Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife

Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife

Among my travels, I constantly seek out the best destinations and national parks for spotting wildlife. After exploring this country countless times, I’ve discovered a few national parks that (more or less) guarantee its visitors some unbelievable wildlife sightings. With that said, I’d love to share these places with you in hopes that you, too, can marvel at their awe-inducing beauty – forming everlasting bonds with these wild creatures and their land.

“Much of human behavior can be explained by watching the wild beasts around us. They are constantly teaching us things about ourselves and the way of the universe, but most people are too blind to watch and listen.”― Suzy Kassem

The following national parks in this post are the best of the lower 48 states in the U.S. (only). Furthermore, they are listed in no particular order because each park is far too differing to rank.


Author: Mindy Michaels, mindyonthemove.com

Main Photographer: Doug Michaels

My name is Mindy Rose Michaels and I am an avid adventurer and traveler.  I “work to travel” (as I like to say) and thus, live a very unconventional life. My husband, Doug, and I are freelancers in the film industry and work on various reality/doc tv shows for a multitude of networks, such as: Travel Channel, Animal Planet, NBC, Discovery, A&E, Starz, HGTV etc.  Our work keeps us constantly moving and constantly on our toes AND, when we’re not working, you best believe we’re still on the move. Always. Because we love to travel as often and as far as possible.

DISCLOSURE: THIS POST CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS AND I RECEIVE A COMMISSION IF YOU VISIT A LINK AND BUY SOMETHING ON MY RECOMMENDATION. PURCHASING VIA AN AFFILIATE LINK DOESN’T COST YOU ANY EXTRA, AND I ONLY RECOMMEND PRODUCTS AND SERVICES I TRUST. ALL OPINIONS ARE MY OWN. FOR MORE DETAILS SEE MY DISCLOSURE AND PRIVACY POLICY.


Tools to bring that enhance spotting wildlife in the following national parks:

Click on any of the images to view my specific recommendations and, if you feel inclined, to purchase for yourself.

Reliable & Weatherproof Binoculars

Great binoculars can enable you to clearly see wildlife that you may had no clue were lurking in the distance. I suggest a set with a wide field of view and 12x magnification. Also, the lighter the weight and the more compact they are equals the easier they are to tow along.

Animal Tracking Pocket Guide

A waterproof pocket guide is a nifty and cheap tool that aids in tracking over 65 common North American species via their prints and scat. Furthermore, a ruler is included to help accurately identify track and scat sizes.

Long Lens for taking wildlife photos

I suggest at least a 70-300mm zoom lens. We captured many of our wildlife images using this versatile Canon lens with an aperture range from f/4 to f/5.6 and full-frame format.

Important:

Always remember to be mindful of what foods you have when among wildlife. Wildlife can be dangerous and harmful to your well-being and are likely to attack when they sense food is near. NEVER feed wildlife and ALWAYS keep a safe distance.


Where and when to spot for wildlife in the following national parks:

Key word to remember: the “edge“.

Mornings and evenings are commonly the best times for wildlife sightings because many animals conduct most of their business in the hours at the edge of night. On top of that, the edge areas between different habitats can be among the best places to scan for wildlife. For example, edges where forests transition to meadows can offer chances to see forest wildlife that might otherwise be hidden among the dense trees and vegetation. Along the edge of water sources is another popular hotbed for wildlife. We often see moose, bear and much more in such areas of the parks.

Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife

Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife

Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Park

These two parks are grouped together because they are very close neighbors.

  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife
  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife
  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife
  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife
  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife
  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife
  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife
  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife

Animals we’ve often spotted in this park: Grizzly bears, Black bears, Gray wolves, Moose, Elk, Bison, Pronghorn, White-tailed deer, and Bighorn sheep.

Where in this park did we see the most wildlife? Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley.

Why is this park the best?

I’ve encountered more wildlife in this park than I could have ever fathomed in my wildest dreams.

