Travel Ideas for Animal-Loving Families

My family and I are huge animal-lovers. We have two rescue dogs that only travel with us on road trips (see my post Tips for Traveling with Dogs) so we love interacting with animals of all types when we travel to fill that void of missing our dogs. Over the years we’ve had many different encounters with animals. When our daughter was very young we would sometimes visit zoos when we traveled but that seemed to get less and less. Now we prefer to visit places that are rescue centers or see animals in their natural habitat when possible.

Our interactions with animals during our travels have run the gamut, with some places more positive experiences than others. My list of top places includes mostly dogs, exotic birds, bears, moose, butterflies, sting rays, and iguanas. I’d like to share some of the places that stand out more than others here.

When I was planning our trip to Utah, a co-worker who has been to Utah a few times recommended a place called Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. I looked it up and it did indeed look like a place my family and I would be interested in visiting. Not only did we visit there, but we had lunch upon arrival, stayed in one of the cottages on-site, toured the facilities with a guide, volunteered with some puppies (PUPPIES!), and even got to have a sleepover with one of the puppies in our cottage. It was even better than I could have imagined. I highly recommend staying here if you’re in southern Utah. You can read my full post on Best Friends here:  Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, “Save Them All!”.

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Walking a puppy at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

San Diego, California is one of my favorite places in the world. Not only is it beautiful but it’s absolutely full of things to do. When we were there a few years ago, we stopped to visit a bird rescue just outside San Diego called Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary. This is a place my daughter and I still talk about because it was such a unique experience for us. We had been to animal shows before where birds perform silly tricks and such, but we’d never been allowed to touch and interact with exotic birds before. One of our most memorable interactions here was with a bird called “Peanut,” who serenaded us and made us laugh. You can read my blog post on Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary here:  Off-the-Beaten Path Things to Do in Del Mar, California.

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Some of the birds from Free Flight Exotic Bird Sanctuary

Many people visit Alaska to see bears, moose, puffins, and many other animals. When we visited Alaska, we definitely saw our share of many different types of animals. One of my favorite places to see animals was at Denali National Park. We went on a bus tour (an on-and-off bus where you could get off and hike then catch another bus to get back out of the park) one day and saw tons of bears, many different kinds of birds, caribou, and dall sheep. You can read about Denali National Park here:  Denali National Park in Alaska. Another animal encounter we had while in Alaska that turned out to be my daughter’s absolute favorite is when we went to Seavey’s Sled-Dogs in Seward, Alaska. What’s not to love about getting to hold adorable Alaskan Husky puppies? Going on a sled-ride pulled by some eager dogs around the grounds was a ton of fun as well!

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One of the puppies from Seavey’s Sled Dogs

Ostriches and butterflies probably aren’t the first things you think of when you think of Aruba. Many people visit Aruba for the powdery white sandy beaches and while they certainly didn’t disappoint, we also discovered a couple of places for animal-lovers. Simply known as The Butterfly Farm, this is one of my favorite butterfly farms I’ve been to anywhere. There are hundreds of butterflies here from around the world as well as caterpillars. A guided tour is included in the entrance fee, and the guide will show you how to safely handle butterflies when they inevitably land on you. We also visited the Aruba Ostrich Farm and loved it here. In addition to the tour of the ostriches (which you can feed and even go on a short but wild ride if you’re little and lucky enough like our young daughter was), you can eat lunch here, and view their African art pieces. There’s also a souvenir art shop full of local art work.

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My daughter feeding ostriches at the Aruba Ostrich Farm

Charleston, South Carolina is another one of my favorite places to visit, and I’ve been there many times over the years. On a recent visit, I discovered The Center for Birds of Prey, which is just outside Charleston in a city called Awendaw. Here, we took a guided tour and saw many different types of birds, watched a flight demonstration, and saw newly-hatched baby owls. Many people think of historical sites, gourmet food, and beaches when they think of Charleston, but The Center for Birds of Prey is also a great place to visit if you’re in the area and are an animal-lover.

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One of the beautiful birds at the Center for Birds of Prey

The next place I’m going to mention is definitely touristy, but a lot of fun nonetheless. As they say, some things are popular for a reason. When we were recently in Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean, we went snorkeling with a tour group that took us to Stingray City. Here, we were able to touch these gorgeous creatures as they glided past us on the shallow sandbar. Our guides offered to let people hold or even kiss a sting ray (it was said to bring you good luck), but I was content to just gently touch them as they swam past me. We also thoroughly enjoyed seeing the endangered Blue Cayman Iguana on our guided tour of Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. While you can’t touch the iguanas on the tour (they bite), you get to see them up-close on the behind the scenes tour of the breeding and recovery program. You can read my blog post on stingrays (and more) here:  Grand Cayman Island- Beautiful Beaches, Bioluminescent Water, Stingrays, and More and my post on the botanical garden (and more) here:  Exploring Grand Cayman Island on Foot-Crystal Caves, Botanical Gardens, Hiking a Trail, a Historical Site, and Hell.

