Where to “Talk to the Animals” in Georgia

If your family is looking to explore their wild side, Georgia is filled with opportunity. From the city to the mountains to the coast, there are a number of places to talk to the animals!

Zoo Atlanta (Atlanta)

Feed the giraffes, go behind the scenes with African elephants, and watch giant pandas in all their cuteness. Zoo Atlanta holds the nation’s largest collection of gorillas, the largest zoological collection of orangutans in the U.S., and many vanishing reptiles and amphibians.

Chehaw (Albany)

Bogart and Audrey at Chehaw Park. Photo from Facebook.

Bogart and Audrey at Chehaw Park. Photo from Facebook.

Pet a python, take the Veldt ride, feed Bogart the Bactrian (two-hump) camel who loves people. Chehaw is a special animal sanctuary that obviously takes pleasure in learning about and growing with their animals. If you can stay longer, then camp or sleep in a cabin in the park for an even more enjoyable adventure. See more photos here.

Yellow River Game Ranch (Lilburn)

25 acres in a rustic setting allow you to pet deer, see black bears, and visit a petting zoo at the Yellow River Game Ranch. I love this location for kids of all ages, but especially smaller kiddos. It isn’t too large or too busy, and keeps the sensory experience in check. Don’t miss Beau, Georgia’s Official Weather Forecaster.

Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary (Locust Grove)

BLT at Noah's Ark. Photo from Facebook.

BLT at Noah’s Ark. Photo from Facebook.

This animal rehabilitation center south of the city offers FREE admission (donations appreciated.) At Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary, you’ll see roaming bison, feisty emu, tons of monkeys and parrots, and the famed trio BLT — the bear, lion and tiger — that live harmoniously together.

North Georgia Zoo (Cleveland)

Lemur at the North Georgia Zoo. Photo from Facebook.

Lemur at the North Georgia Zoo. Photo from Facebook.

400 animals and Georgia’s largest petting zoo make the North Georgia Zoo a fun family daytrip to accompany your mountain adventures.

Wild Animal Safari (Pine Mountain)

Get up close to exotic animals at Wild Animal Safari.

Get up close to exotic animals at Wild Animal Safari.

Kids will ADORE this drive-thru animal park. My son said, “I love this more than the zoo because the animals can roam around, but WE are in the cage.” You’ll follow a 3.5-mile paved road through the 220-acre Wild Animal Safari park. You can even purchase food to give the animals as you drive through. You’ll see buffalo, pigs, zebra, emu, deer, giraffe and more. Read more about this fun other and nearby attractions here.

Oatland Island Wildlife Center (Savannah)

At Oatland Island Wildlife Center, animals are exhibited in large natural habitats along a rustic trail through forest and marsh lands. The “Wolf Wilderness” exhibit features gray wolves, armadillos, flying squirrels, screech owls and a selection of reptiles. Along the trail are cougars, bobcats, bison, alligators, red fox and birds of prey. Cows, sheep, goats and rabbits can be viewed in the “Georgia Farm” area.

LesliLesli Peterson is Georgia’s official Family Explorer and the owner of 365AtlantaFamily, which offers a daily dose of inspiration for metro-area families. Click here for more Family content from Lesli.

5 Reasons to Visit Little St. Simons Island with the Family

Little St. Simons Island. Photo by Lesli Peterson

Little St. Simons Island. Photo by Lesli Peterson

You’ve probably heard of St. Simons Island, but do you know that just across the river is a private, eco-friendly, all-inclusive island just waiting for you? Our family visited Little St. Simons Island and fell madly in love; here’s why we think you should make a reservation today.

The Serenity

Untouched for centuries, Little St. Simons Island is one of the least developed of Georgia’s barrier islands, covering 10,000 acres with 7 miles of shoreline. We didn’t drive our car onto the island. Guests visit by boat, and only 32 at a time may stay overnight (though small guided day trips are periodically available). The untarnished environment, limited population and carefully protected wildlife create a tranquil escape that immediately melted away our stress.

The Food

Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks are all carefully created and presented on the island. There are no grocery stores or restaurants, and no need for them. Chef Ulfet Ralph hails from Turkey, and her delicious dishes include everything from filet mignon to duck tenderloin. Breakfasts are mammoth with a variety of delights like French toast, berries, eggs, bacon, frittata and more – everything you need to carry you through a day of exciting adventure.

We also love that there is a USDA-certified organic garden on-site providing vegetables and fruits at almost every meal. I’ll note, too, that Chef Ulfet was very thoughtful about the kids, offering hamburgers, PB&Js, mac and cheese, and other kid-friendly fare for our picky eaters.

