I had heard about this interesting place in Lake Arrowhead, where they have a wildlife sanctuary for animals mostly found in our area, so when I went up to see the Strawberry Peak Fire Lookout I figured I should go check it out. I had no idea what I was in for, but after going, I can say it is a great excursion for the whole family, much better than a zoo. If you can find this place (it is hard, but there are directions below), you are in for a treat with what Diane and Rodger have set up in this impressive wildlife sanctuary.
Created in 1994 and operated by the San Bernardino Mountains Wildlife Society, Wildhaven is a not-for-profit organization consisting of a wildlife sanctuary, an education, and visitation center for endangered and indigenous wild animals for the San Bernardino Mountains.
If you call the main number on their website they are very good at helping you get directions, but on their site, it says you can put 462 Oakdale Dr Cedar Glen CA, 92321 into your GPS, and that will put you in front of their gate. Once you make it to the gate there is a small dirt parking lot up to the right. From there, you simply wait for the tour to start, they ask you not to walk around as it will scare the animals. Also, note that you must have reservations to visit, so get them online before you go.
What is immediately evident from the first time you talk to Diane and Rodger (who work here every day) is how much they love these animals. Many have been here since they were very young and have developed a repertoire with the owners, much like you would see with a dog and its owner. They come up to be petted, interact with the humans, and generally seem to enjoy their caretakers when they are in the cages. This is a unique experience as when you visit zoos, you often see animals just sitting there or even hiding from you, but at Wildhaven, they get up and interact as you watch. We got to see a whole bunch of animals as well; here is the breakdown.
The first animal we saw was the bobcat, and it was beautiful and about four times the size of a typical cat. It loved Diane and came when she called as well as ate its meal of a mouse while we were watching. The bobcat also showed off its fantastic jumping abilities and was able to jump a distance of at least 6 feet with no difficulty.
The deer loved Rodger and tried to follow him around and let him pet them while they ate peanuts. He also had a pouch of dried cranberries, and every time he turned around, they were sticking their heads into the bag to get food. The deer interacted much like you would see a horse interact, except that they were always on their toes, and the slightest noise could scare them.
When we walked near the coyote’s area, Diane started to make a howling noise. I was pretty confused about what was going on until all four of the coyotes started howling as if they were answering her. It was cool to see and provided great views of the coyotes howling like they would in the wild. This is something that I have never seen, even though I have lived near coyotes my whole life.
Next, we saw Bandit, the raccoon. They have tried to release him into the wild twice, but he refuses to go, which I wouldn’t blame him for, as he has a pretty good set up going here. He was a lot bigger then I expected, but it was cool to see him interact with the volunteers. Again, he was a fan of cranberries.
By far, the highlight of this trip and the part that was worth the price of admission itself was the feeding of the bears. The two bears we saw were named Little Bear and Snickers. We got to sit around 3 feet away from the bears, behind a fence, which is something you never get to see even at a zoo and it provided a unique experience to be able to see the interaction and life of these bears from such a great vantage point.
The bears were huge and would have been menacing-looking if alone in the wild, but here they even did tricks like sitting and waving when coaxed by dried cranberries. I couldn’t believe they were as big as they were and was excited to see them up close. We got to see another bear at the end as well, who was in a much bigger area and liked to climb the small trees in his pen. They have a total of four bears there.
The Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle
After seeing the bears, we got to go down and see Patriot the bald eagle and then a golden eagle. Both of these animals have hurt wings so they could fly, but not very well; this was sad but did allow you a great view of these beautiful birds. Especially being able to see and photograph the bald eagle was pretty amazing.
After the two hours of walking around the complex, the tour was over. I was delighted with my time at Wildhaven and couldn’t recommend it more, especially if you are into animals or your kids are. They run one main tour a week on Saturday afternoons, but if you have a larger group, they sometimes take reservations during other parts of the week. The cost was $10 a person (in 2013), which is a steal for the excellent experience you get to have with these animals. Make sure you call in advance if you are going as they set up the tour, depending on the people going.