From the rugged wilderness of Alaska to the sunny beaches of Florida and everywhere in between, the US is teaming with wildlife. But there are a few states that have particularly special wildlife experiences! Get ready to spot grizzly bears, wolves, manatees, and more as we explore the top 6 states to spot the wildlife. So, pack your bags, grab your binoculars, and let's jump in!
Alaska is a nature lover's paradise, with vast wilderness areas that are practically overflowing with wildlife both on land and in the water. The best places to spot wildlife are Denali National Park, Kenai Fjords National Park, and the Kodiak Island Wildlife Refuge, which all offer opportunities to see both land and marine animals, including puffins, seals, Dall sheep, moose, and even wolves. In the arctic parts of Alaska during whaling season, there’s also a chance to see polar bears!
One of the most iconic wildlife events in Alaska is the annual salmon run, which happens between June and September. Large numbers of brown bears gather along the rivers to catch salmon as they swim upstream to spawn.
Alaska, and Kenai Fjords National Park in particular, is also one of the best places in the world to see whales, including humpback, orca, and gray whales. If you’re lucky, you can even catch a glimpse of blue, sperm, and minke whales! The peak time for whale watching is from May to September when these marine giants migrate through Alaska's waters.
Twice a year, thousands of caribou migrate across the Alaskan tundra, which is arguably one of the most impressive wildlife events in the world. During the spring migration (March to late June), the herds move north toward their calving grounds. The autumn migration, which usually takes place between late August and mid-October, is a great opportunity for photographers to capture the caribou as they swim across the Kobuk River on their way to the Yukon region.
There are several national parks and wildlife refuges in Wyoming, including Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. These parks are teeming with wildlife like wolves, grizzly and black bears, bison, elk, and coyotes.
Yellowstone National Park is known for its impressive geysers and hot springs, but it's also a great place to spot wildlife. Due to their huge antlers, bull elk are one of the most photographed animals in Yellowstone and the best time to see them is during the annual elk rut in the fall. Huge male elk battle it out to win over the ladies with bugling calls, sparring matches, and other displays of dominance.
Yellowstone National Park is also famous for its wolves. The park reintroduced gray wolves to the area in the 1990s, and you can now spot the famous wolf packs roaming the park. Lamar Valley and Hayden Valley are the best places to catch a glimpse of them.
With the state's diverse terrain and climate, it is home to the largest concentration of mammals in the United States. In fact, the elk, deer, and antelope populations in Montana outnumber the state's human population. If that doesn't give you an idea of how much wildlife thrives in Montana, how about this - it has the largest grizzly bear population in the continental US (excluding Alaska)!
But that's not all, Montana is also home to the rarest mammal in the United States - the black-footed ferret. This elusive creature can only be found in a few states, and Montana is one of them.
Montana's mountains are a world of their own, and they're home to a variety of big predators like grizzlies, lynxes, and mountain lions. Yet, they coexist with Bighorn sheep and deer in the valleys and plains. In Montana's wetlands, you'll find an abundance of waterbirds, including Canadian geese, great blue herons, ospreys, and various species of ducks. The Ninepipe Refuge is a perfect example of this, with its 1770-acre reservoir and 800 glacial potholes, it is home to an array of birds, muskrat badgers, and porcupines.
Glacier National Park is one of Montana's most popular destinations, and for good reason. Grizzly bears, wolverines, mountain lions, and lynx roam the forests covering the park's foothills, while mountain goats and Bighorn sheep can be found higher up.
Thanks to its extensive coastline, wetlands, and marine habitats, Florida is home to a huge range of wildlife species. In fact, it has some of the highest biodiversity in the country!
One of the best destinations for wildlife in Florida is the Everglades National Park. Covering over 1.5 million acres of wetlands, the Everglades is home to the endangered Florida Panther and an astonishing number of bird species among other things. It’s also the only place where you can find both the American Crocodile and American Alligator coexisting.
Turtle nesting season is an exciting time for wildlife lovers in Florida. During this time, female turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in the sand and later in the season, you can see hatchlings making their way to the ocean. Green turtles’ nesting season runs from June to September, leatherbacks nest from March to July, and loggerheads (the most common turtle found in Florida) nest from April to September.
Florida is also home to the endangered Florida manatee, which are spread throughout the state’s waterways year-wide. In the winter months, the manatees head for areas with warmer waters. Blue Spring State Park or Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge are some of the best places to see these gentle giants up close.
During spring and summer, thousands of Blacktip sharks migrate along the Florida coast, following schools of baitfish. In some years, there have been up to 15,000 sharks!
California has the most endemic species of all the states, so it’s a great place to find unique wildlife such as the Mohave Ground Squirrel, the Island Fox, the Giant Kangaroo Rat, the California Tiger Salamander, and the Channel Islands Spotted Skunk. There are quite a few national parks and wildlife refuges throughout the state, including Yosemite National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, and the Channel Islands National Park which are full of life.
Every winter, thousands of monarch butterflies travel west from the Rocky Mountains to the warmer climates of California. One of the best places to see this migration is Pismo State Beach, where the number of butterflies waiting out the cold winter weather can range from 20,000 to 200,000!
The elephant seal mating season is another fascinating event that happens each year along the California coastline. From December to January, male elephant seals migrate from the open ocean to the beaches of California to compete for the attention of females. They use a combination of roaring and clashing their bodies together in dramatic battles in an attempt to find a mate. From late December to early February, pregnant female elephant seals come ashore to give birth and nurse their young. Año Nuevo State Park and the Channel Islands are typically the best places to see the beach filled with thousands of these massive animals!
Being the tropical paradise that it is, it’s no surprise that Hawaii is home to a huge range of marine wildlife. In fact, the annual humpback whale migration here is considered one of the best places for whale-watching in the world. Every year, thousands of humpback whales travel from Alaska to Hawaii's warm waters to mate and give birth. The best months to see them are usually between January and March, but the official season extends from December to May.
Green sea turtles also head to Hawaii’s beaches to nest. Between May and November you can watch them come ashore to lay their eggs in the sand, and later watch as hatchlings make their way to the ocean!
Hawaii is also home to the endangered Hawaiian monk seal, one of the more unusual types of seals considering they live in a tropical climate. The seals can mostly be found in the Northwestern islands of Hawaii with Poipu Beach in Kauai being one of the most likely spots to see them. However, it’s rare to actually see one.
The United States is a treasure trove of incredible creatures, and these six states are just the tip of the iceberg. So now it’s time to go out and explore the wild side of the US! Who knows what kind of amazing wildlife encounters are waiting for you out there?