Get Your Wild On at the WV Wildlife Center!

Two wolves play by a fence.

Who doesn’t love animals?

A female wolf stands up on her hind legs against the fence, seemingly inviting visitors to rub her belly.
A friendly wolf invited us to try to rub her belly. We declined the offer, regretfully.

If you’re looking for a kid-friendly day trip, then head on out to the West Virginia Wildlife Center, in Upshur County, WV.

A sign that says West Virginia State Wildlife Center

Operated by the WV Division of Natural Resources, the Wildlife Center displays a number of the state’s native wildlife, in addition to a few introduced species.

A mountain lion by a tree, behind a glass viewing pane.
A mountain lion greeted us at the start of the 1.25-mile loop trail.

We were the only ones there the weekend — a chilly February Saturday — we visited, but a staff member cheerfully waved at us as she zoomed by on her UTV; large buckets rattled around in the back of her UTV, and we figured she was off to feed the animals. Sure enough, a few minutes later, we enjoyed hearing wolf howls — the first hint that wolves were there. LOVED it!

A paved path along the animal pens, showing a chain link fence and a weather refuge shelter for visitors.

The 1.25-mile loop is paved and wheelchair accessible and stroller friendly; in addition, there are several benches located along the trail. The trail is well-shaded, which will keep it cooler during the hotter months.  

A bobcat approaches the chain link fence of its pen.

I always prefer to visit zoos and parks like this in the winter — generally the animals are more active than in the summer heat. And it’s usually less crowded. On the day we visited, I don’t think it could have been less crowded than it was — we were the only ones there.

Four bison graze in their pen on the side of a hill.
These magnificent bison were once common throughout West Virginia! Bison are the largest native animals to North America.

In addition to the wolves, there were elk, bison (who knew they were native to West Virginia??), mountain lions, bear (still in hibernation, so we didn’t get to see them), and a variety of raptors, including bald eagle, golden eagles, red-tailed hawk and several species of owls.

Two barred owls peer at visitors curiously (and a bit judgmentally) behind the chain link of their pen.
Two barred owls look like one! Barred owls are large owls, but lack the typical owl ear tufts. They are year-round residents of West Virginia.

Interpretive signs helped us learn more about each animal’s life history, biology and its relationship with humans.

A pretty ring-neck pheasant peers at visitors from behind its pen.
Ring-necked pheasants are native to Asia, but have adapted well throughout the United States.
Local populations of these lovely birds exist in the northern and eastern panhandles of West Virginia.

The animals are all healthy and happy. A few came running to meet us — the mountain lions pretended to be playful kitties and followed us along the trail; we could hear them purring! Despite the proximity, we felt safe, and they were safe, because of the protection from well made cages.

Two wild boar survey visitors from behind a chain-link fence. The boar are black but are covered in mud.
Wild boar are a non-native species that have been introduced to the southern Appalachians in the late 1960s.

Their pens are well designed to show off the animals but maintain their privacy and give them space away from always having to be on display.

A mountain lion paces behind a chain link fence.
Mountain lions were gone from West Virginia by 1900. Sometimes called cougars or panthers,
its disappearance from the Appalachians paralleled the almost total disappearance of white-tail deer.

Except for the bears and grey fox, the animals were active and we got to see almost all of them.

A bald eagle with a hurt wing gazes proudly at visitors.

I felt sad that these beautiful animals couldn’t be living in the wild, but it was clear, for example, with the eagles, that injuries prevented their release back into the wild. So these animals are ambassadors, to educate the public and advocate for caring for and preserving their habitats.

Five elk lay in the grass on the hill side. Three of the five elk have beautiful antlers.
Elk disappeared from West Virginia in the late 1800s.

In 1923, the Game and Fish Commission purchased property in Upshur County and created the French Creek Game Farm. As its name implies, several species such as quail, pheasant, turkey and deer were raised on the area. Later, elk were introduced to the breeding program on the Game Farm, and still later, bison were brought from Oklahoma.

A red fox is curled up on some stones in its pen.
Red fox are common throughout the United States and are beautiful, clever little predators that help control destructive rodents.

These species were used in an attempt to reintroduce wildlife throughout the state. However, it became evident that farm-raised animals failed to develop the necessary skills for survival in the wild and these programs were discontinued.

A fisher is curled up into a puffy round brown ball of cuteness. One eye is ever so slightly open.
This was the first time I’ve ever seen a fisher; you can just barely see the glint of his little eye which he opened reluctantly at our approach.

Knowing these animals cannot be released into the wild makes it easier to see them in pens. They were healthy looking and had room to explore their surroundings and had dens and trees for shelter. As we strolled from pen to pen and read the informative signs, we learned about the local flora and fauna, including some surprises — bison, of course, which I mentioned earlier. But I also did not realize that pheasant are NOT native to North America.  There are restrooms and picnic tables if you wish to stay longer or pack a picnic. During warmer months, the gift shop and a small snack shop are also open.

A bobcat is strolling along the fence; it's sticking its tongue out.
Bobcats are still common throughout West Virginia. Due to their shy, solitary and nocturnal
hunting habits, you’re not likely to see one in the wild, even though they often live surprisingly close to people.

Getting there: 163 Wildlife Rd, French Creek, WV

Hours: open seven days a week including weekends and holidays. Subject to change due to weather conditions. April 1 – October 31, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Nov 1 – March 31, 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.


A golden eagle perches proudly on a log.
This golden eagle suffers from a broken wing, but is protected
by the Wildlife Center. It now serves as an ambassador of sorts.