There’s something about seeing animals in the wild that’s wholly wondrous and inspiring. It’s a reminder that we’re not the only residents of Planet Earth; our ecosystem is one of beauty and balance that must be respected. In the U.S., there are a number of places that remain remote and wonderfully
wild, offering animal enthusiasts and naturalists opportunities to have their very own “National Geographic” kind of adventure. From wild horses to alligators, bears to bison, you’ll experience total awe and wonder at these places to see wild animals in the US.
Olympic National Park - Washington
Olympic National Park, 3002 Mt Angeles Rd, Port Angeles, WA 98362, USA
Olympic National Park
is one of Washington's most sublime natural wonders; it's 922,651 acres of pure, unadulterated beauty. Within these wondrous wilds, animals thrive; the national park is home to the only Olympic Marmots on the planet, in fact. Olympic is best known, however, for its Roosevelt elk. The largest wild herd of Roosevelt elk in the Pacific Northwest lives in this park, so your chances of spotting one are high. These beguiling beasts can be found everywhere from the park's alpine meadows to low-elevation rainforests, but the Hoh Rain Forest is a prime viewing spot. If you visit in September, you might even hear the "bugling" of bulls during peak mating season.
Steens Mountains - Oregon
Steens Mountain, Oregon 97721, USA
Tucked into the southeastern corner of the state,
is one of Oregon’s most wondrous hidden gems -- and it's also home to one of the PNW's most elusive treasures, too. Several different herds of wild horses make their home in Oregon's high desert; these horses are the South Steens mustangs, one of the 17+ different herds totaling over 6,100 horses that roam free in the southeastern part of the Beaver State. And on the eponymous Steens Mountain Back Country Byway, you can experience this majestic mountain -- and all its wondrous wildlife -- up close. Just be sure to drive with caution as you traverse this scenic stretch of road -- horses have been known to amble freely up to cars.
Channel Islands National Park - California
Channel Islands National Park, California, USA
are five small islands off the coast of Southern California, and each one is a little slice of perfection with its own special features. History enthusiasts love Anacapa Island, where an old, 1930s-era lighthouse resides; wildlife watchers, meanwhile, are drawn to Santa Cruz for its rich and varied biology, which includes numerous rare, endangered, and threatened species. This rugged island is home to notable avian species such as bald eagles and bats, aquatic animals like whales and dolphins, and terrestrial creatures like the deer mouse and island fox. Once you have been here, you'll certainly put it on your list of the best places to see wild animals in nature.
Point Reyes National Seashore - California
Point Reyes National Seashore, California, USA
is an area on the Pacific Coast in Marin County located about 30 miles from San Francisco. Sea lions, elephant seals, orcas, whales, and myriad avian species patrol this region of the California Coast, providing ample opportunities for photography and wildlife watching. Point Reyes Safaris even offers "seaside safari" tours led by acclaimed photographer Daniel Dietrich, and guests can essentially choose their own adventure in terms of wildlife focus: avian, marine, or terrestrial!
Yellowstone National Park - Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park, WY 82190, USA
Yellowstone National Park
is lauded as one of the best National Parks to visit in America -- especially in terms of wildlife. Receiving anywhere between 4 to 6 million tourists each year, the park is an incredible place to spot wildlife in its natural habitat.
Yellowstone is home to countless creatures; you're likely to see bison, wolves, grizzly bears, elk, and even moose in some areas. Over 14 miles of boardwalks wind their way through the country's first National Park, showing off thousands of natural hydrothermal springs and geysers, and offering unrivaled views of some of the country's most wondrous wildlife, that, when viewed with care and caution, is an experience you will never, ever forget.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park - North Dakota
Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota, USA
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
is North Dakota’s only formal National Park, and also its most popular attraction. The park includes over 70,000 acres of land that's not only breathtakingly beautiful, but also home to some of the country's most captivating wildlife. Bison and wild horses are the two most popular wildlife to view at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but those aren't the only animals that can be seen here. Bighorn sheep, elk, deer, coyotes, and prairie dogs are just a few of the others; and there are also hundreds of birds and a handful of reptiles that call this place home. Longhorn steers are Yellowstone's most elusive and commanding creatures; and seeing these beasts -- which can be up to 2,500 pounds -- in the wild truly is an experience for your bucket list.