Holy wow! A Grizzly bear!

We spotted a Grizzly bear on the opposite side of the Yellowstone Canyon / Lower Falls Lookout parking lot and it was my first (and only) time seeing a Grizzly in the wild.  I screamed at the top of my lungs while dashing towards the field where the bear moseyed along the edge of the tree-line.  Close enough to the overpowering creature, I stopped in my tracks with my mouth fully agape.  Tears streaming down my cheek, I felt nothing but pure joy and wonderment. We even followed him for a while – probably longer than we should have.  

The surreal wolf vs. prey encounter:

Driving through the vast Lamar Valley, it took no time at all before we spotted several herds of grazing bison.  Encompassed by rolling mountains and abundant with lush grasslands, this valley is a thriving wildlife paradise. Not long after spotting the countless bison, I had one of the greatest wildlife encounters of my life to-date:

We watched as a lone Gray wolf (black in color) stalked a baby Bison calf. The entire time the wolf stalked its target, the parent and adult Bison strongly united to fend off this menacing predator from their youngin’.

With mixed emotions, wanting the wolf to eat but also wanting the calf to live, I soaked in the events like a sponge.  When the wolf snapped its jaws at the calf’s leg: all my hair stood up.  When the mother and bison family banded together to ward off the wolf, protecting their calf with such solidarity: my spine shivered.  I was a part of this spectacular WILD moment – one that I thought I’d only see via watching NatGeo on my television screen.  And, I was living a dream come true.

To read more about my wildlife encounters in this one-of-a-kind national park, check out my post below:


Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife

Glacier National Park

  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife
  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife
  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife

Animals we’ve often spotted in this park: Mountain goats, Black bears, Bighorn sheep, Elk, Moose, Hoary marmots, Golden-mantled ground squirrels and White-tailed deer. Though many people have spotted Grizzly bears, Mountain lions and Gray wolves, we did not.

Where in this park did we see the most wildlife? On the Highline Trail, in Many Glacier Valley and the Logan Pass area.

Why is this park the best?

In nature, I’m always seeking to forge deep bonds.  Through meaningful connections, I am able to grow and learn and it is, in part, the reason why I continually travel.  My restless soul is unable to rest until it expands beyond its current capacity.  Even after expansion, it only rests momentarily before seeking further growth and knowledge.  It’s a cycle in which I’m grateful to be caught in.  Que…

The extraordinary mountain goat encounter:

Never, and I repeat N-E-V-E-R, in my life have I been SO close to a wild creature as my encounter upon the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park.  The stunning goat (pictured above) took it upon himself to guide the two of us along our journey.  He would saunter in front of us, pause, look back…once seeing where we were… he’d proceed along the trail and continue to lead our way.  He’d stop, here and there, to eat and even drink as we passed through a small glacial stream.  

As hesitant as we were to be in such close proximity to him, I could feel his hesitation just the same.  Furthermore, I could feel his curiosity exude as our curiosity exuded.  Perhaps the most beautiful part of it all: I could sense his comfort grow the more we became acquainted.  Ultimately, we became a mirror for one another reflecting our inner feelings, intentions and spirit.  We were sharing this unbelievably unique connection that BLEW MY MIND.  

Though the most profound, this mountain goat was far from our only wildlife encounter:  We saw hoary marmots, squirrels and big horn sheep in abundance as well. The connectedness I was blessed to find throughout my time on the Highline Trail was a pinnacle high.  My heart was overflowing with gratitude and the immense insight I obtained was nothing short of divine.

To read more about my phenomenal hike (best hike of my life), visit my post linked below:


Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife

Everglades National Park

  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife
  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife
  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife
  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife

Animals we’ve often spotted in this park: Alligators, American Crocodiles, Manatees, Armadillos, White-tailed deer, Domestic pigs, Coatis, River otters, Black bears, Red-bellied turtles, Eastern Coral snakes and so much more! Furthermore, Everglades National Park is a haven for innumerable bird species, including: Greater flamingos, Common loons, Brown boobies, Ospreys, Red-tailed hawks, Golden eagles, Great White and Great Blue herons, Great and Snowy egrets, Wood storks, Glossy ibises, American White and Brown pelicans, (to name just a few).

