While it's definitely fun to visit zoos, sometimes it's nicer to see animals roaming and thriving in their natural environment. This may make it more difficult to see exotic species, but there are some grand and glorious animals to be found in North America. When you're looking for an exciting ecotour destination for your student group or you enjoy viewing a number of animals in their natural habitats, try out one of these excellent destinations this year.
Yellowstone National Park
Already one of the most popular national parks of all time, Yellowstone has made a name for itself through its fantastic scenery set within the massive caldera of a dormant volcano, over 10,000 geothermal features throughout the park, and the free-roaming wildlife that will inevitably cross your path. American bison walk arrogantly in front of your car as you drive in and across the boardwalks that trail through the park. It is likely that you will see species ranging from coyotes to bears, wolves, moose, elk, and maybe even the rarest of Yellowstone species, the wolverine and lynx.
Denali National Park
The Alaskan wilderness really is the last true frontier, filled with magnificent herds of animals living freely among the glaciers in the north and grassy knolls in the south. There are a recorded 39 species of mammals, 14 species of fish, and an impressive 169 species of birds living within Denali's borders. Grizzly and black bears are among the most iconic mammals that you are likely to see as well as wolves, caribou, moose, and some wild Dall's sheep. There are, of course, also smaller critters such as foxes, arctic ground squirrels, red squirrels, and more. You might even see a bald eagle soaring up high in Denali.
Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier Bay is a fantastic destination for a number of reasons. First of all, this is a prime destination for anyone looking to kayak or other ecotour activities. Water paddling activities allow visitors to get closer to the wildlife than hiking and it doesn't disturb the environment as motorized vehicles will. Glacier Bay is one of the best destinations to see marine wildlife as it is the summer home of humpback whales and the yearly nesting ground for harbor seals, sea otters, and stellar sea lions. You can also see, along the water's banks, moose, bears, wolves, coyotes, and maybe even mountain goats.
Everglades National Park
The Everglades in southern Florida is the only national park with more than nine distinct habitats including cypress swamps, mangrove forests, freshwater slough, pineland, and more over two million acres. The animals in the Everglades, understandably, are as diverse as the ecosystems found within the protected borders. You can find several endangered and threatened species such as the American alligator, the American crocodile, sea turtles, the Florida panther, and manatees along with a number of endangered birds and plant species. You are more likely to get closer to the wildlife and see more animals by traveling through the trails in a canoe or kayak, especially through the Flamingo region of the park.
Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge
Considered to be one of the most biologically diverse regions of North America, Laguna Atascosa is home to over 417 species of birds, 44 reptile species, 130 butterfly species, and 45 mammal species. This south Texas refuge is one of only two places that you can find the endangered ocelot, a small wild cat that was once native to North America and is now all but extinct. Besides the ocelot, see species like bobcats, collard peccary, long-tailed weasels, Mexican free tail bats, grey fox, and coyotes among other smaller animals. Laguna Atascosa is also a wonderful destination for bird watchers and enthusiasts.
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
Crystal River is the only wildlife refuge built to protect the endangered West Indian manatee. As such, it receives a lot of attention and visitors to see these amazing marine mammals. Manatees, as you may know, have become threatened because of humans, particularly boating and fishing accidents as manatees are slow-moving and gentle creatures. The Florida manatee, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee, is most prevalent in the park during the fall and winter months where you can see roughly 600 versus roughly 30 during the summer months. Paddle out over the water to see shadows moving in the shallow waters and watch the sea cows bask in the sun beneath the still water.
Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge
This Hawaiian paradise, located on the island of Kaua'i, was established in 1985 to protect the lands and animals residing around the areas including Crater Hill and Mokolea Point. Kilauea Point is home to thousands of migratory seabirds and native species including a small population of endangered nene birds, the Laysan albatross, spinner dolphins, humpback whales, endangered Hawaiian monk seals, green turtles, and a number of coastal plants. While you're here, look out over the steep, green cliffs from the Kilauea Point Lighthouse, one of the most popular and beautiful views in Hawaii.
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge
Made famous by Marguerite Henry's 1947 children's book Misty of Chincoteague, the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1943 to protect Virginia's small population of wild ponies. Up to 150 wild ponies can be seen grazing among the grass prairies, running along the coastline, and walking on the sandy beaches. You may also see the endangered piping plover bird or the Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel along the roadsides, another endangered species found on Chincoteague.
Sometimes, the best place to view wildlife is in unspecified territory, meaning unprotected. These wild areas include Ko Olina on the Hawaiian island of Oahu near the Marriott resort of all places. Off the coast you can see a number of spinner dolphins, coral reefs, green sea turtles, Hawaiian monk seals, and a number of whale species. Interstate 80, the major transcontinental highway from San Francisco to New Jersey, leads through some excellent wildlife viewing territory. Herds of mule deer, elk, and other animals are more prevalent than towns in the American south and west, making for easy viewing.