Wildlife in the USA travel guide

The fact that every USA state has a national animal says it all. Just to put it into perspective, in the UK, ours is a lion – a case of symbolism over substance, it would seem. In the USA, they are more in touch with real wildlife and, with their extensive national park system, prioritising its conservation. In California the state animal is the endangered grey whale. In Colorado it's the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and Nevada the Desert bighorn sheep. Alaska has the moose, Wyoming the bison and Montana the grizzly bear.
It’s miraculous enough watching all those salmon swimming upstream to spawn, taking one last final leap up a waterfall. But then the greedy grizzlies come out to feast upon them mid-flight. I couldn’t tell if my tears were of grief or joy.
The USA's national animal is, of course, the bald eagle, which soars around large expanses of water such as Katmai National Park, Alaska, the Hudson River in New York State, mangrove swamps of Florida and the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River. Which is more than can be said for lions in the UK. Read more in our Wildlife holidays in the USA travel guide.

Is this type of holiday for you?

Go if…

...you are organised. Bear watching holidays, for example, book up well in advance. ...you want to get what USA’s national parks system is all about: protecting wildlife. …wolves, whales and wilderness are your thing. …you crave a USA that is free of theme parks and highways. There is so much more out there.

Don’t go if…

...you want to do a whistlestop wildlife tour. Good things come to those who wait.
...don’t do extreme elements. USA’s wild places get super hot and super cold.
…. you think national parks are like safari parks. They aren’t. There are no fences, they are all about allowing wild animals to roam free. And don’t even think about touching any of them.
…you want to drive everywhere. Hiking is the way to hone in on habitats.

Our top USA wildlife Holiday

Alaska adventure holiday, salmon run

Alaska adventure holiday, salmon run

Active small group adventures in a retrofitted school bus

From US $4880 to US $4980 20 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2023: 3 Jun, 24 Jun, 15 Jul, 5 Aug
2024: 8 Jun, 29 Jun, 20 Jul, 10 Aug
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about USA wildlife or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Wildlife in America

The USA’s prolific and pioneering national park system is inextricably linked with wildlife holidays, as the parks were fundamentally created to protect wildlife and their habitats. There are thousands of hiking trails, but they are carefully managed to allow habitats to grow and wildlife to thrive. Watch elk roam free in Rocky Mountain National Park, bison or elusive wolves in Yellowstone, grizzlies in Alaska’s Denali National Park and golden eagles soaring over the Grand Canyon. Wildlife isn’t exclusive to national parks, however; you just get the most undisturbed viewing there. Head to Hawaii for extraordinary whale watching or Fort Myers in Florida for loggerhead turtles and manatees. Just an hour from Manhattan, you can see dolphins off Long Island and bears in the Catskills Mountains.

1. Alaska

Alaska is way up there, and way out in terms of wildlife watching too. A land of extraordinary national parks including USA’s largest, Wrangell St-Elias, take in tumultuous taiga and tundra with resident wildlife wonders such as orca and humpback whales, grizzly bears and wolves. Katmai National Park is a top spot for viewing Kodiak bears preying on migratory salmon heading upstream – if they can make it past the clambering claws.

2. Bears

Bears are surprisingly widespread across the USA, with Yellowstone National Park the top spot for viewing grizzly and brown bears out on fishing expeditions. The national parks of Alaska, with their tumultuous taiga and tundra, shelter Kodiak bears preying on migratory salmon – particularly in Katmai. Head to Yosemite, the Appalachians or the Rocky Mountains for black bears to be in awe of.

3. Bison

Once thundering across the plains in their millions, North America’s largest land animal was reduced to just a few hundred individuals in the 1800s by hunters. Bison have had an impressive comeback though – and while many now live on farms, herds free roam in Yellowstone in large numbers. Massive males can weigh up to 900kg, with their humps up to six feet tall. Wobbly babies can be seen in April-mid June.

4. Hawaii

Humpback whales aren’t stupid: they choose these tropical islands as their mating and birthing grounds. They perform their acrobatics in the wild between late Dec-May, sometimes directly off the Maui coastline. Other cetaceans to celebrate include dolphins, false killer whales and pilot whales, with boat trips for closer sightings. Alaska is another top spot for cetacean seekers, as is California’s Monterey from April-Dec.

5. Wolves

Head to Yellowstone National Park’s Lamar Valley in winter for a magical wolf tracking experience, following their distinctive prints through the snow. Montana’s Glacier National Park protects a section of the Rocky Mountains where wolves roam free, and Alaska’s enormous Wrangell-St Elias National Park – the largest national park in the USA – also has resident packs.
Yellowstone National Park

6. Yellowstone National Park

The mother of them all, Yellowstone was America’s first national park. It's also where Mother Nature nurtures a plethora of wildlife. Although Yellowstone is famous worldwide, it is not as packed with visitors as you might think, as it’s harder to access. So, take in the bison masterfully marauding the plains, grizzlies or brown bears fishing by the creeks, or go wolf tracking in winter in the Lamar Valley.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: rayb777] [Go if: Denali National Park and Preserve] [Map intro: Yellowstone National Park] [Alaska: Denali National Park and Preserve] [Bears: Yellowstone National Park] [Bison: schizoform] [Wolves: Ellie Attebery] [Yellowstone: Eric Vaughn]