Located in West Yellowstone, Montana, the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center is an Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited nonprofit educational wildlife park, offering up-close experiences with bears, wolves, and birds of prey for families and children. In 1993, the Grizzly Discovery Center was opened by Lewis S. Robinson, intended as a sanctuary for Yellowstone-area bears that were no longer able to live in the wild due to overly domesticated or aggressive behavior.
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Robinson sold the Center to New York management company Odgen Entertainment in 1995, which added a wolf exhibit featuring 10 wolves born in captivity. After Odgen Entertainment announced its intentions to close the Center in 1999, three of the Center’s managers formed a nonprofit corporation and purchased the Center and several plots of nearby undeveloped land for a sum of $1.7 million. Following the nonprofit acquisition, which included financing as part of a 30-year United States Department of Agriculture development program, the Center entered into a partnership with nearby Yellowstone National Park to host park programming. In 2002, the Center rebranded as the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center and added two buildings at the north end of the facility for museum exhibits.
Permanent Exhibits and Animals
Today, the Center operates as a nonprofit facility offering educational programming about grizzly bears, wolves, birds of prey, and other animals native to the Rocky Mountains. It is located one block from both the entrance to Yellowstone National park and the IMAX/Yellowstone Giant Screen Theater. Center admission allows visitors to explore the facility for two consecutive days, with facilities open 365 days a year.
All of the Center’s bears are rescued nuisance bears or orphaned cubs that were deemed unable to survive on their own in the wild. Bears reside in a combined indoor and outdoor naturalistic habitat that features a pool, waterfall, and private areas, and are regularly rotated to provide socialization among different groups of animals. Food is hidden throughout the habitat to provide bears with simulated natural opportunities for hunting, fishing, and discovery. Two groups of wolves reside at the Center, including the original High Country Wolves, which were rescued in 2006, and the River Valley pack, an unplanned captive-born litter. A seasonal raptor exhibit with weekly programs is also offered between May and November, showcasing birds of prey that can no longer be released into the wild.
The Center’s museum features the Bears, Imagination, and Reality exhibit, which was developed by the Science Museum of Minnesota and permanently installed after a United States tour. At the interactive exhibit, the mythology of bears in American art and folklore is compared to scientific knowledge about the animals collected by researchers and wildlife experts. More than 25 taxidermy mounts are showcased within six thematic areas, shaped around naturalistic habitat settings that explain the animals’ food, behavior, and social traits.
Between the Center’s two wolf habitats, a Naturalist Cabin offers up-close wolf experiences from the comfort of a safe, climate-controlled space with floor-to-ceiling windows. A large fireplace area is offered for relaxation, and interpretive exhibits and a National Geographic film on wolves are offered as educational resources about the animals. Daily Wolf Pack Chats and Enrichment programming is also presented by Center staff.
Future plans for exhibits include a Riparian Habitat Pavilion, examining the effects of bears and wolves on complex ecosystems including river otters, boreal toads, and cutthroat trout, and an expanded bear exhibit that will allow housing for more bears and a new underwater viewing cave platform.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Staff presentations and demonstrations are offered daily at the Museum Theater, including programming presented in conjunction with Yellowstone park rangers. Rotating daily presentations include Wildlife Watching discussions, Raptor Rap presentations, and meet-and-greet events with resident Karelian bear dog Nakiska, who helps with bear management at the Center. Demonstrations on animal safety are also offered, including pepper spray demonstrations and educational programming on human-bear interactions and feeding. A 30-minute Keeper Kids program is also offered for children ages 5-12 throughout the summer months, including ranger-led experiences hiding food within bear habitats.
Guided and self-guided tour opportunities are offered for elementary and secondary student groups of all sizes, including joint tour opportunities with the nearby IMAX/Yellowstone Giant Screen Theater. Personalized classroom outreach programs may be scheduled on an individual basis by contacting the Center’s Education Department. As a committed wildlife conservation facility, the Center works with a variety of area programs to preserve and protect the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, including the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee, the Wind River Bear Institute, and the National Park Service.
201 S Canyon St, West Yellowstone, MT 59758, Phone: 800-257-2570