Trip type: Outdoor, active, all ages, nature
Total time: Two to six hours, plus drive time
Stop 1: Wolf Education and Research Center
I’m not going to lie, wolves scare me. Which is exactly why I’ve been meaning to visit the Wolf Education and Research Center; I have a million questions.
The center is open to the public Memorial Day through Labor Day, but here’s the catch: where the self-guided tours ($5/adults, $2/kids 6-12, free/kids younger than 6) are anytime between 9 a.m. to dark, the guided tours ($4/kids 12 and younger, $10/adults) are only available at 7:30 a.m. and 7 p.m., so you have to plan for it. I assumed the early morning option would be a deal breaker for my kids, but it wasn’t — they even got some friends to join them. I used the online booking at www.wolfcenter.org to reserve our spot.
The morning of our tour, we were greeted at the gate by a guide in a Jeep. Signs warned us to stay on the road and there were two tall electric chain link fences around the animals. It reminded me of a movie I once saw about dinosaurs, but thankfully that’s where the similarities ended.
The two wolves in the center’s 2-acre enclosure were raised in captivity but are untamed. There are two main viewing spots for people who come out on their own, but guided tours get access to a protected space right next to the enclosure. And that’s just one reason to consider a guided tour. Besides that, the tours are at ideal wolf-viewing times (wolves are most active at dawn and dusk) and the wolves are familiar with the staff, which means they’re more likely to come say hello.
As we quietly filed into the enclosure, Xayxayx (pronounced “hi-hi”), the bravest of the two wolves, came to say hello. Actually, she came to say “this is my space” because she peed right in front of us before walking off. (Another guide perk: he translated her behavior.)
We waited silently for her to come back and when she didn’t, it was our chance to ask all the wolf questions we’ve ever wanted. Our guide answered all of them, patiently answering those that were asked multiple times and even tactfully answered the classic “How do you tell the boy wolf from a girl wolf?” without missing a beat.
The brief interaction with the wolf — even if the communication was a bit unconventional — was incredible. Guided tours typically get more wolf-time than we did; but with five kids, we admittedly had a bit of “energy” present that may have scared her off.
After an hour and a half of trying to be still and silent, the kids got antsy so we wrapped up the visit. We got to see a wolf, we busted a few wolf myths and I left my terror of them somewhere along the trail. As soon as we were back in the car, we came to a quick consensus that we wanted to come back.
The nice thing about an early morning tour is that you’ve got the whole rest of the day to fill with adventure, so we headed to Winchester State Park for some fishing. Except once we got there I realized I had one part of two different fishing poles, so that wasn’t going to work. And to be honest, I wasn’t too sad; taking five kids fishing sounded like work.
The nice thing about kids in a place like this is that you just let them loose and they somehow find trails, sticks and their imagination and before you know it, they’re in the woods calling for Bigfoot. The journey stalled at the huge boulders across the walking bridge, upon which they conquered the world and found some rounded “cheeks” to perch upon. It doesn’t take much to get laughs out of this group.
Drover’s Run outside Culdesac would’ve been a great meal stop were I with my family or adult friends — but I was with five kids. Once we learned our friends had never experienced the glory that is the Effie burger, we headed right back to Lewiston and ordered two cheeseburgers ($11.50) and a large french fry ($4.75), a quantity which raised concern by our friends.
The tune changed as soon as the hamburgers arrived at the table. If it’s fun to go to Effie’s; it’s even more fun to take someone who’s never been. The 1 pound hamburgers fill the plate and were enough to fill our stomachs. Lunch came out to $3.75/each, which is a good deal for a full belly and a plateful of memories.
Curious about wolves but don’t want to make a trip of it? Head to Wolf Summer School at 2 p.m. Aug. 15 and Aug. 29 at Hells Gate State Park. No, they don’t bring their wolves, but you will get to see wolf fur, paws, teeth and more. The interactive come-and-go presentation gives you a chance to get the facts about everything you’ve heard about wolves. Class meets at the Lewis Clark Discovery Center; no additional fee after park entry fee of $5/vehicle or free to those with Idaho Parks Passport.