Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center – West Yellowstone, Montana

Grizzly sow 101 - Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center - West Yellowstone, MT

Grizzly sow 101 – Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center – West Yellowstone, MT

We discovered the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center this week when we stayed in West Yellowstone, Montana. It was a delightful discovery indeed, because it was an amazing place with a chance to see grizzly bears and wolves close-up! This is a not-for-profit wildlife park and educational facility.

Gray Wolf - Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center - West Yellowstone MT

Gray Wolf – Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center – West Yellowstone MT

Like a lot of the thousands of visitors to Yellowstone this summer, we were hoping to see wildlife, and top on the list – bears and wolves. Of course, you get to see plenty of buffalo and chipmunks, and most often pronghorns and elk, and maybe a coyote or a moose. But let’s face it, if you DO get to see a bear, it will likely just be a black speck far away, or one that moves much faster than you can aim your camera.

Gray Wolf - Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center - West Yellowstone MT

Gray Wolf – Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center – West Yellowstone MT

That was my luck this year, a very far away black speck and a blurry black bear with only half of its body visible! And a wolf? Forget it. We have been to Yellowstone several times and have never seen one. Yes, there are some folks who get to see a wolf, and they often have REALLY good lenses on their cameras (super expensive). I have good lenses, but not the 600mm or higher needed for that. So, alas, the critters that are very far away appear as black specks.

Grizzly bears in the waterfall - Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center - West Yellowstone MT

Grizzly bears in the waterfall – Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center – West Yellowstone MT

This summer in Yellowstone there was a HUGE traffic jam in the Hayden Valley area because a mother grizzly with two cubs were hanging around a carcass of a dead elk. I kid you not, there were hundreds and hundreds of vehicles in a traffic jam because people were trying to see the bears. We were caught in it, and it took over an hour just to get through it one way, not counting trying to turn around and go back through the valley! I can only imagine kids in those vehicles wanting to see a bear and only being able to see a speck, if they could see that. Then, we went to this place in West Yellowstone and had a blast. Take the kids to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone and let them see and learn about the animals in a way that they can actually SEE the bears and the wolves.

Grizzly bear sitting up

This place in West Yellowstone was amazing and better than seeing bears and wolves in a zoo. A lot of the time bears in a zoo are only seen very early in the morning, especially in our area of the country with really warm climates, and they are usually fed before the zoo even opens. What makes this place even better is getting to see them being fed as well as the fact that there is an attempt to make the feeding more like their natural habitat. The center does this by hiding their food so they get to forage for it.

Grizzly foraging for food - Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center - West Yellowstone - MT

Grizzly foraging for food – Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center – West Yellowstone – MT

One really cool thing is how kids get to participate in helping feed the bears. Twice a day, they have a program called “Keeper Kids” in which kids ages 5 -12 get to go in with the center’s workers and hide food (fruits, berries and vegetables) for the bears to find. My husband and I got a big kick out of watching the kids hiding food under the rocks for the bears to find, and then later squealing in delight when they watched the bears find food they had hidden. They also have a program for teens in which the teens help the naturalists work with the Keeper Kids program. My husband commented while watching that this was something the kids would always remember. I agree!

Kids participating in the Keeper program by hiding food for the bears.

Kids participating in the Keeper program by hiding food for the bears.

"Sam" - male grizzly finding the food hidden by the kids

“Sam” – male grizzly finding the food hidden by the kids.

For a moment watching them, I felt bad that they were not allowed to run free in the wild. Then I read their stories. Each bear has a name, and a huge poster telling their story and how they wound up at the center. Almost without exception, each bear had become a danger to humans and would have to have been killed if not for the fact that they were moved to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. That really changed my perspective while watching them. It also helps tremendously that the center helps educate the visitors about the dangers of feeding wild bears and that actually helps protect the wild ones. As the website for this place asserts, the animals here serve as “ambassadors for their wild counterparts”.

"Sam" - huge male grizzly.

“Sam” – huge male grizzly.

