Wild animals in Greenville, South Carolina? Absolutely! There's nothing my family loves more than exploring the great outdoors, especially when we're searching for all kinds of critters (big and small) that live here. Finding opportunities for learning about and observing animals in Greenville County is easy, for little ones and grown-ups alike. Here's our idea of a fun family weekend spent viewing (and interacting) with the animal kingdom!
We love a stroll at Lake Conestee Nature Park, a 400-acre habitat along the Reedy River, shaped in part by the old Conestee Mill. There are several different places to park and start your animal-watching adventure, but we like to park at the main entrance off Mauldin Road (near I-85), where there are two trailheads. There we can peruse maps of all of the hiking trails, as well as two "Learning Loops." We love the shorter Learning Loops since they have information stations describing the area, such as how the mill and humans helped shape the natural surroundings and affected local wildlife.
If you're a keen-eyed animal lover like my daughter, you might catch a glimpse of a beautiful great blue heron, some yellow-bellied sliders, and a couple of white-tailed deer. Insider's Tip: Lake Conestee Nature Park is a favorite spot for local and regional "birding" enthusiasts, who help observe and record the various species found throughout the park during different times of the year. The Greenville County Bird Club even hosts guided bird trips in the park on the third Saturday of every month!
Time for "Second Saturday" at the Roper Mountain Science Center! RMSC is part of the Greenville County School System and is usually closed to the public, but on the second Saturday of each month, animal watchers and nature lovers from all over the Upstate can check them out. Where to begin? The Harrison Hall of Natural Science is full of live animal specimens found in our area and some exotic creatures, too. (Have you ever touched a tarantula?!) There is plenty of "hands-on" learning about habitats to be found around every turn. Our family's favorite is the Marine Lab where you can touch horseshoe crabs and learn about ocean diversity.
Before leaving, head out to the Living History Farm to see what life was like a long time ago in Greenville and the role animals played. Insider's Tip: During the spring and summer months, be sure to also visit the Butterfly Garden near the The Harrison Hall of Natural Science to observe the buzzing and fluttering antics of RMSC's busy bee and butterfly residents!
Break for a picnic! After swinging by one of our favorite sandwich shops (try either Midtown Deli on Woodruff Road or Saffron's West End Cafe downtown), head up to Paris Mountain State Park to take advantage of one of their picnic shelters. An Upstate gem, Paris Mountain offers hiking and biking trails, swimming in the summer, canoeing, and nature-loving year-round.
We love the seasonal "Ranger Walks," (guided, themed walks through different areas of the park), where park rangers encourage both kids and adults to ask questions about anything and everything seen along our walk. Afterwards, if you're lucky, you'll get to "fish" for creatures in the mountain creek, using nets to catch salamanders, tiny fish, tadpoles, and mayfly larvae. Then you'll take your "haul" to the Ranger Station and observe your discoveries under the microscopes and have the ranger explain the role and importance of each organism (before returning them back to where you found them, of course!). Insider's Tip: Camping at Paris Mountain State Park offers a weekend-long opportunity for animal watching and nature exploring. Check out the park's website for information on their campsites and amenities.
After a delicious brunch at Southern Culture Kitchen & Bar or Roost Restaurant (on North Pleasantburg Drive and downtown, respectively), we love to walk off some calories while we visit all of our animal friends at the Greenville Zoo. Situated on 14 acres inside Cleveland Park,the Greenville Zoo has lots of furry (and feathery and scaly) residents out for observation. The looping path takes about 1-1½ hours to complete, depending on how long you like to look at each animal. My daughter loves the Reptile House, especially the snakes. We also always visit Autumn, Walter, and Kiko-the Zoo's giraffe family-to say hello and see how much Kiko has grown! Kiko was born in October 2012, and is a zoo favorite.
My personal favorite exhibit is the orangutans. The mother, father, and Baby Bob are always playing and acting silly. No trip is complete without a stop at the zoo gift shop....and maybe a Popsicle from the snack bar? Insider's Tip: The Greenville Zoo offers many opportunities and events throughout the year like "Zoo Career Day" for middle and high school students, "Party for the Planet" Day, and "World Oceans" Day; all provide great ways to learn even MORE about animals. Visit their website for more details about upcoming events.
THAT Something Extra:
No Autographs, Please!
In nearby Wellford, South Carolina, Hollywild Animal Park is a fun place to see and learn about famous big-screen and small-screen animal celebrities that call the park home! Safari rides and feeding areas allow for even more animal interaction and their "Holiday Lights Safari" is a winter tradition for many Upstate families.
"Udderly" Awesome Animal Watching
Check out bovine beauties in their natural environment (green, country pastures) at the Happy Cow Creamery in Pelzer. This local, family-run dairy farm is famous for their fresh milk and cheese products, which are instant favorites for anyone who tries them - from foodies and families to celebrities and chefs!