5 Reasons to Spend the Night at Ohio's The Wilds | Midwest Living
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5 Reasons to Spend the Night at Ohio's The Wilds

Sitting in a gazebo overlooking a lake, we drink a toast to the setting sun as we watch Grevy’s zebras, Sichuan takins, Sable antelope and even a Bactrian camel visit the water below us. Witnessing this sundown ritual, it feels like we’re on an African safari. But we’re much closer to home—southeastern Ohio, in fact—at The Wilds, a 10,000-acre conservation center that’s home to endangered and threatened species. While you’ll see many of these magnificent creatures during the day on a safari tour, the only way to experience the flurry of twilight activity is to stay overnight.

Sable antelopes photo courtesy of Grahm S. Jones/Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

How to make the most of your stay at The Wilds: 

1) Sleep in a yurt Seriously, how often do you get the chance to sleep in a yurt? Especially one as nice as the 12 yurts hugging the tree-lined hillside of Nomad Ridge. Built on wooden stilts with private decks, these round canvas tents rival a well-appointed hotel room with their bamboo floors, crisp white linens and Keurig coffeemakers. And if you don’t have to rely on the portable air-conditioner or heater for comfort, unzip your window flaps (there are screens) to catch the breeze and fall asleep to the sounds of deer grunting, geese honking and who-knows-what splashing in the lake.

Top and bottom left yurt photos courtesy of Grahm S. Jones/Columbus Zoo and Aquarium; bottom right photo by Cynthia Earhart

2) Meet your animal neighbors You’ll see animals on your 2½-hour safari tour (included with your stay) as well as from your yurt deck. A pamphlet listing all the animals living at The Wilds is thoughtfully provided. We spied Père David deer wading in the lake just below our deck, the males’ massive antlers bobbing along the surface; a mother and baby one-horned Asian rhino foraging in the brush; and a huge herd of American bison grazing on a hillside. But it was a family of Bactrian camels that completely charmed us, the mama and papa camels proudly toting out their adorable baby to be admired by each safari bus that pulled up to their shelter.

Top left photo (dhole) and bottom photo (bison) courtesy of Grahm S. Jones/Columbus Zoo and Aquarium; top right photo (camels) by Cynthia Earhart

3) Meet your people neighbors The glow of the observation deck fire ring beckons at sundown, providing the perfect opportunity to gather with fellow campers over a glass of wine or cup of tea (available in the concierge yurt) in a communal salute to the end of a nature-filled day. We had the good fortune to share our fire ring with the director of the Heart of Africa exhibit at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium (which also oversees The Wilds). His tales of the gentle and intelligent rhinos and elephants he’s worked with were the perfect fireside fare as the night fell around us.     

Photo courtesy of Grahm S. Jones/Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

4) Experience nature unplugged The gates at The Wilds lock out the world at 7:30 each evening. There’s no TV or Wi-Fi in your yurt and cell phone service, if any, will be spotty.  Nor are there streetlights, traffic noise, or other sights and sounds of civilization. It’s just you and nature. And it’s incredibly relaxing. So unplug, unwind and enjoy.

Photo by Cynthia Earhart

5) Be a part of global conservation The Wilds supports breeding programs and research with a goal of reintroducing endangered and threatened animal species to their native habitats. Guides relate success stories: Southern white rhinos are reproducing steadily at The Wilds, a feat zoos worldwide have been unable to accomplish, and a Scimitar-horned oryx born at The Wilds was part of a reintroduction project in Tunisia. But another important message delivered by everyone from the safari guide to the concierge is that conservation starts in our backyards. It may seem like a small gesture in light of the work being done at The Wilds, but every time we feed the birds in the winter or plant flowers to nourish bees and butterflies, we contribute to a global conservation effort—one that will allow us to share the planet with all of these creatures for generations to come. 

Photo courtesy of Grahm S. Jones/Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Quick Tips for Your Overnight Stay at The Wilds:

1) The nearest gas station is 17 miles away, so be sure your car has plenty of fuel.   

2) Request a yurt near the parking lot if a steep climb over rough terrain could be an issue. 

3) Pack an overnight bag that you can sling over your shoulder or onto your back, just in case you have to navigate that steep dirt path. 

4) Bring binoculars! It will help identify the animals you see from your yurt, and the closeups are incredible.

5) Carry a flashlight. If you walk to or from your yurt after dark, it’s essential—there are no outdoor lights.   

From $325, including dinner and breakfast for two people and a safari tour either by climate-controlled or open-air bus for each guest. Overnight guests must be 18 or older.   

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