The 7 Best U.S. National Parks for Wildlife Spotting

Catch a glimpse of sea lions, tiger sharks and bears – oh my!

U.S. News & World Report

The 7 Best U.S. National Parks for Wildlife Spotting

Pink glow of sunset on an Alaskan beach in winter with a flying eagle and mountains in the background.
Credit

(iStockPhoto)

Visit these top spots to check out fascinating creatures.

As the National Park Service celebrates its centennial this year, there's a lot of buzz around the country's incredible natural resources. And to many (if not most) of the millions of visitors, the most exciting part of a taking trip to a national park is the chance to see the wild animals. From close encounters with grizzly bears to snorkeling with sea turtles, here are the country's best parks for wildlife watching.
A bull caribou in autumn at Denali National Park, Alaska.
Credit

(Getty Images)

Denali National Park and Preserve

Alaska

Though the park shares a name with the mighty mountain (formerly known as Mount McKinley), clouds often keep Denali's peak shrouded from view. The real draw to Denali is a wildlife-viewing safari on the 92-mile long Denali Park Road. Hop on a bus and keep your eyes peeled for grizzly bears, moose, caribou, wolves, Dall sheep and more. If you're lucky, the animals will come right up to your vehicle, where you can quietly observe them (with your arms inside the car).

Top wildlife: grizzly bears, moose, caribou, Dall sheep
Best time to go: June and July
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Visit these top spots to check out fascinating creatures.

As the National Park Service celebrates its centennial this year, there's a lot of buzz around the country's incredible natural resources. And to many (if not most) of the millions of visitors, the most exciting part of a taking trip to a national park is the chance to see the wild animals. From close encounters with grizzly bears to snorkeling with sea turtles, here are the country's best parks for wildlife watching.

Denali National Park and Preserve

Alaska

Though the park shares a name with the mighty mountain (formerly known as Mount McKinley), clouds often keep Denali's peak shrouded from view. The real draw to Denali is a wildlife-viewing safari on the 92-mile long Denali Park Road. Hop on a bus and keep your eyes peeled for grizzly bears, moose, caribou, wolves, Dall sheep and more. If you're lucky, the animals will come right up to your vehicle, where you can quietly observe them (with your arms inside the car).

Top wildlife: grizzly bears, moose, caribou, Dall sheep
Best time to go: June and July

Yellowstone National Park

Idaho, Montana, Wyoming

America's first national park is also one of the best places for wildlife watching. Yellowstone 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 restored after disappearing decades earlier. While summer is the peak time to visit the park, every season brings something special, from fall's elk 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 spot young animals before the crowds arrive)

Channel Islands National Park

California

On these islands off the California coast near Ventura, you can find birds, animals and plants that don't exist anywhere else in the world. Isolated from crossbreeding and 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 for daytrippers. Plus, you can easily camp and hike on your own.

Top wildlife: foxes, bald eagles, whales, sea lions
Best time to go: Year-round, though May to September is the most popular time to visit

Everglades National Park

Florida

Want to come face to face with an alligator? Spanning 1.5 million acres of protected wetlands across southern Florida, 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 birders, who flock here to watch more than 350 species, including ibis, hawks, herons and roseate spoonbills. You can explore the waterways on a boat tour or paddle on your own in a canoe or kayak.

Top wildlife: alligators, crocodiles, manatees, birds
Best time to go: The dry season, from December to April

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Alaska

In this picturesque national park, the "big" attractions are just that: big. Whale watching is one of the top reasons to visit Glacier Bay, with migrating humpbacks arriving every summer to feed. Here, you'll also find orcas and minke whales, seals, sea lions, bears, moose, eagles and seabirds. The best way to explore the park is by kayak, tour boat or cruise ship, as most of its 5,130 square miles are composed of water. As you explore, you'll be surrounded by iconic glaciers, which occasionally break into the sea.

Top wildlife: humpback whales, sea lions, bears, seabirds
Best time to go: June and July

Katmai National Park and Preserve

Alaska

This park in the Alaskan wilderness takes center stage for one of nature's most spectacular sights: brown bears catching salmon flying out of streams. There are more bears than people living on this peninsula – in fact, it's one of the best places to see the animals in their natural habitat. Viewing platforms allow you to watch the mammals hunt salmon as the fish swim upriver to spawn. And the tundra landscape and craggy coastline at this park make this one of the best bird-watching spots in North America.

Top wildlife: bears, salmon
Best time to go: June to September

Virgin Islands National Park

St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands

Pop on your mask and fins because this park takes you on an underwater adventure. Virgin Islands National Park, which covers more than half of the island of St. John and its surrounding crystalline waters offshore, boasts over 300 species of fish and marine life. A snorkeling trail at Trunk Bay gives you the chance to spot sea turtles, colorful reef fish, a variety of corals, sharks and more. Hike up the surrounding mountains to see the park's vibrant bird life, bats and iguanas.

Top wildlife: tropical fish, coral, iguanas, sea turtles
Best time to go: April to June
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Jess Moss, Contributor

Jess Moss has covered travel for the better part of a decade. She has worked as an editor at ...  Read more

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