The Water

Little St. Simons Island’s proximity allows families to swim in the Atlantic, boat on the Atlamaha River and fish in Mosquito Creek. Along the beach we rode the waves, collected shells, biked the shoreline, and caught Atlantic Sharp Nose sharks while shore fishing. We took a skiff and a kayak along the creek to the river and kept an eye out for dolphin and alligators. Low tide offers the best opportunities for kids to catch fish in the creek, including Redfish, Sea Trout and Flounder.

The Adventure

If fishing, swimming, boating and kayaking are not enough, there are even more ways for kids to explore. You can bike around the island (adult bikes, kid bikes and bike trailers are all available), keeping an eye out for more than 300 species of birds. We also saw alligators, a diamondback rattlesnake and a multitude of armadillo. Loggerheads and horseshow crabs were also active on the island.

Two to three excursions each day are led by one of the island’s naturalists, and the crew is amazing – both because of their extensive knowledge and because of their gentle nature with kids. Excursions are discussed after each meal, usually with about two options available during each time slot. I love that a trip to the beach with these guys is so much more – it includes learning about the changing shoreline, finding horseshoe crab eggs, or gaining a closer look through one of their field telescopes.

The Hunting Lodge on Little St. Simons Island. Photo by Lesli Peterson

The Hunting Lodge on Little St. Simons Island. Photo by Lesli Peterson

The Value

Little St. Simons Island guests pay a single flat fee for accommodations, three meals, beer, wine and non-alcoholic drinks, every excursion, use of the equipment (boats, kayaks, canoes, bikes, etc.) and so much more. Even the tip is included in the price!

Our family adored Little St. Simons Island, ranking it as one of our all-time favorite adventures. In fact, we are already planning to head back next year. Read our detailed post (with more photos) for more tips and insight on visiting Little St. Simons Island with kids.

LesliLesli Peterson is Georgia’s official Family Explorer and the owner of 365AtlantaFamily, which offers a daily dose of inspiration for metro-area families. Click here for more Family content from Lesli.

Tips for Planning a Father’s Day Fishing Trip

Nothing beats spending time with family on Father’s Day. This year, gather the kids around and offer to take them fishing in Georgia. Everyone likes to go fishing, especially when all are involved in the planning.

Fort Yargo State Park in Winder, Ga., has a 260-acre lake, perfect for fishing with the family.

Fort Yargo State Park in Winder, Ga., has a 260-acre lake, perfect for fishing with the family.

Suggestions:

  1. Pick a Georgia State Park. They are easy to access, inexpensive, and they have other things to do in addition to fishing, such as nature trails, panoramic views, deep canyons and waterfalls. There will be few distractions to take your attention away from your family, so you can enjoy spending time outdoors together.
  2. Take a camera to record the day. Nothing puts a smile on a child’s face better than holding up a catch before the camera.
  3. Fishing equipment is inexpensive and can be owned by the child. The rod and reel can be his or hers for a lifetime and be used hundreds of times over the years. If it’s already purchased and has already been used, make sure it works properly.
  4. Here’s a surprising tip: let the children have their phones and pads while you travel, get their fill, and then put them away. You don’t have to be in a boat. Fish from the bank or dock.
  5. Remember, you’re not after Blue Marlin or Giant Largemouth Bass. A simple little outfit to catch a little punkin’ seed Bluegill or pretty Rainbow Trout will do nicely.
  6. Take live bait. If the fishing is slow, the children can play with the crickets or worms.
  7. Don’t make it a full day. This is not a marathon. Stay as long as your family likes, but stage the ending with a closing adventure that will truly make it special.
  8. OK, here’s the close: Lake Burton Trout Hatchery right next to Moccasin Creek State Park in Clarkesville, Georgia. The kids can fish in the well-stocked little stream at the park and then walk over to the hatchery 50 yards away and see thousands of trout. That’s right, thousands. It’s a treat!
  9. Hold on, I’m not finished. Is that too far north? Then, as the day closes, visit the Go Fish Education Center in Perry, Georgia, right in the middle of the state. It’s a one-of-a-kind fishing overload of sights, sounds, photos, underwater views, and dozens of interactive displays. Don’t miss this. Initially, it’ll look like something that will take 30 minutes. I guarantee you’ll have to drag the children away.

