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Stories of bear and wolf encounters lure animal enthusiasts of all ages to Yellowstone National Park. This past summer, my family and I spent four days in the vast reserve, and while we saw dozens of bison, a bounty of birds and some other wildlife, I wasn’t thrilled about the possibility of going home without seeing two of the park’s most notable residents: bears and wolves.
Our saving grace was West Yellowstone’s Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center (GWDC), located just outside the busy West Entrance. This intimate wildlife park and education facility is home to eight bears, six wolves and nine birds of prey, many of which were taken in after being orphaned, after sustaining a debilitating injury or as an alternative to being euthanized.
While the animal exhibits are great in and of themselves, GWDC’s daily programming is especially noteworthy. In the summer months, guests ages 5 to 12 can participate in the 30-minute Keeper Kids program, which includes a chat with a naturalist and a chance to hide snacks in the bear habitat. Later, onlookers point and chuckle as the animals knock over logs and overturn bins to get their treats. My 3-year-old daughter Olivia and I also thoroughly enjoyed the “Live Birds of Prey” presentation, during which a GWDC naturalist introduced us to Chip, a speckled American Kestrel with a clipped wing, and Acadia, a Northern Saw-whet owl, blinded in one eye after being struck by a car. Be sure to also stop by the neighboring enclosures of Zack and Josh, two stunning bald eagles whose wing injuries keep them from flying.
The park is open 365 days per year (hours vary by season), and admission is good for two consecutive days — that’s plenty of time to check off bears and wolves from your Yellowstone must-see list.