With such diverse and delicate ecosystems, it’s no surprise that the United States has several top-notch parks, refuges and slightly off-the-beaten-track areas to spot the nation’s breathtaking wildlife and nature. These coral reefs, glaciers, woods and swamplands highlight the vast array of the country’s wildlife, including many endangered species. Visitors can see the world how Mother Nature intended and get a very practical education at these unique sites.
[Also see our travel article “The World’s Best Places to See Wildlife“]
10. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
The world’s longest cave system, Mammoth Cave has rightly earned its name with over 400 miles of underground twists and turns that have been explored. Mammoth can also describe its abundance of 130 species, 70 of which are endangered. Much of the wildlife is is small in size but accurately reflect the otherworldly vibe. Opossums, Kentucky Cave Shrimp and white-tailed deer occupy the caves and surrounding Green River Valley. The most famous draw of all though are the several species of bat the populate the caves. There is a heavy emphasis on preservation to increase their numbers, but even in their small groups, they remain a fascinating and creepy sight. Outside the caves, the focus on preservation continues, as the river otter was recently reintroduced to the Green River.
9. Orcas Island, Washington
[Also see our travel article “Top Ten Reasons to Visit Seattle“]
True to its name, Orcas Island, the largest of the San Juan Islands, is a prime location to see orca whales, but this island has much more to offer. While on a boat tour or just kayaking around, visitors are likely to see whales, seals and a cacophonous array of seabirds. Elephant seals, sea lions and dolphins make seasonal appearances. To brush off sea legs, get on a bike or horse in Moran State Park and look up to appreciate all manner of birds, from hummingbirds to owls.
8. Acadia National Park, Maine
New England’s only national park, Acadia sits along Maine’s rocky eastern coast. The meeting of sea and land, besides breathtaking views, means seeing double the wildlife. Acadia is a natural draw for birdwatchers, who can see the peregrine falcon that’s recently come back from the brink of extinction. Songbirds, herons, seabirds and harlequin ducks abound in the 53,000-acre park.Starfish, crabs and more make an appearance along the shoreline when the tide goes out, and much harder to miss are the whales, dolphins and seals splashing about off the coast of Mt. Desert Island.
7. Big Bend National Park, Texas
[Also see our travel article “Exploring the Texas Hill Country“]
Situated along the Texas-Mexico border, Big Bend National Park retains a wild, rambling feel. While the 3,600 varieties of insects may only appeal to a sliver of the population, they are dwarfed literally and figuratively by regular bear and mountain lion sightings, or the chance to see a roadrunner, javelina or coyote. Bats are one of the main draws, as there are more than 20 different species, including the Mexican Long-Nosed Bat, which has only been observed in this part of the United States.
6. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina
Over 1,500 black bears populate this national park, making them the unofficial symbol of this region of the Smoky Mountains. Really, though, they’re just the tip of the animal kingdom, as the park is home to over 200 varieties of birds and an impressive amount of mammals, fish and reptiles. Elk were recently reintroduced to the park in 2001, although it’s more common to spot white-tailed deer, groundhogs and some species of bat. Unexpectedly, the park is also home to 30 species of salamander, making it one of the only places on earth to have such a vast array of these critters.