Rocky Mountain National Park - Colorado
Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, USA
Rocky Mountain National Park
is acclaimed for its scenic vistas, and the park's wildlife is an inextricable part of the package. Most notable are the eponymous Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep, Colorado's majestic state mammal with iconic curved horns, along with the snow-white mountain goats, which are larger and absolutely striking. Other iconic Colorado creatures in the park include moose, elk, black bears, coyotes, mountain lions, and snowshoe hares.
Barataria Preserve - Louisiana
Barataria Preserve, 6588 Barataria Blvd, Marrero, LA 70072, USA
An underrated treasure,
is a wildlife wonderland in lovely Louisiana. During your visit, you’ll traverse the boardwalk and gravel trails that wind through the preserve’s 26,000 acres of bayous, swamps, marshes, and forests, with ample opportunities to spot some of the South's most fascinating residents. Snakes, turtles, and alligators are often found along -- and literally
-- the trails, boardwalks, and bayous, making this a prime destination for herpetologists and those fascinated by these oft-overlooked creatures.
Everglades National Park - Florida
Everglades National Park, Florida, USA
With one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world,
Everglades National Park
is a place that belongs on every wildlife enthusiast's bucket list. The park encompasses 1.5 million acres of tropical and subtropical habitats with one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems. Within the Everglades, there are five unique habitats, 750 different varieties of native plants, over 300 types of birds, and hundreds of animal species — 60 of which are endangered. In order to protect and preserve this idyllic region, Congress established the Everglades as a National Park in 1934. The park has since been designated as an International Biosphere Reserve, a Wetland of International Importance, and a World Heritage Site. Everglades National Park is a real-life Garden of Eden — a pristine oasis that offers an authentic, up-close experience with nature that’s simply unparalleled.
Cumberland Island - Georgia
Cumberland Island, Georgia, USA
Between the Okefenokee Swamp, Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge, and Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, there are myriad places to enjoy Georgia's diverse wildlife.
, however, is the most unexpected. In addition to the usual Southern suspects -- birds and marine life -- this Georgia isle is home to wild horses that, when seen roaming and running
in the wild
, make for a marvelous moment you won't ever forget. In fact, should you camp overnight here, you may even find a few near your campsite as you emerge from your tent in the morning.
Minneopa State Park - Minnesota
Minneopa State Park, 54497 Gadwall Rd, Mankato, MN 56001, USA
Over 200 species have been recognized at
Minneopa State Park
, a hidden gem in Mankato, Minnesota. A popular place for birders -- flycatchers, wrens, vireos, warblers, kinglets, and many species of sparrow and finch can all be spotted here -- Minnesota's third oldest state park is home to a newly re-established American Bison herd. The bison are free to roam an area of 331 acres (the entire park covers 4,643 acres), so spotting them can be tricky. Keep a watchful eye as you drive through the range and take advantage of the Seppmann Mill Overlook, a popular place for spotting these elusive beasts.
Isle Royale National Park - Michigan
Isle Royale National Park, Michigan, USA
Surrounded by lovely Lake Superior,
Isle Royale National Park
is a treasure trove of wilderness tucked away in Michigan. In addition to Isle Royale, which is the largest island in Lake Superior, the park contains approximately 400 smaller islands; and within this expanse, you'll find some of the most marvelous wildlife in the country. It's here that visitors can see moose, reindeer, and foxes; and the National Park System is in the process of reintroducing wolves into the area, too. So whether you're fascinated by its unique history or unparalleled beauty, you'll find that Isle Royale truly is the crown jewel of the Midwest.