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A Cayman Blue Iguana at Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park in Grand Cayman Island

The final place on my list where my family and I interacted with animals is Hawaii. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the islands of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and Hawaii (a.k.a. The Big Island) multiple times and I’ve seen many different kinds of animals like huge turtles both in the water and on beaches on the Big Island, peacocks in Kauai, and whales off the coast of Maui. However, one of my favorite animal experiences was when we visited the Kauai Humane Society and took one of the shelter dogs on a field trip. At the Kauai Humane Society, you get to choose a dog from their best-behaved dogs and take them for a walk or wherever else you’d like for the day after paying a donation and getting some items for the day. The dog we chose, Priscilla, was extremely well-behaved in the car and on her leash. Taking Priscilla on a field trip that day was one of the highlights of my vacation in Hawaii and given all of the amazing things we saw and did in Hawaii, that’s really saying something! You can read about my vacation in Kauai here:  Rediscovering Kauai, Hawaii and Some of My Favorite Things.

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Sweet little Priscilla from the Kauai Humane Society

Are you an animal-lover? Do you try to incorporate visits to animal rescue centers or otherwise interact with animals when you go on vacation? What are some of your favorite places to visit animals?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

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Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, “Save Them All!”

In a word, this place is AMAZING. Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is the site of the largest no-kill animal facility in the United States. There are nearly 1,600 cats, dogs, horses, pot-bellied pigs, wildlife, goats, rabbits, and I’m probably forgetting something, but you get the gist.

My family and I went to the Sanctuary, which is in Kanab, Utah, and had a free tour of the facility, followed by a delicious buffet lunch for only $5 per person, then we volunteered at the puppy facility for a few hours (who wouldn’t want to play with puppies?!!), and we also took one of the puppies back to the cottage we were staying in on-site for the night to help with his socialization skills. Honestly, I can’t say enough good things about this place. They are a top-notch facility from the ground up, so to speak.

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After playing ball with this little guy, we took him for a sleepover with us
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View from the lunch area at Best Friends
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Playing with puppies!

Ready to go? Here are some details:

Getting to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

By airplane:
McCarran International Airport (LAS), located in Las Vegas, Nevada, is the closest major airport to Kanab. Driving from Las Vegas to Kanab takes roughly four hours. (Please note Kanab is on Mountain time, an hour later than Nevada and California, which are on Pacific time).

St. George Municipal Airport
Shuttle flights operate between Salt Lake City, Utah, and St. George Municipal Airport in St. George, Utah, as well as Los Angeles, California, and St. George Municipal Airport. The drive from St. George to Kanab is roughly an hour and a half.

Car rental
There are a variety of car rental companies in Las Vegas and St. George. Xpress Rent-a-Car offers rental cars in Kanab.

Shuttle service
St. George Shuttle: between Las Vegas and St. George

Public transportation
There is no public transportation in Kanab.

Grand Sanctuary tours

These free two-hour tours begin at the Best Friends Welcome Center every day of the week. You’ll watch a brief video and then board the van for a 90 minute ride to interact with a few cats. A dog will be brought out to visit in Dogtown. You will see other Sanctuary sites from the tour van. You need to register in advance online or by phone. You can also take specialized tours or even a guided hike, all of which the information for is here.

Where to Stay

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary has cottages, cabins, and RV sites, all located on the Sanctuary grounds. We stayed in a cottage and found it even nicer and bigger than we expected. The cottages are in the red cliffs of Angel Canyon near the Welcome Center, and have nice views of the horse pastures. They are reasonably priced at $120-$140/night March through November and $95/night December through February. The cabins are smaller and cheaper at $60-$95/night, depending on the time of year. There are two RV sites, which I imagine fill up quickly, and they are $30-$50/night, open only March 15-October 31. Even if you aren’t staying at the Sanctuary, you can still arrange to have a sleepover with one of their dogs at your dog-friendly hotel/motel in the area.

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Living room area of the cottage
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Bedroom with comfy beds
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Nice, clean and big bathroom
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View of the canyon and pasture from the back porch of the cottage

Other Things to Do in the Area:

Besides play with puppies or cats, you can also hike on the grounds of the Sanctuary. There are two trails right on the grounds. We hiked one of the trails with the puppy we took back to the cottage with us, and he absolutely loved it (as did we).

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Zion National Park is only about 30 minutes from Best Friends, so you could also hike at Zion in between other activities at Best Friends. However, dogs are only allowed on the Pa’rus Trail at Zion, which is a 1.5-mile long trail. I recommend staying at either Zion or Best Friends for at least 3 nights if you’re going to combine both places in one visit. I have a post here on Zion National Park. Bryce Canyon National Park is about an hour and 20 minutes from Best Friends (my post on Bryce Canyon is here), but you could still visit both places as long as you were staying more than one night at either Bryce or Best Friends. Dogs are not allowed on any of the trails at Bryce Canyon. Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park is only about 30 minutes from Best Friends, and would be an option to bring a dog from the Sanctuary during the cooler months.

Best Friends Visitor Center

You can also do fun things like bunny yoga or paint your pet’s portrait at the Best Friends Visitor Center in Kanab. I’d like to see the yoga with cats session! I can’t imagine what that would be like. They also have guest speakers, or you can arrange a tour or volunteer time, or even meet your next furry family member when they have adoptable cats or dogs at the visitor center.

Where to Donate

If you’re as inspired as I was by this place and would like to donate to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, you can donate here. With a donation of $25 or more, you receive six bimonthly issues of Best Friends magazine.

As they say at Best Friends, “Save Them All!”