Always on the lookout for educational child-friendly destinations, we found the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota. Neither of us knew much about wolves but were not that afraid of them–if I saw one when we were walking in the woods, that would be a different story! So learning about the lives of wolves and even meeting four actual wolves sounded interesting and fun. What do I know now that I did not know before we went? They look like dogs! I would never have known they were wolves if I had met them in the woods! This is a great place for groups of any type but especially homeschool field trips. I do have to warn you about the bloody displays. I was appalled at the graphic nature of the wolf displays showing them eating a deer, there was blood everywhere! Not something that I cared to see and I was afraid my daughter would have nightmares. Maybe I am overprotective and too sensitive. This was not a picture….it was actually a 3-D display with wolves, deer, even a huge bird! Oh and right up there on my list of things I would not have added to the display….a wolf urinating on a tree! Before we go on, I need to ask you to put away your cameras or turn the flash off as the displays can be harmed by flash photography. That is right….the displays are actual wolves who have died and been stuffed.
We must have went on a slow day as there was hardly anyone else there. Parking was generous and we parked close to the door. We paid $8.50 for me (adult price and anyone over 12) and $4.50 for my daughter (child). Children under three are free. Each month has different opening and closing times so you will need to check their website. When we walked in, I thought they were closed. The place was dark and I saw no one there. We saw a fireplace and hearth with a wolf sculpture laying down by it. Coming up the driveway we had seen a sculpture of a few wolves too. Each day there are different programs that you can attend. I can only tell you what was going on the day we were there.
Most programs are included in the price of entrance but there are some that require an additional fee to attend. One such program is the feeding one, watch the pack eat dinner and learn about the feeding of wolves and what they eat for $6 adults and $3.50 children. Any program with an additional fee, you would need to register for prior to arriving. The programs that we saw were a movie on baby wolves–so cute and fuzzy! and a demonstration with a staff member about wolves. This was actually really interesting with items passed around the viewers….items like scat in a glass box, yep wolf poop! Also feet of a deer and a moose, wow I had no idea the feet of a moose were that big! We also got to feel the pelt of a wolf, it felt stiffer than I would have expected.
Walking in, my daughter was given a Passport to Wolf Country to get stamped along the way. Each room or place in the Wolf Center had a stamp and ink pad so she could stamp it on her passport. This really helped us not to miss a thing! On the back of it is a map showing each location of things to see. Of course the first thing we wanted to see were the actual live wolves so we hurried up the long hallway and found large glass windows at the end of it. I had heard that many times visitors do not get to see the wolves as they are not walking around or in view. So we looked out holding our breath and saw a wolf asleep on a hill! We were pretty excited about that! So we decide to go explore the rest of the place and keep coming back to try and see all of the wolves. So we wandered around and came face to face with a wolf!! Wow this wolf seemed as real as I am sitting here. My daughter was terrified! The taxidermist did a great job on this one! We thought a wolf had gotten loose! Finally we realized the wolf was not moving. A great one to take pictures with but it is in a dark area so our pictures turned out dimmer than we wanted–could not use a flash! Along this wall are portraits of humans and wolves with facts about the unnecessary fear humans have of wolves. Also how wolves eventually helped humans by protecting them only after they were in competition for the same food.
Turn the corner and see many, many items….we saw a fox in a box….really! It was so life-like that we wanted to rescue the critter! Many displays such as the wolf standing over a dead sheep with a bloody neck. Wolf pups in a small cave…awwww. A huge tall glass case held an Indian with items made out of a wolf’s pelt. And the largest display was in the middle of the room. It was a huge display featuring a few wolves, a dead deer, a large bird, and a wolf urinating right towards the viewer! This is the one that was really bloody. My daughter was not impressed or frightened, that is what predators do she said. This section had interactive buttons so viewers could hear wolves howl.
Then there is a kiddie section play area. Here they have wolf tails that kids can pin on and wear inside the room. The unique item in this room is the dark really dark cave that kids can crawl through. My daughter would not go in so I went in first….and heard, awwww, baby wolves whimpering! It was pitch black dark and my hand felt something furry!!!! What was that! Ohhh stuffed baby wolves (sold in the gift shop). That scared me to death though! Finally my daughter came in but did not like the sound of whimpering. I thought this was so cute but she did not care for it. There was a peg board so kids could see what wolves eat, and what their prey would eat. Also other interactive items for kids to play with. Look up and see huge birds flying overhead!
There was a small theater where we watched a movie about wolf pups. This was also played on a hanging television set in the hallway. A large moose and map hung in the hall and was a great place to take pictures of my daughter with a huge moose! Along this area you also see an enormous long haired ox display!! Okay back to the actual wolves outside the glass wall. We saw two white wolves and two brown wolves. So excited when they actually started walking towards us!! Of course they were not coming to us but walking along the path right in front of the glass windows. They actually acted as if we were not there at all. I have some wonderful close-up shots of them walking towards me and the video would scare you to death! Everyone there was excited that the wolves came so close to us as many times people come and never get to see a live wolf! We were very lucky. The wolves were really healthy and did not look scruffy in the least. They were not fighting, howling, or growling. They looked like pet dogs in someone’s backyard! Not ferocious at all, I wanted to pet them. Of course I am devastated that we missed going when the wolf pups were born and they were allowing people to see the wolf pups. Now the center has wolf pups!! They also have retired wolves that the public does not get to see as they need quiet the staff member told us. The four adult wolves that we saw are named Shadow, Maya, Malik, and Grizzer. I want to take Grizzer home with me! He is so beautiful and looks cuddly. We also saw a video about these wolves being introduced to each other and the retired wolves and we saw them fighting each other on who would be the lead dog. Very scary growling and posturing but I never thought it got bad enough that I needed to cover my daughter’s eyes or take her out.
I would recommend visiting the wolf center to learn about wolves and see the new baby wolves (lucky you!). Also available are Wolf Country Learning Vacations, educator workshops, and seminars. I do extremely and firmly want to warn parents about the graphic displays. I was shocked at the faux blood, so realistic! Feeding time has to be much worse so would caution parents about letting young children see that. I know the center encourages children to learn about wolves but wow! Those displays are unlike pictures in a book, they are 3-D and life-like. Maybe hunters are used to that but most of us are not. We enjoyed visiting the wolf center and would return there when possible especially to see the new wolf babies!