A Growling Good Time: Great Bear Wilderness

You’ll never get this close to a bear unless you land a guest stint on “Man Vs. Wild.”

After several years of planning and construction, the Brookfield Zoo’s latest installation, “Great Bear Wilderness,” opened in mid-May to much fanfare.

Ask a naturalist and he or she may have a different answer, but from a tourist standpoint, the exhibit is a winner. The older I get, the more squeamish I become at the notion of animals that aren’t anywhere but their natural habitat. That said, this 7.5-acre exhibit is far and away one of the most “natural” spaces I have seen for bears to roam.

Perhaps taking a cue from Lincoln Park Zoo’s exhibit, guests can now see grizzlies and polar bears in the water and up close—so close you’ll knock on the glass just to make sure it’s solid.

The space is located near the Regenstein Wolf Woods, which now is connected seamlessly to the bear exhibit. It also includes space for the bison at the zoo, which you’ll encounter as you enter the the exhibit.

Ready to go? Here’s what you need to know:

If it’s more than just you and your kid going to the zoo, do yourself a favor and buy the 1-year membership for about $100. It gets you free parking, a few tickets to the dolphin show, and guest passes for friends that come to town.

Go early—Summer is a high-traffic season for the zoo, and from the many treks I’ve made, it always seems the animals are a lot more active in the a.m.

Don’t be afraid of a little water—You can also beat the crowds by visiting on a dreary, rainy day. A morning thunderstorm meant we had the place to ourselves.

If you want to save a few bucks, skip the restaurants and pack a picnic. There’s an abundance of picnic tables and wide open spaces, and you’re welcome to bring food and coolers into the park.