Home Parks & Outdoors Best U.S. Destinations for Spotting Wildlife

Best U.S. Destinations for Spotting Wildlife

Denali National Park - Caribou
Denali National Park - Caribou

I love the abundance of North American habitat to see our native wildlife.  I am excited about the list of prime spots to view not only the scenery but the animals within the United States.

The destinations listed are just a few of what is available for anyone that makes an effort to find them.  I encourage you as you explore great scenery to expect to see an animal, bird or aquatic creature.  Take along binoculars or cameras, you will be glad you did.

Viewing wildlife is an exceptional family activity.  My family has a standing contest.  Who will see the first bear, elk or buffalo…?

DENALI NATIONAL PARK

Denali is one of eight National Parks in Alaska.  The park spans six million acres located in the interior of the state.  The park was established in 1917 to ensure the wildlife will continue to flourish in the Alaskan Range’s valleys and forests.

The nation’s highest peak at 20,310 feet, Denali (a native name, “the high one”) is hard to miss when entering this majestic landscape.  You might be tempted to feel the reason to visit the park is to view the mountain that shares the parks name.  The real draw starts when you hop on a bus and keep an eye open for your wildlife adventure.

The attentive visitor will have the chance to see a variety of wildlife along the 92-mile park road.  This is home to healthy populations of Caribou, Moose, Dall Sheep, Wolves, and Grizzly Bears.  Other residents of the Park include both Bald and Golden Eagles, Wolverines, Lynx, Red Fox, Coyotes and Marmots.  If you’re lucky, you can quietly observe some animals as they come close to your bus.

Top wildlife: grizzly bears, moose, caribou, Dall sheep

Best time to go: June and July

California Sea Lions & Elephant Seals on San Miguel Island

CHANNEL ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK

An archipelago of five isolated islands, known as the “Galapagos of North America,” off the southern coast of California is home to plants, animals, and birds that aren’t found anywhere else in the world.  Adapted to the area’s unique environment, the park features species like the Channel Island fox, a smaller version of its mainland relative that almost went extinct.  Offshore, you’ll find sea otters, seals, dolphins, and whales. Guides lead hikes for bird and wildlife spotting or you can easily camp and hike on your own.

The popular Elephant Seal gets its name from the long, trunk-like protrusion on the face of the males. Elephant Seals were hunted to near-extinction by the end of 19th Century.  The good news is that their populations have since recovered.

More than 50,000 of these massive mammals breed along the coasts of the Channel Islands.  On Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands, many beaches have the gleaming bodies of these massive mammals to be seen.  If you’re up for a challenge, take the 15-mile round-trip hike to Point Bennett, on the western tip of San Miguel.  This is a perfect place to see thousands of honking Elephant Seals all over the beach.

Top wildlife: foxes, bald eagles, whales, sea lions, elephant seals

Best time to go: Year-round, from May to September is the most popular time to visit

Yellowstone National Park - Grizzly, Coyotes, and Wolf
Yellowstone National Park – Grizzly, Coyotes, and Wolf

YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK

The first and arguably best National Park in the US is a sprawling 2.2-million acre wilderness spanning Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

Yellowstone boasts 67 different mammal species in addition to natural wonders such as Old Faithful, Mammoth Hot Springs, and Grand Prismatic Spring. Some people consider it the American Serengeti, offering frequent sightings of Bison, Elk, Foxes, Grizzly and Black Bears, Mule Deer, Bighorn Sheep, Wolverines, and Mountain Lions.

Yellowstone National Park created in 1872 is home to the largest concentrations of mammals in the lower 48 states, including a large population of American bison.  Every species here has its own story, like the wolves, which were reintroduced into the park in 1995, after a 70-year absence.  As of 2015, the resident Wolf population had grown to 99 animals in 10 packs inside the park, and about 450 in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

While Hayden Valley is the ideal place to see Bison, Elk, and Grizzly Bears, the Lamar Valley is the best place for spotting Wolves, especially the Druid Peak pack. Patience and great optics (binoculars or spotting scope) are key when trying to sight Wolves from

Summer is the peak time to visit the park, every season brings something special, from fall’s elk bugling to winter’s snowy bison herds to spring’s adorable baby animals.

Top wildlife: bison, bears, elk, wolves, moose

Best time to go: June to August

Saguaro National Park - Desert Tortoise
Saguaro National Park – Desert Tortoise

SAGUARO NATIONAL PARK

Saguaro National Park is in the heart of the Sonoran Desert on the east and west sides of the city of Tucson, Arizona.  The park is home to the nation’s largest cacti.  The giant saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West.  These towering cacti found only in a small portion of the United States are protected by the Park.

Named after the majestic Saguaro that dots the landscape, this 91,400-acre park is home to a wide variety of mammals and birds. The most prominent include Coyotes, Foxes, Jackrabbits, Kangaroo Rats, Roadrunners, and Hummingbirds. Most of the animals rest during the sweltering mid-day, so early evening and night are the best times to see them.

A wide range of reptiles, such as Horned Lizards, Desert Tortoises, Iguanas, Sonoran Mountain King Snakes, and six species of Rattlesnakes live in the desert.  Always keep an ear out for the sound of the Rattlesnake when hiking or camping.  Gila Monsters (which have orange and black markings), one of two poisonous lizards in the world should also be avoided.

