10 places to see the wild side of Vegas

Normally, when we talk about the wild side of Las Vegas, it’s a bunch of late-night stories laced together by an unspeakable amount of alcohol and a complete lack of moral compass. But this time, we’re talking about wildlife. There’s a pretty long list of places to see animals in their natural and man-made habitats right here in Vegas. Here’s are 10 places you can find some of the planet’s coolest creatures while you’re here.

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Hemenway Park

Nope, it’s not spelled wrong. It’s a 10-acre park perched on the side of a mountain that overlooks Lake Mead in Boulder City; it’s also pretty infamous to locals. Hundreds of bighorn sheep come down from the mountains for afternoon naps in the shade and to graze on the grasses. They let you get close enough to take some crazy cool photos, but don’t pester them. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of those giant curling horns because they like to butt heads. You’ll probably even see some of them smashing into each other, which is kind of like Mother Nature’s version of UFC.

Shark Reef Aquarium

It’s hard to imagine what 1.6 million gallons of water looks like until you’ve seen the colossal tanks at Shark Reef Aquarium inside Mandalay Bay. They’re filled with more than 1,200 species of marine life including sharks, sea turtles, fish, rays and reptiles. One of the coolest things about the facility is its Animal Encounters program that allows guests to feed stingrays, 300-pound sea turtles and even the sharks. If you’re one of the brave few who are certified to scuba dive, you can swim with 30 sharks in the shipwreck tank alongside the aquarium team. Get a behind-the-scenes look at the Animal Encounters experience.

Bob Ross ain't got nothin' on Flipper. Photo courtesy of the Secret Garden.

Bob Ross ain’t got nothin’ on Flipper. Photo courtesy of the Secret Garden.

Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat

If you loved collecting those white tiger stuffed animals as a kid, you’re going to love seeing their crystal blue eyes in person at the Secret Garden. The tropical habitat has exotic lions and tigers and…leopards (don’t you dare say “oh my”). Watch them sip martinis and splash around in their private pools. Ok, technically only one part of that is true. Then it’s off to the dolphin habitat for a lot more splashing around. No, the dolphins and tigers don’t swim together. There are several fun packages like Painting with the Dolphins and the Trainer for a Day that guests can participate in.

Clark County Wetlands Park

The 210-acre Nature Preserve trail is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. Follow trails along streams and keep your eye out for ponds and animals like the Cinnamon Teal Duck, American Coot, Ruddy Duck, Great Blue Heron and Green Heron and this just in — beavers. Didn’t see that one coming, did you? If you want to experience nature during your Vegas trip without taking too much time out of your day, the 2,900-acre Clark County Wetlands features quiet areas perfect for picnics, desert animals, ponds and a whole lot of serenity. And while the drive is only about 20 minutes from the Las Vegas Strip, you’ll feel miles away from the hype.

They have fainting goats, seriously. How cool is that? Photo courtesy of Bonnie Springs.

Bonnie Springs

Built in 1843, the Bonnie Springs ranch served as a stopping point for travelers heading to California and has been an Old West tourist attraction since 1952. They have a petting zoo and animal enclosures that seem right out of Noah’s Ark with wallabies, guinea pigs, rabbits, cockatiels and deer. But you won’t want to pet everything. Keep your hands to yourself while checking out the peacocks, ostrich, lynx and the colossal bull we call Pedro (yep, totally just made that up). You’ll probably even see the infamous rooster who sits on top of a goat’s back.

Wildlife Habitat at the Flamingo

At the Flamingo’s outdoor Wildlife Habitat, you can get up close and personal with pink flamingos, exotic ducks, Koi fish and a whole lot more. While the flamingos are probably the most recognized animals here, they’ve also got a variety of exotic birds, turtles, pelicans and parrots. It’s just a few steps from the hustle-and-bustle of the resort, but you’ll feel miles away. With the abundance of trees, grasslands, waterfalls, streams and brooks, you’ll feel like you’re in paradise. All you’re missing is a drink with a little umbrella, but not for long because there’s a couple of places to get one in the courtyard. Stick around to watch the pelican feedings; they’re at 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. daily.

Insert obligatory "awwww" here. Photo courtesy of the Lion Habitat Ranch.

Insert obligatory “awwww” here. Photo courtesy of the Lion Habitat Ranch.

Lion Habitat Ranch

Just 12 miles from the Las Vegas Strip, 40 lions roam a nearly nine-acre ranch. The Lion Habitat Ranch houses many of the retired stars from the MGM Grand’s former exhibit. You’ll get an up-close look at what it’s like to care for these beautiful beasts and their cubs. Watch trainers feed, bathe and even play with them. If you’re feeling extra gutsy, you can even book a “Trainer for a Day” package that lets you step inside the enclosures yourself.

Silverton Aquarium

If you grew up loving Ariel and Sebastian from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” then you’re in for a real treat. There may not be a singing crab belting out calypso music, but there are “mermaids” swimming in the 117,000-gallon aquarium. They swim among the fish, blowing bubbles and interacting with kids watching from the outside. There are 4,000-plus exotic fish swimming in the colorful Silverton Aquarium and you can watch divers that feed the stingrays and leopard sharks. During the feedings, there’s a guide outside the tank who’ll take questions from the audience. The divers have a built-in speaker in their suit and can answer anything you want to know about the fish.

Springs Preserve

At the Springs Preserve, guests encounter a myriad of wildlife that calls the desert home. The exhibit includes live animals such as Gila monsters, lizards, bats, snakes, leopard frogs, desert cottontail rabbits, desert tortoises, spiders, a gray fox and more. All the animals are native to the Mojave and many are bred on site. There’s also a seasonal butterfly exhibit that features hundreds of butterflies including Mourning Cloak, Red Admiral, Painted Lady, American Lady, Monarch and Queen.

A man wearing a SpongeBob outfit waits in the shade to have his photo taken for tips on the Strip Saturday, June 29, 2013.

It’s totally normal to have costumed characters walking around the streets, right? Photo courtesy of Las Vegas Sun.

Fremont Street Experience

Ok ok, so really the only wildlife you’re going to see here is an alcoholically-lubricated crowd, but it’s definitely worth a shout-out. Just like the zoo, the Fremont Street Experience (and lots of times the Strip) is home to the beautiful, the fierce and the sometimes grotesque. While there is a multitude of talent like musicians, artists and contortionists, with the pretty cool comes the pretty heinous. Prepare yourself for a jaw-dropping experience where the people-watching is uniquely interactive and the unlicensed and mostly naked “street performers” push the city’s limits on lewd and lascivious behavior nightly.

If you enjoyed this trip to the wild side, take a look at our other crazy fun Vegas attractions.


Born a Buckeye - raised a Hoosier. I grew up in a one-horse town that straddles the Indiana/Ohio state line and until 2006, was in two different time zones. There were three stoplights and a whopping 48 students in my graduating class. Fast forward a few years later, I was bitten by the travel bug and decided to head west. It seems like no matter how long I live here, there’s always something that still makes my jaw drop. That’s what I love about Vegas; you never know what you’re going to see next and that’s what makes living here so much fun. Basically, if you’re bored in this town, there’s something wrong with you…not the city. I’m an avid traveler with an incurable case of wanderlust so stay tuned for all the tours, attractions and shopping adventures that Sin City has to offer.