WNC Nature Center and Wildlife Park in Asheville, NC
By Jason Tarr
Experience wildlife up close with a family-friendly adventure to the WNC Nature Center, located just 10 minutes from downtown Asheville! Among the animals you’ll see are otters, black bears, wolves and a cougar!
The 42-acre wildlife park features award-winning exhibits that are home to 60 species of wild and domestic animals and hundreds of species of plants. All the species you’ll see here are native to the Asheville area and the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
The WNC Nature Center is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) – a highly sought-after distinction that less than 220 facilities in the United States have earned.
While you visit with the animals, enjoy the beautiful scenery from the paved, forested trails along the Swannanoa River. On the trails you’ll find benches where you can sit and relax, and playground equipment for children.
In addition to daily animal programs (such as a chance to watch feeding time!), the WNC Nature Center hosts many family-friendly events throughout the year including the annual HEY DAY Fall Festival (October), which offers special games and arts and crafts. There are also events geared toward adults such as Brews & Bears – a happy hour that takes place several times in late spring and summer.
Not only is the WNC Nature Center a great place to visit, the Nature Center is a leader in conservation projects including programs to help increase the population of endangered species.
Top Things to See at the WNC Nature Center
The WNC Nature Center has greatly expanded in recent years. Among the expansion is the exciting addition of a new red panda exhibit in 2019.
1. Red Pandas/Prehistoric Appalachian Exhibit
Meet Asheville’s two newest and cutest residents. Red pandas named Leafa and Phoenix are part of a new exhibit that opened at the WNC Nature Center on Valentine’s Day 2019. The pandas are the first species to be introduced as part of the Nature Center’s new Prehistoric Appalachian project. The pandas are direct descendants of the Bristol’s Panda, which once called the Asheville area home. Red pandas are currently endangered with several thousand remaining in the wild.
2. Otter Falls
Two playful American River Otters are among the fan favorites at the WNC Nature Center. You’ll love watching Olive and Obi Wan glide through their habitat known as Otter Falls. Check out this Facebook Live video we shot during a feeding time for the otters.
3. Appalachian Predators
This is the largest area of the park and it’s devoted to coyotes, bobcats and gray and red foxes. Did you know? The WNC Nature Center is one of only 40 AZA accredited facilities in the United States where you can see red wolves, the world’s most endangered canine species.
4. Black Bear Ridge
Here, you’ll discover two majestic American black bears: Uno and Ursa. You’ll also see red-tailed hawks, owls and white-tailed deer.
5. The North Carolina Farm
The Farm has a barn and showcases domestic animals that would be found on a traditional Appalachian Farm. You'll also see the endangered Cotswold Sheep.
6. Appalachian Station
Explore an indoor exhibit that features a variety of reptiles (including rattlesnakes and copperheads), amphibians and small mammals.
7. Trillium Nature Trail
While walking through the park, take a stroll on the Trillium Nature Trail to enjoy the beautiful forested scenery. This trail is just 0.6 miles (less than one mile), making it an easy and fast way to get in touch with nature. The Trail is along the Swannanoa River.
8. Nature Play Stations
Throughout the park are play areas with plenty of room for kids to be kids. These play areas include puppet theaters, musical instruments made of wood and rocks and a climbing web.
Take our 360-degree interactive tour of the WNC Nature Center!
Having trouble viewing on mobile? Click here to see the Google Street View version.
Plan Your Visit to the WNC Nature Center
COST: Access to the WNC Nature Center does require admission. Admission costs are: $10.95 for adults, $9.95 for seniors, $6.95 for youth and free for children ages two and younger.
HOURS: The WNC Nature Center is open 7 days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Nature Center is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
ADDRESS: The WNC Nature Center is located at 75 Gashes Creek Road in Asheville.
DIRECTIONS: From downtown Asheville, take I-240 E to Exit 8 (US-74 ALT W/WNC Nature Center). Use the left two lanes to turn left onto US-74 ALT W/Fairview Road. In three quarters of a mile, turn right onto Swannanoa River Road. In another three quarters of a mile, turn right onto Azalea Rd. Make a right onto Gashes Creek Road to the parking area on the right.
FOOD: The WNC Nature Center gift shop sells snacks and there is sometimes a food truck parked outside during warmer weather months. There is no permanent dining facility on site.
WHAT'S NEARBY: The WNC Nature Center is located in east Asheville, close to many restaurants and shops. The WNC Nature is just 10 minutes from downtown Asheville.
History of WNC Nature Center
The Asheville City Zoo (as it was called) dates back to the time of the Great Depression. The original zoo housed exotic animals including elephants, lions and monkeys. But because of financial hardships during the Depression, the zoo had to give up most of the animals to other zoos. One of the few animals to remain was Henrietta the elephant, who was cared for at the Center until the end of her life.
In 1974, the Asheville Junior League decided to revitalize the Center. The League contributed $25,000 toward the creation of a new complex that would serve as an environmental education facility dedicated to teaching about the flora and fauna of the southern Appalachian Mountains. Since then, there have been countless individual donations. Today, the Nature Center is one of the primary facilities in Western North Carolina.
History source: WNC Nature Center
Red Panda photos by Jason Tarr. Otter photo by Jill Sharp. Barn photo provided by WNC Nature Center.