If you’re looking for a sign, here it is!
Live that dream trip to the great outdoors.
Studies show that being around nature improves our total well-being because it “reduce(s) anger, fear, and stress and increase(s) pleasant feelings”.
Take our top picks for the Best National Parks in the US for Wildlife.
Top 5 Most Visited US National Parks for Wildlife
Parks for wildlife viewing are the perfect setting to escape the bustles and stress of city life.
Not to mention, these wide-open U.S. National Parks offer opportunities for proper social distancing as lockdown measures ease out in the pandemic.
Roam more freely without worrying about getting sick!
Now, maybe this is the reason why the number of visits around national parks is still so strong.
In fact, The National Park Service’s Social Science Program recorded a whopping 237,064,332 recreation visits in 2020 alone.
These are the most popular parks for wildlife:
1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Where is the park located? Tennessee
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited National Park, and it’s for many reasons!
Reach the highest point in Tennessee here!
Or, opt to walk along the longest hiking-only footpath in the world via Appalachian Trail.
You won’t even notice how humid it gets! Go towards the Roaring Fork to discover the majestic 80-foot high Rainbow Falls. Trust me; it will take your breath away!
Take a Drive Along Cades Cove!
It’s an 11-mile one-way loop that takes you to see the breathtaking landscape and catch glimpses of wildlife roaming unbothered.
Two things to bring with you to these national parks: Patience and more snacks!
Because of the narrow and often one-lane roads of the loop, traffic builds up when other tourists stop to take photos of the animals.
There’s no rush. Soak in the drive of your real-life nature documentary over biscuits and chips.
Catch sight of wildlife like: White-tailed deer, common raven, red squirrel, smoky madtom, red squirrel, brook trout, various salamander species, mountain lions, over 200 species of birds!
The national park is also home to about 65 mammal species, but the star of the Smokies is the mighty American Black Bears.
To save you some time, here’s a tip!
Visiting more open spaces in national parks (here, we suggest Cataloochee) gives you the biggest odds of seeing white-tailed deers, birds, black bears, and other animal species roaming around.
Don’t forget your handy binoculars!
Add this to your list of best parks for wildlife watching.
2. Yellowstone National Park (the Park With the Most Wildlife and Most Bears)
Where is the park located? Wyoming, Idaho, Montana
The Yellowstone National Park is the first US national park and is home to the largest concentration of animal species in the lower 48 states. Imagine the thrill of the variety in just one place!
Catch sight of wildlife like: elk, grizzly bears, mountain lions, bald eagles, bighorn sheep, other bird species
Where Should I Go to See More Wildlife?
Set your sights out to Hayden Valley to see more bison, elk, and grizzly bears. But if you’re out to see more of the wolves, Lamar Valley is your best bet.
For All Geyser-Gazers Out There, Gaze Into the Ever Iconic (and Largest) Active Geyser Field in the World – The Old Faithful.
The beautiful eruptions of the geyser, which happens every 60-110 minutes, can reach up to 140 feet high into the sky, is something more people need to see in their lifetime.
Tip: The peak seasons of Yellowstone are in June, July, and August.
3. Zion National Park (the Best National Park for Thrill Seekers)
Where is the park located? Utah
If you’re looking for orange sunsets in a beautiful red rocky (did I mention 2,000-foot sandstone cliffs) hike, Zion National Park is the park for you.
Draw in the challenge of climbing Angel’s Landing!
The narrow route with breathtaking cliff exposures uphill is for all the adrenaline junkies out for the thrill.
The end of the trail will reward you with the most surreal 365-degree view of the wide terrain.
Catch sight of wildlife like; bighorn sheep, Gila monsters, mule deer, mountain lions, foxes, ringtail cat, skunk, raccoon, bats, beavers.
If you’re lucky in your wildlife watching, you just might see them frequenting the Virgin River waterway!
Find more rock squirrels relaxing by the sand baths by the Riverside Wall.
Beware of snakes! Unlike the mountain king snakes, the Western rattlesnake is the only venomous kind in the park.
While these snake species won’t hunt you down, it is best to watch your step and keep your distance as you move along.
4. Rocky Mountain National Park
Where is the park located? Colorado
Fun fact: The Rocky Mountain National Park is actually part of the Rocky Mountain Range that goes along Canada to New Mexico.
(And it’s just a few acres bigger than Channel Islands National Park- home to Elephant seals)
The park is perfect for its hiking trails, cycling, and even rock climbing.
But if that is not for you, don’t fret.
The Rocky Mountain boasts of a view that will literally take your breath away!
The clear streams mirror the greenest meadows and forests around the park. It’s a scene to surely bring a heartfelt tear to your eyes.
