As another summer comes to a close, I’ve been thinking back on all that’s happened over the warmer months. There have been countless trips to my neighborhood ice cream shop, fresh mornings at farmers markets, and the occasional beach trip, but one afternoon in particular stands out against the humidity: my family’s annual excursion to Oswald’s Bear Ranch in Newberry, Michigan!
We’ve been visiting the bears at Oswald’s for the past 17 years, but this adventure was different. Maybe it was the fact that we hadn’t been to visit the Oswald’s in a few seasons or that I was considerably younger the first time I met the largest black bear (see below **), but I was feeling giddy as we pulled in to the ranch. Upon arrival, we made the obligatory hike around all the habitats, past the waterfall and near the pond to take in the fresh Upper Peninsula air and see some bears, of course. Nearing the end of our walk, we had the opportunity to watch one of the handlers feed a few GIANT black bears their afternoon snack: Dum Dums! The bears are beyond smart and gobble the sucker (and stick) right from the handler’s hand. When they are finished, they simply drop the stick on the ground in front of them and proudly stand on their back legs anxiously awaiting their next flavor.
As much as I am enthralled by the massive bears at Oswald’s, the bear cubs are my absolute favorite part of every trip. Perhaps it has to do with their small size or their playful demeanor, but they are always a crowd pleaser. The bear cubs are mostly kept in a smaller habitat closer to the entrance of the ranch. They can be seen rough housing with each other, climbing the fence of their enclosure, or snuggling together in the afternoon sun. My brother and I had the AMAZING opportunity to go into the cub habitat and interact with the babies! We went in well equipped with spatulas full of strawberry jam (bears are allergic to grape!) to distract the bears from nibbling on our fingers. Feed the fuzzy, curious cubs was definitely the highlight of the trip (and we were able to sneak in lots of photos)!
Oswald’s Bear Ranch is the largest bear only complex in the United States and has grown tremendously since opening in 1997. I remember sitting in the living room of Dean and Jewel Oswald’s home when I was 10 years old with their first batch of cubs, now the facility houses 29 bears in four different natural habitats. Guests are able to stroll along the perimeters of the habitats and view the bears in their everyday settings. A trolley is also offered for elderly and large groups who may not be able to walk throughout the ranch. The habitats are all fenced in and immaculately maintained for optimal viewing. The ranch also has elevated platforms for guests to be able to obtain a bird’s eye view of the bears. The ranch also boasts a field trip option for nearby students. Ranch employees teach the enthusiasts, young and old, about the care of the bears, environmental factors, and their rescue programs.
Admittance fees are $10 per individual or $20 per vehicle. Guests can also interact with the cubs for photo opportunities for a minimal fee. Oswald’s Bear Ranch in Newberry, Michigan is open through September from 9:30am to 5:00pm. (In my completely biased opinion, it’s best to go first thing in the morning when the bears are more active or around 4:00pm for their feeding time!) More information can be found on their website or by following them on their Facebook page!
** I decided early on to dedicate this post to Tyson; the legend of Oswald’s Bear Ranch. Tyson was certified for his weight at 880 pounds and it was speculated that throughout points in his life, he weighed in at over 1,000 pounds. Tyson was the largest black bear on record in the United States and possibly in the world.