Where in this park did we see the most wildlife? Anhinga Trail, Flamingo Point, Pine Lands Trail and Paurotis Pond.

Why is this park the best?

Everglades National Park provided me with the chance to meet so much wildlife: my heart was full!  Every trail and every mangrove held more beautifully wild and free creatures – dangerous and friendly, big and small!

So many gators!

Not far from the Homestead Entrance of Everglades National Park, you can find Anhinga Trail – HIKE THIS!  It is an easy hike around alluring ponds FULL of wildlife and you’re guaranteed to see LOTS of gators. You can get extremely close to the gators, so close that there is a sign warning hikers to stay 15 feet away from them when encountered (that doesn’t seem very far, does it?).  We saw approximately ten gators – one even swam out of the water and walked onto the path directly in front of us. Then, she proceeded to sunbathe not giving a care in the world that we were observing her.  We also spotted the cutest turtle family all chilling on some rocks alongside the first pond.  I could’ve watched these gators and turtles all day! (I mean, I did for like 3 hours).

First time ever seeing a crocodile and manatee in the wild!

I can’t even describe how ecstatic I was to finally see manatee in the wild (and we saw at least 4 of them).  To make this moment even cooler, they were SO CLOSE to the docks down at Flamingo Point! Their massive bodies glided right past us.  Go to Flamingo Point and search for these gentle giants, especially during the warm afternoons when they surface for some sun.   One guy even surfaced so close that I could pet him.  Did you know that manatee are extremely docile creatures and have zero natural predators?  They’re literally the sweetest.  

Then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, there is a 10 to 12 foot American Crocodile that calls Flamingo Point home, too, and he is a must see as well!   Furthermore, you can rent a kayak here and hop right in the waters with these creatures, if you dare ;-).

To read more about my time in the Everglades (and my Southern Florida trip as a whole), check out my post linked below. And, to watch our adventure unfold, peep my travel video posted below as well.


Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife

Badlands National Park

  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife
  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife
  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife
  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife

Animals we’ve often spotted in this park: Bighorn sheep, Bison, Prairie dogs, Antelope, Mule deer, Coyotes, Foxes, Jackrabbits, Bobcats, Badgers, Rattlesnakes and more. Though we’ve never spotted them: there are Mountain lions roaming these lands as well. Even more, you can see the remains of creatures long ago by viewing the dinosaur fossils showcased along the Fossil Exhibit Trail.

Where in this park did we see the most wildlife? This is tough to answer, because we’ve literally seen wildlife in every corner of this park! I can tell you, however, that the herds of Bison can typically be spotted along Sage Creek Rim Road and Prairie dog sightings are very common in Roberts Prairie Dog Town. Furthermore, Badlands National Park’s neighboring parks (Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park) are homes to abundant wildlife, too.

Why is this park the best?

Want to walk alongside a herd of American Bison (aka: Buffalo) amid unearthly and sharply eroded buttes?  Want to watch these beastly beauties graze among the prairies and roll around in the dirt? Badlands National Park is the place to go! Every single time I’ve been to Badlands National Park I’ve seen these fascinating creatures up close and personal. I watched a giant male stroll past one of the public restrooms in the park and he was the same size as the building!  INSANE.  As gentle as they may seem, you still must always be cautious and respectful of the wildlife. DO NOT try to pet one or get close and take a selfie with one! DO, however, admire them from a safe distance – I could watch these guys all day!  

Big horn sheep families amid breathtaking sunsets:

The park is also full of big horn sheep which, never fails, I happen to see around sunset almost every evening in the park.  There’s also, oftentimes, baby big horns running amok along the buttes, just playing and having a grand ole time as their mommas and papas relax and watch.  