The park is vibrant with wildflowers, including flowering cacti in spring and early summer!

Top wildlife: coyotes, foxes, roadrunners, desert tortoises

Best time to go: Year-round except for the summer months which are extremely hot.

Acadia National Park - Moose
Acadia National Park – Moose

Acadia National Park, Maine

In the early 1900s, some summer residents were worried that the island forests would be lost.  Citizens began buying land to save it.  After years of work, the federal government was convinced to take over the land.  In 1916 Sieur de Monts National Monument was created.  The name was changed to Lafayette National Park in 1919 with more land given.  In 1929 the name changed to Acadia National Park and exists today as a result of people donating all of the parklands to protect it.

Within the park, you will walk among more than 40 different species of mammals.  A partial roll call … red and gray squirrels, chipmunks, white-tailed deer, moose, black bears, porcupines, muskrats, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and beaver.

Family activities are available in the park that provides stories about why beaver are found on the island today, having been trapped to extinction and many more.

Top wildlife: coyotes, foxes, moose, black bears, beaver

Best time to go: September through early October.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park – Bison

THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK

Native animals including pronghorn, elk, bighorn sheep, and bison have all been successfully reintroduced in the park since its establishment in 1947.

Bison weighing in at nearly a ton are often found grazing with their young on the stunning badlands. It’s not uncommon for park visitors to encounter bison walking alongside vehicles, or on the road holding their ground.  If you visit, respect their space by giving them a wide birth and keep your windows rolled up.

Make the 70-mile drive to the North Unit for a more rustic experience.  Be advised that this is serious Bison territory.  Your hike will almost definitely include encounters with unafraid Bison who will protect their calves.

The 70,448-acre Park is also home to Pronghorn Antelope, Elk, Big Horn Sheep, Prairie Dogs, and Wild Horses.  The landscape changes with an additional touch of excitement when native wildlife is included.

Do the South Unit 36-mile scenic loop through the quirky town of Medora for scenic vistas and hiking trails.  When seeking water-based activities Paddling up the Little Missouri River is also an option for adventurers.

Top wildlife: pronghorn, elk, bighorn sheep, bison

Best time to go: May through September

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Black Bear
Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Black Bear

GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is 522,400 acres of misty mountains and forests.  The park lies on the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s home to one of the world’s largest Black Bear populations, with around 1,500 bears.

The Bears are most active in the early mornings and late evenings in the spring and summer. They are often seen from the 11-mile loop road around the Cades Cove area.

Though Black Bears are the smaller, less aggressive cousins to the Grizzlies, always stay alert when hiking and keep your food items locked up when camping. It’s best to keep a distance of at least 150 feet if and when you encounter one.

The park is also home to one of the largest White-tailed Deer populations east of the Mississippi River. From May to June near the Elkmont campground, the Fireflies (which synchronize their flashing patterns during mating season) put on a dazzling show for the whole family.

Top wildlife: black bears, white-tailed deer

Best time to go: May through October

Everglades National Park - Manatee
Everglades National Park – Manatee

EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK

Want to come face to face with an alligator?  The Everglades is home to alligators, crocodiles and a host of other subtropical animals. A number of endangered species can be found here, including the Florida panther and the manatee. The park is also a must for those interested in birds, which flock here to watch more than 350 species, including ibis, hawks, herons, roseate spoonbills, and Wood Storks.

At the southern tip of Florida lies 1.5 million acres of subtropical wilderness where freshwater, seawater, and land meet.  The park spans 20 percent of the original Everglades.  This is a rare place where the Alligator and Crocodile live together in harmony.

There’s an easy way to identify them:  The Alligator has a broad snout, while the Croc has a narrow one.  The best spots to view sunning Alligators are along the Anhinga Trail in the Royal Palm section, and along the Shark Valley loop off the Tamiami Trail.  Crocodiles often hang out near Florida Bay at the southern tip of the park.

Bobcats forage in the mangrove forests. Manatees, which were recently removed from the endangered species list, can be found swimming the park’s waters.  The best way to explore the park is by a boat, canoe, or kayak, although boardwalks are also available.

Top wildlife: alligators, crocodiles, manatees, birds

Best time to go: The dry season, from December to April

Virgin Islands National Park – Sea Turtle

VIRGIN ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK

Virgin Islands National Park encompasses 60% of the island of St. John and over 5,500 acres of the adjacent ocean.  Visitors can hike its lush forests and snorkel its crystalline waters with over 300 species of fish and marine life (and the occasional Sea Turtle) that live within the coral reefs and seagrass.

You’ll need your mask and fins to enjoy the underwater sign-marked snorkeling trail at Trunk Bay.  The trail is fairly shallow, 15 feet deep or less, and perfect for beginners.  The best place to start is the self-guided trailhead at Trunk Bay, on the northwest shore of St. John.  Many other snorkeling sites within the park are available providing a variety of coral species.

On land, the only mammal native to the island is the Bat, of which there are six species.  Hike up the surrounding mountains to see the park’s vibrant birdlife, bats, and iguanas.  Virgin Islands National Park is a year-round destination, and adventures on both land and sea await.

Top wildlife: tropical fish, coral, iguanas, sea turtles

Best time to go: April to June

See Ya Makin Memories!

 

 

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