Look for Sprague Lake too! It’s a popular destination for trout fishers, and luckily the ideal place to enjoy a peaceful rest time with your family.
The incredible Alpine tundra ecosystem here reaches up to 12,000 feet into the sky. Take a drive along Trail Ridge Road– AKA the highest road in any national park.
Here you find yourself transported into a place of extremes.
It tends to be really cold and windy so be sure to buckle up.
Prairie falcons and Golden Eagles circle this area as well so always keep your eyes peeled for these animals.
Catch sight of wildlife like; mule deer, bighorn sheep, elk, black bears, mountain lions, various bird species.
While an elk can be seen anytime, sightings of Bighorn Sheeps are common at Sheep Lake in May through mid-August.
For the ultimate family-friendly option, we’re adding Rocky Mountain National Park to our best national parks for wildlife list!
Want to Get the Perfect Wildlife Picture to Boast to Your Friends?
Here Are Some Quick Photography Tips:
- Take your lenses out at dawn or dusk. Most wildlife appears during these times. Did we mention the supreme lighting at these hours?
- Keep still and quiet when photographing.
- Cameras with quality zoom lenses can always give you a *chef’s kiss* photo quality without having to go near an animal
5. Grand Teton National Park (a Photographer’s Dream)
Where is the park located? Wyoming
Just round the corner of Yellowstone Park, we find ourselves in the neighboring Grand Teton National Park.
Walking along its spectacular 200 miles of trails seems like walking in a dream of lush greens and wildflowers.
Go backpacking, climbing, and even camping.
Lay your eyes on the snow-capped lands with a drive in the 42-mile loop of Teton Range.
Better yet, drop by by Schwabacher’s Landing! Soak in the view and take mental pictures of this paradise to keep forever.
Feeling a Bit Exhausted? Take a Pause!
Swing by Cascade Canyon and relax to the sounds of birds singing in the wide terrain.
In Oxbow Bend, you are sure to find elk and moose.
By Mormon Row, scope up the heavens to see birds like bald eagles fly.
Catch sight of wildlife like grizzly bears, black bears, varieties of birds, white-tailed deer, trumpeter swans, bighorn sheep, elk, and wolves.
Our List of Best National Parks for Wildlife Goes On…
Of course, I’m not stopping here. There are many more national parks for wildlife worth mentioning in this list. Right on now to number 6.
6. Katmai National Park and Preserve (the Best National Park for Bear Sightseeing)
Where is the park located? Alaska
If an abundance of bears is what you seek, the Katmai National Park is one of the best national parks for wildlife in North America for you.
Exciting news! The Katmai National Park is located on a peninsula and is said to “support some of the highest densities of bears ever documented.”
Now, do you remember the scene in the movie Brother Bear where you see a family of bears catch salmon by the water?
Take that trip to Brooks Falls during the summer and get the chance to see the scene in real life!
If you can’t wait to visit, the national park lets you watch as many as 25 bears gather for salmon at the same time. It’s all via the Brooks Falls Bearcam (Best time to catch them is in July).
Fact: Bears are generally active in the early mornings and late evenings in spring and summer.
What Should I Do When I See a Bear?
It’s important to take caution around bears because they can have extremely unpredictable behavior, especially if they have cubs.
Here are more tips:
- It’s a two-way street: Do not approach the bear. In the same way, don’t let the bear approach you.
- Don’t make sudden movements around them.
- Once you see the bear come near you, or when you sense a change in its behavior or movements, slowly back away.
- Always maintain a minimum distance of 25 yards between you and the bear.
The Katmai National Park is a one-stop shop for other fun activities. Take a scenic bus shuttle ride around the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.
If you’re not up for that there are other activities to do in the area like:
Catch sight of these animals: sea otters, red foxes, brown bears, river otters, beavers, porcupines, beluga whales, orcas, and seals.
7. Denali National Park and Preserve
Where is the park located? Alaska
Denali National Park hits our list for one of the amazing parks for wildlife viewing.
Did you know this park stretches to as many as six million acres of wildland? This means you won’t have a shortage of places to seek and trek.
Look high up in the eastern and western portions of the park to find nature’s cliff hangers, the sturdy-looking Dall Sheep.
There are no reptiles in the area but the bird species here are diverse!
Look for passerines in bushy areas or keep your eyes peeled for golden eagles by the ridge-lines. Your wildlife watching is not complete without seeing Alaska’s state bird, the Willow Ptarmigan!
Catch sight of these animals: wolves, grizzly bears, wolves, Dall sheep, raven, mew gulls, mountain goats, golden eagles, and lynx.
Taking the bus (only available during the summer) along the single Denali Park Road road is your best bet to ensure a comfortable journey.
