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Viewing the gently rolling hillside just outside Cumberland, in Southeastern Ohio, it’s hard to imagine that this land was once barren after years of strip mining by the Big Muskie. Today nearly 10,000 acres of reclaimed land is known as The Wilds, one of the largest wildlife conservation centers in the world.
Unlike a zoo, the animals at The Wilds roam freely unencumbered by cages and small pens. Visitors view the animals from the safety of a safari vessel, driven by a trained and knowledgeable guide.
What to Expect on a Trip to The Wilds in Southeastern Ohio
The Wilds is perfect for multi-generational family fun. Whether you are visiting with toddlers, teens, or even adult children, The Wilds appeals to a wide age range, as I recently discovered when I visited with my nearly two-year-old nephew, sister-in-law, and my mom and dad.
The lack of animals as you pull into the parking lot may cause you to wonder if you should just skip this attraction and move on. As a frequent visitor to The Wilds, I can assure you that you are in for a treat.
After parking, you’ll board a shuttle bus that will transport you to the top of the hill where you will find The Johnson Center.
This is where your adventure begins. You can purchase your tickets, visit the restroom, rent binoculars, purchase snacks from the vendors and relax in the comfortable waiting area until it’s time for your tour. (This may be a bit different due to Covid).
The Wilds offer several ways to explore the grounds.
While thousands of visitors each season opt for one of the buses or shuttle safaris, the Wild Zipline Safari offers a unique way to see The Wilds. This option also begins at the Johnson Center.
Keeping young children in mind, the Wild Animal Encounter offers a shortened version of the popular safari tours. The Wildside Tour offers an up-close and personal look at the day-to-day operations of The Wilds.
My own family has been on both the Safari Transport and Open-Air Safari several times over the years and while there are benefits to each, my preference would be the Open-Air Safari. You will need to be mindful and remember that the tours run rain or shine so dress appropriately.
We were the first in line this time around and grabbed my favorite seats in the very back of the bus. It’s worth your time to make sure you arrive a bit early just for those seats.
Setting off, your driver will introduce you to The Wilds by offering a bit of the history and sharing what animals you may see on your route.
You may feel as though you are entering Jurassic Park as you pass through the gates into the pasture. The gates ensure that none of the endangered animals escape, and also keep out the local, native animals who carry diseases that would be harmful to the species housed at The Wilds.
Keeping the mission of The Wilds in mind, the gates and electric fences utilize solar power. This energy is harnessed to charge batteries that operate the gate motors. The facility is ensured that even in the event of a power outage, the property would remain secure.
Many of the animals that you see are rare or endangered in the wild.
The Bactrian Camel is native to the Gobi desert. While there are many domesticated camels in herds, there are less than 1,000 wild Bactrian Camels.
At one time, Przewalski’s Wild Horses were extinct in the wild. In the habitat of The Wilds, they have thrived, making it possible to reintroduce the horses to sites in Mongolia and China.
If you’re afraid that your kids won’t be able to sit still for the 2+ hours it takes to go on a regular tour, you’ll be happy to know that the bus does make a couple of stops. The first is to the Lake Trail where you can get off the bus, use the port-a-pots and stretch your legs with a quick walk down to the water.
You’ll also find a new parakeet house where you can feed the birds at the top of the hill after exiting the bus.
If you decide to walk down to the lake, you’ll have to do it quickly as this is a brief stop. The trail winds down to the lake through a series of switchbacks and you come back the same way which may be too much for some in the allotted time frame.
You’ll want to keep an eye out for the animals in the shrubs and bushes because they do like to hide.
Some of the animals will be in plain sight, as these American Bison. At one time, the bison were nearly wiped out but today there are over one million in the wild.
A short drive from the Lake Trail is the Mid-Sized Carnivore Conservation Center where you’ll find African Wild Dogs, Cheetah, and Dholes.
If port-a-pots aren’t your style, you’ll be happy to know that you’ll find comfortable restroom facilities and the Terrace Grill where you can buy sandwiches, chips, soda, and ice cream snacks.
The wooden walkway leads to fenced pastures where you can see the animals.
The fastest land animal, the cheetah has suffered from habitat loss and poaching and is protected here at The Wilds.
The Dhjole looks like a large red fox.
Back on the bus, your safari will continue.
Though you won’t stop, you will pass by the buildings where animals receive medical care or are housed for the winter.
The Southern White Rhino thrives at The Wilds which is the only known facility in North America where fifth-generation white rhinos have been born under the care of humans.
The Wilds is the only breeding facility in North America for the Persian Onagers.
They aren’t shy. One decided to follow our bus until it got bored.
There are over 25 different species of animals at The Wilds. The facility can not guarantee which animals you will see. Though you will see animals each time your visit, I think I’ve seen the most animals when the temperature is cool or after (or during) a bit of rain.
On a warm summer day, you’ll often find Pere David’s Deer frolicking in the water. A native to the China Mainland, this creature was nearly wiped out in the 1800s. During the Boxer Rebellion, soldiers camped in their habitat. Between the army and starving people, the animals were nearly all killed or eaten. A Catholic priest convinced the government to relocate 20-25 deer in Europe, saving this species from extinction.
You may decide to extend your day at The Wilds with an overnight stay in one of the luxury Mongolian yurts along Nomad Ridge. These units are air-controlled and overlook the rolling hills and pasture of The Wilds. I would love to stay here with my husband for our next anniversary. Wouldn’t that be awesome?
The Wilds also has a secluded lodge that has six bedrooms and six bathrooms and sleeps 12 people. Rental is available to members of The Wilds only. There are also lodging options at Straker Lake which is located on the property.
Your tour wraps up in the Overlook building where you can shop for a gift, press a penny, grab a bite to eat, and freshen up in the bathroom.
When you’re ready to head back to your car, you can head outside to wait for a shuttle that will drop you off at your car.
Things to Know Before Visiting The Wilds
– Reservations are now required at The Wilds. Make sure you view their website or call ahead to reserve your time.
-If you decide to go on the open-air safari, wear sunscreen.
– The open-air safari gets dusty. If you don’t want to feel dirty after your adventure, opt for a tour on an enclosed bus.
– The ride is bumpy. Sometimes it can be extremely bumpy.
– Snacks are permitted on the tours. Make sure you take water with you.
– Keep your hands in the vehicle and don’t attempt to touch the animals.
– Don’t forget your camera.
– Binoculars are helpful but if you don’t have any, they are available to rent in the Johnson Center.
– If you have a large family or older kids that you pay adult prices for, buy a Family Membership. Better yet, if you live nearby and plan to visit again, buy a Family Plus Membership and you can take two guests with you each time you visit. (We bought and saved on our very first visit!)
Address: You’ll find The Wilds at 14000 International Road, Cumberland, Ohio 43732, but it’s best to follow the online driving directions and not trust your GPS this time.
Cost: See website for current pricing.
Hours: See the website for current pricing and to make reservations.
Would you enjoy visiting The Wilds?