Great Bear Wilderness - Brookfield Zoo

The Great Bear Wilderness features grizzly bears and polar bears, as well as bison and wolves. It’s definitely not the top attraction at Brookfield, but it’s nice. This is much less exciting in the winter, but there is a little cove where you can often see hibernating grizzlies. On summer days, the bears are often decently active, you have a modest chance of catching them in the water, which has nice underwater viewing, especially on the hotter days.

There are two ways to go in; the main entrance is from the north by Habitat Africa, and brings you under a theoretical walkway for the bison, though I’ve never seen it in use. You can also enter from the southeast by the Living Coast, go towards the bison, and stay just on their left side.

There is a fine restroom by the Bison Prarie Grill, and a very nice one (probably the best in the zoo) right where the path into the Great Bear Wilderness starts from the north (near the African Painted Dogs). Both have separate family changing rooms, with good areas to leave strollers outside.


As you enter, you’ll see the plains where the bison typically roam. There’s often a zoo volunteer nearby, so you’ve got a good chance of being informed that these are not really buffalo—which are African—but are bison. Fun fact: the scientific name is bison bison.

The main portion of the Great Bear Wilderness starts by the Bison Prairie Grill, and follows a short, winding path. You’ll go by the Wolf Woods. It’s worth peaking into the building, where you can sometimes get a great view of the wolves. The main area of the building is great, but beware the small dark room with wolf howls, which has always scared my young kids.

Continuing on the path, you’ll find the first of two public bear areas. Most of the time, this is the polar bear, though they sometimes rotate and put a grizzly here. Check out the big window at the start—the bears are not often here, but it’s a fantastic view when they are. Assuming you strike out there, continue on a little until you can see across the fence and hopefully get a view of the bear inside. Unless the bear is swimming, this is typically the best place to see into this enclosure. Continuing down the path leads to the second bear enclosure; this is often the best place to view, but there will be another place to look on the far side of the building, if you can’t see well here. Next is a building which features underwater viewing on both sides. Most of the time the bears will either stay in the water or stay out, rather than going back and forth, so it’s not worth waiting too long here if you don’t see any bears.

At the end of the building is a small enclosure where the bears will often hibernate during the winter. Once you leave, you can see more of the second enclosure on the right, and a third enclosure on the left, often a polar bear.

At the end of the path is a gift store that you’re forced to go through. Fortunately they have widened the main pathway through the store—it was once quite narrow. Leaving there takes you right back to the start by the Bison Prairie Grill.