By Sydni Ellis
Mud splatters your shoes as you make your way down the Enchanted Forest Trail. Spring is almost here, and the earthy mulch mixes with a sweet floral scent in the warm breeze, creating the most natural perfume. Romantic, mystical statues stand prominently among colorful plants and wildflowers. It’s a beautiful sight to take in—especially after the below-freezing temperatures of last month—but you’ll hardly notice it. Despite the gorgeous setting and the near-perfect weather, your eyes are focused on one thing only: the amazing llama guiding you down the path!
Llama walks are a fun way to get outside, bond with unique animals, and relieve stress (which we could all use right now!). In fact, regularly walking or playing with animals can decrease blood pressure and cholesterol levels, make you feel less lonely, more positive, and increase your fitness, according to the CDC. And while spending time with your beloved puppy or cat at home is always a good idea, Texas has many cool animal adventures just waiting for you. Get ready for a month of cute creatures, one-of-a-kind experiences, and amazing picture opportunities when you check out one of the animal adventures listed below!
Seven royal llamas live in a beautiful fairytale-like palace called ShangriLlama Castle, tucked in the charming countryside of Royse City. Meet the royal King of the Castle Barn Dalai Llama, a regal white llama with mystical blue eyes, and Prince of the Castle Barn Barack O’Llama, a happy second-in-command focused on “universal hoofcare” and fostering “positive thinking among two-toed creatures,” according to his bio. The other llamas include Duke Como T. Llama, Earl Bahama Llama, Viscount Pajama Llama, Baron Drama Llama, and Knight Sir Lance-O-Llama.
These pedigreed llamas love finding delicious grass to eat, practicing tricks, performing in shows, walking brides down the wedding aisle, appearing in TV shows and commercials, and of course, leading groups of people on long llama walks through the nearby forest. Although you can’t ride on the llama (that would be super dangerous and harmful to them), they will happily walk alongside you, pose prettily for selfies, and guide you around the magical grounds of ShangriLlama during your 2-and-a-half-hour walk. If you want to learn more, you can also sign up for a one-hour llama lesson, where Mama Llama and Llama Lady teach you over 150 facts about these amazing animals! Tickets for the walk are $50 per person (ages 8 and up). shangrillama.com.
Another way to get up close and personal with exotic animals is by going to a wildlife ranch! Meet rare and endangered wildlife at Sharkarosa Wildlife Ranch in Pilot Point, including alpacas, beefalo, dromedary camels, emu, giant zebras, pot-bellied pigs, white tailed deer, red ruffed lemurs, African-crusted porcupines, American black bears, miniature donkeys, albino eastern gray kangaroos, two-toed sloths, white lions, miniature cows and horses, red-tailed boa, and a bearded dragon among others. Be sure to sign up for a private animal encounter while you’re there (open to 1-6 people for $100 each), where you can pet, feed, and take pictures with an alligator, kangaroo, sloth, lemur, or other animal. The ranch is open to the public every Friday-Sunday for $12. sharkarosa.com. The TGR Exotics Wildlife Park in spring is another cool choice, offering many unique chances to meet some of the 100+ animals. Examples include seeing and touching pythons and boas, meeting magnificent cats, playing with silly spider monkeys, petting sloths, and getting a behind-the-scenes look at what a zookeeper does every day. Prices vary. tgrexotics.com.
Go on a safari adventure without leaving Texas when you visit the Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Glen Rose. Visit this non-profit animal conservation center—which conducts scientific research, trains professionals, and manages natural resources and public education—to learn about the over 1,100 animals on site. Drive your car or go on a guided tour of the 7.2-mile Gosdin Scenic Drive, where you will be given a cup of food to feed the giraffes, rhinos, zebras, and more as you pass by and a Species ID Guide to discover the different types of animals. You are encouraged to pull over to stop and watch the wildlife roam around you. Don’t forget to take plenty of pictures! Tickets are $24.95 per person. fossilrim.org.
Horseback riding is one of my favorite things to do, and one of the coolest places to go is Southfork Ranch in Parker. Home of the iconic TV show, “Dallas,” Southfork Ranch offers trail rides for up to six people, where you can enjoy the beautiful outdoors on one of the most majestic creatures in the animal kingdom. Tickets start at $50 for a one-hour ride; (riders must be at least 8 years old.) For those animal enthusiasts who want to learn even more about horses, sign up for Equestrian Day instead ($295 per person). From 9 a.m.-4 p.m. hang out on the ranch, take a horse lesson, go on a trail ride, and learn about horse caring/feeding, stable care, horse anatomy, leading, grooming and tacking. Lunch and a gift shop credit is included. southforkranch.com.
Interested in an under-the-sea encounter? Visit the breathtaking Texas State Aquarium in Corpus Christi, home of many species that represent the marine ecosystems found in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. Through the lens of a 68-foot-long window, you can see a Spanish galleon shipwreck, filled with reef sharks, barracudas, stingray, angelfish and other species swimming around. In the aquatic nursery, watch the birth and growth of moon jellies, cuttlefish and bamboo sharks. Other amazing exhibits include the Coral Reef, Dolphin Bay, Islands of Steel, Stingray Lagoon, Eagle Pass, Otter Creek, Tortuga Cay, Wild Flight Theater, and more. Admission is $37.95. texasstateaquarium.org. Or take pictures of dolphins swimming at the South Padre Island Dolphin Research and Sea Life Nature Center, where Captain Scarlet Colley and Rozzi the Dolphin Dog will take up to six people on a boat ride to see the wild dolphins in Laguna Madre Bay. $25 per person. .
Of course, no animal adventure is complete without checking out the amazing zoos in the area! Named the number one zoo in North America by USA Today in 2020, the Fort Worth Zoo is home to 542 unique animal species, including 68 endangered and threatened species on the state and federal levels. Admission is $16. fortworthzoo.org. You could also visit the 106-acre Dallas Zoo, which is the oldest and largest zoo in the state. During your visit, you can feed the beautiful giraffes, visit with two dozen species of birds from around the globe, attend a Wild Encounters show to see a variety of animals, attend a Keeper Chat hosted by zoologists, and visit more than 2,000 animals. Tickets are $17. dallaszoo.com.
Whether you want to ride horses, feed giraffes, watch sharks swim, or walk with llamas, there are plenty of animal adventures available in Texas! Before the weather gets too hot and the busy summer season begins, take some time to enjoy the wonder, beauty, and spirit of these amazing creatures. Your mental health (and Instagram feed) will thank you for it!