Critters aren’t always easy to see in the wild.

But there’s a way to get close to everything from bears to elk.

And it’s all at the West Virginia State Wildlife Center.

Located at French Creek in Upshur County, the beloved facility has its roots deep in state history.

State officials first purchased this land, just 12 miles south of Buckhannon, in 1923 as a way to help protect wildlife.

The public responded.

And in the fall of 1926 nearly 6,000 people visited the farm’s exhibits.

In 1954, one pair of elk and bison (which had previously roamed the state) were brought from Oklahoma and proved to be major attractions.

Other native species were added over the years, including the mountain lion.

Three non-native species that now occur in the state have also been added: European wild boar, ring-neck pheasant and coyote.

Visitors see animals in their native habitat, including a display that allows folks to see river otters in action.

Ready to make some memories?

It’s the perfect day trip adventure for the entire family, and make lasting memories.

Here are 10 reasons to check it out:

1. The Animals

The wildlife center offers 29 species of mammals, birds and reptiles. Among the animals you will encounter are black bears, bison, elk, mountain lions, river otters and wolves.

2. You’ll not only see the animals, but learn about them too

The wildlife center is owned and operated by the state Division of Natural Resources. Each animal exhibit offers interpretive signs detailing the animal’s history,biology and relationship with humans.

3. French Creek Freddie

Each Groundhog Day the spotlight is on Freddie as he emerges from his den to predict how much winter is left. This time honored tradition is now 39 years old, and beloved by local as well as state fans.

4. Fishing

Bring a pole to drop a line in a well-stocked pond that has bass, bluegill, catfish and trout.

5. Enjoy a picnic

The center’s picnic area is set up in a beautiful wooded area. Enjoy eating hotdogs or hamburgers right off one of the grill while you enjoy one of the park’s shelters. There are 13 picnic tables, 10 grills and a pavilion that houses eight tables.

6. Exercise

The wildlife can be viewed by walking along a 1.25-mile wheelchair-accessible interpretive trail that winds through the property’s mature hardwood forest.

7.  It’s inexpensive

A day at the wildlife center is fun, and the price fits everyone’s budget. Admission for anyone 16 years of age and older is $4, children up to six year old are $2 while Adults 16 and children under six are free.

8. Open year round

The center is open seven days a week including holidays. From April 1 to October 31 the center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. From November 1 to March 31 it is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

9. The Gift Shop

The gift shop is packed full of stuffed animals that will make your children squeal with delight. You’ll also find jewelry, mugs, t-shirts and other reminders of this iconic landmark.

10. It’s just plain fun

West Virginia Department of Commerce

West Virginia Department of Commerce

There’s no better place to have fun while learning about state wildlife, and make memories that will last a lifetime.