LAKE TOBIAS WILDLIFE PARK
For the past year I have been wanting to get up to Lake Tobias Wildlife Park. From Philadelphia Lake Tobias, which is in Halifax, PA, is 2-2 ½ hours away and past Lancaster and just outside of Hershey, PA. So why did we drive two + hours to a zoo when we have the Philadelphia Zoo right in West Philadelphia? Besides the fact that I like to explore different places ALL THE TIME – Lake Tobias Wildlife Park is a little different and it all has to do with their Safari Ride.
Take a modified school bus, give it a camo paint job, cut off the roof, and you have your safari ride. Then take that modified school bus across 150 rolling acres where giant birds and animals roam in herds and come up to you looking for biscuits and popcorn and you have a pretty awesome experience.
I will not lie to you. Before the Safari Ride began we were all joking that we were in Halifax, PA sitting on a school bus waiting for a tour. Basically all of us adults were “taking one for the kids.” However, I kid you not… the second a giant blonde bison came up to the school bus to be fed and started rocking it looking for crackers we were all converts. We we all giggling with excitement and trying to touch their heads. We were literally surrounded by Bison. As we were feeding the ones on the side of the bus one was trying to come up the front stairs of the bus. It was so much fun. The kids were a little uneasy and then got totally used to it.
As the tour wound around the hilly grassland and into a ravine we fed everything that came up to us. A baby (giant) elk hung out with us forever, deer wandered over, highland cows, these crazy steers from Africa with horns so big their heads hung low, and water buffalo are just to name a few.
Jan Tobias-Kieffer Director, Public Relations/Marketing at Lake Tobias gave me a heads up that the Safari Tour is busier on the weekends than during the week. She said if the line serpentine is full it can take 55 minutes to get to the front. When it comes to lines my boys and I are not the best but the line was just about full and the wait was not that long at all. They were really efficient at getting everyone on and off the buses. If the boys survived I know we could not have waited that long.
So as a parent the big question I did keep asking myself for the past year is “Is it worth the drive?” and the answer is yes! Pair the Safari Tour with the rest of the zoo and all of its playgrounds and you have an entire day. Not only an entire day but an affordable day. The whole thing is $13 / person if you do the Safari Tour. There is food there but you can bring in your own food and sit at one of the many pavilions. I love this because when I buy the boys food they don’t eat it and I just end up throwing money out of the window. That said if you do buy food there it is not overpriced.
After the Safari Tour we checked out the monkeys, cabraca, zebras, more ostriches, tigers and birds. Hold some popcorn up to the parakeet cage and you will have a bunch of new friends. The cool thing is you can actually feed all the animals the popcorn that they sell there (except the tigers). They sell an all natural popcorn that the animals can digest and that does not impact their regular diet. As you are walking around the zoo the teenage staff members will bring out baby cows and other animals to pet.
We also got a chance to take in a reptile show which happens every hour starting at 1:30. The reptile building was beautiful (I know that sounds weird but it was) and the show was great. The seated area was full by the time we got our act together but I liked standing along the railing more. There was plenty of room for everyone and we got close to the crocs, the sloth, turtle and the snake.
From there we moved to the petting zoo which the boys loved. I grew up with goats so I know they are gentle and the babies have a ton of personality. Again we fed them popcorn and the baby and pygmy goats were all over us. Watch out for the black and white speckled goat. If you don’t give him popcorn you will feel a gentle nibble on your shirt. He had most of my shorts in his mouth at one point and I almost got pants. Even Ollie who is afraid of everything made some goat friends. I was uneasy about the boys feeding the camel but he too turned out to be a gentle giant.
On our way out and throughout our time at the zoo the boys loved stopping off at one of the three playgrounds. This gave me a chance to regroup and take a break too!
We had a great time. I was more than happy with the trip and everything we did there. The experience you get far exceeds the cost of admission. I am not exactly sure I have ever said that.
Affordable: At $13 for the full experience per person this is a great value.
Staff: I often comment on the staff especially the teenage staff because I think it says a lot about a place. The entire staff at Lake Tobias was polite, cheerful and knowledge.
Clean: The park is really clean. I mean all the bathrooms were exceptionally clean.
Parking: Easy and free is all you need to know about parking at Lake Tobias. There are people directing you every step of the way.
Popcorn / Wafers: At the Safari Tour you want to grab a bag of popcorn and two packages of biscuits for the animals. through out the park they sell popcorn for $3.00 that both you and all the animals can eat.
Terrain: There is stroller parking by the Safari Tour and a few other places. The zoo itself is pretty condensed so you are not really trekking all over the place. However the zoo is all gravel so if you have a little one in a stroller or using one for a potential mid-day melt down don’t bring an umbrella stroller. You are going to need your running stroller or one with thicker tires.
My youngest is also accident prone and gravel is not always his friend. If you have a trip and faller in your household put them in sneakers with treads and leave the flip flops at home.
Sunny: Make sure you pack water, hats and sunscreen. The Safari Tour is in an open air bus and the zoo itself is not super shady except by the pavilions and playgrounds.
Straws: Random but true… Lake Tobias Wildlife Park does not serve its drinks with straws as a precaution to the safety of its animals. So you have to keep taking the drink lid if you get a drink there. Doesn’t sound like a huge deal but Ollie dropped his lemonade all over the place and it made it one more thing to manage. Next time I am going to bring some empty water bottles if we decide we want to grab a drink.
A special thank you to Felicia, mom of two busy twins, and my neighborhood friend Maya for telling me about this great place.