We also got to watch the wolves being fed through two huge glass windows. Again, their food is placed in their habit in a way in which they have to find it. It was really interesting to watch the behaviors of the individual wolves during feeding time. I’ve never had an opportunity to observe these creatures in this way. In the wild they are rarely seen, and in a zoo they don’t get the opportunities they do here. The thing that most surprised me in seeing the wolves up close was how BIG they really are! Once you see them, you won’t mistake them for the coyotes that you are more likely to get a quick glimpse of in Yellowstone.

Gray wolf

Gray wolf

 

Bears playing - mouth to mouth - Grizzly and Wolf Discovery  Center - West Yellowstone MT

Bears playing – mouth to mouth – Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center – West Yellowstone MT

Bears are rotated in and out of the public viewing habitat several times a day, and a different group takes their place. Easily turning large rocks to find the food, they used their noses to find the goodies. After the bears forage for food, they take advantage of the water pool and take a swim. It was such a hoot to see them play and fight with each other.

Bears play fighting in Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center - West Yellowstone MT

Bears play fighting in Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center – West Yellowstone MT

Bears and wolves are not the only thing at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. They also have raptors (eagles and birds of prey), a ground squirrel exhibit and are currently building an otter exhibit. Again, each bird is there because for some reason (usually an injury) and would not be able to survive in the wild.

Bald Eagle - Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center - West Yellowstone, MT

Bald Eagle – Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center – West Yellowstone, MT

There are educational programs throughout the day, with many of them being interactive for visitors. It is much more interactive for the all around than a zoo for the visitors. Every hour there is some sort of presentation or activity for visitors to participate in. The center’s website has a full schedule of the programs that will be available for each day.

Naturalist giving presentation on owls.

Naturalist giving presentation on owls.

They also have some of the bears “test” trash and food containers to see which ones are bear-proof. Since getting into human food is usually what gets the bears in trouble in the first place, allowing the bears at the center to test containers helps manufacturers create bear-proof containers. These are strategies that keep both bears and humans safe.

FR6A3791Grizzly and Wolf Center-7-10-15- grizzly facing-s

I really wish we had known about this place when we were here with our two younger boys several years ago. They would have loved it. My husband and I certainly counted it as one of the highlights of our vacation this year!

Gray wolf

If you happen to stay in West Yellowstone, I highly recommend that you visit this place. They are located at 201 South Canyon, West Yellowstone, Montana. The admission fee is only $11 for adults, $6.50 for kids ages 5-12 and the admission is good for two days. They are open 365 days a year, even on holidays! The bears at the center do not hibernate, interestingly enough. For more information, check out their website – http://www.grizzlydiscoveryctr.com .

Mission statement for Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center - West Yellowstone MT

Mission statement for Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center – West Yellowstone MT

Grizzly bear head

 

 

Sure hope you get to go sometime. Take your family! I know you will enjoy it!

Sandy

About Sandy

My life revolves around my faith in Jesus Christ and chasing the dreams I believe He has placed in my heart.

Comments

  1. I visited there a couple years ago and loved every minute of it. There’s nothing better then seeing animals up close!

    • Exactly, Cori! I kept thinking that when we were caught in the Yellowstone traffic jam trying to see specks of bears VERY far away. Thanks for commenting!

  2. I absolutely love these photos, especially the third one down, so beautiful!

    Becky | http://www.thebiglphotographyblog.blogspot.co.uk

  3. Wow this place looks like it would be a great place to take the whole family. The pictures make us feel like we are right there. Too bad MT is so far away from me:(

  4. Absolutely loved the pictures, and the content as well. Glad to hear that the animals were not chosen at random to live in captivity..Would love to visit Yellowstone some day.

    • That was my relief as well, Davina. If the animals were not at the sanctuary, they would not be alive. The center also does a LOT of educating visitors on why they should NOT feed the bears, which is why all of them wound up there in the first place. Thanks for commenting!

  5. Wow!! These photos are amazing!!

  6. The photos are beautiful! I feel like I am right there with the bears and wolves – and I especially love the photo of the two bears playing in the water mouth-to-mouth!

    • It was awesome to be that close! I was delighted to capture that photo, but it was even more fun to watch them play. Thanks for commenting!

  7. Hiding food for the bears sounds like a blast.

Please leave a comment and tell me what you think!