The Outer Banks - North Carolina
Outer Banks, North Carolina, USA
Within the string of barrier islands off the North Carolina Coast, there is a place where wild horses roam free. The Corolla Wild Horses are located on the northernmost beaches of the
. These wild horses are descendants of horses brought over in the 1500s by Spanish explorers, and today are a celebrated part of the OBX. The island is also home to smaller wild ponies, mainly along the Shackleford Banks near Cape Lookout. All of these wild equines are a protected species. To see these magnificent creatures up close, an adventure tour is your best bet; Wild Horse Adventure Tours is ranked as the top attraction in the OBX, offering a once-in-a-lifetime experience in nature.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Tennessee
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, United States
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
is widely regarded as one of the best places in the U.S. to see wildlife, including the elusive and enthralling black bear. This National Park is actually one of the largest protected areas in the eastern U.S. where black bears can live in their natural habitat, and these captivating creatures are often observed in the wild here. As a result, proper distance and cautionary procedures must be followed to ensure the safety of both humans and animals.
Assateague Island National Seashore - Maryland and Virginia
Assateague Island, United States
Claimed by both Maryland and Virginia,
Assateague Island National Seashore
is a barrier island known for its immense natural splendor, including some of the animal kingdom's most captivating creatures. To immerse yourself in the island's wildlife, be sure to visit the stunning Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. This 14,000-acre wildlife preserve on the southern section of the island is the Indigenous homelands of the Pocomoke and Occohannock people, and it's characterized by marshes, beaches, dunes, maritime forests -- horses. In the Virginia district of the park, the horses are known as Chincoteague Ponies. They are fenced off in larger management areas. The Maryland horses are the ones that roam. With all this wildlife, when you visit this natural paradise, it's vital to respect the environment and admire wildlife from afar; this ensures that the island will thrive for generations to come.
Katmai National Park - Alaska
Katmai National Park and Preserve, Alaska, USA
One of Alaska’s most famous wildlife species is the grizzly bear, so it follows that the largest bear sanctuary in the world would be found in the Last Frontier. The McNeil River State Game Sanctuary is located right outside of
Katmai National Park and Preserve
and is home to the world’s largest concentration of brown bears. The reason for all of the bears? McNeil River’s salmon runs. All five species of Pacific salmon can be found within the sanctuary, to the delight of all of the nearby bears. At a size of just 200 square miles, this wildlife sanctuary is absolutely teeming with bears, and you'll often see these massive mammals in the river, fishing for salmon.
Mauna Kea - Hawaii
Mauna Kea, Hawaii 96720, USA
Hawaii might be best known for its green sea turtles, spinner dolphins, and tropical fish, but there's a fascinating area of the island where wild cows roam free. Hawaii Island's
is home to scores of cattle, including the largest contiguous ranch in the U.S., Parker Ranch. The island is also home to thousands of
cows that were introduced at the end of the 18th century and roam the forested areas of the island. The massive herds destroyed crops; and while hunting was eventually allowed, many of the feral cattle remain to this day. The best places to spot them are while driving across the middle of the island on Saddle Road, as well as the Mauna Kea Access Road. It's one of the most beautiful places for wildlife watching in the US.
Please remember: these animals are wild, and these lands are precious. You can help keep yourself, other visitors, and wildlife safe by setting a good example and following general “leave no trace” principles, as well as the following hiking etiquette guidelines:
Remember to treat wildlife with proper caution and respect.
The safety of these animals, as well as your own, depends on everyone using good judgment, giving animals lots of room, and not disturbing, feeding, or touching them.
Keep an eye on trails and, if applicable, the roads on which you travel.
The next time you’re seeking an experience in nature, we highly recommend visiting one of these places and experiencing the most wild and wonderful residents in America firsthand.
Do you have other suggestions for where to find the best wildlife watching in the US? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section! We would love to hear about your favorite places and your experiences with the beautiful spots on this list. If you are looking for a place to stay to ensure that you are nearby to any of them, take a look at
Vrbo and find the ideal accommodation.
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