New Jersey Road Trips for the Animal Lover

Commune with animals large and small at stops close to or along the Parkway.

Giraffes interact with humans at Six Flags Great Adventure’s Safari Park
Animals like giraffes roam free at Six Flags Great Adventure’s Safari Park. Photo: Courtesy of Six Flags Great Adventure Resort

There’s nothing quite as humbling as having a wolf dog jump up to lick your face or feeling a giraffe grab a leaf from your outstretched hand. Before summer is in full swing at the Jersey Shore, commune with exotic and extraordinary animals in places close to or along the Garden State Parkway.

May 2024 cover of New Jersey Monthly magazine

Buy our May 2024 issue here. Cover illustration: Mary Kate McDevitt

Near the geographic center of the state, in Jackson Township, Mike Hodanish bought a 10-acre former chicken farm to raise his two wolf dogs, rather than suffer complaints from his neighbors in suburban Bordentown. With his love of these furry animals—which are part dog, part wolf, and can be kept as pets in New Jersey—as well as requests from people to rehome their overly active wolf dogs, he created a nonprofit education center, which has been offering tours since 2012.

Before the one-hour tour starts, there’s an orientation with instructions on how to interact with the 12 wolf dogs who make Howling Woods Farm their permanent home. Some of these mixed breed animals have as much as 95 percent wolf in their DNA, and they are surprisingly friendly, playful and even shy. Before entering the pens, guides ask visitors to remove anything with an odor from their pockets.

On Washington’s Trail: A Road Trip for the History Buff
Retro Road Trips to Take Through New Jersey
New Jersey’s Top Pizza Tours
Why You Must Wine and Dine in Hammonton

At the first stop inside the pens, two or three wolf dogs typically come over to sniff visitors, lick them, or ask for head scratches. Selfies are permitted at some stops on the visit.

At one point during the tour, which includes three or four pens, visitors are prompted to shed their inhibitions and howl loudly—which usually triggers a howling chorus of wolf dogs throughout the property.

In addition to the permanent residents at Howling Woods, Hodanish always has other wolf dogs that he actively tries to rehome to new owners. More than 300 wolf dogs have been rescued and rehomed since he started the center.

Because New Jersey permits wolf dog ownership and interaction but surrounding states do not, this is the only such attraction within hundreds of miles. Tours are Wednesday and Friday afternoons and one weekend day. Private tours are available. Be sure to call, not email, to make reservations.

Less than 10 minutes from Howling Woods is Six Flags Great Adventure, where visitors can get up close and personal with more than 1,200 animals at the property’s 350-acre Wild Safari park. Hop into a tour vehicle to experience an off-road adventure, where you’ll see giraffes, elephants and more. (Guests can no longer drive their own cars through the park.) During the ride, animals roam free. Be on the lookout for friendly giraffes. Admission is included with an amusement park ticket, or costs $25 per person without going into the amusement park.

Llamas at Six Flags Great Adventure’s Safari Park

At Six Flags Great Adventure’s Safari Park, visitors can enjoy animals in exciting off-road vehicle tours. Photo: Courtesy of Six Flags Great Adventure Resort

Starting in June, visitors can “glamp” right in Wild Safari. A two-night minimum reservation is required to stay at the Savannah Sunset Resort & Spa in one of 20 luxury tents that fit up to six people. The price includes breakfast, evening events, a giraffe experience, and more. Even at the starting rate of $600 a night, plus a $100 resort fee, accommodations are likely to sell out.

[RELATED: Where to Go Glamping in New Jersey]

Lions at Cape May Zoo

Admission to the Cape May Zoo is always free, though visitors can pay a fee to enjoy a private tour or an animal encounter. Photo: Courtesy of

Farther south at the Shore, head to the Cape May Zoo. Admission is always free, but private tours, which we highly recommend, cost extra. You can experience encounters with animals such as the newly popular capybaras, the world’s largest rodents. It’s one of the few places in the country to interact with capybaras, so book well in advance.

To round out a weekend road trip, navigate to Galloway Township, just off the Parkway, to visit the 8-mile Wildlife Drive of the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge. Spring migration will be in full splendor, with shorebirds swooping and nesting. There is a modest $4 admission charge per car.

R.C. Staab is a travel writer, book author, and wildlife and Jersey Shore enthusiast.

No one knows New Jersey like we do. Sign up for one of our free newsletters here. Want a print magazine mailed to you? Purchase an issue from our online store.

Read more Shore & Travel, Things to Do articles.