There is no need to travel halfway across the world to observe animals when the US is a country with abundant wildlife. The national parks across the country are home to a wide variety of animal species that can be spotted all year round. The United States has many awesome parks, forests, rivers, lakes, and seas, and there are different types of animal viewing points depending on the area and the season. Meet America’s most exotic animals, learn where and how to find them and how to take the best photos of them.
Coyotes, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
Coyotes are smart and adaptable animals about the size of a dog. They are a target for farmers because they see them as a threat to livestock. Their size won’t scare you, so you may be tempted to get close to them, but don’t. They are wild animals and can be aggressive. Don’t feed them because they will learn that humans give them food, and this could eventually lead to an attack. You can spot coyotes along the Coyote Valley Trail around sunset, when it’s the best time to take flash-free photos of them. But remember, don’t get too close!
Elephant Seals, Channel Islands National Park, California
The five isolated islands that form the Channel Islands National Park are home to more than 50,000 northern elephant seals. They are one of the four types of “fin-footed” mammals, the others being California sea lions, harbor seals, and northern fur seals. They don’t have trunks, but they do have long muzzles that produce rumbling sounds during the mating period.
Northern elephant seals can be seen on Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands. The best spot to see them is Point Bennett on the western tip of San Miguel. It takes a 15 mile round trip hike to get there, but it’s worth the effort. When taking photos of the seals, avoid using the flash because of the water reflection and the reflection off the seals’ wet bodies can ruin the shot.
Black bears, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina
The official symbol of the park, the American black bear is a furry mammal, smaller than the grizzly and way more tolerant of humans than its cousin. Smoky Mountains National Park is the largest natural habitat of the American black bear in the whole eastern US. There are more than 1500 black bears living in the area of the park, and the best place to spot them is around Cades Cove. Remember that you’re not allowed to approach a bear or disturb it. The closest you can get is 150 feet or you could be arrested or find yourself having to pay a penalty fine. Bring a telephoto lens and a tripod to get some good shots from a distance.
Alligators and crocodiles, Everglades National Park, Florida
The only environment on the planet where alligators and crocodiles live together in harmony is the tropical wetlands in Everglades National Park. The difference between a gator and a crocodile is in their faces. The alligator has a broad snout, the crocodile a narrow one. Also, if you see a large fourth tooth on the bottom jaw when it’s closed, know that you’re looking at a croc. Crocodiles hang out close to Florida Bay, in the Flamingo area. The gators can be spotted along the Anhinga and Tamiami Trails. Keep a distance when striking a pose and focus on their eyes.
Pronghorn, Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota
Wind Cave National Park is the home of the world’s fifth largest cave system with more than 140 passages below ground. Above ground, there is a prairie ecosystem that hosts one of rarest animals in the US, the pronghorn. The pronghorn is indigenous to the North American continent and can reach a speed up to 60 mph, which makes it the fastest land mammal in the States.
These beautiful animals can be seen all over the park, but their favorite hangout place is around the Elk Mountain campground area. It’s most likely you’ll see one from your sleeping bag. They run fast and have very sensitive hearing, so don’t scare them off with your camera.
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