8 Best Places in the US to See Wildlife

1. JACKSON, WYOMING 

The National Elk Refuge, home to a herd numbered in the thousands, is so close to Jackson that you could probably walk from Jackson Town Square. While you’re here, you can also head to Cache Creek to spot moose. 

2. MIAMI, FLORIDA 

When someone mentions the sandy beaches of Miami, it’s hard not to imagine a mass of lounge chairs and umbrellas extending to the high-tide mark. But it’s not hard to find stretches of sand that are completely deserted. Barely an hour south is Biscayne National Park, where you can kayak along the mangrove-fringed coastline (manatees are frequent visitors in colder months). 

Half an hour farther down the coast in Key Largo is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, the country’s first underwater park. Snorkel around the shores in search of angelfish, parrotfish, and 

other colorful aquatic creatures. Head due west from Miami and you’ll reach EvergladesNational Park, the vast “river of grass” that’s home to both the American alligator and American crocodile—the only place they coexist. 

3. CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS 

The bustling metropolis of Corpus Christi is ringed by nature preserves, including Aransas National Wildlife Refuge to the north (home to the only flock of wild whooping cranes every winter) and Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge to the south (where you’ll find stunning birds like the American white ibis). In case it’s not evident, the Corpus Christi area is a bird-watcher’s paradise. 

The coastline is part of the Central Flyway, one of the region’s most important migratory routes. About 30 minutes due east is Padre Island National Seashore, where more than 380 species of birds have been spotted, including colorful tanagers, orioles, and warblers. Be on the lookout for the tricolored heron, in shades of blue, lavender, and mauve. 

4. HONOLULU, HAWAII 

Oahu is a well-known magnet for tourists—just look at the crowds along Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach—but it’s also one of the world’s best spots for wildlife. Spinner dolphins, known for their acrobatic antics, can often be spotted from shore. They usually spend their days in Yokohama Bay and other protected waters a little over an hour away on the western edge of the island. 

During winter, North Pacific humpback whales can be spotted from the southern shore, especially a half hour east of Honolulu around Hanauma Bay. An ocean excursion increases your chances of spotting these gentle giants. Hawaiian green sea turtles are frequently spotted during the summer in Hanauma Bay, but their favorite spot seems to be Laniakea Beach on Oahu’s northern shore.

5. GATLINBURG, TENNESSEE 

The Tennessee gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg gives you almost immediate access to the best wildlife in the region. Less than 10 minutes from the front gate is Sugarlands Visitor Center, where you might spot a wild turkey. Cades Cove Loop Road is one of the most popular destinations in the park, partly because you have a good chance of catching a glimpse of a black bear. 

Look for them on the hillsides and in trees foraging for food. But the park’s greatest display comes in May or June, when tens of thousands of synchronous fireflies in search of mates appear at Elkmont Campground. They are the only species in North America that can blink their lights at the same time, and it’s a wondrous sight. 

6. RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA 

Many travelers head to Rapid City for a glimpse of Mount Rushmore, but it is also a destination for animal lovers. In Custer State Park, half an hour south of the city, the 18-mile Wildlife Loop State Scenic Byway is the best place to see hundreds of bison. 

In Badlands National Park, bighorn sheep are often spotted at Pinnacles Overlook and Big Badlands Overlook. Prairie dogs are also found here, including the world’s only “town” of white prairie dogs.

7. SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA 

An hour north of San Francisco is a wildlife refuge most visitors have never heard about. Northern elephant seals were gone for 150 years, then they returned to Point Reyes National Seashore in the 1970s. Now there are thousands sunning themselves on the beaches here. 

Head to Elephant Seal Overlook or (more recently) Drakes Beach. About 45 minutes southeast of the city is Sunol Regional Wilderness, your best chance to spot birds of prey. Golden eagles, peregrine falcons, and kestrels all make an appearance. And just a half an hour south is Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, a favorite with kids. The tide pools hold starfish, hermit crabs, and sea anemones.

8. GLACIER BAY, ALASKA 

A cruise through the icy waters of Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park is an animal lover’s dream. From the comfort of a ship deck you’ll spot seals, mountain goats, puffins, and perhaps breaching whales. In towns like Sitka, where some cruises de- part, you can spot bald eagles and brown bears.

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