Located in Rexburg, Idaho near Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, Yellowstone Bear World is a wildlife park and petting zoo, serving as the only opportunity to see grizzly bears, gray wolves, and other animals indigenous to the Western United States in a drive-through environment in the Greater Yellowstone area.
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The history of bear encounters by wilderness explorers and tourists in the American West has been widely documented, with early fears being replaced in large part by roadside congregations of bear feeding by the middle of the 20th century. Due to the increasing popularity of photo opportunities with the animals and the risks to natural bear habitats, Yellowstone National Park issued a number of policy changes in 1970 regarding park visitor interaction with the animals, including the banning of hand feeding and the implementation of bear-proof trash cans, limiting opportunities for National Park visitors to see the animals in their natural settings.
Construction on Yellowstone Bear World was begun in 1994, developed by Michael Ferguson as an endeavor to present a wild bear experience in a safe, family-friendly environment. An agreement with wildlife officials in the state of Idaho allowed Ferguson to bring 13 bears rescued from the entertainment industry into the park despite existing bans on commercial importing of black bears. The park’s development was halted in the spring of 1998 due to permit regulations related to the Clean Water Act concerning the park’s impact on the wetlands of the nearby Snake River. As a result of public support for the park from area residents, a construction permit was issued by the Madison County Commissioners in May of 1998, allowing for completion of the park the following month.
Today, Yellowstone Bear World is home to a variety of animal species indigenous to the American West, including grizzly and black bears, Rocky Mountain elk, white-tail and mule deer, American bison, moose, and mountain goats. All animals at the park are rescues from caged environments, including animals formerly used in the entertainment industry, or are animals born on site at the park. As a dedicated wildlife education and conservation facility, the park allows all animals to roam freely throughout its wildlife areas in protected recreated natural habitats. The park is the only drive-through wildlife park in the Yellowstone area and is primarily geared toward families with young children, offering opportunities to see indigenous animals from a distance in a safe environment. All visitors must sign a liability waiver and rule agreement at the park’s front entrance, which allows for unlimited drive-throughs on the day of admission.
In addition to the park’s main drive-through route, a Petting Zoo area allows visitors to leave their vehicles for up-close animal experiences in a one-acre free-roaming environment. A variety of farm animals and wild birds are on display at the petting zoo, including pigs, deer, goats, geese, and ducks. At the park’s main complex, the Three Bears Gift Shop offers one of the largest assortments of bear-themed souvenirs in the country, including clothing, home decor, toys, Mill Creek artwork, and huckleberry products. An Animaland Bear Stuffing Machine allows children to create their own stuffed bear toys, complete with birth certificate and personal carrier, and more than 20 varieties of homemade fudge are sold, including flavors such as Moose Munch, Black Bear Drool, and Idaho Rocky Road. A small museum exhibit features animal hides and horns preserved by area taxidermists, and a Hungry Bear Cafe sells light American fare, including bear-shaped French fries.
For an additional fee, several amusement rides for young visitors are provided, including a Circus Train, Log Roll’r Coaster, Huckleberry Bounce, and Baja Buggy. All rides are designed for children ages three and up, and riders under three feet tall must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. At designated times throughout the day, animal bottle-feeding opportunities are also offered for an additional fee, allowing families to go behind the scenes with animal keeper staff for up-close interaction with baby bear cubs, including petting, bottle-feeding, and photo opportunity experiences. As space at bottle-feeding experiences is limited, visitors are encouraged to purchase advance tickets online through the park’s website, although a limited number of walk-up ticket reservations are available on the day of feedings.
Curated tours of the park’s facilities are offered by park staff, allowing visitors up-close opportunities with the park’s adult animals. Tour participants ride through the park’s drive-through area in an open-topped truck, atop a raised platform walkway providing safe opportunities for photographs and animal feeding. Participants may feed the park’s bears at several designated feeding stops, using wildlife-safe food distributed at the beginning of the tour.
6010 S Bear World Road, Rexburg, ID 83440, Phone: 208-359-9688