Hidden Valley Animal Adventure: Varysburg, NY
For reasons I’ve always been unsure of, I always insist on visiting the petting zoo at any fair, carnival, or theme park, If there is one, that is.
I don’t know exactly what I find so charming about it. The manure smell? The squealing children? The outrageously expensive treats that tumble out of an old-school gumball machine? The hungry goats that stick their long tongues up to the machine and greedily lap at the dispenser?
I’m being sarcastic, but it’s true. My penchant for petting zoos have long since been a mystery.
My mother, though I love her to death, isn't a huge fan of petting zoos. It was the smells, mostly that got to her. Not that I can blame her. But I was very excited when I was old enough to wander down and feed the animals on my own when we went to the county fair evey year.
I was, (and still am) planning to do a write up on the Buffalo Zoo. It’s tiny by most major cities' standards, but it’s gotten some upgrades in the recent years and overall becoming a much better place to visit. However, two weeks before my planned trip I was idly clicking on some links titled “What to do in Buffalo this weekend” and I spotted a notice.
“Hidden Valley Animal Adventure opening weekend is this weekend, Saturday, May 5th – 6th”
My first thought was Hidden Valley Ranch, the salad dressing, not gonna lie. But my SECOND thought was; “Why have I never heard of this place?”
I googled the park and found it to be an hour away from my current home, and less than 30 minutes away from my childhood home.
Well, that was it. I had to go there. I texted my mom to see if she could accompany me and she agreed. I was pumped.
That Saturday morning was beautiful, clear skies, but a little windy. The air still was weeks away from turning unbearably muggy, as it tends to do in the summer. I couldn’t have wished for better weather. We set out a little later than we meant to and got to the park about an hour before it was set to close.
As I pulled into the rock and dirt parking lot, my mother and I admired the beautiful lodge-type building which looked almost brand new. It overlooked a pond and gazebo, with a road that a tractor-led vehicle was slowly chugging up, loaded with people.
We entered the building on the upstairs level. There was a viable room that is clearly meant for events like weddings. We peeked in and saw that the room had huge windows and a wrapping deck that overlooked the pond and green hills. Signs pointed us downstairs for tickets, and we walked through their restaurant advertising elk and other exotic meat burgers. (Not the elk from the park though, as we were later assured by the guides.) Doors at the back of the restaurant lead outside to the patio, where the combination ticket booth/merchandise store is.
We stood on the elevated porch with tickets in hand as the previous group filed off the tractor-pulled vehicle. It was long, with a metal roof and wood benches around the edges, leaving the middle free and propped up on large tires that necessitated the high porch for easier entry.
The tour guide handed us red cups of corn and grain and warned us that the cattle especially have long tongues, and we will probably get licked. He then looked at me like he expected me to jump.
“I said you will probably get licked.” And I just laughed. “That doesn’t bother me,” I told him, amused that he seemed surprised I didn’t react.
We waited for a little bit, shifting our weight on the hard benches, but no one else showed to claim the remaining seats.
“I guess you guys get a private tour,” the guide said and signaled to the driver for us to get going.
I was delighted with the VIP service without a VIP price tag, and the tractor started its ambling journey to the entrance of the animal park.
We passed through a gate and a small wooded area to an open green field. The bisons were lounging lazily, some watching us with their quiet brown eyes and some sleeping, all piled around each other like any normal cows on a farm.
The guide explained a little about each animal, pointing out distinguishing feature and even the few babies that were born this season. Many of the animals rushed up to us, knowing that the vehicle and people meant food, and stuck their large heads right through the sides of the cart.
My Mom and I laughed as the animals grabbed for the food, and despite myself, I did squeal a little as their tounges met my skin.
We rolled through a second gate toward another sloping valley-like field and saw camels, graceful antelopes, and standoffish Zebra who approached us only after a lot of cajoling from the workers. The guide told us that the zebras usually are shy and seldom come to get treats. The Zonkey, on the other hand, was very friendly (half zebra half donkey)
With no one else aboard to distract them, the guides were overwhelmingly attentive to us, answering any and all questions we had very knowledgeably. They told us all about their restaurant and the animals, the beginnings of the park, even how much they loved their jobs. (I was somewhat relieved to find out the park has only been open since 2006, so at least it hasn’t been open my whole life and I was THAT oblivious to not realize it existed.
The total trip through the park took about 45 minutes to an hour since we stopped often to feed the animals and observe their behavior. With such wonderful weather and relaxing atmosphere, and the luck of being the only ones on the vehicle, I was sad when the main building came into view again.
The guide told us that next time we visit, if we come earlier the animals are, of course, going to be hungrier and we may get more of them up close. They also reminded us of the petting zoo portion of the park, which was closed since it was still too cold for a lot of those animals (I was disappointed at that, but I knew I’d be back!) They urged us to return, and waved a friendly goodbye as my mother and I exited the vehicle.
Hidden Valley Animal Adventure is a great attraction, and yet another hidden gem and true must-see experience in the Buffalo area. With the different types of animals and the knowledgeable guides, along with the interactive experience of feeding them, I would want to make multiple trips back. Of course, great for kids, but as an adult animal enthusiast, I can confidently say that it’s worth a trip no matter what your age. We didn’t have a chance to enjoy their restaurant, but the prices looked reasonable for what I would think is unique food (elk and bison burgers and the like) at somewhere around 15 or so dollars for a meal. They also have special menus weekly, so check out their menu before going there if you want to try some really unique fare.
Visit the Hidden Valley Animal adventure at https://hiddenvalleyadventure.com/