In Northern Arizona, near the town of Williams and right off I-40 (a.k.a. Route 66; a major cross-country US highway), is a super cool place called Bearizona. It’s exactly what it sounds like – coined as a “wildlife and safari park”, it’s most known for the black bears that freely roam around. They’ll walk up to and in between cars full of gawking visitors (more on that later). However, not only black bears live and roam here, but a mélange of wild animals. These include but are not limited to Alaskan tundra wolves, American bison, burros, beavers, bighorn sheep, bobcats, deer, foxes, reptiles, jaguars, javelinas, reindeer, rocky Mountain elk, rocky mountain goats, and white bison.
The park is open daily, from 9am to 5:30pm; however, and importantly, the last car admitted is at 4pm. Ticket prices vary based on whether you go during the week or a weekend, so best to check out the website before going. Children 3 and under are always free. Located at 1500 E., Route 66, Williams, AZ, it’s only about 30 minutes outside of Flagstaff and about 2 hours north of Phoenix.
We went on a Saturday due to my daughter’s school, although it’s cheaper to go during the week. We had watched a YouTube video on the park the night prior and the man in the video said to “go as early as possible”. He got there at 8am as the park opened and it was basically empty. In the video, he said around 1 or 2pm the park began to fill up. We arrived around 11am due to coming from Phoenix, an almost 2 hour drive, and the park was still relatively empty. I was satisfied with how many people were there and the parking situation was fine. However, the YouTuber was correct – around 2pm, it was definitely filling up.
We left the park around 2:30pm (3 ½ hours is more than enough time to spend, in my opinion) and it was sooo busy. The parking lot was completely full, with people having to park in the furthest away spots. We had been able to find a spot right near the entrance. As more and more people filled up the zoo part of the park, it began to feel claustrophobic. So, my advice is to take the YouTube guys advice and get there as early as possible! Also, really try to go on a weekday if you can.
Upon arrival, we decided to do the walk-around zoo part first. Located inside “Fort Bearizona”, the zoo is billed as a “Self-guided Walking Tour”. It’s essentially a leisurely stroll through a small wildlife zoo. Here is where a lot of the animals are located, like the elk, reptiles, otters, javelinas, jaguars, grizzlies, beavers, bobcats, and more. There are signs located throughout with important facts about the animals, as well as a “Bearizona Barnyard” petting zoo and a “Mine Shaft Experience”, where the nocturnal animals are housed.
Also located in this part of the park restrooms, food and drink trucks, and two eateries called Canyonlands Restaurant and Bearizona Grille. The former is a larger, more formal, sit-down dining experience, and the latter is more of a come-and-go joint serving hot dogs, soft pretzels, and cheesy nachos. You may also purchase alcohol here, which I think spells nothing but disaster at a place like this. But to each their own!
Canyonlands is open 7 days a week, but Bearizona Grille varies with the season. Best to check at the gate when you arrive.
We meandered through Fort Bearizona for about 1.5 hours. Not surprisingly, there is a humongous gift shop near the otters, with countless knickknacks for sale. Oddly enough, inside the gift shop is where the Burmese python is housed. Also, to reach the elk and jaguars, you must walk through the gift shop, which is pretty clever marketing, if you ask me.
The drive-through portion of the park was far different and more angering than the walk-through part. It allegedly takes around 30 minutes to complete, but that’s heavily based upon the animals and other drivers… mainly the other drivers. Along with the “do not roll down windows” signs, there are multiple signs posted periodically throughout that command drivers NOT to stop, as it causes stress to the animals and congests traffic. Naturally, there are people who ignore these signs. A lot. It was by far the most frustrating part of the experience. Not only did it cause traffic jams, but it made it very difficult to see certain animals, as cars would park right beside them, blocking all other views. Again, please take mine and YouTube man’s advice – go as early as possible.
We ended up going through twice, because it’s unlimited, and we knew we’d been blocked from seeing certain animals the first time.
According to the website, “most vehicles” can drive through; however, the vehicle must be completely enclosed with operational windows. There are numerous signs when approaching the bears and the wolves to roll up your windows. Absolutely no ATVs, all-terrain vehicles, open-top jeeps, or open-top convertibles are allowed. There is usually a bus tour as well, called the Wild Ride Bus Tour.
Some of the animals you encounter are, of course, the bears and wolves, bison, big horn sheep, deer, donkeys and burros, reindeer, and rocky mountain goats. They were all enclosed in their own separate areas, unable to pass through the wide-open gates due to cattle grids (metal bars on the ground). The bears and wolves were, by far, the most active and unafraid of the cars passing through. On more than one occasion we saw a bear or a wolf pass right in front of a car or walk along the side of it. The bears and wolves were the main point where people would ignore the “do not stop” signs.
When you get to the bison, it’s your chance to go “off roading” onto two different short, dirt path circles. We did one circle, but realized that all the bison were congregating near the entrance of the second circle, so we moved over to that one.
Overall, if you’re ever driving on Interstate 40 and have the time to stop, or are visiting Phoenix or Flagstaff, I highly suggest giving Bearizona a visit! It is not an all-day excursion unless you want to make it one. It’s something that can be done easily in 3 or so hours, and you won’t feel shortchanged or rushed. It’s worth the trip and I personally would love to go back. Just early in the morning, of course. 😏
P.s. I accidently bought 3 extra tickets online (2 adults and 1 child), as I thought it had cleared my basket when I exited the website. I was worried because on the emailed receipt, it said “absolutely no refunds” and it was almost $100. However, when we got to the gate, I explained what happened to the attendant and she told me to send an email on Monday when her supervisor was back, and they’d reimburse me. I did, and they did!