See Red Pandas, Black Bears, Gray Wolves, and Pet Goats & Sheep at This Nature Center Near Asheville

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After I saw photos from the Western North Carolina Nature Center in Asheville, NC, I knew that my family would have to go. We love outdoor adventures and seeing animals, so I knew that my kids enjoy a visit. When we decided to finally visit, the WNC Nature Center was even better than I anticipated. If you haven’t been, you need to schedule a visit. And guess what? If you already have a Greenville Zoo membership, you can get half off admission to the WNC Nature Center.

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Why the WNC Nature Center is so cool

The WNC Nature Center focuses on animals and plants in the southern Appalachian mountains so you’ll get to see animals that roamed this area eons ago up to the present day. The uniqueness of this aspect helps guests to understand more about their own environment and animals they may see in the area.

The center is built into nature with lots of shade, walkways, and natural playgrounds. It’s not huge so it’s very manageable for a day trip, especially with smaller children. The exhibits are interactive and fun for kids of all ages and the park is hardly commercialized.

The center is expanding though and has been building into their 2020 vision plan with new merchandise areas, a new (and beautiful) entrance, expanded parking and restrooms, and even a new name – which we don’t know yet.

What You Will See at the WNC Nature Center

You will start your visit in the Appalachian Station where kids can see a variety of small animals and reptiles. Children will also enjoy interacting with a textured wall and looking at rocks under microscopes.

Then, you will venture outside where you will follow paved and wooden sidewalks through animal exhibits. Most of the animals are behind glass or chain link fences but the exhibits themselves are large and full of animal play structures. These animal exhibits include: otters, raccoons, foxes, gray wolves, cougars, coyotes, bobcats, black bears, hawks, owls, and more. There is a brand new red panda exhibit with the cutest, fluffiest red panda ever. And the red wolf exhibit is an educational experience unto itself.

While exploring, you will also find the Trillium Nature Trail, a .6 mile nature trail to allow children to see the beauty along the Swannanoa River.

Kids will enjoy the Arachnid Adventure, a playground based on spider web jungle gyms. This playground also is surrounded by spiders hiding on the surrounding trees making a fun “eye-spy game”. There are also other playgrounds scattered throughout the park where kids use natural materials to build and play with.

Otter Falls also has a slide that kids can play on while they watch the active animals enjoy the water.

Your visit will end at the Western North Carolina Farm where kids will get to pet animals and even pretend to be farmers themselves in an interactive play zone with small wheelbarrows and tools inside the huge barn. Be sure to check out “water painting” nearby. A gem mine is also next to the barn and the buckets can be purchased in the little shop.

A new Songbird Garden is near the wolves and built like a big wall but cutouts to try to find the birds that are pictured on the wall.

Sensory Bags are available for free

For parents of children with autism or sensory processing disorders, free sensory bags can be signed out at the gift shop upon entering the center. They are sponsored by KultureCity, a national non-profit, and include headphones, a fidget toy, and a feelings chart.

Signs are posted throughout the park indicating areas to perhaps use the headphones. It’s great that the WNC Nature Center now has these available!

Should I bring a stroller?

If you’ve got small kids, bring a stroller or rent one ($10) there. There are lots of hills and little legs will probably get tired. There are plenty of places to rest and enjoy the animals and playgrounds but yes, strollers would be ideal.

Our Experience at the WNC Nature Center

We came later in the day, so we ended up missing the petting zoo (it closed at 4 pm) and didn’t have time to explore the trail. My kids had such a great time though that we hardly missed the extra activities. We easily spent two hours exploring and could have spent another 30 minutes if the nature center would have been open longer. We tend to be slow visitors to attractions, so your family may tour the center quicker especially if you don’t have small children who want to play in the play areas.

I really enjoyed that the layout and outdoor walkways seemed more like a nature walk than zoo. The animals were active in the cool fall air and most of them were easily visible. The paths were easy to follow, though it was confusing figuring out which way to turn to explore the center without missing any of the exhibits.

My kids favorite exhibits were the Otter Falls and the WNC Farm play area. I personally loved watching the cougars and was thrilled to get some wonderful photos even through glass. I was disappointed that glass and fences made it difficult and even impossible to get good photos of some of the animals, but at least the animals were easy to see in person.

Some concessions are available through vending machines and new concession areas will likely be opening in the next year.  The center also has plenty of picnic space for families wanting to bring a lunch. The WNC Nature Center is also right beside a large park with a playground, picnic shelters, and public pool. The center has restrooms in the ticket access, barn near the petting zoo, at the arachnid climbing playground, and in the Appalachian Station which are wheelchair accessible.

Open: 7 days a week, 10 – 5 pm (the petting zoo closes at 4 pm)
Admission: $10.95/ adults ($1 off for seniors), $6.95/ kids (3-15), 2 and younger free, half off with Greenville Zoo membership
75 Gashes Creek Road; Asheville, NC 28805
828.259.8080
WNC Nature Center

Have you ever visited the WNC Nature Center? What did you think?

About the Author
Bethany Winston is the owner and editor-in-chief of Kidding Around Greenville & Kidding Around Spartanburg. She enjoys exploring parks, discovering local events, and meeting the people who make Greenville an amazing place to live. You can contact her directly at [email protected]

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9 years ago

When we visited, the bears were out in the center of their enclosure and quite easy to see. Perhaps they let them out at certain times of the day? I wonder if you could call ahead and find out when the best viewing times for the animals would be?

[…] Drive up to Asheville for the Western North Carolina Nature Center, which features local animals like hawks, otters, wolves, bobcats, and mountain […]

Alicia Byars
3 years ago

Also free with a Roper Mountain Science Center membership!

[…] you can just take that membership or your Zoo membership and also plan a visit to the Western NC Nature Center in November too. It always seems like this is the time of year that my family ends up there and […]

Megan Ambrose
1 year ago

No longer free with a Greenville zoo membership. 50% off, but not free.