Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in Montana Review
I’ve long seen brochures for the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Montana. So when I booked a hotel for us in West Yellowstone after a day exploring Yellowstone National Park, I knew the following morning would be dedicated to visiting the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.
My daughters were super excited to go to this very specific kind of zoo, but I kind of figured I’d feel bad for these wild animals in enclosures. Instead, I was astounded by this place and the care and dedication that go into conservation for these animals and giving them a happy life at the center.
First off, all these animals are rescues and couldn’t survive in the wild. The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is a not-for-profit wildlife park that gives these animals a safe, comfortable place to live. And the enclosures are quite large and impressive, with some that you can’t even see (some of the animals are rotated out throughout the day into the people-facing enclosures; more about that in the grizzly section next).
Grizzly Bears Habitat at the Center
The grizzly bear habitat is no doubt the biggest draw for people to visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center since they are rare to see in the wild (which, to be honest, is perfectly fine with me!).
The grizzly bears are all at the center for various reasons, but they have one thing in common: they would not have survived in the wild; either due to injuries, losing its mother as a cub, or because they were in danger of being euthanized due to becoming accustomed to human food and a threat to safety.
The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is very focused on educating visitors about the latter reason many grizzlies arrive at the center; becoming used to human food and scavenging for that instead of a typical bear diet is a real threat to grizzlies and humans peacefully cohabiting in the world. A grizzly that wants human food will venture closer to humans and become a nuisance in the towns close to its habitat. And grizzlies and humans being in close proximity is never a good thing.
Because of this, there are several informational boards about how to be a conscientious human in grizzly country. The boards talk about the importance of leaving no trace; even leaving small pieces of uneaten food along a trail is not ideal and can condition wild animals to human food. On the way out of the center, there is even a small outdoor exhibit featuring garbage cans that grizzlies have destroyed getting to human food with information about the best way to secure garbage.
Of course, all this is interesting to read about, but the big appeal is to actually see these grizzlies up close! And that you do at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center. The center rotates bears in and out throughout the day into the habitat where visitors can view them. There are eight bears there, but only one or two are out at a time in the enclosure facing the viewing platform.
The schedule is posted near the exhibit and we were also informed by the helpful ticket attendant which bears would be out when we bought our tickets. She told us some 3-year old siblings were currently out, but to make sure we didn’t miss Sam, who would be coming out next.
This was great advice. The playful siblings (Condi and Seeley) were fun to watch, but when we went back to see Sam, we were stunned by his size. He is huge at nearly 1,000 pounds! Sam was rescued as a cub in 1996 after he found his way into a fishing village with no mother in sight. Being from Alaska is also why he’s so huge – he’s much bigger than Yellowstone grizzlies typically get.
After all the bear fun, it seemed the other animal habitats at the center could never be quite as exciting. Otters and owls? Surely they’re not that exciting. Eagles? We see those all the time at home. Wolves? I mean, they’re basically wild dogs.
But once again the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center surprised us.
The wolf exhibit had a lot of information about the two packs at the center (which are kept separated), why they are there, and background info about how wolves were wiped out and then carefully reintroduced into the Yellowstone region.
A highlight was being there for feeding time and getting to watch a wolf rip apart the meat on a bone! They didn’t quite seem like dogs then!
Birds of Prey Habitat
Next we walked through the bird of prey exhibit, where there were owls, hawks, and other raptors who are not able to survive in the wild due to injuries. I found one of the saddest stories to be the hawk who was left weak with limited flight mobility from lead poisoning — usually caused by by stray bullets that poison the earth and animals.
Next up was the Riparian Otter Exhibit. Remember how I mentioned earlier otters weren’t that exciting? Oh my gosh, we all had fun at this exhibit! My girls were absolutely delighted chasing the otters from one end of the exhibit to the other. Who knew otters were so fast?? Well, we do now thanks to this exhibit which focuses on river otters.
Another nice thing is that it’s inside. We were there on a cold October morning so it was nice to get indoors for a bit. The otter exhibit is in a large building that has a trout pool and other exhibits discussing rivers in the region and why they are important.
You can also see one of the wolf habitats from a window on the end farthest from the otter pool.
More to See at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center
The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center also has a Ground Squirrel Exhibit which was closed when we were there. There’s also a small playground so prepare your kids to bypass it if you’re in a hurry and don’t want to to stop at it since it’s right by the exit.
There is also an amphitheater where they do shows, but there wasn’t one happening when we were there.
The gift shop at the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is also a good one, with some unique finds I didn’t see in other gift shops in the area. Though my daughters were not happy about the lack of otter products! They really wanted an otter stuffy souvenir after being so enthralled with them, but all we could find were otter stickers. The lady working overheard this and found a box of new otter keychains that were pretty cool with a moveable otter that hadn’t been put out on the floor yet. She got them out just for us so we could purchase one, which was so nice. The girls still play around with those keychains several months later!
So Should You Put the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center on Your Yellowstone Itinerary?
Yes! I highly recommend stopping here when you’re in West Yellowstone, or even driving to it for a break from the park (it’s just a few minutes from the west gate).
SIDE NOTE: We went to the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in October mid-week and hardly anyone else was there. I’ve driven through West Yellowstone in summer and it is MUCH busier, so I would definitely expect crowds if you’re visiting during the summer.
The cool thing is that the grizzlies at the center don’t hibernate, so they’ll still be awake if you’re able to visit during non-peak times!
How Long Should I Visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center?
The parts of the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center that are open to the public doesn’t cover too much space, making it easy to walk back and forth across the park to see different bears, wolves, and grizzlies as they’re rotated into view.
You could easily see everything in just an hour, but I recommend at least three hours so you can hopefully see a couple grizzly rotations and take in an amphitheater show if one is happening. Plus, it’s just fun to not be in a rush and really take time to just sit or stand there and watch the animal antics. I think we were at the otter exhibit for 45 minutes; I had to drag my girls away from those playful creatures!
Can’t get there soon enough? You can view the live cam of the bear exhibit here!