The Best Places to Spot Animals and Wildlife in Asheville, NC
Attractions,  Family Friendly

The 12 Best Places to Spot Animals and Wildlife in Asheville

I often tell my kids I learned the most important lessons about life from observing animals. From watching birds at the birdfeeder at the Asheville Botanical Gardens to playing with black panthers at the House of Black Cat Magic to goofing around with my dog Dulce de Leche, animals are here to ground us and remind us that there is a natural rhythm of life. 

Our area is so rich in wildlife that you don’t need to do much to see and interact with animals in Asheville. For example, it’s not uncommon to walk around North Asheville and encounter black bears, wild turkeys, falcons, and deer in one stroll!

The Blue Ridge Parkway offers many possibilities for seeing animals near Asheville, too, from white-tailed deer to salamanders, foxes, and turtles, these mountains are overflowing with life. 

In addition to seeing wildlife in its natural habitat, there is a vast array of places where you can interact with rescued, farm, and domestic animals ready to be adopted. If you relish your animal encounters, I’ve compiled a list of some of the best places to see and interact with animals in Asheville! 

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The 12 Best Places to See Animals and Wildlife in Asheville

1. Meet Native Animals at the WNC Nature Center

Where to See Animals in Asheville: WNC Nature Center

The Western North Carolina Nature Center is home to 60 wild and domestic species, hosting mostly animals that have been permanently injured, can’t survive in the wild, or are endangered. You’ll love watching bears, wolves, red pandas, otters, goats, snakes, foxes, and other animals in their award-winning habitats surrounded by hundreds of native plants.

There are educational activities and programs for children and teens, summer camps, nature play areas, and gem and fossil mining. It’s the perfect place to spend a day with the family, enjoying the sunshine, picnicking, and learning about the Southern Appalachia fauna. 

Besides being one of the best places to see animals near Asheville, the WNC Nature Center is one of the most inclusive and accessible places to visit with disabled and neurodivergent kids near Asheville. It offers paved trails and sensory kits so everyone can enjoy their visit and the pretty creatures! 

Location: 75 Gashes Creek Rd, Asheville.

2. Read Carl Sandburg’s Works to Baby Goats

Best Places to See Animals and Wildlife in Asheville: Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site

The Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site or Connemara Farm in Flat Rock is a beautiful, family-friendly place to visit year-round. The 270-acre farm is home to miles of kid-friendly trails, bucolic ponds, the rounded summit of Glassy Mountain, rare granitic domes, and award-winning goats!

The “Read to a Goat” program is available year-round, but there are special activities during National Reading Month (March) and National Literacy Month (September), including discounts on book purchases. 

So, find a comfy spot in the barnyard or pasture and have your kids read to kids while discovering Sandburg’s poetic children’s books. Or you can bring your favorite books and share them with the baby goats.

Carl Sandburg, the “Poet of the People,” received the Pulitzer three times and found his dream home and daily muse in Connemara and the surrounding terrain. He died there in 1967, and the house can still be seen as it was back then. Access is free, and there are also complimentary tours, but you’ll need to make reservations. 

Location: 1800 Little River Rd, Asheville.

3. Read to Gracie the Dog at Enka-Candler Library

Gracie is an adorable Great Pyrenees mix certified therapy dog whose cheerful and loving presence will bring out the best of you and yours. “Despite having one less leg, this 10-year-old ‘tripod’ dog is excited about life, always eager for a run or swim, and approaches everything with a big smile.”

Gracie and her parent, Lisa, will be at the Enka-Candler library for an hour on the first Thursday of the month, playing, enjoying books, and sharing her love with kids and adults (kids need to be accompanied). You don’t need to register, but you’ll need to sign in.  

Puptart, the allergy-free robot dog, is available on Wednesdays from 4 to 5 pm for those with allergies! 

Location: 1404 Sand Hill Rd, Candler.

