Exotic Animal Adventure…in Strawberry Plains, TN

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This weekend I was visiting my best friend from college after too long a separation. She’s based in the Knoxville area, so we were looking for things to do. Dollywood was closed (who knew it wasn’t open all year round!?) but she found a groupon for Circle G Ranch Drive-Thru Safari and Petting Zoo. This had all the potential of being awesome and at the least, hilariously funny if it were lame, so we jumped on it.

On Saturday we headed out to Strawberry Plains, driving through a pretty residential area, when we arrived at Circle G a few minutes before it opened. You need to paint yourself a picture of driving through Tennessee countryside with low-slung brick ramblers and fronch porch white houses and then across the street you see zebras and antelope. Totally surreal.exotic animals in tn

While we were waiting for the gates to open, the cutest little pig purposefully heads over in our direction to check us out through the fence before bustling along to the lake for a drink and then back to the food troughs. An emu also stopped by to check us out. WOW.

Circle G Pig Welcome

Circle G Ranch Emu Welcome

So as we’re driving up to the window to pay for entrance the little pig comes back and hangs out around the cars, worrying us no end of accidentally running him over.

Circle G Ranch payment


Circle G Pig Patrol


We’d seen on the website that for $15 you could rent a jeep. My friend drives a sedan and it would probably feel more like a “safari” in a jeep anyway, so we decided to do it. It turned out to be a great decision as the roads were gravel and steep, the windows soon became smeared with animal drool and occasionally a horn would hit the side. But I’m jumping ahead.

The Jeep wound up being an old Ford Explorer with the brake and check engine light permanently on (a little stressful). We bought 3 buckets of feed and were told we could go through the park as many times as we wished, so I started off driving and my friend would take the second lap so I could experience the animals.

Circle G Ranch 1

We were the second car to enter the area and we weren’t even across the cattle guard before two emus blocked our way. I start freaking out because I’m inching forward, they’re not moving and I was sure I was going to hit them! Shannon was laughing her head off and telling me it was going to be ok until suddenly the emu came around the side of the car and stuck its evil head right into the window.

Circle G Ranch Emu scare

She screamed and it was my turn to laugh. We moved forward a little further into the park and were suddenly swarmed by antelope, other cool horned creatures, pigs, and emu.

Circle G Ranch 2nd round

At that point we were both shrieking as heads unexpectedly invaded the windows and blocked the road forward. It was awesome, frightening, and with regards to driving, extremely stressful and put us into peals of laughter.

This was better than we possibly dreamed. We kept our windows mostly closed except a small crack at the top and enjoyed the site of pot-bellied pigs competing with antelope for the food.

Circle G Ranch pig and antelope

We assumed we’d just be making a small lap around the barn, but as we continued on the trail, we realized there was a good 2-3 miles of road to cover. Hmm…

With antelope running to keep up with the car we headed down the hill (at which point the ABS light came on — YIKES) and saw some zebras coming towards us a trot. Angry, pushy zebras. Some mountain goats (?) also came running. For several minutes we were trapped with noses in the window and big bodies blocking the car, and a good time was had by all.

Circle G Ranch Mountain goats running

Circle G Ranch Zebra invasion

Circle G Ranch More zebra invasion

The highlight was the adorable baby zebra shyly checking us out.

Circle G Ranch baby zebra

We finally got through and my nerves got a much needed break as we hit a stretch with no animals. I even exclaimed delightedly as a lone mountain goat came down the slope to meet us. Little did I know what was in store.

Circle G Ranch lone mountain goat
Giant giant cattle. Longhorns, maybe water buffalo? and they wanted food with a vengence.

Circle G Ranch cattle blockade

Huge tongues started licking the windows and we could hear long horns knocking against the car as they searched for food.

Circle G Ranch Longhorn

Circle G Ranch cow welcome
10 minutes later we’d cracked the windows open just enough to throw food car away from the car and distract them as we moved on. We had a welcome stretch of about half a mile of forested hills but no animals. At least we hoped no animals.
Circle G Ranch bears

Then llamas appeared on the horizon, even more insistent then any previous animals had been.

Circle G Ranch llamas on the run

Circle G Ranch llama hello

From the llamas were camels behind fences (thank goodness or they probably would have kicked the car) and then donkeys gnawing on the windows.

Circle G Ranch Camel


It took about 45 minutes and I was exhausted from laughing, shrieking, and riding the breaks trying not to hit animals. Now it was Shannon’s turn. At this point the park was hopping with numerous cars out on the road. The animals had had quite a bit more feed at this point and while still aggressive were not quite as terrifying with their intensity, which I thought was totally unfair. Shannon should have had the “full” experience.

But it was nice to go through the areas, although I was still intimidated by the giant insistent noses. Something interesting we noted was cars with kids had their windows all the way down and though the animals were as far in the vehicle as possible there didn’t seem to be any licking or biting.

Circle G Ranch windows down

As we made the second circuit only a few new highlights, a mountain goat jumping and head butting the open window when we didn’t give it feed and the enclosure of strange horned animals.

Circle G Ranch 4 horns

After returning the “jeep” we headed to the petting zoo filled with enthusiastic goats
Circle G Ranch petting zoo goats

Circle G Ranch petting zoo pose

The fluffiest chickens ever!

Circle G Ranch fluffy chicken

And a baby camel who was happy to be petted although after a while the mom was not so happy.

Circle G Ranch baby camel

Circle G Ranch baby camel and mom

I HIGHLY recommend this awesome experience to everyone! And definitely bring an SUV or rent the jeep. They offer truck rides, but we both found the idea of open benches with potentially screaming kids, and not being able to avoid getting licked, unappealing.


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Living for the little (and big things) that make life so fun, especially mistake deals and crazy last minute weekend mileage runs across the world. www.twitter.com/klatravel


  1. PH

    March 11, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    I was just at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, but no nuzzling from the musk ox, bison, elk, etc.

    • Keri

      March 12, 2013 at 10:17 am

      I got to see the baby musk ox when I was there 1 1/2 years ago and it was one of the cutest things I’ve seen. I’d have been afraid to drive through any of the other enclosures though. That moose looked mad!

  2. Rkstrr

    March 16, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    As you-shual… the pixs were great…. always/especially the food. Knoxville, huh?

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