If you’re in it for the solo adventure, you can take the rent-a-bike option.
Denali Park is one of the best national parks because it is a haven for those into backpacking, wildlife viewing, mountaineering, and rafting.
If hiking is what you seek, Primrose Ridge takes to a staggering 1,500 feet above the Park road. Explore the dry tundra and rolling hills around!
On a clear sky, take this opportunity to see the picture-perfect Denali.
8. Theodore Roosevelt National Park (Best National Park for Lovers of the Outdoor Lifestyle)
Where is the park located? North Dakota
Close your eyes: Imagine the warm sun-soaked badlands of the American West.
Wild horses roam past the rugged terrains. Prairie dogs grazing over the plains.
Now open your eyes!
Find yourself in one of the most impressive national parks for wildlife watching: Theodore Roosevelt National Park
President Theodore Roosevelt once lived here and with the charming location, who wouldn’t choose to stay?
A scenic loop drive in the south and north in the afternoon sunlight is surely a dream for all – especially for photographers!
There are even hiking trails and ranger-led activities for all those who want to meet and enjoy a fun day with other curious visitors.
I recommend Painted Canyon for an easy hike. Other favorite short trails are the Wind Canyon Trail and Buck Hill.
Count on me when I say that the sight of wild Bison will definitely be part of your itinerary.
Expect traffic jams along the route as visitors tend to stop along the road to look at these animals.
How to take caution in your wildlife watching?
One, Never roll your windows down when near them
Two, always keep a safe distance.
Catch sight of these animals: white-tailed deer, elk, prairie dogs, beavers, porcupines, coyotes, badgers, snakes, and bobcats.
9. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
Where is the park located? Alaska
Not to be mistaken with Glacier National park, you get the best of both worlds with a trip to Glacier Bay National Park.
Why is that?
Well, it boasts a terrain of both land and water (with marine waters making about one-fifth of the park)
Choose to enter the park via cruise ships! Now, doesn’t that sound fancy?
If you’re just not feeling the cruise ship ride. Get into the park via plane or boat and be one amongst the beautiful views of the blues over greens
It will just blow you away, trust me.
With a stunning background of tidewater glaciers, deep fjords, and ice-crowning mountain tops, the park is all about its water-based activities.
Dig into a full day of kayaking, rafting, and fishing.
There are just so many more things to do in this wide wide place.
You can even sign up for a boat tour to take you across the national parks.
While riding towards the glaciers, look out into mountainsides and catch mountain goats perched at the edge of the cliffs!
Be there when the tidewater glaciers fall in the water. I can’t even describe just how memorable the sight and sounds of the moment were.
It’s just simply amazing.
If alone time is what you seek, the boat tour has a drop-off service in the backcountry which lets you kayak and camp solo.
Kayakers can have the chance to see the massive humpback whales (your best bet is during the summer), sea lions, and even sea otters in the water wilderness.
Unlike the other parks for wildlife watching, it can get freezing in Glacier Bay.
Tip! Come prepared so that you can enjoy the outdoor hiking and mountaineering to its fullest.
Bring warm clothes and be ready for surprise rain showers.
Like Yellowstone National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, Glacier Bay is also a loving home to a wildlife variety of bears in America!
If you’re a lucky wildlife adventurer, you might just spot the rare one among its species – the blue glacier bear.
Catch sight of these wildlife animals: sea otters, sea lions, wolves, mountain goats, Sitka, bald eagle, tufted puffin, orca
10. Virgin Islands National Park ( The Best National Park for Tropical Lovers)
Where is the park located? US Virgin Islands
Time to live your tropical island dream at the Virgin Islands national park.
The warm green mountains hold a massive and rich wildlife population, ranging from bird species to amphibians, and fish.
Among the 22 species of mammals found here, the St John bat is the only native mammal of the park.
St John bats are mostly pollinators that take charge of filling the beautiful landscape with fruit-bearing seeds and flora.
Go for a swim, even snorkel, or scuba dive! Who knows? You can even find cute sea turtles along the beaches.
For those up for the challenge, you can find the world’s first underwater sign-marked snorkeling trails out of all the national parks for wildlife.
Bonus alert: They are perfect for beginners.
Live freely and explore the beautiful 50 coral varieties found in the park.
Catch sight of these animals: sea turtles, seabirds, wild donkeys, goats, sheep, tropical fish, pelicans, and hummingbirds.
Be a good sport! Do not feed the animals as human food may be bad for their health.
11. Olympic National Park (A Park With Diverse Regions)
Where is the park located? Washington
It’s impossible to miss the Olympic National Park in our list of best national parks because of the treat you’re in when you get here.
