sit in it. Too much excitement. (But a great way to schlep your picnic goodies if you choose to bring them!).