Follow those tips, and you’ll have one great day full of memories with your family. There is no gift more precious than that.

oneill-headshotO’Neill Williams is host, creator and producer for the weekly O’Neill Outside television and radio shows. Born in Atlanta and a graduate of Emory University, Williams has been a television fishing personality for 35 years with shows titled “Fishing in Georgia,” “Southern Fishing” and “Reel Adventures.” He and his wife live in North Georgia, where they often broadcast the Saturday morning radio show.

Family Football Fun in the Summer

I know it’s summer time, but Georgia has football on its mind! The new Mercedes-Benz stadium is already changing the Atlanta skyline. With the announcement of Atlanta as host city for Super Bowl LIII, you can already hear the fans cheering.

Mercedes-Benz stadium under construction, May 2016.

Mercedes-Benz stadium under construction, May 2016.

If you’ve got an itch for football this summer, we recommend a trip to the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. The Hall features historic and contemporary memorabilia, children’s activities, interactive multimedia displays, a theater featuring an ultra-high-definition film, and unique special event and activity spaces.

College Football Hall of Fame. Photo by Lesli Peterson.

College Football Hall of Fame. Photo by Lesli Peterson.

Here are a few upcoming events you won’t want to miss:

June 11, 2016 – Cool off during the Hall’s “Football Blues” from 1:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Sing and dance with 1980s Pop Tribute group Electric Avenue and eat “cookout” style food at the fun, family-friendly tailgate. Arrive in your official tailgate gear and get your grub on! Our family will be there – hope to see you!

June 19, 2016 – Have Dad show off his leg by testing his field goal kicking skills on Father’s Day! Dads can enjoy their special day at the Hall for FREE with the purchase of a regular price ticket along with a special Hall of Fame gift.

July 16, 2016 – In honor of July 4th, they’ll show their patriotic side with a performance from a special country music artist and other family fun. This last “Football Blues” summertime event is from 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Outside of an actual game, the College Football Hall of Fame is the best way to experience college football in the South, with sophisticated interactive exhibits and hands-on opportunities to celebrate and learn. Fall is just a season away …get in the Atlanta football spirit right now!

LesliLesli Peterson is Georgia’s official Family Explorer and the owner of 365AtlantaFamily, which offers a daily dose of inspiration for metro-area families. Click here for more Family content from Lesli.

Easy Places to Go Camping in Georgia with Kids

Our family is prepping for our first back-country camping trip together. I was telling a friend recently, who responded with a profound, “No Way!” That’s when it dawned on me that our style of family camping isn’t the easiest, especially with little kiddos. If you want to enjoy the crisp air, wake up to the birds chirping…but still take advantage of Internet, a pool and a hot shower, then these family-friendly camping options might be right up your alley.

Stone Mountain Park Campground

Camping at Stone Mountain Park. Photo by Lesli Peterson.

Camping at Stone Mountain Park. Photo by Lesli Peterson.

Stone Mountain is ideal for those who enjoy a more “pampered” approach to camping. With water and electricity, clean comfort stations, the lake and park activities, a swimming pool, free Wi-Fi, a playground, and the free lasershow, this makes a GREAT way to affordably escape for the weekend! Read more about our stay at Stone Mountain Park Campground.

Georgia State Park Yurts

Yurt at Sweetwater Creek State Park. Photo by Lesli Peterson.

Yurt at Sweetwater Creek State Park. Photo by Lesli Peterson.

Yurts are fun and easy ways to camp with kids. You can skip setting up the tent, and get straight to the good stuff: s’mores, hiking, swimming…whatever your crew loves to do. The newest yurts are at Sweetwater Creek State Park, but you’ll also find them at High Falls, Red Top Mountain, Fort Yargo, Cloudland Canyon and Tugaloo State Parks. Read more about where to camp in a yurt in Georgia.

KOA Georgia

Camping cabin at the Jacksonville North/St. Marys KOA. Photo from Facebook.

Camping cabin at the Jacksonville North/St. Marys KOA. Photo from Facebook.

KOA is easy for families, with tent camping, RV, cabin set ups…even a teepee at the St. Mary’s KOA location. Campgrounds include WiFi, pools, lakes, bike rental (Forsyth KOA), mini golf (Lake Oconee), a petting zoo (Calhoun KOA) and more.

Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park

Train at Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park in Bremen

Train at Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park in Bremen

Families can enjoy a large swimming pool, splash pool, put-put golf, gem mine, train rides, indoor cinema and lots more. Activities are based on weekly themes and include fun from morning ‘til night. The park accommodates RVs or tents, and offers cabins with or without kitchenettes.

LesliLesli Peterson is Georgia’s official Family Explorer and the owner of 365AtlantaFamily, which offers a daily dose of inspiration for metro-area families. Click here for more Family content from Lesli.