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Where Can You Enjoy The Best Wildlife Experiences In the National Park System?

The eyes are on you in Yosemite National Park, where you just might spy a great gray owl. NPS photo.

Yellowstone National Park gets kudos for its bison herds, Glacier National Park is unsurpassed for its mountain goats (though Olympic and North Cascades national parks aren't slackers in this category), and Everglades National Park is aflutter with birds.

Let's build on those three examples, though, to pull together a checklist for where best to watch wildlife in the National Park System.

Charismatic Mega-Fauna

You want to spot the big animals that practically scream wild?

Here's a list of sure-to-please parks where you won't go home disappointed.

* For bison, there are a number of parks, not just Yellowstone. Indeed, stop at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, or Grand Teton National Park, and even Wind Cave National Park (which, like the Yellowstone herd, is pure of any cattle genes) and you'll see big buffs.

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Yellowstone bison are ubiquitous. Photo by Beth Pratt.

* Grizzly bears are always a thrill to spot...from a good distance off, of course. If you want that thrill, you can enhance your chances by visiting Yellowstone, Denali National Park, or Katmai National Park, where Brooks Camp might be the premier location in North America to watch these bears at work fishing for their meals.

* If black bears are what you had in mind, they can frequently be seen at Yosemite National Park, Sequoia National Park, Grand Teton, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Mount Rainier National Park, and Shenandoah National Park. They also call Yellowstone and Rocky Mountain National Park home, but aren't quite as visible in those parks.

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Visit Yellowstone's Lamar Valley and you just might see a wolf. NPS photo.

* In recent years the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone in spring and summer has been wolf central in the National Park System. But these predators also can be seen in Denali, occasionally in Grand Teton, and possibly in Glacier National Park.

* Elk, magnificent with their huge antlers and eery in fall when the bulls bugle, can be found in the Lower 48 (aka conterminous states) Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Olympic, Rocky Mountain, Theodore Roosevelt, Wind Cave, and Great Smoky Mountains.

* One of the most unusual of ungulates is the moose, which its gangly body and massive head. Those solitary, if you're patient and in the right place at the right time you can see these creatures in Isle Royale National Park, Grand Teton, Glacier, Rocky Mountain, and Yellowstone.

* Head to Denali National Park and you likey can spot the "big five" along the Park Road: Grizzly, wolf, Dall sheep, moose, and caribou.

* Musk oxen can be viewed at Bering Land Bridge National PreserveCape Krusenstern National Monument (Igichuk Hills area has ~150), Kobuk Valley National Park, Noatak National Preserve, Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve, and several other locations in northwestern Alaska.

* Blue whales often can be seen during the winter months in the Pacific Ocean surrounding Channel Islands National Park.

Lesser In Size, But Not Significance

Got your fill of the namebrand mega-fauna? Here are some smaller, less publicized critters to be found in the parks:

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You'll find the "sagegrouse strut" in Grand Teton National Park. NPS photo.

* Sage grouse come out to strut their stuff in spring at Grand Teton, where mating rituals are conducted around "leks."

* Bigger birds -- much bigger -- can be seen from the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, where condors often soar on the air currents.

* Kemp's ridley sea turtles come ashore at Padre Island National Seashore on the Texas coast during daylight hours in the spring to lay their eggs. Later in the summer you can watch as park biologists set the turtle hatchlings loose to head back to the Gulf of Mexico.

* It's a member of the salamander family, and one big one at that. "Hellbenders" might be on the decline in some areas of the east, but they still can be found in streams at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

* Come winter the Elephant seals head to Point Reyes National Seashore along the California coast to mate on the beach. Not a classic like Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr; more like Beach Blanket Bingo.

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Rocky Mountain is a great park to look for bighorn sheep. NPS photo.

* Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado has elk and bears, but the big attraction are the bighorn sheep when the come down to Horseshoe Park to find minerals in the meadows.

* You don't easily spot them, but spend some time in Joshua Tree National Park in California and you might just glimpse a Desert tortoise, an endangered species.

* Sea cows, aka manatees, can be found in Biscayne National Park. While common in the park's waters, they are federally listed as an endangered species.

* Another endangered species lurks not far from Biscayne, but catching a glimpse of a Florida panther in Big Cypress National Preserve will be more difficult due to their low numbers and generally reclusive nature.

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Bats are the nightly summer attraction at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. NPS photo.

* Though Mammoth Cave National Park might feature the world's largest cave, you might see the world's largest bat flight at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico during the summer months.

* Brown pelicans are ubiquitous in such coastal parks as Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Cape Lookout National Seashore, Everglades National Park and Biscayne National Park, while white pelicans can easily be spotted on the rivers and lakes in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. Yellowstone also is a great place to spot trumpeter swans.

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Big Bend for birds
Yellowstone & Badlands for pronghorns
Grand Teton for moose

Don't forget the wild horses at Roosevelt National Park. We saw about 20 of them close up in late June and they were spectacular.

Nice article. I'd, however, just like to find a park this time of year that doesn't have any yellowjackets. :)

I'd add the Tule elk along the Tomales Point Trail at Point Reyes NS. They have a favorite watering hole where there are always dozens of them - mostly females with one alpha male in the herd.

Also - alligators all throughout Everglades NP. I lost track of how many I saw (from a safe vantage point).

Do not add to this list our parks are to crowded and being ruined by lists like this as it funnels everyone to the same place.
Just look at Since it only has the best and most popular climbs, that is where everyone goes and it has ruined climbs and the enviroment!

Do not add to this list our parks are to crowded and being ruined by lists like this as it funnels everyone to the same place.
Just look at Since it only has the best and most popular climbs, that is where everyone goes and it has ruined climbs and the enviroment!

  There's plenty to go around. I've seen plenty of lists, and sometimes I even visited them. It doesn't create a stampede of people.

The most popular places will continue to be popular. I don't think that keeping it to yourself is going to do much good.

Kenai National park is awesome place for marine mammals- I saw humpbacks, orcas, sea otter, sea lions, seals, puffins, cormants, etc/

I would add Wind Cave for prairie dogs and Glacier Bay for humpback whales and seals.

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