USA wildlife vacations guide
The fact that every USA state has a national animal says it all. Just to put it into perspective, in the UK, ours is a lion – a case of symbolism over substance, it would seem. In the USA, they are more in touch with real wildlife and, with their extensive national park system, prioritising its conservation. In California the state animal is the endangered grey whale. In Colorado it's the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and Nevada the Desert bighorn sheep. Alaska has the moose, Wyoming the bison and Montana the grizzly bear.
It’s miraculous enough watching all those salmon swimming upstream to spawn, taking one last final leap up a waterfall. But then the greedy grizzlies come out to feast upon them mid-flight. I couldn’t tell if my tears were of grief or joy.
The USA's national animal is, of course, the bald eagle, which soars around large expanses of water such as Katmai National Park, Alaska, the Hudson River in New York State, mangrove swamps of Florida and the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River. Which is more than can be said for lions in the UK. Read more in our Wildlife vacations in the USA travel guide.
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Wildlife in America
The USA’s prolific and pioneering national park system is inextricably linked with wildlife vacations, as the parks were fundamentally created to protect wildlife and their habitats. There are thousands of hiking trails, but they are carefully managed to allow habitats to grow and wildlife to thrive. Watch elk roam free in Rocky Mountain National Park, bison or elusive wolves in Yellowstone, grizzlies in Alaska’s Denali National Park and golden eagles soaring over the Grand Canyon. Wildlife isn’t exclusive to national parks, however; you just get the most undisturbed viewing there. Head to Hawaii for extraordinary whale watching or Fort Myers in Florida for loggerhead turtles and manatees. Just an hour from Manhattan, you can see dolphins off Long Island and bears in the Catskills Mountains.
Alaska is way up there, and way out in terms of wildlife watching too. A land of extraordinary national parks including USA’s largest, Wrangell St-Elias, take in tumultuous taiga and tundra with resident wildlife wonders such as orca and humpback whales, grizzly bears and wolves. Katmai National Park is a top spot for viewing Kodiak bears preying on migratory salmon heading upstream – if they can make it past the clambering claws.
Bears are surprisingly widespread across the USA, with Yellowstone National Park the top spot for viewing grizzly and brown bears out on fishing expeditions. The national parks of Alaska, with their tumultuous taiga and tundra, shelter Kodiak bears preying on migratory salmon – particularly in Katmai. Head to Yosemite, the Appalachians or the Rocky Mountains for black bears to be in awe of.
Once thundering across the plains in their millions, North America’s largest land animal was reduced to just a few hundred individuals in the 1800s by hunters. Bison have had an impressive comeback though – and while many now live on farms, herds free roam in Yellowstone in large numbers. Massive males can weigh up to 900kg, with their humps up to six feet tall. Wobbly babies can be seen in April-mid June.
Humpback whales aren’t stupid: they choose these tropical islands as their mating and birthing grounds. They perform their acrobatics in the wild between late Dec-May, sometimes directly off the Maui coastline. Other cetaceans to celebrate include dolphins, false killer whales and pilot whales, with boat trips for closer sightings. Alaska is another top spot for cetacean seekers, as is California’s Monterey from April-Dec.
Head to Yellowstone National Park’s Lamar Valley in winter for a magical wolf tracking experience, following their distinctive prints through the snow. Montana’s Glacier National Park protects a section of the Rocky Mountains where wolves roam free, and Alaska’s enormous Wrangell-St Elias National Park – the largest national park in the USA – also has resident packs.
Yellowstone National Park
6. Yellowstone National Park
The mother of them all, Yellowstone was America’s first national park. It's also where Mother Nature nurtures a plethora of wildlife. Although Yellowstone is famous worldwide, it is not as packed with visitors as you might think, as it’s harder to access. So, take in the bison masterfully marauding the plains, grizzlies or brown bears fishing by the creeks, or go wolf tracking in winter in the Lamar Valley.
More about USA wildlife
The best time to go on a wildlife vacation in the USA is usually in spring or autumn, when many species head out to forest and hunt either side of the winter fast.
Photo credits: [Page banner: rayb777] [Go if: Denali National Park and Preserve] [Map intro: Yellowstone National Park] [Alaska: Denali National Park and Preserve] [Bears: Yellowstone National Park] [Bison: schizoform] [Wolves: Ellie Attebery] [Yellowstone: Eric Vaughn]Back to the top