This is an excerpt from Hiking Ohio by Gary Williams.
- Visit the largest conservation center for endangered species in North America.
- Tour the 10,000-acre preserve and participate in a variety of activities.
- Take a free stroll through one of the largest butterfly transects in the state.
Located in southeastern Ohio near the junction of Interstates 70 and 77, the Wilds is a unique place. Established in 1984, this 10,000-acre preserve is dedicated to the multiple goals of conservation and educational tourism. For visitors, the area offers a chance to view a wide variety of wildlife in a natural habitat. In addition, an increasing variety of recreational opportunities are available. Celebrity zookeeper Jack Hanna has referred to the Wilds as the “Garden of Eden of the animal world.”
The Wilds is located on reclaimed strip mine land donated by American Electric Power (AEP). One original idea was to provide breeding grounds for 300 animals that normally don’t breed in captivity, but this concept has been significantly expanded on. The original visitor center was dedicated in 1989, and the first animals arrived 2 years later. In 1994, the Wilds was opened to the public, and the place has been growing and evolving at a rapid pace ever since.
The Wilds is affiliated with the Columbus Zoo and has always maintained an educational and conservationist approach. Researchers on staff have closely monitored the breeding of all wildlife, including such exotic creatures as camels, rhinos, and giraffes. But the public is also welcome to take tour buses right through the newfound habitat of such species. Visitors park in the main lot along International Road and are taken by bus to the gift shop and visitor center where guided tours begin.
Activities have gradually expanded beyond the standard tours. Recent additions include fishing, horseback riding, camping, a mountain bike trail, and a zipline canopy tour that allows visitors to glide through the treetops above the preserve. The focus on the educational aspect has led to a group campsite for student groups who tour the area. A special Sunset and Safari tour also includes a dinner at the Overlook Cafe before the tour.
The Wilds is a private, nonprofit conservation center, but most activities come with a price. Exceptions to this are the Butterfly Habitat Trail just outside the main parking lot and the mountain bike trail along State Route 146.
Directions: The Wilds is in Muskingum County, southwest of State Route 146 and the village of Cumberland. Signs mark the way from the New Concord exit (exit 169) of Interstate 70 and the Belle Valley exit (exit 28) of Interstate 77.
Hours open: Tours leave hourly between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., except during winter, but the Butterfly Trail is free and accessible anytime.
Facilities: The visitor center area includes a gift shop and snack bar, and a group campground is located on the grounds. For overnight guests, the Wilds also has a lodge, cabins, and the new Nomad Ridge collection of modern yurts. Reservations are required for overnight lodging.
Rules and permits: Pets are not permitted anywhere on the grounds. All guests must remain in vehicles or in designated areas.
Contact information: The Wilds is located at 14000 International Road, Cumberland, Ohio 43732. The phone number is 740-638-5030.
Other Areas of Interest
Two state parks are located in Muskingum County. Blue Rock State Park is just a few miles to the southwest; this park has a campground and a small lake. Dillon Lake State Park is located northwest of Zanesville; this park has a man-made lake and is better known for camping, fishing, and boating.
Butterfly Habitat Trail
Hiking distance: 1 mile round trip
Estimated hiking time: 30 minutes
At a location known for large mammals, take a pleasant walk in a field devoted to butterflies.
Caution: The portion of the trail near the ponds can be wet at times.
Trail directions: The parking lot for the Butterfly Habitat Trail is the same as the main lot for the Wilds. To get there from the village of Cumberland, take State Route 340 south from the western edge of town and proceed 2.5 miles to International Road. Turn right here and go west for 2 miles to the main lot. Across the road, you’ll find a kiosk and sign marking the trailhead at N 39° 49.530, W 81° 44.215 (1).
Follow the well-mowed path, moving parallel to the road, for 0.1 mile until it veers left at N 39° 49.514, W 81° 44.321 (2). In another 0.1 mile, the trail crosses a wooden bridge at N 39° 49.460, W 81° 44.398 (3). Cross here and continue to go straight. You will see numbered signs and a few side trails cut, but most of those detours reconnect to the main route, and the numbers do not match this guide. Proceed another 0.2 mile to where the trail leaves the meadow and enters a brief wooded area at about N 39° 49.443, W 81° 44.595 (4).
After leaving the woods, the trail skirts a marshy pond. After another 0.1 mile, you will return to the meadow and turn left at N 39° 49.446, W 81° 44.644 (5). In less than 0.1 mile, the trail turns around and heads back at N 39° 49.468, W 81° 44.713 (6). The return route stays in the meadow and is roughly parallel to International Road. A variety of wildflowers have been planted here for the specific purpose of attracting butterflies. The wildflowers offer spectacular colors throughout the warmer months, and the best time to view butterflies is in the heat of late July and early August.
This hike passes through one of the largest butterfly transects in Ohio. The trail, which was developed in 2003, passes through fields containing 50 varieties of tall prairie grasses and wildflowers. This, in turn, attracts a wide variety of butterfly species. Among the 25 varieties that have been spotted here are the eastern tiger swallowtail, pearl crescent, red admiral, cabbage white, eastern tailed blue, red-spotted purple, viceroy, and, of course, monarch. The trail is walked weekly and is well maintained, so you should enjoy the stroll through this field. Continue on the route for another 0.4 mile until you return to point 3; then retrace the route back to the trailhead.
Learn more about Hiking Ohio.