The Wilds is a conservation park located in Cumberland, Ohio, about an hour and a half east of Columbus, Ohio. We stayed for two nights at the end of September 2021, but you can also visit The Wilds as a day trip. You can read a review of our overnight stay at the Wilds here. Below is a review of our visit to The Wilds conservation park in Cumberland, Ohio.
When you arrive at The Wilds, you will park at the bottom of the hill and take a shuttle up to the top of the hill where you will find the welcome center/gift shop and the Johnson Center. Parking is $6. Once at the top of the hill, you can disembark from the shuttle at the Johnson Center or the welcome center (these are also just a short walk apart).
The Johnson Center is where you will purchase your tickets (if you haven’t already) and check in for most tours. There is a small gift shop, snack stand, and bathrooms. Just outside of the Johnson Center, you can take a quick look at the Hellbender Conservation Center where you can view the salamander-like creatures from a few small windows in the conservation center building. Also just outside of the Johnson Center is a bench from which the Open-air Safari tours depart. A short walk away, the welcome center includes a larger gift shop, bathrooms, and the main dining option, the Overlook Café. The Wildside Tours depart from just outside of the welcome center.
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While staying at The Wilds we decided to participate in two separate tours. The Open-air Safari is included with any overnight stay on-property and seems to be the most popular tour. You travel around The Wilds property in an open converted school bus and view the various animal habitats. The Open-air Safari costs $35 per person if you are not staying on property. The tour lasted about two and a half hours and was a great introduction to The Wilds property.
The Open-air Safari takes you around to all of the major animal pastures and to the Carnivore Center (where you disembark from the bus to see the cheetahs, African painted dogs, and dholes). Depending on the time and outside temperature of your tour, you might have more or less interaction with the animals. I decided to book our Open-air Safari tour at 10am (the earliest available) because I thought that the animals would be more active when it was cooler. This seemed to be true for the African painted dogs, but not so true for most of the other animals. Later tours seemed to get a much closer look at several of the animals including the rhinos and camels, but I imagine this varies greatly depending on the day and the time of year.
One of my favorite parts of this tour was the stop at the Lake Trail. Unfortunately, this stop was only 15 minutes long, but I really enjoyed it. At the Lake Trail stop, you can feel the fish and the birds. On the advice of our tour guide, we hustled down a winding gravel path passing a few cranes (and another animal I can’t remember) to the lake where we found another staff member on the pier. He offered a handful of fish food for 25 cents. I enjoyed feeding the fish (there are some really large catfish), but really enjoyed the birds a lot more.
After feeding the fish, we quickly hiked back around the winding gravel path to the parakeet house. There, you can purchase a ‘bird stick’ for a dollar which is essentially a coffee stirrer with bird seed glued to one end. As soon as I entered the parakeet house, I was bombarded by hungry, colorful parakeets. It was initially a bit startling, but after a minute I became more relaxed as more birds landed on my hands. I felt a bit like Snow White and was insanely excited. I loved it so much that I purchased two more ‘bird sticks.’ If you don’t like birds or are easily startled/overwhelmed, this might not be a great choice for you, but I loved every second of it and wanted to stay for much longer than our tour allowed.
Overall, the open-air safari seems to be a bit hit and miss. On this tour, you stay on the gravel roads as you visit each area. We didn’t get up close to any of the animals except for those at the Carnivore Center, but later tours seemed to have more success. In general, it was a great overview of the property and the mission at The Wilds. We enjoyed learning about the animals and ongoing conservation efforts by The Wilds and other zoos around the country.
The Wildside Tour
We also booked the Wildside Tour. This tour is billed as a smaller behind-the-scenes tour. I would say that it exceeded our expectations and was our favorite part of our visit to The Wilds. For guests staying on-property, the Wildside Tour costs $60 per person. For guests visiting for just the day, this tour costs $125 per person. Despite the price tag, we would highly recommend this 2.5 hour tour.
As part of the Wildside Tour, we drove right up to almost all of the animals on property. These tours are much smaller and you ride in the back of a pick-up truck which has been converted to include bench seating. It was actually more comfortable than the seating in the Open-air Safari in my opinion. We also visited the Carnivore Center on this tour.
