You can have a ton of fun with your family seeing exotic animals in sanctuaries. Animal sanctuaries exist to protect and enhance the lives of abandoned and orphaned animals, as well as those retired from circuses and the entertainment industry. Most sanctuaries listed below are accredited or verified through the GFAS (Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries).
Guided by an animal-centric approach, a lot of sanctuaries do not allow visitors at all, but here are a few you are able to visit. Some require you to be a member in order to visit, as it takes a lot to feed and care for these amazing animals. Usually you’ll need to book your tour in advance, but hey—planning is part of the fun of going RVing.
Big Cat Rescue • Tampa, FL
Big Cat Rescue is one of the largest accredited sanctuaries in the world dedicated to big cats like lions, tigers, and cougars. Most of the cats are abandoned, abused, orphaned, or retired from performing acts. They have been rescuing cats for 15 years.
Black Pine Animal Sanctuary • Albion, IN (near Fort Wayne)
Black Pine Animal Sanctuary is a Professional Animal Retirement Center providing refuge to big cats, bears, monkeys, reptiles, parrots, and more. Tours of the sanctuary and other educational programs are offered year-round, although they are closed on Wednesdays. Depending upon the tour, fees can range from $4 to $25 per person.
Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch • Murchison, TX (near Dallas)
Founded in 1979 by author Cleveland Amory, the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch sits on 1,400 acres in the hills of East Texas and has around 40 species for a total of nearly 1,000 animals—from chimps and camels to horses and tigers. This sanctuary is located about 90 minutes south-southeast of Dallas and is open to the public 1-2 times per month for small, guided tours.
Center for Great Apes • Wauchula, FL (near Fort Myers)
The Center for Great Apes is only open once a year to the public and once a year for their annual Membership Day. Large ape habitats have attached night houses to provide sleeping space at night plus a place to rest during the day. Chimpanzees and orangutans live and play in tropical forest surroundings. Twelve large three-story high domed enclosures provide outdoor living areas. They are located about 90 minutes north of Fort Myers.
Chimps Inc. Sanctuary • Bend, OR
A smaller sanctuary founded by Lesley Day in 1995, Chimps Inc. currently houses seven chimpanzees and a Canadian Lynx. These animals were rescued or retired from the pet and entertainment industries. This sanctuary is close to the beautiful Three Sisters Mountains a little over two hours east of Eugene, OR. Tours are limited to once a month from May through September.
Wild Paws Midwest Animal Sanctuary • Anoka, MN (near Minneapolis)
This sanctuary rescues native wild animals including wolves, coyotes, black bears, and bobcats. All animals were either pets, used for entertainment, or from non-reputable animal parks and zoos. The sanctuary’s strength is education on how humans and animals can coexist. They are a little over a half-hour north of Minneapolis.
The Elephant Sanctuary • Honenwald, TN (near Nashville)
As the name suggests, The Elephant Sanctuary is all about elephants. They house rescued retired circus elephants and zoo elephants both Asian and African species. 2,700 acres are available for the great grey beasts to roam and be happy. The Elephant Sanctuary has been providing peaceful surroundings for more than 20 years. They are located about two hours southwest of Nashville via the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Lions, Tigers, and Bears • Alpine, CA (near San Diego)
Lions Tigers & Bears, founded in 2002, sits on 93 acres on the fringe of the Cleveland National Forest. Twenty acres of the sanctuary are dedicated to providing species-specific habitats for big cats and bears. This sanctuary’s focus is providing peace and tranquility for their rescued animal residents to have rested, dignified days for the rest of their lives. They are located about two hours east of San Diego.
Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) • Galt, CA (near Sacramento)
PAWS is a rescue operation that helps retired performing animals and rescues wildlife used as pets or for entertainment. They have big cats to elephants and everything in between. This sanctuary has open house events known as Educational Weekend Getaways to see the elephants. PAWS is located less than an hour south of Sacramento.
Project Perry Central Virginia Parrot Sanctuary • Louisa, VA (near Richmond)
Project Perry/The Central Virginia Parrot Sanctuary is dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, and sanctuary of captive parrots. The parrots are housed in wide-open areas to allow them to fly and flock with little encumbrance. They have one annual open house. They are located a little over an hour northwest of Richmond.
Safe Haven Wildlife Sanctuary • Imlay, NV (near Reno)
The 32-acre Safe Haven Wildlife Sanctuary is a little more than two hours northeast of Reno off I-80. Safe Haven specializes in a wide variety of abandoned exotic pets, particularly wildcats, including bobcats and tigers. The facility offers tours seven days a week.
Save The Chimps • Fort Pierce, FL (near Fort Lauderdale)
Save the Chimps is dedicated toward the care of rescued chimpanzees from exotic pet ‘owners’ to retired film industry and other entertainment avenues. They have Member Days twice a year as well as an annual ‘Chimpathon’ race in the spring. Save The Chimps is located about two hours north of Fort Lauderdale.
Oasis Sanctuary • Cascabel, AZ (near Tucson, AZ)
Exotic birds are the emphasis at Oasis Sanctuary. This sanctuary is a 71-acre refuge for exotic birds like parrots, cockatoos, macaws; and other birds including finches, canaries, doves, and racing pigeons. Due to the idyllic dry climate, these birds can be outdoors year-round.
Oasis welcomes visitors provided you contact them in advance. They are located about a 90-minute drive around Mica Mountain northeast of Tucson.
Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge • Eureka Springs, AR (near Branson, MO)
Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge was opened to give big cats such as tigers, lions, leopards and cougars a refuge from previous lives of neglect. One of the largest big cat sanctuaries, Turpentine Creek, located a bit over an hour southwest of Branson, Misouri, has a self-guided area and guided tours beginning at 10am every day.
Wolf Haven International • South Puget Sound, WA (near Seattle)
Wolf Haven International, located less than 90 minutes southwest of Seattle, is a nationally-recognized wolf sanctuary. Since 1982, they have rescued and provided a lifetime home for 200 displaced, captive-born wolves. Not only can you see these magnificent animals, you can walk Wolf Haven’s trail through native prairie and enjoy indigenous flowers, birds, and butterflies.
Have you been to an animal sanctuary? Any we missed? Let us know in the comments!