If your must-see list includes a bear, a moose or even a roseate spoonbill, you’ve come to the right country: there are loads of accessible spots for watching wildlife in its natural habitat. Of course, sightings are never guaranteed. Pick your season and time of day (hint: dawn and dusk), get yourself into the heart of the habitat (preferably by foot, bike or boat) and chances are good you’ll be rewarded.
Start with the national parks, which represent a cross-section of natural habitats. Glacier is bear-country central, so be prepared for a personal encounter. Yellowstone is terrific for seeing elk (30, 000 are in residence), gray wolves (recently reintroduced!), bison (North America’s largest mammal) and deer, while the classic North Woods of Isle Royale showcase wolves and moose. Big Bend is tops for spotting birds and whitetail deer, while beavers and turtles haul out along the Rio Grande’s big bend, for which the park is named. Spot cartoonish, colorful puffins in the waters surrounding Acadia. For alligators, manatees, crocodiles and sea turtles, paddle the Everglades, or hike Ding Darling National Preserve on Sanibel Island, FL, where the warm gulf waters draw frolicking dolphins. In Alaska, Denali’s wide-open tundra makes for unobstructed viewing of Dall sheep, caribou, moose, grizzlies and wolves. Rocky Mountain National Park is home to mountain goats, elk, marmots and sure-footed bighorn sheep. And for that iconic image of buffalo roaming the Great Plains? Head to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Lewis and Clark territory, where wild horses and bison meander freely.
Boston’s North Shore, particularly Plum Island, is one of the best places in the East to spot migrating birds (and sample outstanding lobster rolls). California’s Monterey Bay teems with five species of seals and sea lions, cavorting in the kelp ribbons with otters, dolphins and porpoises. Ano Nuevo State Reserve, 55 miles south of San Francisco, hosts the world’s largest mainland breeding colony for elephant seals; plan ahead to view the riveting (and loud!) spectacle of battling males and birthing females from December through March.