Furthermore, you can be sure to spot prairie dogs (which are hilarious and make such cute noises), mule deer, pronghorn and a variety of birds!  (BEWARE: there’s also rattlesnakes – but hey, at least they warn ya when you’re too close!)  At nighttime, you’ll even be serenaded by the sounds of coyotes howling.  Visiting Badlands National Park means visiting so many beautiful creatures – you’ll be sure to spend a full day doing just this!

Less crowds means more one-on-one time with the animals!

The remoteness of the badlands, in my opinion, is an unbelievable upside!  There’s nothing that irks me more when visiting national parks (or any nature getaway for that matter) than being bombarded by hordes of humans and crazy traffic.  More often than not, they scare off the wildlife, disrespect the environment, are unappreciative of the nature surrounding them, are loud and obnoxious and selfie-vicious!  I, personally, like to feel nature’s peace and wonder and form a bond with her – I seek connectedness (as I’ve mentioned many times before).  

Here, at Badlands National Park, I absolutely find the connection I strive for.  I find peace and quiet – no noises other than the breeze, the birds and passerby creatures.  Oh, and the occasional rocks sliding down the buttes.   You can easily find a scenic spot to watch the sunrise/sunset alone and uninterrupted where you can easily close your eyes and forget about the chaotic, hustle and bustle world we live in nowadays.  It’s so slow paced that it actually feels as if time has hit the pause button – it’s magic!


Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife

Rocky Mountain National Park

  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife
  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife
  • Best National Parks for Spotting Wildlife

Animals we’ve often spotted in this park: herds of Elk, Black bears, Marmots, Bighorn sheep, Moose, Pikas, Coyotes, Snowshoe hares and Mountain lions.

Where in this park did we see the most wildlife? We typically see herds of Elk (during the summer months) along our drive on the Trail Ridge Road (especially nearing the Alpine Visitor Center coming from either direction). Bighorn sheep and marmots can be commonly spotted along your alpine hikes. We saw a bunch of wildlife while climbing Flat Top Mountain and hiking to Emerald Lake. However, if you’re visiting between the end of August and mid-October (best time to view the Elk as they will be in rut), you’re bet is to look in the meadows near Moraine park, Horseshoe Park, Upper Beaver Meadows. Harbison Meadow and Holzwarth Meadow.

Why is this park the best?

I’ve seen more elk gathered in this park than anywhere else in the country. Even better: they stand against some of the most picturesque mountain scenery in all the land.

Elk everywhere!

These 800 lb. animals are the staple of Rocky Mountain National Park and can be seen almost anytime and anywhere. I was fortunate enough to have a profound moment with an immense herd grazing in the alpine meadows: they permitted my presence with grace and acceptance as I sat amongst them.

This park has it all!

Rocky Mountain National Park has everything a nature-loving explorer and enthusiast could ever dream of having: high mountains peaks of varying shapes and sizes, countless wildlife, turquoise alpine lakes a plenty, fun and thrilling mountain hikes, gushing waters and streams, pristine meadows and beyond.

However, with that being said, one of my favorite and easily accessible sites amidst the park is Emerald Lake – named for her surreal emerald coloring!  Not only is this gem-colored lake a splendor to ogle, her surrounding mountain walls are divinely formidable and add to this otherworldly scene.

Hiking above Emerald Lake to Flat Top Mountain summit, adventurers are greeted and welcomed by wildlife galore!

See how Rocky Mountain National Park ranks on my list: “The 22 Most Surreal Destinations in the US West” linked below:


More photography gear we use to capture our images and tools we use to film our videos


Utilize TripAdvisor to book and plan your trip to each of the national parks mentioned in this post. Through TripAdvisor, you can find lodging, hikes, restaurants, recreational activities + tours and recommendations from those who have explored there first!


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(I create my Pinterest covers using CANVA).


As always….

Thank you so much for reading and happy travels!

-Mindy

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