4. Watch Synchronous Fireflies Dance in the Forest

Imagine the mesmerizing sight of thousands of fireflies flashing their lights in unison in a collective mating dance. This rare phenomenon can be seen in a few locations around the world, and thankfully, our area is one of them. 

Spotting Blue Ghost Fireflies (Phausis reticulate) in May and June in the valleys surrounding our mountains is one of the best things to do in Asheville in the spring. The coolest fact about these bugs is that their light never goes off. The best way to see them is by joining a tour. Asheville Hiking Tours offers excellent nighttime ecotours that guarantee firefly viewings.

You can also watch synchronous fireflies in the Great Smoky Mountains in late May or early June, depending on the weather. You’ll have to enter a lottery to win a pass. Good luck!

5. Hang Out with Farm Animals at Antler Hill Barn

Best Places to See and Interact with Animals in Asheville:  Biltmore Estate

There is so much more to Biltmore Estate than the Vanderbilt’s chateau, which is known for being America’s largest home. The gardens and grounds are home to miles of trails to hike, bike, or ride horseback. Even if you don’t tour the house, you’ll have a blast picnicking, enjoying the flowers and the fall foliage, or watching the ducks by the lagoon.  

Spending some time at the Antler Hill Barn is the perfect plan for little ones: it has a fun playground with climbing logs, an ice cream shop, and a petting zoo with hens, lambs, calves, goats, and draft horses. Children will love the farm animals all year round, but make sure you check the seasonal activities, like cheerful goat brushing sessions in the spring!

The Antler Hill Barn offers activities and workshops for kids, including demonstrations by craftspeople. You’ll need a day ticket, an annual pass, or a stay at one of the estate’s hotels to access the farm.

Location: 209 Dairy Rd, Asheville.

6. Pet Horses at Asheville Equine Therapy

Best Places to See Animals and Wildlife in Asheville: Asheville Equine Therapy

The local nonprofit Asheville Equine Therapy offers both therapeutic and recreational experiences where kids and adults can interact with horses and benefit from their calming, grounded presence in an inclusive environment where everyone is welcomed.

They offer programs and activities for locals and visitors, from riding and horsemanship lessons to extended psychological support, team-building experiences, literacy enrichment classes, and summer camps to fun customized workshops where you can paint with ponies or celebrate your kids’ unicorn or cowboy parties!  

7. Get a Dose of Kitty Love at a Cat Lounge

Where to See Animals in Asheville: Cats at Play Café
Image courtesy of Cats at Play Cafe

Asheville has two cat lounges – both are awesome and double as foster homes and cat adoption centers. All kitties are available to take home after an application process and fee, or if you are like me and love cats but can’t have one at home, these are the perfect spots to get your weekly dose of cat medicine.

Cats at Play Café is a lounge and a cafe in downtown Asheville. You can get coffee, tea, local beer, wine, and fantastic non-alcoholic drinks, some using CBD oil or herbal elixirs. 

Everything here is cat-related, from the decor and furniture to the games and restroom towels. You must make reservations because it gets busy, especially during the weekends.

House of Black Cat Magic in West Asheville (a less touristy, more free-spirited area of town) is a cat lounge which primarily hosts black cats. It’s not a cafe, but you can bring your beverages and snacks. It’s also a magic shop, offering a vast selection of books and home decor items and hosting magic markets, tarot readings, and pet channeling sessions. 

Kids 8 and older are always welcome, and both cat lounges have special time slots for younger kids to learn about cat etiquette or read with kitties.

Cats at Play Café: 12 Eagle St, Asheville.

House of Black Cat Magic: 841 Haywood Rd, Asheville.

8. Spot Elk in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Best Places to See and Interact with Animals in Asheville:  Elk at Great Smoky Mountains -

Although elk were a big part of the native Southern Appalachia fauna, by the mid-1800s, there were no elk left in Tennessee due to overhunting and development until their reintroduction to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2001. They’re now thriving in their natural habitat! 