First things first: It is made up “… of four regions: alpine areas, dry forests of the east side, temperate rainforests of the west side, and the Pacific coastline. “
This means that as one of the most interesting parks for wildlife, there is a thriving variety of animals across these lands.
Visit the Hoh rain forest and discover its protected secrets – the elk. Did you know that the largest of the elks in North America are found here?
The Roosevelt elk usually feed on ferns and shrubs. Spot them roaming in the serene lowland forests.
Enjoy the serenity of the high mountains, hike in the wide terrains, and you can even find tide pools in some of its rocky beaches.
Take a ride along the high alpine Hurricane Ridge and soak up the wild views of the pacific coast mountains. Multiple hiking trails begin here.
The best time to visit this ridge is during spring or summer. Roll around the wildflowers and take in the beauty of nature around you.
For a family-friendly leisure trail, visit the Hall of Mosses Trail. It does not have a lot of steep slopes along its path, so you’re sure to enjoy the thick canopies and amazing species of flora around you.
Don’t forget to bring hiking shoes as the path tends to get muddy. This place is just truly the pride of America.
Take time to look up and see one of the 300 bird species that roam the place.
Visit the park during springtime with hopes of catching sight of the gray whales and other marine species along the coastline.
Catch sight of wildlife like: Roosevelt elk, deer, bear, sea lions, elks, dolphins, orcas, whales, marmot, and gray whales.
There are just plenty of things to do here!
Whether you choose to visit the wilderness on its lands or go on a trip to discover the water wildlife populations of the park, Olympic National Park is surely a treat for the whole family.
In the summer:
- Go on a picnic with your friends
- Ride a boat
- Fish in Lake Crescent.
In the winters, enjoy:
- Downhill skiing
12. Glacier National Park
Where is the park located? Montana
Find a diverse discovery of animals from the wilderness of one of the best national parks in the country- Glacier National park.
There are about 6 species of amphibians, 71 species of mammals, and a variety of fish and insects to be found here.
The highlight of your trip will definitely be seeing the mountain goats along the very aptly named Goat Lick Overlook.
We recommend you see them in the summer and early fall!
There are just so many things to do here! Go cycling, hiking, horseback riding, and even kayaking.
Visit the Going-to-the-Sun road and experience more of the expanse of the wide terrain!
There are also plenty of grizzly bears in the area so you’re sure to get a glimpse of one on your trip.
Catch sight of animals like: mountain goats, badgers, gray wolves, mountain lions, moose, mules, and elks.
13. Everglades National Park
Where is the park located? Florida
In the heart of Florida, you can find the largest subtropical wilderness in America, the Everglades National Park.
As one of the “three great national parks around Miami”, it has the largest mangrove populations in the Western Hemisphere.
If you come at the right time, you might just find bobcats by the mangrove forests!
Go on a canoeing trip, even hike or fish. It’s the best place to be when you just live nearby.
Catch sight of animals like: crocodiles, Florida panthers, wading birds, egrets, ibises, and herons.
14. Badlands National Park
Where is the park located? South Dakota
Aside from the Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota prides itself with the Badlands National Park.
As the “land of stone and light”, this is one of the national parks where you can find fossils beds by the Fossil Exhibit Trail. Imagine this place once being home to dinosaurs. Exciting right?
Your wildlife viewing will become more memorable with the sure sight of American bison, wood storks, and a variety of birds.
This is why I like the badlands so much. The wide-open space makes me feel extra close to nature without having to worry about staying too close around too many crowding humans!
Catch sight of wildlife like: crocodiles, Florida panthers, wading birds, prairie dogs, and wood storks.
For an All-Around Water and Land Experience, One of the Best National Parks Is the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
Find an amazing variety of wildlife here.
Even better, I’m just excited to ride the cruise ships again and set my sights in front of the massive (and oh so breathtaking) glaciers.
Seeing the presence of the humble humpback whale moved me once and I can’t wait to relive the moment once more. It’s surely a park for your bucket list.
If You Are After Parks With the Most Animal Variety… You Will Love Yellowstone National Park
I’m proud to say Yellowstone National Park just has it all. Amazing animal wildlife, scenic views, and exciting activities!
It really is one of the best national parks for relaxing and watching animals just be in nature.
Have I mentioned just how insanely surreal the geysers look?
Grand Teton National park is just around the corner, so I’m sure I can easily sneak in more days to visit that area too!
Which National Parks for Wildlife Will You Choose?
I’ve rounded out my top national parks for you, so now all you have to do is get up and GO!
Did you enjoy this epic list of our 14 best national parks for wildlife?
Share this with your post-lockdown travel buddy! Comment down on your experiences.
Have a happy trip!