Though comparatively small in size, the Western North Carolina Nature Center, in Asheville, does an admirable job of providing an opportunity to see a variety of wild animals in natural settings. Part natural history resource and part regional zoo, the center strives to connect you with animals common to the southern Appalachians.
Asheville is about 115 miles from Charlotte, about a 2 1/4-hour drive.
To see and do
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Covering 42 acres of wooded hillside, the city-owned WNCNC is home to more than 250 creatures representing 60 different species. The zoo provides spacious natural habitats larger animals while affording you opportunities to see these animals from good vantage points. As is the case at almost any zoo, the animals are sometimes resting at the back of their compounds and are difficult to see. Just as often, however, they are out and about and easy to view from observation areas.
Larger animals include black bears, white-tailed deer and gray wolves. An elevated, 250-foot boardwalk runs between the compounds for the bears and deer, providing an especially good viewing opportunity. The wolf compound covers the side of a hill, with observation areas at both the top and bottom of the slope – increasing the likelihood of seeing these magnificent hunters up close. Bobcats, cougars, foxes and coyotes are among the other large animals found at the zoo. Though cougars are no longer roaming free in the mountains today, they were certainly plentiful when white settlers first began arriving in the Carolina backcountry in the late 1700s.
WNCNC is especially proud of its pack of red wolves, a species declared officially extinct in 1980. Thanks to the combined efforts of the federal government and zoos across the country, red wolves are on their way back. You can find these canines prowling and playing in the center’s newly renovated red wolf compound.
Near the center’s main entrance is the indoor Appalachian Station, which houses a variety of snakes, frogs and small mammals common to the North Carolina mountains. Nearby is the World Underground Exhibit (learn about what lives under the soil).
River otters are always popular with visitors, and at Otter Falls, the playful critters do their part to entertain. An especially fun place for youngsters is the a farm area, with a barn and petting area. Here, the two-legged kids may find four-legged kids, along with sheep, goats, pigs and donkeys.