At the beginning of the year, I committed to “having an adventure every month”. Some have been near; some have been far. But, to date I haven’t missed a month (ok…June might have been a bit of a miss, but sometimes tragedy strikes a family). This month, October, I was certain I wouldn’t find an adventure suitable enough to warrant a blog post but alas this past weekend provided the perfect material.
My nephew, Cory, has been visiting and I wanted to find something that would be fun for him and me as well. There are lots of adventures to be had in Western Washington, but finding one that would be entertaining for both a 19 year-old “man” and a 42 year-old woman proved to be a challenge.
And then the thought entered my mind…ANIMAL PARKS. My nephew and I decided to visit two very different animal parks this past weekend, Olympic Game Farm and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. I’ve been to Northwest Trek Wildlife Park several times, but this was my first visit to Olympic Game Farm.
After our visits, Cory and I discussed both parks at length in an attempt to pick our favorite. In the end, we couldn’t. We loved them both and that was mostly due to their differences.
I hope my explanation of the differences will help others decide what suits them…or, maybe even decide to visit both. In my opinion, either would provide an enjoyable experience.
Olympic Game Farm
The Olympic Game Farm started as a holding area for Disney’s animal actors, but in 1972 they started allowing visitors. Today none of the animals are currently acting, but many of them are off-spring of past animal actors. Acting is not out of the question and many of the animals are trained. In fact, a statement on their homepage proclaims “home of the waving bears”.
Northwest Trek and Wildlife Park was donated to Metro Parks of Tacoma in 1971 by Dr. and Mrs. Hellyer, but didn’t open to the public until 1975. Since then the park has grown to include over 200 animals that are native to the Pacific Northwest.
For more information about Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, check out their About Us page.
Olympic Game Farm
At the Olympic Game Farm, visitors are welcome to drive through the park unaccompanied. The self-guided drive begins at the top of the hill quite mildly by passing a very lively group of prairie dogs. It’s no long before the drive leads into the first large corral which is home to yaks, llamas, and zebras. We must have been the first car of the day (or close to) because the yaks and llamas were very eager to see us. We had to slowly nudge them off the road with the touch of the bummer, while pumping them full of wheat bread (the only food item allowed in the park). Both the yaks and llamas were gentle taking the bread, but very aggressive about sticking their heads in the car windows to get at it. It was an experience like none other I’ve ever encountered (and a little intimidating at times). Occasionally I’d hear a thud against the side of my car as a yak turned and its horn hit.
Once we were past the initial crowd at the entry, we drove down the hill with no trouble. At the base of the hill we quickly fed a couple of peacocks before reaching the zebras. We read that the zebras bite so we were a bit more cautious feeding them (their teeth were very impressive and they gladly showed them). On our second drive through (entry allows all day access), we were out of bread and I had my window rolled up; it did nothing to dissuade the zebras…one of them bit my car mirror.
After the yaks, llamas, and zebras we got an even more impressive treat…brown bears and black bears. A simple 3-4 foot fence with a secondary (and equally short electrical fence) separated my car from the bears. In the end, there was nothing to worry about because the bears we very mild mannered. We tossed them some wheat bread and Cory even encouraged one of them to wave at him.
The next area included fully fenced coyotes, raccoons, lynx, bobcats, cougars, foxes, wolves, lions, and tigers. We were A LOT less impressed with this area. The cages seemed too small and the animals were barely visible through the chain link fence.
The self-guided drive then took us into the elk, bison, and deer corrals. Although we were told not to stop in the bison corral because they can be aggressive we thought they were much milder than the yaks and llamas. Cory fed a couple of elk and a couple of bison, but it was the small deer that would chase our car down for a handout (unless of course a bison was nearby).
All said and done, we went through three loaves of wheat bread during our visit.
Over-all I think the farm was an amazing experience and allowed an up-close experience with animals that are often times only witnessed from a distance. I probably wouldn’t take children until they are of the age in which they understand the precautions (i.e. Zebras bite).
Northwest Trek Wildlife Park is home to animals native to the Pacific Northwest. The park is broken down into two general treks…walking and tram. Additionally Northwest Trek Wildlife Park has many educational experiences and a zip line/challenge course.
We started with the walking trek. The trails meander through carnivores, birds, and wetland animals. Wild cats were first and after several visits I finally had the good fortune of getting to see the lynx up-close. In previous visits the wild cats have been nestled towards the back of their enclosures making them difficult to see. The bobcat and cougar, kept themselves at a distance.
Next were the coyote and wolf enclosures. The coyotes were nowhere in sight, but the wolves did stick their heads up a couple of times. Further along the walking path, the grizzly bear showed only its head from hind a tree stump. However, we did get a bit more action from one of the black bears as it slowly walked through its enclosure.
While walking through the wetland animals, which also included other small animals like skunks, raccoons, and porcupines, we had the opportunity to chat with an employee. We hung out with her while she feed the porcupines and even found out they were a mated pair and had a baby that was currently off exhibit. The male of this pair was 19 years old. In the wild, porcupines are lucky to live half that long.
The walking trek ended with a stroll through the birds. My favorites were the barn owls that always look like statues to me.
As we ended our walking trek, it was time to catch the tram. The tram takes visitors through the omnivore sections of the park. During past visits, I was immediately greeted by a huge herd of bison in the first meadow. This trip, we saw only a couple of deer and a single mountain goat. I had to kick myself for being let down by this…seriously…how often do you get to see a mountain goat up-close…that should be good enough…right?
Luckily it didn’t take long before we started seeing elk, bison, more mountain goats, moose, and big-horn sheep. It was rut for the Elk, so the bulls had their harems separated and were close by keeping a watchful eye. Two younger elk bulls were sparring a bit. Surely they are practicing for a future take over.
What I LOVE the most about Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, is that every enclosure feels natural. All the carnivores seem to be in areas large enough for them to roam and even hide if they want. In most cases, the photos I’ve taken there look as if they were taken in the wild.
Both Olympic Game Farm and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park get funding from entrance fees and donations, but there is one major distinction between the two. Northwest Trek Wildlife Park is also publicly funded and Pierce County residents even get an entrance discount by showing a valid id. Olympic Game Farm gets no public funding. They used to get some revenue from film making, but as I mentioned earlier they do not have any animals actively acting.
Olympic Game Farm costs $12 for adults and $11 for children 6-14 and seniors 55+ (5 and under are free). The only other cost is wheat bread (it can be brought along or purchased at the entrance for $2 per loaf). In the summer months, they have walking tours, petting areas, and a fresh water aquarium. Those areas were closed when we were there and I cannot find pricing information on their website.
Northwest Trek Wildlife Park costs $17 for adults, $15.50 for seniors, $12 for children 5-12, $9 for children 3-4, and free for 2 and under. Pierce County residents get $2 off adult and senior rates and $1 off child rates.
Both locations have gift shops and Northwest Trek Wildlife Park has a café.
Olympic Game Farm is north of Sequim and Northwest Trek is located near Eatonville.
How About You?
Have you been to these parks? If so, which was your favorite? If not, which ones sounds like the most fun?