In northern Arizona, right off I-40 (one of America’s major cross-country highways), is a super cool place called Bearizona. It is exactly what it sounds like. Coined as a “wildlife and safari park”, the park is most known for the black bears that freely roam around (in an enclosed area; I’ll explain more in a bit), walking up to and in between cars full of gawking visitors. However, not only black bears live and roam Bearizona, but also a mélange of wild animals native to that area and from afar.
These include African crested porcupines, Alaskan tundra wolves and artic wolves, American bison, American burros, beavers, bighorn sheep, bobcats, turkeys, deer, foxes, grizzly bears, reptiles like lizards and pythons, spiders, jaguars (both regular and black), javelinas, miniature donkeys, reindeer, rocky Mountain elk, rocky mountain goats, and white bison.
The park is open daily, from 8am to 7:30pm; however, and importantly, the last car admitted is at 6pm. Tickets vary based on whether you go during the week or during a weekend, as well as age. Weekday: children (4-12) are $20, adults (13-61) $30, and seniors (62+) $27. Weekend: children $25, adults $35, and seniors $32. Children 3 and under are always free.
We went on a Saturday because of my daughter’s school. We knew it was cheaper to go during the week, but it wasn’t feasible. We 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, so he was able to easily drive through the driving part of the park, unencumbered by people constantly breaking the rules (more on that later, as well). In the video, he said around 1 or 2pm the park began to fill up and boy, was he correct. We arrived around 11am due to coming from Phoenix, which is almost 2 hours away. To arrive at 8am we would have had to leave at 6am and that just wasn’t happening. Regardless, when we arrived at that time, the park was still relatively empty. I was satisfied with how many people were there and the parking situation was fine.
We left the park around 2:30pm (3 ½ hours was more than enough time to spend) 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 dude’s advice and get there as early as possible. Also, really try to go on a weekday if you can (I’d give that advice for basically anywhere).
We arrived around 11am and decided to do the walk-around part first, as we all needed to use the restroom and there are none in the driving part. Located inside “Fort Bearizona”, the zoo is billed as a “Self-guided Walking Tour”. It’s basically just a leisurely stroll through a very small (by zoo standards) zoo. Here is where a lot of the animals are located, like the elk, reptiles, otters, spiders, 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 at this part of the park are a bunch of food and drink trucks, as well as two eateries called Canyonlands Restaurant and Bearizona Grille. The former is a large, sit-down dining experience, with hickory smoked BBQ, gourmet burgers, and fresh salads, and the latter is more of a come-and-go joint serving hot dogs, warm pretzels, and cheesy nachos. You may also purchase alcohol at these establishments, which I think is… ridiculous, frankly. In my opinion, nothing spells disaster like someone who’s inebriated being mere feet from a black bear with only a door lock standing between them. People aren’t exactly known for their sound decision making skills while drunk. But to each their own!
Canyonlands is open 7 days a week and 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, seeing all there was to see. We didn’t go to the petting zoo area, which I don’t even recall seeing. They also were not performing any shows while we were there, but they do have shows (according to their website). 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. To reach the elk and jaguars, you must go through the gift shop, which is prettyyy clever of the Bearizona marketing team, if you ask me.
The drive-through portion of the park is a whole other beast than the walk-through portion. It takes around 30 minutes to complete, but that’s based upon the animals and the other drivers… mainly the other drivers 😡. Along with the “do not roll down windows” signs, there are multiple signs posted periodically throughout the drive that command drivers NOT to stop, as it causes stress to the animals and congested traffic. But of course, there are people who believe rules do not apply to them, and they ignored these signs. A lot. It was by far the most frustrating part of the experience. Not only did it cause traffic jams, but it also made it difficult to see certain animals, as cars would literally park right beside them or behind them, blocking all views of the animals.
Perhaps Bearizona knows these people exist and no amount of signage will deter them from their rude and entitled ways; therefore, they allow you to drive through as many times as your heart desires. We ended up going through twice, because why not? It was unlimited and we knew we had been blocked from seeing certain animals because of the above-mentioned folk.
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. This is obviously due to some of the animals being rather dangerous, and they come up right to your vehicle. There is usually a bus tour, as well, called the Wild Ride Bus Tour, but due to Covid it is temporarily unavailable.
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 that are wide enough for animal’s feet to fall through but not to impede vehicles’ wheels; this prevents the animals from walking on it as they don’t want to fall through). The bears and wolves were the most active and unafraid of the cars passing through. On more than one occasion we saw a bear or a wolf passing right in front of a car or walking along the side of it. This is another main point where people would ignore the “do not stop” signs. Yes, it is super cool to watch a wolf or bear walk in front of your car, but you don’t have to put it in park and set up a picnic.
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, realized it was a waste of time because all the bison were congregating near the entrance of the second circle, never even bothering with the second circle (you could easily see the bison from the main road as they were all huddled near the front). We surpassed it completely on our second go-around.
By far the coolest part of the drive-through portion was, naturally, the bears and wolves; however, I really want to go back near opening time. The onslaught of cars and inconsiderate people made it rather difficult to enjoy them.
So, if you’re ever driving on Interstate 40 passing through, and have the time to stop, I highly suggest giving Bearizona a visit. It is not an all-day excursion unless you make it one. It’s something that can be done easily in 3 or so hours, and you won’t feel shortchanged or rushed. Or perhaps you’re visiting Flagstaff or Phoenix and have a free day. It’s only about 30 minutes outside Flagstaff and about 2 hours north of Phoenix. If you’re coming from southern California, it’s roughly a 5-hour drive (depending on where you’re coming from). It’s totally 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 (it had not). I was worried because on the emailed receipt, it said “absolutely no refunds”. We’re talking almost $100, so I was stressed. 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! So, major kudos and much thanks to the Bearizona PR team!