By Dakota Parks for Visit Florida
From the moment you step outside your car at Seacrest Wolf Preserve in Chipley, Florida, you can hear the wolves howling to greet you. Situated on nearly 100 acres with sprawling forests and enclosures designed to mimic the habitat of wolves, the preserve is home to 22 wolves including Gray Wolves, Arctic Wolves and British Columbian Wolves.
Founded in 1999 by Wayne and Cynthia Watkins, Seacrest Wolf Preserve grew from a small animal rescue into a large family-friendly preserve dedicated to preservation through hands-on education. Here, guests have the rare opportunity to become a part of the wolf pack on a walking tour through the 2–3-acre habitats, stopping along the way to give the wolves an affectionate belly rub, get a slobbery kiss on the cheek from a wolf or even participate in a group howl—all while learning more about wolf personalities, behavior and history.
Here’s your guide to planning the ultimate family day trip to Seacrest Wolf Preserve—from what to wear, how to prepare and what to do after your adventure.
Depending on your tour, Seacrest Wolf Preserve is a half-day adventure with Private VIP Tours lasting two hours and Saturday group tours lasting around 2-3 hours depending on participation in the photo opportunity prior to the tour.
The Saturday Wolf Encounter Tours can attract upwards of 100+ guests whereas the Private VIP Tours, offered Monday through Saturday, are one-on-one with just you and your family, granting you greater access to both the wolves and the tour guide. All tours must be booked in advance by calling Seacrest at 850-773-2897.
Distance from Population Centers
Seacrest Wolf Preserve is nearly a 1.5-hour drive from Tallahassee or Pensacola and 45 minutes from Panama City.
While the wolf preserve is family friendly, the strict age requirement for all Seacrest tours is 10 years of age and older. Children must remain under adult supervision at all times and are not allowed to run, wander or behave loudly while visiting.
If you’re planning a trip with children, it’s recommended to have a quick chat with them prior to arrival about basic animal etiquette such as allowing the wolves to approach you first for affection and not pulling their tails or roughhousing with them like children might with a family dog. Each tour will have an educator leading the tour to go over rules and answer questions.
How to Dress
The most important detail for planning your visit is the mandatory Seacrest dress code. Wolves are inquisitive creatures and notoriously gifted pickpockets, so the dress code is in place to protect your valuables from wolf theft, dull their interest in your clothing and protect your legs from any large paws that might step on you for a scratch between the ears.
All visitors must wear full length jeans and khakis with no rips, holes or exposed skin/ankles. No shorts, leggings, sweatpants or jackets are allowed. For tops, guests must wear a short or long-sleeve crew neck shirt or sweatshirt, preferably a breathable cotton material. For shoes, only tennis/athletic shoes or canvas shoes are allowed. For a full list of items not allowed on the tour, visit the Seacrest website. Guests not in dress code will not be allowed on the tour.
With Florida’s unpredictable rain and intense summer heat, it’s important to note that if you’re prone to overheating, you may consider planning your trip in the fall season with cooler temperatures. The tours occur rain or shine; however, no rain gear is allowed inside the wolf enclosures, including rain jackets, ponchos or umbrellas, so be sure to pack a set of dry clothes if your tour falls on a day with rain in the forecast.
What to Expect/Physical Demands
When your family arrives to the Seacrest Wolf Preserve, you’ll park in the grass parking lot outside, where two staff members will greet you, check in your group and complete your paperwork. Guests should arrive 10-15 minutes prior to their scheduled tour.
Once you’re checked in, it’s time to head into the first wolf enclosure, where your tour guide will educate your group about the different wolf species and individual personalities of the wolves you’re meeting. As you walk through the wolf enclosures, the wolves will energetically greet you, asking for your attention and affection in their own unique ways. The majority of the wolves were raised from pups on the property, making them highly human social and eager for affection.
Each of the 10 wolf enclosures on the property are 2-3 acres large, and the length of walking through the woody, natural habitat varies. Most often, the wolves come to the front of the enclosures, but depending on the time of year, such as breeding season when the wolves tend to hang out at the back of the enclosures, guests may experience a longer walk. There are several logs around for brief walking breaks.
Accessibility for Disabled Travelers
Both the restrooms and giftshop are accessible at Seacrest Wolf Preserve, and the staff is dedicated to making the tours as accommodating as mother nature allows. Guests with mobility devices should expect twigs, rocks, and unlevel, grassy ground with unpredictable mud and sand; there are no paved trails inside the natural habitat enclosures.
For guests with service animals, these are welcome on the property, but they are restricted to 500 feet from the wolf enclosures. The Seacrest website elaborates on this safety protocol: “Wolves are the natural competitors of dogs, and the presence of a dog would be disruptive, causing the wolves to become agitated and possibly behave aggressively toward one another.”
Additionally, guests who may require emergency medication such as an EpiPen should speak to their tour guide upon arrival as the tour guides must carry these items during the tour.
What to Leave in The Car
For the safety of the wolves and guests, many items are not permitted inside the wolf enclosures. For a complete list, visit the Seacrest website. Here are a few items you should be prepared to leave in the car:
Cellphones, cameras or electronic devices
Items made of leather, vinyl, suede, down or fur-based material
Jewelry including dangling earrings, necklaces, bracelets or other valuable items
Accessories like hats, gloves, scarves
Water bottles and food items
Rain gear including umbrellas, rain jackets and ponchos
Food and Drinks
Chipley is a rural area with limited stores and restaurants nearby, so families should consider packing a picnic and cooler to enjoy after the tour or some light snacks and drinks for a break during the tour. All food and drinks must remain by the gift shop and pavilion area; they are not allowed inside the enclosures.
There is a wheelchair accessible restroom located by the Seacrest gift shop to use before and after the tours. The Private VIP Tours include a break halfway through the tour for guests to use the restroom or get a quick snack. Families on the Saturday group tour should speak to the tour guides if they need to stop during the tour for a restroom break.
Like any vacation, photos to memorialize the trip and show your friends and family are a crucial detail to plan. Each tour on the wolf preserve offers different photo experiences to capture your time with the wolves. On the Saturday tour, guests cannot bring a digital camera or cellphone on the tour. Disposable cameras are permitted, and Seacrest offers a professional photo opportunity prior to the start of the tour with the wolf ambassadors for an additional fee.
On the Private VIP Tour, which includes a tour guide and photographer, guests can bring one cellphone or camera on the tour and the photographer will capture your once-in-a-lifetime memory with the wolves.
Additionally, Seacrest does not allow guests to photograph the wolves alone without a human in the photo or to photograph the wolves through the fences.
For guests that want to learn more about the Florida ecosystem and local wildlife, there is a Small Animal Adventure located on the preserve that guests can book during their reservation to interact with critters like foxes, skunks, racoons, opossums and even
an orphaned coyote. Each of these small animal ambassadors are rescues that serve alongside the Seacrest wolf ambassadors to educate the public about their species, including myths, behavior and human endangerment they face in their natural habitats.
After the Adventure
Your family day trip doesn’t have to stop at the wolf preserve. After your tour, meander 20 minutes down the road to a local favorite, Katie’s Kafe, located at 2184 Pioneer Road, for pizza, burgers and dessert. Afterward, check out the highest waterfall in Florida, located just 10-20 minutes away at Falling Waters State Park. Tucked off the beaten path in Chipley, Falling Waters Park features a 100-foot-deep, 20-foot-wide cylindrical sinkhole with steep limestone walls and cascading waters that disappear into a cave at the bottom.