People say that a trip out west isn’t complete without a stop at Yellowstone Bear World in Idaho.
But what is Yellowstone Bear World, and what do they do there?
We’re walking through everything the attraction offers and discussing some of the darker stories we found.
Let’s dig in!
What is Yellowstone Bear World?
Located 80 miles from Jackson, Wyoming, and West Yellowstone, Montana, visitors to Yellowstone National Park or the Grand Tetons can take a day trip to Idaho’s #1 wildlife attraction.
Yellowstone Bear World (YBW) is open on weekends only from mid-April to late May. After that, they’re open seven days a week until mid-October.
Started by Michael Ferguson as a way to recreate the up-close wildlife encounters he had as a child, YBW began in the late 1990s. Make no mistake, though. They try to educate guests, but Bear World isn’t a zoo or a conservation-minded facility.
YBW offers visitors the opportunity to get up-close views of bears, elk, wolves, deer, and more in its 125-acre park. A self-guided vehicle trail allows visitors to see bison, moose, and other animals in a somewhat natural habitat.
The winding auto tour is accessible multiple times throughout your visit. It’s not a one-and-done attraction. So if you missed an animal the first time through, chances are you may see it on a second or third loop.
The only vehicles you can’t take on the auto tour are motorcycles and semi-trucks; however, they will loan you a vehicle so you can still ride through. If you have your RV, you’re welcome to drive through, or if you have a trailer/fifth-wheel, you can unhitch it before starting.
Why would people want to visit? Because YBW includes a petting zoo, small amusement park, Wildlife Excursion, and likely the biggest draw, a bear cub feeding experience. The Wildlife Excursion allows visitors to travel the park with a staff member, feed the animals treats, and get fantastic photo opportunities.
The excursion is the only way to feed the adult bears in the park. It’s charged separately from the regular admission fee, so plan accordingly.
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Yellowstone Bear World’s Amusement Park
YBW offers amusement rides as part of the entertainment for children ages three and older. Children under 36” must have an adult ride with them, while those taller can ride alone as many times as they’d like.
There are five rides to choose from, the Bear Affair, Huckleberry Bounce, and Circus Train are a few options. The park admission includes the rides within the amusement park.
YBW’s Petting Zoo
Within the 125 acres is a one-acre petting zoo. Guests can get up close to adult and young animals such as deer, goats, pigs, and ducks. Access to the petting zoo is also included with admission.
Feeding Bear Cubs at Yellowstone Bear World
One of the most popular attractions at YBW is being able to bottle-feed bear cubs. Participating in this “once in a lifetime experience” is an additional expense of $75.00 per person. Visitors as young as five years old are welcome to participate, but there is no discount due to the guests’ age.
Participants will join an orientation and a behind-the-scenes tour one hour before their reserved feeding time. Guests bottle-feed the cubs and are allowed to pet them. Also included in the price is a photo of the feeding as a souvenir.
What Does Bear World Do With Their Cubs?
While bear cubs stay with their mothers for up to two years in the wild, YBW staff remove the cubs after eight weeks.
Male bears see cubs as a threat because a female will not breed while she has cubs. As a result, the males will often harm the cubs so they can mate with the females. YBW states on their website that they remove the cubs for their safety and the mothers’. But what happens to the cubs as they enter adolescence and adulthood?
YBW claims they keep their bear cubs. However, the USDA has evidence that shows cubs sold to other roadside attractions throughout the US. In fact, there are records of persons like Joe Exotic of Tiger King fame purchasing cubs from YBW.
PETA states that Yellowstone Bear World has sold more than 80 black bears to animal wholesaler Gregg Woody of Woody’s Menagerie in Illinois since 2012. Sadly, many of those bears eventually ended up in slaughterhouses.
According to Casey Anderson, who worked for the park from 1998 to 2002, the park has euthanized cubs they could not sell to keep their bear population under control. He adopted Brutus, a male grizzly bear who, according to Anderson, would have been euthanized if he’d left him behind.
Pro Tip: Use our guide on How to Spend a Day in Yellowstone National Park to make sure you have the perfect visit!
Is Yellowstone Bear World Humane?
While YBW believes they’re ethically raising and caring for their animals, conservation groups and animal rights groups would argue against them. The US Humane Society and PETA are two such organizations that argue against private ownership of these animals for profit.
Bears at Yellowstone Bear World show signs of distress through mindless pacing. They show signs of irritability and frustration because they cannot engage in natural behaviors such as climbing trees.
It has been recorded that YBW staff force cubs to encounter human touch and noise at a very young age by being put on display. Once they’re too old for the bottle feeding exhibit, they’re shipped to other facilities to be put on display or put down if they can’t be controlled or bred.
We couldn’t find any detailed information about how they treat the deer, elk, moose, wolves, or other animals. Much of the focus is on the black bear and grizzly bear population at YBW.
Is a Visit to Yellowstone Bear World Worth It?
Although attractions like Yellowstone Bear World attempt to educate visitors on an animals’ needs and habits, they aren’t adequately equipped to allow the animal to live naturally. More than 45 bears and other animals on less than 125 acres is hardly enough space for each creature.
While 125 acres seems like a lot of space, keep in mind that the other attractions and gift shop take away from the acreage available for animals.
Would you visit and support roadside attractions like Yellowstone Bear World for the photo ops and experience? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
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