If you have the luck of my family, then your visit to Yellowstone National Park will not include a single glimpse of bear — neither of the black or the grizzly persuasion. Sadly, throngs of disappointed tourists depart the park with the same fate. For those of us with empty camera memory cards, a beacon of Idaho tourist-dom beckons from the highway, promising a (less-than-authentic) encounter with nature.
Yellowstone Bear World in Rexburg, Idaho sits on the southbound side of the four-lane gateway to Yellowstone, and its billboards promise a close brush with the array of nature-kind that were stubbornly hibernating back in the park. For 13 bucks a person, the metal gates are swung wide so cars can drive through the bear-laden paradise. Black bears munch berries and grizzlies beat their chests mere feet from drivers cruising the curvy loop at eight miles an hour.
Everything you love (and hate) about the American tourist trap is readily available to Yellowstone Bear World’s visitors, including rickety carnival rides, an abundance of sticky sweets for the kids, and a plethora of overpriced animal-kingdom tchotchkes from the gift-shop-gone-mega-superstore.
Bear World will not change your life, nor will you likely talk about it at your next family reunion. However, it has a special, kitschy way of assuaging the moody tourist’s nagging feeling that they missed the real action mere miles in the rearview.