Watching these majestic animals is a breathtaking experience, especially during the fall breeding season or “rut,” when male elk make their bugling calls to assert dominance and attract cows. Their calls may be heard a mile or more away. They also use their antlers to scare and spar other males, offering an exciting display.  

The Cataloochee Valley and the Oconaluftee area are two of the best places in the park to see elk. These areas offer open fields and meadows where they often graze. Elk are especially active at dusk. Most calves are born in early June, which is also a great time to visit to see them among stunning wildflowers.

9. Care for Animals at Animal Haven of Asheville

Where to Spot Wildlife in Asheville, NC: Animal Haven of Asheville

Animal Haven of Asheville is a 10-acre sanctuary in East Asheville where lost and abandoned farm animals, dogs, and cats can get the love and care they deserve. They provide shelter and care for life or until the animals get adopted.

You can visit the sanctuary, meet the animals, and shop at the 1,500-square-foot thrift store selling clothing, furniture, electronics, home goods, tools, toys, and more. You can donate items or money to the shop since they rely exclusively on private funding. All the proceeds benefit the animals.

You can also support Animal Haven by volunteering (they’re 100% run by volunteers!) or attending events. 

Location: 65 Lower Grassy Branch Rd, Asheville.

10. Spot White Squirrels in Brevard

Where to See Animals in Asheville:  White Squirrels in Brevard

Although the story of how they arrived in Brevard is unclear, this town near Asheville is famous for its significant population of white squirrels, and they can be spotted all over town. You can also find all kinds of souvenirs featuring this cute little creature in the local shops. 

Brevard even has a celebration dedicated to them! The White Squirrel Festival on Memorial Day Weekend features local music, food, and beer. While squirrels don’t always show up at the event, you can spot them at Franklin Park, Brevard College, and other areas of town if you keep your eyes open.

11. Identify Birds at Beaver Lake

The eight-acre Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary in North Asheville consists of wetlands traversed by a boardwalk, a wooded upland area with a pond, and a trail alongside Beaver Lake. This is one of the best urban parks in Asheville and a popular spot for picnicking, running, or taking a relaxing stroll.

You can spot yellow warbler, yellow-throated warbler, American redstart, yellow-throated vireo, warbling vireo, eastern kingbird, tree swallow, brown-headed nuthatch, Baltimore oriole, and orchard oriole. 

In April, migrating chimney swifts arrive in the area and offer a spectacular show when thousands gather at dusk, flying to catch insects to then zoom all together to the chimneys where they nest. 

There are a couple of small-scale chimney swift towers at the Beaver Lake Bird Sanctuary for them, and you can also spot them downtown from Pack Memorial Library’s parking lot (ask your librarians!).

12. Hang with Valais Blacknose Sheep at Montgomery Sky Farm 

Beautiful Montgomery Sky Farm in the valley of Turkey Creek focuses on large-scale heirloom vegetable production, sustainable farming, preservation breeding, and animal rescue. You’ll love meeting the adorable Valais Blacknose sheep and Highland cattle cows, and the fluffiness of the Kunekune pigs will make your heart sing.

You can book a private tour to interact with the animals, learn about sustainable farming, and add a seed-to-table dining experience, a luxury picnic, or a tasting menu curated by Owner and Executive Chef Taylor Montgomery. 

They also host small weddings and fun events, like Valentine’s Day Donuts with Donkeys. They’ll soon offer glamping lodging and a barn stay overlooking the fields. 

Location: 340 Turkey Crk Rd, Leicester.

There you have it! The best places to see animals and wildlife in Asheville. Do you have anything to add to this list? Let us know in the comments below.


Born in Argentina, Laura is a journalist who's lived in Asheville for 10 years. She loves all things Asheville, from the vast business scene to the beautiful nonprofits, magical people, and marvelous nature. She loves being involved in projects that are the change she wants to see in the world.

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