Arkansas is about the last place you’d think of to go on an up-close safari, but Northwest Arkansas is home to Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge. Lions, tigers, bears, bobcats, cougars, leopards, ligers, servals and even a Coati call the 459-acre refuge home.
All the animals at Turpentine Creek are rescued animals who cannot be returned to the wild. Among my three visits there over the past year, the refuge has made constant habitat improvements, most recently a grizzly bear habitat for Bam Bam. The grizzly habitat is near the entrance, probably because Bam Bam believes he’s the star of the show. He’s definitely worth a visit on the way in and on the way out.
Caring and feeding for dozens of wild animals is expensive, so Turpentine Creek does charge admission, and there is an add-on guided tour package available to view all the big cats and hear their stories. If you’re an animal lover with an extra hour to kill, it’s worth the ticket price. If you are crunched for time or cash, the self-guided tour on its own is a satisfying experience.
The animals, however, are most satisfied as dinnertime approaches, and the staff begins to cart out wheelbarrows full of raw meat.
My best recommendation is to visit a bit before feeding time. Check their website for current feeding details, because you do not want to miss it. Every animal begins to stir, cougars growl, tigers stalk the keepers and pounce on cages, and the whole place comes alive with the energy of hungry beasts. Just because the meal is finished doesn’t mean your visit is finished, though. Be sure to stick around long enough to hear the lions chuff and call to each other as they celebrate their successful “hunt.”
Clearly I love the place. You could do one better, though. Check out the lodging options available to learn how you can spend the night in the refuge and even camp out near the wildest of wildlife. I’ll be sure to update you if I ever work up enough nerve to stay the night, myself.
Turpentine Creek doesn’t have to be the only stop in your Northwest Arkansas trip. It’s just seven miles down from America’s Little Switzerland – historic Eureka Springs – with all its shopping, art, dining and ghost stories.