Got a little animal lover in the family? The Smithsonian National Zoo probably springs to mind as the first place to visit in DC, and for good reason—it's famous, it's free, and it's home to more than 2,500 animals. But there are many animal farms and petting zoos near DC where kids can get up close and hands-on with all kinds of animals, from barnyard friends like goats and sheep to bison and zebras. Families can even feed the animals at many of these petting zoos and farms, and really—who wouldn't want to bottle feed a baby cow?
Here are 10 great animal farms and petting zoos in Northern Virginia and Maryland where kids can have memorable animal encounters. For more zoo and farm fun, check out our Guide to Farms in Washington, DC and our list of the best zoo in every state.
Many animals are waiting to meet you at Leesburg Animal Park. Photo courtesy of the park
Great Animal Farms and Petting Zoos in Northern Virginia
Kids will love to feed and pet the roaming goats, sheep, llamas, and other farm animals at Leesburg Animal Park's great petting zoo. The fun doesn't stop there, though. Families can also enjoy live animal shows, take a wagon ride, and see exotic animals like camels, squirrel monkeys, and African-crested porcupines. For kids, there are indoor and outdoor playgrounds, pony rides, and an indoor Discovery Room with crafts and other hands-on activities.
Formerly Reston Zoo and then Roer's Zoofari, this great little zoo is now called Nova Wild. Families can get up close with nine different species—including bison, llamas, fallow deer, and more—on a self-drive safari. There are also many other reptiles, amphibians, arachnids, birds, and smaller mammals on display. At the on-site petting zoo, families can feed goats, sheep, zebu, and other barnyard friends.
Related: 12 Great Places to Explore the Natural World in the Washington, DC Area
How many baby animals can you spot at Frying Pan Farm Park? Photo courtesy of the park
Kids can hang out with horses, chickens, peacocks, rabbits, sheep, goats, cows and pigs at Kidwell Farm, Frying Pan Farm Park's recreation of a '30s working homestead. Wagon rides and farm tours are also available. Once they've had their fill of the farm, kids can play on the playground and ride the 1920s carousel. Admission to the park and the farm are free, but the carousel costs a small fee.
Cuddle baby goats at Georges Mill Farm. Photo courtesy of the farm
Families can make an appointment to visit this eighth-generation family farm that specializes in producing goat cheese, pastured pork, and eggs. Kids will love seeing the farm's resident goats, pigs, and chickens at any time, but the real fun happens in March and April. That's when families can purchase tickets to bottle feed and/or snuggle baby goats on weekends. Each ticket is good for one hour of time with the goats.
This farm is known for its 12-acre play area that includes several mazes, jumping pillows, a ninja obstacle course, mini golf, slides, wooden play structures, and more. But it also has a barnyard area where families can feed goats and meet pot-bellied pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese. Great Country Farms is open mid March through the end of August and all of October.
Great Animals Farms and Petting Zoos in Maryland
Though this farm inside Watkins Regional Park is not a petting zoo, it's a great place for kids to learn about farm life in Maryland. Families can interact with agricultural exhibits and display gardens and see plenty of farm animals, including horses, pigs, chickens, llamas, and more. The farm also offers curriculum-based programs and other activities. Old Maryland Farm is open Tuesdays through Sundays.
Related: 10 Amazing Drive-thru Zoos and Safaris
Careful—your kiddo might beg for a pet goat! Photo courtesy of Clark's Elioak Farm
This farm is truly magical for young kids, with a fairy garden, an enchanted forest, storytimes, pony rides, train and wagon rides, and more. There's also a petting zoo with goats, cows, pigs, sheep, and other friendly farm animals. The farm is open early April through early November on Tuesdays through Sundays.
At Green Meadows Petting Farm, visitors can get hands-on and up close with more than 200 animals, including plenty of babies! Unlike at most petting zoos, the farm provides the food for free, so little ones can feed to their hearts' content. Other activities include pig races, hayrides, slides, a large play area, and more. The farm is open on various dates from early April through mid November.
Bottle-feed baby cows at South Mountain Creamery. Photo by Adam Fagan, CC BY-SA 2.0
This family-owned working farm is home to over 500 dairy cows and a whopping 16,000 chickens. Families can tour the entire farm (either guided or self-guided), including the Milking Barn, the Cow Barns, the Maternity Ward, and the Calf Barn. They can also watch the cows get milked each day from 1:30-3:30pm. And on weekends and school holidays (including every day in the summer), they can even bottle-feed baby cows! Bottle-feeding reservations must be made in advance online. Don't forget to stop by Karen's Kountry Store for some fresh ice cream made on-site.
Related: 11 Best US Aquariums for Your Next Family Vacation
Go on safari at Catoctin Wildlife Preserve. Photo courtesy of the preserve
This 50-acre park is home to hundreds of exotic animals including bears, monkeys, panthers, alligators, and more. There is also a butterfly garden and opportunities to pet and feed animals like deer, sheep, and alpacas. Families can also take a one-hour safari ride that will allow them to interact with and feed zebras, bison, camels, antelope, and more. The preserve is open daily from early April through the end of October.