Flagstaff, Bearizona

Jessica Martin
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Books, websites, and videos help parents describe wild animals to young children. But there’s nothing more amazing than watching a child's first firsthand experience witnessing wildlife in the flesh. The awe and wonder written across their faces is a joy to see, and just 30 minutes west of Flagstaff, AZ, there is a wildlife park that is perfect for the whole family.

Bearizona is not your average bear park. Located near Williams, AZ, the park boasts two distinct sections. The first is the main attraction, the thing that distinguishes Bearizona from more traditional zoos and wildlife preserves: a 3-mile self-guided drive through the park. The second phase is open but under construction until 2015. This portion, known as Fort Bearizona, is a more traditional 20-acre walking area full of raptor shows, standard zoo-like exhibits, and more.

Jessica Martin

No need to exit the car for the first part. Just drive in and observe wildlife from the comfort of your car. The two-mile drive allows visitors a unique experience to witness wildlife the way it was meant to be, in a natural environment. Just pay attention to all posted signs for safety’s sake because wolves and bears roam free here. They cross the road at will and tend to approach cars. As a consequence, there is a slight risk of damage to vehicles. And remember to keep the car locked, since many bears can recognize and operate door handles. They’re mostly just curious, but it’s unwise to let them open the doors!

Jessica Martin

For the best experience, visit early or late in the day since many animals tend to rest during the hottest part of the afternoon, and are more active toward the beginning or end of the park’s hours. Of course, no visit would be complete without seeing the baby-bear enclosure, where juvenile cubs romp and play before they mature and join the adult bears in the forest at large. Don’t forget to catch a free-flight raptor show and stop by the small petting zoo.

Unlike traditional zoos, Bearizona focuses on native species and rehabilitation. There are no lions and tigers here, just native bears, wolves, lynx, and other indigenous species. Most of the animals, especially in Fort Bearizona, are rescue success stories. In special cases, some employees even foster animals in their homes until they are ready to be introduced into the Bearizona environment. They received accreditation from the Zoological Association of America in 2011, meaning that they have shown excellence in animal care, upkeep of facilities, conservation, and outreach programs.

Jessica Martin

Tickets are $20/person ($10 for children 4-12 years old) but once inside, visitors can stay all day if they choose. As an added bonus, the maximum fee per car is $100; so larger cars pay less per person. One-time visitors will find plenty to love, but many return to attend special events and look for new animals.

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