Yellow River Wildlife Sanctuary
4525 US Highway 78
A Sanctuary for Animals and People
Benefiting Animals. Educating Humans.
That’s the motto of the Yellow River Wildlife Sanctuary, situated in Gwinnett County, just east of Stone Mountain Park. Jonathan and Katy Ordway purchased the property when the Yellow River Game Ranch shut its doors. Teaching their five children about wildlife has always been a priority for the couple and now they’ve made it easier for Atlanta parents to do the same.
Over the past two years they’ve refurbished the 25-acre attraction into a “sanctuary for people and animals.” The centerpiece is the new bear habitat, a 2-acre enclosure with lush foliage and a pool with a waterfall.
When you enter the sanctuary, you’re likely to be greeted by one of the many peacocks that freely roam the property. Grab a map at the entrance so you don’t miss any of the residents. There is wildlife from small (turtles: can you spot all 10?) to large (bison, one of which was born on the property) with monkeys, foxes, possums, raccoons, lynx and more in between.
The upper and lower trails wind through cool, shaded forest. An all-terrain stroller is recommended on the unpaved lower trails.
The animals are on strict diets, but you can buy feed bags of lettuce and carrots for $4 to feed the deer, goats, bunnies, sheep and alpacas in designated areas. There’s also a gem mining area where, for a $10 fee, kids can sift for treasures in the running water.
Plan to spend at least two hours enjoying the animals and the relaxing atmosphere. There are benches and picnic tables as well as plenty of hand washing stations and hand sanitizer.
The Ordway family has given the community a gift that will hopefully endure for
generations. As Jonathan says, “We will never be done. There is no finish line.”
5 things we loved about the Yellow River Wildlife Sanctuary when we visited.
- Location. The sanctuary is 25 acres of lush forest, bordered by the Yellow River, with clearly marked paved and unpaved trails. Water pumped in from
the river feeds a stream that runs through the property.
- Staff. The curator and keepers have come from zoos and wildlife habitats around the country and know their stuff. They love animals and it shows. Every animal has a story of how it came to the sanctuary (illegal pet, abandoned, zoo closing, etc.) and the volunteers are happy to share that with
you as well as answer any questions you may have.
- Where else can you see…Wallabees (adorable creatures who look like a small version of a kangaroo and are native to Australia) and Zippity, a miniature cow. One of the sanctuary’s newest residents, Carmine, is a rare, black coyote who was caught in Smyrna. He’s living his best life here with his new buddy, Wiley the coyote.
- Ring-tailed lemurs! Any child who has seen lemurs in the movies “The Lion King” or “Madagascar” will be thrilled to see these big-eyed, real-life counterparts. Even grown-up kids will fall in love with their expressive faces and personalities. Look for MoMo, the baby lemur-in-residence.
- Future plans. Phase two of the reimagining includes an amphitheater for educational and entertainment purposes. There are also plans for a playground. Staff is on hand as you leave to query you about your experience and get your feedback.
– Sheri Taylor-Emery
- Hours: Thurs.-Sun., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
- Admission: $18; ages 3-12, $12; ages 2 and younger, free
- Know Before You Go: Tickets must be pre-purchased online; reservations are at 10-minute intervals. Social distancing is practiced and a face mask is required to enter the gift shop where snacks, drinks, T-shirts and souvenirs are for sale. Family memberships will be available when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.