Growing up in a small town in central Texas, I never knew that there was a 137 acre Exotic Resort Zoo outside of a city that we drove through almost every weekend on our way to either a soccer match or swim meet. Honestly, I don’t know how this was overlooked!
The Exotic Resort Zoo is located 4 miles outside of Johnson City, Texas. Johnson City is probably best known as being the hometown of President Lyndon Johnson – and no, it was not named after him.
How does a resort like this pop up in the middle of Texas Hill Country you might ask? Well, it all started with a young Canadian Elk named Dottie. You can read more about the story here. As you would expect, in the past 20+ years the resort has expanded and is now teeming with animals, over 700 at last count, from 80 different species.
As you drive in, the welcome building is rather small but you won’t miss it. You will pay your entrance fees here – $14.95 for adults, $12.95 for children and $13.95 for seniors. The resort does offer a military discount with ID. The small building is also filled with toys that you might find at a larger zoo – stuffed animals, figurines, and educational games. The most important thing that you can get while here though, is a bucket (or two) of feed. Each bucket is $6. For those of you city folk, the typical feed bucket is about this size:
For the length of tour, number of animals, and depending on how “feed-happy” your kids are, I would suggest purchasing 1 bucket per 2 people.
The first tour of the day departs at 09:00 am. If you are like me and hate the heat, be sure to get on this ride. The trailers are covered, but this is Texas y’all – it gets HOT! And when it gets hot, the animals aren’t as keen to get out of the shade to follow you for their food.
So once you have your feed buckets, make your way out the back of the building towards the gathering point. You will pass several petting zoo enclosures on your way. Resist the urge to feed all of the cute goats, llamas, alpacas and other little animals and save food for the ride. You can always come back to the petting zoo with leftover feed after your tour.
Another suggestion (from someone who raised goats)…leave your feed bucket outside of their pen. Those little tricksters will swarm and like a well-oiled pickpocket team, will steal your food!
We usually spend a good amount of time with the goats. When we have visited, many of the goats were still pregnant or had just had their kids. Baby goats are probably some of the most adorable and funniest things you will encounter! Proof here and here…ok and one more just because I can here.
So after your initial plan failed of making it straight to the trailer, round up the kids from the petting zoo and head that way. We try to make it there for the first ride of the day but end up going on the second or third. It hasn’t been an issue for us though – the trailers have always had some extra room.
The other nice thing about a smaller venue is that there really aren’t set schedules (besides the first tour at 9:00 am and the last departing at 5:00 pm) so come and go as you like. A group usually leaves every 15 minutes.
The trailers are large with wooden benches along the side, a railing surrounding it, and a covered top. The trailers that we used both had a decent step up and into them. I am not sure about accommodations for elderly or disabled.
Once you start the tour and get moving, everyone usually stands or kneels on the benches to get a better view of the animals and to greet them when they come looking for food.
The experienced tour guides provide a wealth of knowledge while making the rounds through the park. They will be sure to point out different species, individual animals and those “special personalities” throughout the park. For example, one of the camels will give “kisses” to those holding a piece of feed in their mouths. Just don’t mistake it for the camel that hates kisses! Just kidding.
I was surprised (ok not really) that both of my children wanted to take part in the camel kisses. With our hands full, we weren’t able to take pictures and I forgot to grab them from a fellow visitor who captured them on her phone. Now she has some crazy lady kissing a camel in her photo library and I have no pictures of my sweet encounter. I see another trip in our future….
I think that these gentle giants were the highlight of the trip for the kids. Now when I ask them what they are thankful for at dinner time, our two year old always says, “camels”. Thank you Exotic Resort Zoo! Haha.
Some of the first inhabitants to make your acquaintance will be the Highland cows from Scotland. These guys are a long haired variety who have adapted for the cold Scottish winters. Let me tell you – they can also pack in some food! That tongue just guides food (and small children’s hands) down a never ending abyss! You could just pour the bucket and he would be perfectly happy. With the amount of food that he can take at one time, he can afford to be a bit lazy. He doesn’t follow the trailer far. He will just wait for the next one to come.
With so many animals, the kids were always pointing out some new and amazing friend.
Many of these gentle creatures will be face to face with you in the trailer. How much closer could you get?!
It is so fun to see your kids learning about the animals of the world, how to interact with them and conservation efforts in place to save some of these endangered species.
Look at these eyes! The resort has several of the world’s largest antelope, the Elands. They are just beautiful!
One of my favorite animals on the trip is this gorgeous white elk…? I think it is an elk – not positive though.
Addison is waiting, patiently I might add, to feed my friend.
And there he comes .
The Barbary sheep looked like a tough gang following us.
There are only two types of animals that you can’t feed by hand in the park – the first being the zebra who are notorious for biting. In general, zebras are aggressive animals who rear, kick and bite in defense. You have to be tough to survive on the plains of Africa!
While writing this, I found that there are actually three distinct species of zebras – the plains zebra, Grévy’s zebra and Mountain zebra. I believe that these animals are the Plains zebra for a couple of reasons: the Grévy’s zebra has stripes that stop on the belly and by the tail and the Mountain zebra has a dewlap. These guys do not exhibit either of these traits.
The second type of animals that you can’t feed by hand are the birds – ostrich, emu and rhea.
The cool part is that you are still able to pet them, you just feed them straight out of the bucket. Pick it up and let them peck away! The ostrich are even tall enough to steal food over the railing from those riders looking the other direction.
As you pull back through the gates to end your official tour, feel free to tip the driver for the ride and their expertise. At this point we usually look at the lemurs and porcupines as we head back to the petting zoos one last time.
By no means do you have to end here. You are more than welcome to stay and picnic at one of the tables in the shade of the oak trees. And if you prefer to stay longer, book one of the five on-site, cedar cabins to get up close and personal.
These cabins are in the middle of the park, right next to the lake and the kangaroo exhibit. If only I could take a kangaroo home….
All cabin rentals come with a complimentary daily tour, access to the two pools and hot tub, playground, fishing at the lake, game room with pool table, outdoor cooking, bonfires, and probably best of all – a front porch perfect for watching the animals.
So come! Relax a while! Visit with the amazing animals at the Exotic Resort Zoo in Johnson City. Never know – we might see you there!