Hidden Valley Animal Adventure
Saturday, July 16, 2016
I don’t know how I only heard of this place recently. I think our tour guide said it opened seven years ago, but that the owner had the property for many years before that and was steadily stocking it with exotic animals.
We had a free Saturday in the summer, which isn’t too common. Ashley’s mom told us a friend of hers had just gone to Hidden Valley and her and her son loved it. So, we decided to head there later that day. Ashley’s parent decided to join us for the day’s adventure.
The animal park is located in Varysburg, which is only about a 45-minute drive from Buffalo and our home in Hamburg. Varysburg is also home to the Byrncliff Golf Resort and the Jam in the Valley annual concert festival. We had lunch at home and then hit the road, hoping that the kids would nap on the way there.
Our travel plan worked. Noah and Charlotte both slept for most of the drive. It was a nice ride through the hilly countryside. We were impressed with the grounds when we arrived. There was a beautiful blue-green lake within the valley. The water was nearly still. It was an incredibly peaceful setting. We were immediately glad we made the trip and we hadn’t even seen any animals yet.
A covered bridge crossed a narrow part of the lake and an open bridge led out to a small island in the lake used for wedding ceremonies. There is a grand wooden lodge behind the lake, which contains the Trailside Grill, a bar, and a large banquet facility for weddings and conferences. This was my kind of building; it looked like it could be a large rustic lodge within a National Park. There are surprisingly only two rooms available.
Once we got our bearings we went and bought our tickets for the Wild Game Safari Tour ($18.75 per adult, kids under 3 are free). We only had to wait in line for a few minutes for our chariot to arrive. A tractor pulls a “trolley” through the Animal Park for nearly an hour. The “trolley” is essentially a large covered carriage that has two very long benches along the sides. It fits about forty people.
Our trolley was full, mostly of families with small children. Our tour guide was a young woman who was very knowledgeable on the park and the animals within it. The tractor pulled our trolley up a hill and away from the tranquil lake. At the top of the hill the tour guide hopped off the trolley and opened a gate so we could drive through to the first fenced in area. Once we drove through she closed the gate and jumped back aboard. She then proceeded to point out the many different species of animals the populated the large area surrounding us. The first thing we saw was a pair of zebra. That excited me because I didn’t know how exotic the animals would be. Those ended up being the most striking animals of the bunch for me, but there were many other interesting fauna to see.
When we got near the middle of the small valley, surrounded by forest at its far reached, the tractor stopped and turned off its engine. Then our tour guide told us we could start feeding the animals through the open windows using the large cups of food we were given when we first boarded the trolley. It looked like a mix of dog food and rabbit food and didn’t smell too lovely, but the animals sure loved it. Our guide told us how to carefully hold the bottom of the cup and to keep our fingers away from the animals so they don’t accidentally eat our fingers. Thanks for the warning!
Animals came from all over once the tractor stopped and we held our cups of food up. There were water buffalo and a small herd of bison. There had to be a few dozen of the bison, young and old, small and huge. It reminded me of Yellowstone for a second. I told Ashley seeing all the bison was like a preview of Yellowstone for her and the kids. One thing I never knew about bison before was how big their tongues are. We poured the feed toward their mouths and their enormous tongues would flail around sending spit and food all over the place. It was a little messy, but certainly entertaining. Noah got a kick out of the large animals approaching us; once he was sure he was safe. At one point one of them scared Charlotte and she cried, but she calmed down quickly.
There were a bunch of other animals in there, too, that seemingly got along with the bison, but I’m not really sure what they were. After a little while our driver started the tractor up and we drove up to a hill within the spacious enclosure. That gave us a nice view of the herd of bison within the valley. Soon we drove on to the next enclosed area.
The second space had a larger variety of animals. There were elk, alpacas, llamas, deer, yaks, camels, Texas longhorns, emus, an ostrich and more. The ostrich and camels were the stars of the show. They loved the food so much they circled around us and dipped their heads in for as much food as possible. The kids loved it. Noah sat on my lap and I stood and held him whenever we stopped so he could see a lot. He was a little too skittish to try feeding the animals, but he really liked looking at them up close.
Once we left there we rode along the outside edge of the lake and then went through the covered bridge to return to the starting point. All told, we were out just under one hour. After we exited, Noah and I hurried down to the open-air bridge to admire the swans and huge fish in the lake. There were a handful of white swans and one or two black swans as well as some ducks that looked just like the Aflac duck.
Then Noah jumped off several of the large rocks that lined the path from the bridge up toward the lodge. We all walked over to the lodge and got some ice cream at the Trailside Grill. I recommend the root beer float.
Last summer we went to African Lion Safari. There are far more exotic animals there. In addition to zebras (like at Hidden Valley), we saw baboons, giraffes, rhinos, kangaroos, lions, elephants, and more. There were also some other animals that were at Hidden Valley including elk, bison, and ostriches. Hidden Valley is also smaller and much more interactive since you are able to actually feed the animals. We liked African Lion Safari, too, but you have to have your windows rolled up when you drive through there. The commute (with two small children) is much worse, too. African Lion Safari is near Hamilton in Canada, so it takes us about three times longer to get to than Hidden Valley. It’s also about twice as pricey.
I highly recommend the Hidden Valley Animal Adventure. It’s especially great for kids, but I think it would be fun for older families, too. It’s about an hour from Niagara Falls, and less than that from Buffalo and Rochester. It would also be a nice place to stop if you’re just passing through Western New York.
P.S. After I finished writing this I learned that the owner of Hidden Valley Animal Adventure was tragically killed in the park. Hans Boxler Sr. was trampled by a Nilgai antelope around 12:30 a.m. The 81-year-old owner was feeding some of his animals when the antelope apparently broke out of the feeding pen and attacked him. It is very sad news, and regarded as a tragic freak accident. The incident occurred just two days after we visited Hidden Valley. The park should still be regarded as safe for all visitors as they ride in the trolleys among the animals.