The Wild Centre in Tupper Lake, NY, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Montreal, offers an immersive and unique experience designed to spark curiosity about the natural world. Located on an 81-acre campus on the Raquette River criss-crossed with forest trails, it’s much more than your typical museum.
At the Wild Centre, you can put your hand inside a cloud, explore items collected from Adirondack forests and streams, take a guided canoe tour and see if you can spy a muskrat or a kingfisher. You can also get a glimpse of life above the treetops on the recently added Wild Walk — a trail of elevated bridges that allows visitors to take in views of Adirondack Park.
According to Executive Director Stephanie Ratcliffe, the museum was intentionally designed to be hands-on as well as informative, offering playful ways for adults and children alike to experience the wonder of the Adirondacks and invite them to take a closer look at the plants, animals, bugs, rocks and the indigenous history of the six-million-acre state park.
“What we try to do here is to connect people with nature, and each person’s way of connecting with nature is different,” Ratcliffe said. “The whole end game is that if we fall in love with nature, we’re going to work to protect it.”
While the museum is definitely kid-friendly, Ratcliffe said exhibits were designed to appeal to adults as well so they don’t feel like they’re just there to watch over the kids and hold their coats.
The museum is open year-round and offers both indoor and outdoor activities. Inside, kids will discover hidey-holes to crawl in where they can see things adults wouldn’t notice, observe live animals such as otters, fish, ducks and birds of prey, or join animator-led activities designed to illustrate concepts like erosion or how ecosystems work.
But the exhibits aren’t just designed for kids. Poetry, art, music and indigenous stories are integrated on detailed panels along with scientific explanations for those who want an in-depth look at area geology, climate, animal life and more.
Outside, the big attraction in milder weather is the Wild Walk, an elevated walk through the forest with fun features like swaying bridges to cross, a giant nest big enough to climb inside, a staircase inside a hollow tree, and a massive “spider’s web” suspended 24 feet above the ground. In autumn, there are few better spots for leaf-peepers to take in views of the spectacular fall foliage on display in the Adirondacks.
“There’s something really primal about what happens when people get above the forest. There’s a new perspective created, and it puts you in a contemplative mode in a wonderful way,” Ratcliffe said.
The Wild Walk was designed to be accessible for everyone. Although there are some ‘extra’ features that have stairs, the main path is stroller- and wheelchair-accessible, and safe for all ages.
In summer, the riverfront location offers another way to see the natural world from a different perspective, with naturalist-led canoe tours and stand-up paddleboard rentals available. Each canoe can accommodate up to two adults and two children per boat and costs $40 to rent, and is open to kids age 5 and up with their parents. Stand-up paddleboat rentals are only available to adults and children over the age of 10, and range in cost from $25 to $35 per person depending on the size of your group.
For more experienced canoeists or kayakers who prefer to explore without a guide, boat rentals and itinerary suggestions are available from nearby Raquette River Outfitters. In winter, although the Wild Walk is closed for the season, visitors can still explore the Wild Centre’s network of trails on snowshoes, which the museum provides for free.
For more information, visit wildcenter.org.