Bear plays basketball.
Ursula's eye is on the hoop, not the ice cream, as she dominates another game of "Bearsketball" at Clark's Bears.

Clark's Bears

Field review by the editors.

Lincoln, New Hampshire

If you crave a furry flashback to your parents' or grandparents' vacation time, a living reminder of an age that is otherwise all red-shifted and creaky, you won't do much better than Clark's Bears (formerly Clark's Trading Post).

Eskimo Dog Ranch.

The Clarks have been running a business in New Hampshire's White Mountains since 1928, when Ed Clark opened his Eskimo Sled Dog Ranch. Two years later he added local animals, New Hampshire black bears, to attract tourists. Ed and his sons eventually realized the bears could be trained to perform simple tricks -- smarter than parrots, more dangerous than any dozing croc. In 1949 the Clark's bear show began and hasn't stopped since.

Drinking bears.
Bear sisters Onyx and Ursula kick back to glug from "bear cans." Murray and Maureen Clark are designated drivers.

Generations three through five of Clarks now run the place. It is still a family business; 20 of the of 150 employees are Clark family members. W. Murray Clark was the long-time patriarch and an imposing presence. "We convert a lot of people," he told us, referring to those who question the ethics of training bears to shoot hoops.

The bear pits of Tennessee and North Carolina still have fans, but it is here at Clark's Bears that American bear entertainment reaches its apex -- literally, bears have climbed poles in front of Clark's to serve as living billboards for the attraction.

Maureen and Murray Clark (generation three) are now the bear trainers, teaching them to drink out of "bear cans" (milk mixed with honey), shoot "bearsketball," balance on a big drum, swing on a big swing, dribble giant hockey pucks with their paws, ride scooters, etc. Current bear stars include Echo, Tula, Pemi, and of course Moxie -- cuddly and fun-loving in a structured performance. Lke the Lion King, youngsters will want to take 'em home.

But "Make no mistake," W. Murray scowls. "there's nothing funny about bears," he says. "Every member of my family has been injured." Despite the hazards, we observe a genuine affection between the Clarks and the bears, and that's good, because one bad-attitude bear might mean one less Clark.

Throughout the performances, the bears are encouraged with treats of vanilla ice cream.

Why vanilla? we ask.

W. Murray Clark and Jasper's grave.
W. Murray Clark and Jasper's grave.

"It melts slower."

Stars of the past are not forgotten at Clark's Bears. They are immortalized on impressive marble tombstones just outside the performance ring; Sapphire, Pearl, and Rufus, "oldest black bear on record" -- 38 years, 7 months -- are buried right here, not just tossed into a dumpster behind the Peppermint Saloon or the Olde-timey photo parlor. Bears and Clarks, together forever.

Clark's has expanded its operation over the decades into a full-blown tourist destination, complete with a full-size perimeter-hugging railroad and steam engine. "Wolfman," an angry, one-eyed, bearskin-clad Neanderthal, chases down the train in his Mad Max Wastelandmobile to harasses the kids and digicam dads. He is paid by Clark's to do nothing else.

Wolfman's star has risen since we met one of his predecessors in the early '90s; today he is a local celebrity, hosting "Wolfman Weekend" at Clark's, with a Wolfman Dunk and a one-eyed pie-eating contest. He rarely steps out of character, even after tourist season ends, and must personally approve every substitute Wolfman when he goes on vacation.

Wolfman.

There are other minor treasures at Clark's -- a "Main Street" of quaint shops hawking souvenirs and snacks, but also exhibits like the one on Clark's history, photos of the old Eskimo Dog Ranch, early postcards, family trees and bear lineage. Another room presents packaging and memorabilia relating to the brackish medicinal pop soda Moxie. Avery's Garage contains the world's only surviving original Moxie Car, a modified 1929 LaSalle, driven and ridden with pride by Ben Clark, who took the wheel when his dad passed on.

And we probably don't have to remind you to look for the stuffed two-headed calf (born in 1944. "It lived for 3 minutes.") and the eight-footed calf in the Clark Museum. The performing bears alone make this a worthy and, as far as we know, unique attraction.

Ed Clark, man of vision; Clarks, tireless show family -- we salute you!

W. Murray Clark passed away in late 2009, just after Clark's celebrated its 50th anniversary. But the shows are still going strong, and two new bear cubs have arrived to begin training by the Clark's practiced (and vanilla-smeared) hands.

Clark's Bears

Address:
US-3, Lincoln, NH
Directions:
On the east side of US-3 between I-93 exits 32 and 33.
Hours:
Summer daily; fewer days Sep-Oct. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
603-745-8913
Admission:
Adults $27.
RA Rates:
The Best
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

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In the region:
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