The Wild Center – Adirondack Home of Squeaker the Aqua Cat

What?  You’ve never heard of an aqua cat?  They’re cute and cuddly, roll, play, sleep all day, and swim… oh wait, you may know them as otters, and the four otters residing at The Wild Center are certainly the center of attention.  However, there’s a lot more to this Adirondack Natural History Museum than just the otters.  Continue reading for our family’s impression of this delightful Adirondack family attraction.

Squeaker at The Wild Center

Squeaker at The Wild Center; image courtesy of The Wild Center

The Wild Center

The Wild Center is the natural history museum of the Adirondacks located in Tupper Lake, New York about 40 minutes west of Lake Placid.  Adirondack State Park is an incredibly large area – over 6 million acres, bigger than Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Great Smokey, and Glacier National Parks combined, and The Wild Center sits right in the heart of it.  You might ask, why go to a museum to experience the Adirondacks when you’re already IN the Adirondacks?  Well, The Wild Center is a great way to introduce and orient your family to these expansive surroundings before exploring on your own.  Plus, with over 900 animals that live at the center, it’s a wonderful opportunity to experience creatures you simply would not see face-to-face in the wild.  Case in point, the playful otters splashing in their plunge pool cavorting on the cascading waters of the 20 foot Otter Falls.

Otter at The Wild Center

The otters were certainly one of the main draws, and our animal loving daughters, obsessed with all things adorable, couldn’t wait to see the fun-loving critters.  However, we were able to get a behind-the-scenes tour with Frank, one of the animal caretakers, and he showed us all kinds of animals that make their home at The Wild Center (and in the Adirondacks).  Our burly tour guide introduced us to Stickley the porcupine and other more cute and cuddly residents of the Adirondacks such as an infant skunk named Flower.  (Stickley was cute mind you, just not so cuddly.)

Stickley the Porcupine at The Wild CenterFlower the Baby Skunk at the Wild Center

Frank cared for all animals at the museum, but had a particular affinity towards herps (i.e., reptiles and amphibians).  While the girls ooohed and aaahed over the fuzzy animals, Frank made sure to point out the virtues of the scaly and cold-blooded creatures you could find in the Adirondacks.

The Wild CenterThe Wild Center

And lest not forget the Avian friends flying overhead.

The Wild Center

The animals who now make their home in The Wild Center, have been rescued and/or are recovering from injury, and serve to bring the outdoors in – a blending of the outside world with the inside.  The large picture windows allow you to gaze out over an Adirondack pond, the water laps against the pane, and is brought inside complete with a marsh flowing into a trout stream and toppling over the aforementioned Otter Falls.  All of these spaces populated by native fish and wildlife – just like they would outside.

The Wild Center - Marsh Oxbow

In addition to the naturalistic displays of the Adirondacks today, you can also learn how the Adirondacks were formed by glaciers tens of thousands of years ago.  Go ahead, get up close, examine, and touch the massive glacier as it might have existed in a 2 mile thick sheet slowly carving out the region.

Glacial Ice Wall - The Wild Center

Not only can you explore the Adirondacks of the past and present, but Planet Adirondack allows guests to understand where the Adirondacks (and the planet) are heading in the future.  The newest exhibit, that opened in Summer 2012, features a giant sphere – Earth – that hangs from the ceiling illuminated by projectors that cast images of Earth and more.  The display is more than just a globe, it uses National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data to depict weather patterns, airplane movements, social media connections, the solar system and stars.  Ask the host a question, and they will project the answer in real time on the sphere.  My PhD scientist wife said she could have sat in the room all day and watched the presentation.

As the Adirondack experience is not about sitting inside a museum, The Wild Center encourages you to get outdoors to truly understand the Adirondacks.  There are multiple trails to travel around the museum grounds (note: the Pond Loop Trail is fully accessible), over the water, and to the osprey tower.  Wild Center naturalists offer guided hikes every day; you can snow shoe in the winter (The Wild Center will loan you snow shoes for free), and canoe in the summer.  After you’ve spent the day exploring the museum and its environs, you can grab something to eat at the Waterside Cafe.  The food was a huge step above burgers, chicken fingers, and fries, and smelled like Thanksgiving during our visit with roasted turkey club sandwiches topped with cranberry sauce.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to The Wild Center, and it was a highlight of our Castles, Cowboys, and Caverns Upstate New York Adventure.  If you are heading to the area, we can definitely recommend adding The Wild Center to your itinerary.  It will give you and your family a much greater appreciation of the breadth of the region.  For more photos of our visit to The Wild Center, click here or on any of the images in the gallery below.

Disclosure – Adventures by Daddy was hosted by The Wild Center and received complimentary admission in exchange for this post.  However all opinions expressed are those of the author’s.  For more family travel news, reviews, and trip reports, be sure to follow Adventures by Daddy on twitter and “like” our facebook page too.

About Dave Parfitt

Married, father of two girls, and living in the heart of the Finger Lakes. I'm a runner with a PhD in neuroscience and a passion for travel.