On this tour, we were able to feed a Greater One-horned Asian Rhino an apple- which was probably my favorite part of the tour (you can see the video on my Instagram and Facebook accounts). We were also able to pet the camels and feed the giraffes some romaine lettuce (I guess it’s one of their favorites). We drove right up to every one of the pasture animals on property. Some animals allowed us to get really close while others were a bit skittish and wanted a bit more distance, but we got great views (and photos) of all of them.
This tour was also filled with tons of facts and information about the animals and The Wilds, but was much more personalized. There were only six people on our tour so we were able to ask our guide Kelsey (who was incredibly knowledgeable) any questions we could think of. It was a fantastic experience and I look forward to doing it again in the future.
Butterfly habitat hike
On our last morning at The Wilds, we decided to venture across the road and visit the butterfly habitat. It was mentioned only briefly on our other tours but we decided to check it out. It turned out to be much more of an adventure than we expected. On initial inspection, the butterfly habitat appears to be a large field of wildflowers with clearly cut paths. As we began our adventure, it was clear that these paths had not been tended to for some time.
The visible paths in the field were somewhat overgrown and even in my water resistant hiking shoes my feet were soaked by the morning dew. There are several markers along the path. If you pick up a brochure/map at the beginning of the hike at the marked notice board, you can read interesting facts related to each of the posted markers. For instance, we learned that the sheets of metal found occasionally along the path were for a study on snakes.
About a third of the way into the hike, the path veers off into the woods. As we are pretty avid hikers, this didn’t deter us too much, but we almost immediately found that the path was very difficult to follow. Parts were very overgrown and I was very thankful to be wearing long pants. It became even more precarious as the path turned toward the water. The path was very muddy and water-logged and again very difficult to follow. Once we made it out of the marshy areas and back into the field, it was much easier going.
Although it was much more demanding than we anticipated, it was a beautiful hike. We only saw a few butterflies, but we think it was too wet, early, and cool for them to be out. We got to see a beaver dam (I was really impressed by this) and learn some interesting facts about the plants and animals native to the area. I imagine that this path is maintained more regularly at the beginning of the season, but be prepared for a bit of a challenge if you encounter a butterfly habitat in the same state as we did.
Other tours and activities
The Wilds offers several other tours and activities to add to your visit. Although we didn’t participate in these activities during our recent trip, I hope to try them out the next time we visit.
The Wilds offers a zipline tour over several of the animal pastures. There are two tours; one that includes 10 ziplines and a shorter option that includes five ziplines. The longer Zipline Safari tour lasts approximately 2.5 hours and costs $89 per person (or $69 per person if you are staying on property). The shorter Zipline Overlook tour lasts approximately 1.5 hours and costs $59 per person. This tour is also offered at sunset and there is a special full moon option as well.
The Wilds also offers horseback tours. These tours take place across the road from the main pastures of The Wilds so I am not sure how many animals you are able to view on this tour. The tours last about an hour and cost $30 per person (or $20 per person if you are staying on property). There is also a Sunset Horseback Riding Tour that includes a dinner buffet and a two hour tour.
Another tour offered by The Wilds seemed to be very popular with fans of the National Geographic television show Secrets of the Zoo. This tour takes guests on a special variation of a Wildside Tour led by one of the Animal Management team members who appear on the Secrets of the Zoo television show. It seemed that several of the people visiting The Wilds on our visit did so specifically to participate in this tour. This tour lasts about 2.5 hours and costs $250 per person. Maybe after watching the show we will try out this tour on our next visit.
What to pack
There are several items I would recommend packing for a trip to The Wilds. I recommend packing as if you were going on an African Safari. You will definitely want to bring your binoculars and cameras. If you are only able to participate in the Open-air Safari, I recommend bringing a zoom lens. If you have a GoPro, I highly recommend bringing it along. We got some great shots of the animals (especially on the Wildside Tour). You will also want to bring sunscreen and bug spray– especially if you are visiting in the summer.
In terms of attire, I recommend comfortable shoes. Some tours, like the Wildside and Zipline Tours, require close-toed shoes. Depending on when you visit, you might also want to dress in layers. It can get very cool riding in the tour vehicles.
I would absolutely encourage anyone to plan a trip to The Wilds. They are open May through October, but you can stay in the cabins or the lodge year round and schedule a winter Wildside Tour. If you want to visit, you might consider staying on-property. Brian and I stayed for two nights in one of the traditional yurts. You can read all about our stay here.
Have you ever been to The Wilds or to another conservation park? What was your favorite part of that experience?
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