Land & Conservation

Madison, Georgia, Debuts an Ambitious New Safari Park

The Georgia Safari Conservation Park offers up-close animal encounters and luxury glamping. Plus, where to eat when you’re in town.

White Rhinos roaming through a field of tall, green grass.

Photo: Courtesy of Georgia Safari Conservation Park

Southern white rhinos at Georgia Safari Conservation Park.

An African safari has always been high on my bucket list, but with two school-aged children, it just hasn’t happened. So the idea of seeing something similar an hour east of Atlanta was certainly intriguing. Opened June 1, the Georgia Safari Conservation Park features more than 500 acres of grassy terrain, sixty-three animal species from around the world, and lavish accommodations designed to immerse you in the experience. On our two-night trip, my family learned more about animals than we have on all our trips to the zoo combined. Some of them—like Clover the addax, Vlad the water buffalo, and Condo the African spurred tortoise—we spotted from the safety of our safari vehicle, while others, like Phoenix the giraffe, we were able to hand-feed. 

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In the works for more than ten years, the park is the brainchild of chief development officer Bill Killmer, who dreamed of a place where people could engage with the natural world. Michael Conrads, a developer and investor, offered up his family’s land. “This project allows future generations to bump around on this beautiful land like my father once did, enjoying and appreciating the area’s rolling hills and rural landscape while creating an economic engine for the region,” says Conrads, now president of the Georgia Safari Conservation Park.

His team of animal specialists worked with like-minded organizations across the country, including North Texas Safari Park in Bonham, Texas, and the Wilds in Cumberland, Ohio, to determine which African species would thrive in the Georgia Piedmont and how they could best nurture, breed, and sustain them. The result is a three-tier menu of experiences featuring a variety of wildlife. 

photo: Courtesy of Georgia Safari Conservation Park

Perhaps best for day-trippers, the base option is a $39-per-person Guided Safari Tour. This ninety-minute adventure primarily takes place aboard a twenty-four-seat, open-air vehicle. Buckle up as you off-road across the “savanna” in search of zebras, antelope, and elands while experts share tidbits about the animals’ habitats, eating habits, and personalities. (Warning: This might not be Africa, but it’s still the great outdoors, so come prepared with bug spray and sneakers or boots.) Before you’re done, you’ll enjoy a meet-and-greet with some smaller residents, such as a speckled king snake, a bearded dragon, and soon, a two-toed sloth. 

Want to see the big game? The Safari Encounter Tour ($125 per person, included in overnight stays) also traverses the property, but you’ll get an added visit to the expansive giraffe and rhino barn. Here, in addition to learning about the park’s wildlife enrichment and conservation efforts, participants get nearly in arm’s reach of the animals (with a protective barrier). If he’s feeling up for it, you may have the opportunity to feed Phoenix the giraffe—although he turned up his nose at the lettuce I offered him. 

photo: Courtesy of Georgia Safari Conservation Park
The author feeds Phoenix the giraffe.

For the ultimate luxury, there’s a three-hour VIP Safari Tour, which costs $2,500 for a group of eight. Expect a private vehicle, extended small-animal encounters—with a chinchilla, an adorable fennec fox, and a three-banded armadillo perhaps—and a behind-the-scenes tour of the giraffe and rhino barn. This experience is included with a stay in the adjacent Giraffe Suite, where you can observe Phoenix’s every move through picture windows. 

If you opt to overnight in one of the six Luxury Safari Tents, you’ll be able to see a plethora of animals from your room. Imported from Africa, these spacious one- and two-bedroom tents are furnished with plush canopy beds, handmade linens, and massive bathtubs. But the best parts are the floor-to-ceiling windows and wraparound decks. The first morning, my family awoke to a group of elands grazing nearby. Later we spotted ostriches in the distance. As we prepared to leave the next day, the bison looked up at us, seemingly saying goodbye. 

photo: Courtesy of Georgia Safari Conservation Park

The safari park does not serve food on the property. Fortunately, the town of Madison is a quick ten-minute drive away. Founded by Preston Snyder, MAD Hospitality has something of a monopoly on the Madison culinary scene, in a good way. The Dining Room, opened in 2023, is its crown jewel. Spearheaded by executive chef and culinary director Russell Hays, whose resume includes the Michelin-starred Restaurant Guy Savoy in Paris as well as JOEL in Atlanta, the fine-dining spot offers French-influenced, three- and four-course meals in an intimate, tranquil atmosphere. For breakfast, Betty Gene’s serves traditional Southern comfort fare, while the Sinclair next door offers a quick stop for coffee and, later, cocktails. No visit to the city’s Historic District is complete without an ornate pastry from the Patisserie nearby.