Best Places in the US for Wildlife Viewing
Why travel halfway around the world to go on safari when our own country is teeming with beasts big and small?
Advice from park rangers on where to find American's most interesting creatures
COYOTES: ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, Colorado -- THE PERFECT SPOT: Though they can be spotted throughout the park, coyotes appear to prefer open meadows and pine woodlands. The aptly named Coyote Valley Trail—an easy, handicap-accessible one-mile loop along the Colorado River in Kawuneeche Valley—is a particularly rewarding spot to search for these wily animals.
ELEPHANT SEALS: CHANNEL ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK, California -- THE PERFECT SPOT: You can find northern elephant seals on many beaches on Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands, but the real seal mother lode requires a little extra work. Hiking to Point Bennett on the western tip of San Miguel Island is intense (it's a 15 mile round-trip hike trek), but well worth it.
FRENCH ANGELFISH: VIRGIN ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK, St. John, Virgin Islands -- THE PERFECT SPOT: The self-guided trail in Trunk Bay, on the northwest shore of St. John, is in protected waters 15 feet deep or less, and is an ideal place to begin your search for the angelfish.
BLACK BEARS: GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK, Tennessee and North Carolina -- THE PERFECT SPOT: Black bears wander about all day long, especially in or around the edges of forests. Many hang out around the Cades Cove area, an easily accessible valley surrounded by an 11-mile loop road.
ALLIGATORS AND CROCODILES: EVERGLADES NATIONAL PARK, Florida - The only area in the world where alligators and crocodiles coexist side-by-side.THE PERFECT SPOT: The best places to spy sunning alligators, particularly in the winter, are along the Anhinga Trail in the Royal Palm section of the park and along the Shark Valley loop off the Tamiami Trail. Plenty of crocodiles hang out in the saltwater of the Flamingo area, located near Florida Bay at the southern extreme of the park.
MOUNTAIN LIONS: BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK, Texas -- THE PERFECT SPOT: Mountain lions roam throughout the park, often around dawn or dusk, including the Chihuahuan Desert and the Chisos Mountains, where they sometimes follow hiking trails.
ROOSEVELT ELK: OLYMPIC NATIONAL PARK, Washington -- THE PERFECT SPOT: Head to the lowland Hoh Rain Forest, on the western side of the park, where elk like to graze for ferns, shrubs, and lichens grasses.
PRONGHORN: WIND CAVE NATIONAL PARK, South Dakota -- Below ground, Wind Cave National Park shelters the fifth longest cave system in the world, with more than 136 miles of underground passages that have actually been mapped. Above these maze-like formations is a rich prairie ecosystem that plays home to the rare pronghorn. THE PERFECT SPOT: These beauties can be spotted all over the park, but one of the easiest places to find them is the area immediately around the Elk Mountain campground
PRAIRIE DOGS: BADLANDS NATIONAL PARK, South Dakota -- THE PERFECT SPOT: Prairie dogs can be spotted along the park's main loop road. Just listen for the distinctive barking warning call that gave them their canine name. A particularly populated area is Roberts Prairie Dog Town, located five miles west of the Pinnacles entrance along Sage Creek Rim Road
BISON: YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho -- Considered the largest land mammal in the United States, the American bison—also called the American buffalo—typically weighs in at 1,000-1,800 pounds, with some males tipping the scales at 2,000 pounds. The area now housing Yellowstone National Park is the only place in the continental U.S. where bison have continually lived since prehistoric times. THE PERFECT SPOT: Bison are often on the move and are seen in different areas of the park during different seasons. Check out the Lamar and Hayden Valleys; spots along the Madison, Firehole, and Gibbon Rivers; and in Gibbon Meadow.
BALD AND GOLDEN EAGLES: DENALI NATIONAL PARK, Alaska -- THE PERFECT SPOT: Bald eagles can be spotted on the south side of the Alaska Range, especially near water sources like lakes and streams. Golden eagles, which are migratory, can best be seen mid-March through September, before they head south for the winter.
MOUNTAIN GOATS: GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, Montana -- THE PERFECT SPOT: Some of the best spots for catching mountain goats in summer and early fall include the appropriately titled Goat Lick Overlook along U.S. Highway 2 near Essex, and Logan Pass on the famous Going-to-the-Sun Road.
BATS: MAMMOTH CAVE NATIONAL PARK, Kentucky -- PERFECT SPOT: While red bats can be spotted in the forest and rarely head underground, most of the other bat species keep mainly to the caves during the day. About 12 species live in Mammoth Cave.
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