Wildlife Safari – Winston

I’ve been to Wildlife Safari twice before – once about twenty years ago and once about ten years ago.  It always impresses me and whenever I think about visiting I always questioning why it took me so long to get back.  Plan on spending most of the day when you visit and try to get there as early as possible – you’ll run out of time to see everything if you arrive too late, there’s that much to see and experience.

How do I get to Wildlife Safari!?

Wildlife Safari is located about an hour and a half south of Eugene, so technically it’s not within the strict borders of the Willamette Valley, but it’s still an amazing place to visit.  It’s just off Interstate five very close to  Winston, Oregon.  If you are planning a trip to Winston, I might suggest you make a day of it and visit Rochester Bridge or Cavitt Creek Bridge if you want to see some beautiful classic Oregon covered bridges, and if you are craving something sweeter then Tolly’s Grill and Soda Fountain is in Oakland, which is on the way to Winston as well.

Arriving at Wildlife Safari

First of all I’d suggest leaving Fido at home, your pets won’t be allowed inside Wildlife Safari, however, there is a place where you can leave your pups.  There are kennels available for free – though if you don’t have a padlock (and who has one spare in your car – not me!) it will cost five dollars to get one at the kneel.  It’s as simple as putting your pup into a crate type enclosure and locking the door, but make sure you sign the log so the staff will know which pet belongs to you.

Pet kennels sign
Pet kennels are available for free (but the lock will cost you $5) at Wildlife Safari. You won’t be able to take your dogs into the Safari Village, sorry!

Inside the Safari Village!

Just inside the gates the first thing you’ll see is one of the cheetah paddocks.  Wildlife Safari is well known as a cheetah sanctuary and the first area is a great opportunity to meet one of them.  Something I didn’t realize till later is that cheetah which are raised in captivity are paired with dogs as companions.  That was the case in the first area, the cheetah there has a friend who is in the same area that he is.  They both seemed very calm (much to my surprise) and perfectly at home with each other.

Cheetah yawning
The cheetah exhibit is fantastic, he’s so relaxed he’s yawning and sleeping next to the visitor’s fence
Dog living with cheetah
Dogs are paired with cheetahs as life long companions and life in the same exhibit space
Dog and cheetah sign
Sign explaining the relationships between dogs and cheetahs

The grounds are very nicely laid out and there are concrete paths that connect all of the interesting parts.  There is a place where flamingoes can be seen very closely – those birds always fascinated me, they look odd and are so (to me) unnaturally colored.  There are small areas that have specific uses and features, one was the flamingo area and another is an educational area called the Wild Words Niche.

Inside Safari Village
Concrete paths link all of the exhibit space at the Safari Village
Flamingoes exhibit
The flamingoes are close enough to touch!
Wild Words Niche learning plaque
There are many fantastic opportunities to learn at Wildlife Safari

Another section called visiting Australia has a particularly interesting part where the visitors can enter a large ten foot by fifteen foot bird cage – the birds are all within reach and are extremely friendly and happy to greet visitors.

Walk-in bird exhibit
One fantastic exhibit allows visitors to get up close to budgerigar and cockatiels.

There are many many other exhibits that feature all kinds of creatures and I suggest spending some time checking them all out.  There are camels to pet and arrange a ride on.  There are also chances to visit the elephants that live there – which I highly recommend, and old friend of mind had a wonderful experience meeting the elephants and was very grateful for the encounter.

Camel ride
Kids can enjoy a ride on the camels at Wildlife Safari

The Wildlife Safari Drive

One of the best parts of visiting Wildlife Safari is the drive through the park – it’s a magical experience that is truly immersive.  The first thing you’ll realize is that the animals aren’t in pens or cages – like you’re used to seeing, they are all around and in this case you, the driver and passengers are in the cages.  The first thing I saw was several zebras grazing.  They looked perfectly comfortable munching on Oregon grass rather than their native African flora.

Zebras grazing
Zebras grazing on the Oregon tundra

On the drive, one of the best things to see are all of the large birds.  The next thing I saw was an emu talking to the driver of the car just ahead of me.  Emus are the second largest birds in the world and unlike ostriches have three toes on each feet – ostriches have only two.  Many of the emus at Wildlife Safari are plenty large enough to look into a vehicle and even one as tall as the Bronco (which I was driving).  In fact, as I got next to the inquisitive emu talking to the car in front of me he stood up and looked right at me – hoping to get some kind of treat.  Be sure to keep your dashboards clear of anything – the emus will stick their heads inside your car and grab anything they can see off the dash.

Emu next to car
Emus at Wildlife Safari are large enough to look into cars and beg for food
Emu looking into bronco
The Emus are tall enough to look into the Bronco. This one is expecting a treat!

The only interruptions to the drive through are two areas which the inhabitants are kept apart from the other animals.  Visitors are still able to drive through the areas but the animals are kept separated – they are apex predators and would eat the zebras and emus if offered the opportunity.  The first one is the lion pen and it’s advised visitors keep their windows closed in case the lions get inquisitive.  Unfortunately while I was visiting the lions were all asleep in the shade and ignoring all the visitors and I wasn’t able to get any good pictures.  The second area I drove through was the bear pen.  This was a great spot for pictures and the bears – while avoiding the heat of the day still made for great pictures.  The first group was relaxing in the shade and the third one was swimming in a large pond.

Two bears in the shade
It was a hot day and the bears are escaping the sun in the shade under their shelter
Bear in a pond
One bear was lounging in a pond to escape the heat

After the bears further along the route were some large elk that can be seen from vehicles.  These are common in Oregon but considering all of the different license plates I saw there are visitors from many other states.

Elk grazing
Driving through the park Oregon elk can be seen grazing
Two elk seen while driving
Two elk much closer to the road seen while I was driving through

One of the last things I saw was a pair of giraffes.  They are much larger than I expected (or remembered) and were super close to the Bronco while we drove through.

Two giraffe
Two giraffes seen near the drive through road at Wildlife Safari

As I drove further more emu showed themselves and continued begging.  I still like these birds and their inquisitive nature (when they stick their heads in your car) is just great.  If you’ve got kids they will absolutely love the birds.  I was behind another SUV where the kids were taking turns standing through the sunroof and getting great views of the animals on the drive.  I wouldn’t recommend that be done while driving through the bear or lion exhibit.

Another large emu along the drive expecting a hand-out
Emu begging
The emu was tall enough to stick its head inside the bronco and beg

Summary and Rating

Wildlife is one of my favorite places to visit in southern Oregon.  While it’s strictly speaking not in the Willamette Valley it is worth the drive – particularly if you can make a couple of other stops along the way.    Wildlife Safari offers a plethora of exhibits and opportunities to visit the residents of the park and a unique opportunity where you can drive your own vehicle through man of the different sections of the six hundred acre park.  Wildlife Safari definitely deserves the five Heywillamettes I’m awarding it and I highly recommend everyone take an opportunity to visit.

Heywillamettevalley five out of five rating



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