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"We Wanted to Vacation With the Bears"

Meet a couple who chose to go face-to-snout with black bears in Minnesota on their vacation.

I wake up before sunrise at the sound of a loon calling, and take the opportunity to make use of one of the camp's canoes. As I paddle the lake, the sun rises and slowly filters light across the water.

That afternoon, and every afternoon for the next few days, we hike a few easy miles into the woods to track the dozen or so bears and cubs that Lynn has collared. Reminding us to keep our distance until the animals recognize him, Lynn steps ahead and calls, "It's me, bear, it's me." In the woods, far away from the lodge, the bears are more cautious, but when it's apparent we don't intend to do anything more than observe them, they lose interest and go on about their business. That's when it gets fun.

I find a spot to sit on the carpet of sweet fern and spend whole afternoons watching a mom nurse her three cubs. It's enthralling. At one point, one of the cubs crawls so close, I can't resist. I put my hand out to see what he'll do, and he leans in a bit more—just as curious as I am. I touch his fur for an instant and am shocked by how soft and downy it is—a sensation I'll never forget.

 

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Beyond-Bear Adventures

Elephant
In Chiang Mai, Thailand, guests can give these wrinkly fellows a bath (Dave King/Getty)
Meet More Wild Things
Six spots where travelers can cozy up to animals.


Bears

Where: Ely, Minnesota, at the Wildlife Research Institute
The Action: The Black Bear Field Study Course also includes a behind-the-scenes visit to the North American Bear Center—where one new friend actually licked our writer.
Cost: Now $2,000 ($1,900 of this is tax-deductible), the four-day course includes bunk-bed accommodations at a field station and three home-cooked meals a day.


Sloths

Where: Cahuita, Costa Rica, at the Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary
The Action: Get face time with wide-eyed baby sloths as they spend their days nibbling on vegetables and cuddling with stuffed animals donated by volunteers.
Cost: Visits are $25, including an optional forest hike.


Elephants

Where: Chiang Mai, Thailand, at the Elephant Nature Park
The Action: Make friends with sanctuary herd members—including rescued street beggars and orphans—by feeding them sweet fruits. Then bathe the animals in the Mae Taeng river. (Scrubbing encouraged!)
Cost: $81 for a day-long tour, including lunch and transportation to the reserve.


Chimpanzees

Where: Riudellots de la Selva, at Spain's Mona Foundation
The Action: As a caretaker of the program's 16 resident chimps—most readjusting back to their wild ways after working as circus performers—you'll prep their meals and closely observe the primates at play.
Cost: $328 for two-day entry.


Penguins

Where: Burnie, Tasmania, at the Little Penguin Observation Centre
The Action: Stand inches away from little penguins as they come ashore to nest and feed their young every night at dusk from September to March. Tip: January is the best time to spot the fluffy hatchlings.
Cost: Daily tours from Sept. to March are free.


Manatees

Where: Fort Pierce, Florida's Manatee Center
The Action: Fans can paddle kayaks among these 1,000-pound mammals, who head to the fresh water surrounding the Center in winter.
Cost: 2.5-hour kayak trips, $35.

— Rachel Mosely

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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