Top 10 U.S. National Parks for Wildlife Viewing

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U.S. National Parks Wildlife

Observing wildlife like bears, bison, or bald eagles in their natural habitats is one of the main attractions that draw tourists to the 63 national parks across the United States. One might assume that the greatest chances of spotting diverse wildlife lies in popular parks like Yellowstone National Park.

However, a recent study from holiday rental platform Casago analyzed each park’s total wildlife population and size, revealing some unexpected information about the parks offering the most diverse wildlife viewing experiences. The key to experiencing a rich variety of creatures, small or big, lies in choosing parks teeming with small insects or bird migrations. Here is a list of the top 10 parks with the most diverse range of wildlife, from spiders to raptors to bears.

  1. Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Species per square meter: 362
Congaree National Park, located 18 miles from Columbia, South Carolina’s capital, is bustling with life, from tiny synchronized fireflies to towering loblolly pines. The park’s diverse ecosystem is made up of rivers and lakes, contributing to its incredible biodiversity.

Paddling along the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail is recommended for spotting wildlife, which includes creatures like fishing spiders and red-bellied water snakes, along with river otters, pileated woodpeckers, barred owls, and occasionally, alligators.

  1. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

Species per square meter: 317
Just 20 miles southwest of Cleveland, Ohio, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a mixed habitat of oak-hickory forest, meadows, and wetlands, providing a home for a variety of animals. Over 200 bird species, as well as various mammals like beavers, river otters, and muskrats can be seen in the park.

  1. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Species per square meter: 286
Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southeastern New Mexico is known for its population of Brazilian free-tailed bats. Each summer, hundreds of thousands of these bats, along with 16 other bat species, inhabit the park’s limestone caves.

  1. Pinnacles National Park, California

Species per square meter: 255
Pinnacles National Park in central California is home to the endangered California condor. From a population of just 22 in 1982, conservation efforts have brought the population to 347 today, with 89 living in and around the park.

  1. Acadia National Park, Maine

Species per square meter: 242
Acadia National Park in Maine offers a diverse habitat for both terrestrial and marine wildlife, including beavers, snowshoe hares, harbor porpoises, and harbor and gray seals.

  1. Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota

Species per square meter: 235 
This park on the edge of South Dakota’s Black Hills National Forest is known for its unique boxwork cave geology and large grazing herds of American bison, elk, and pronghorns.

  1. Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida

Species per square meter: 223 
Comprised 99% of water, this park in the Florida Keys is a hotspot for coral reef and seagrass habitats, and is a nesting place for five species of threatened or endangered sea turtles.

  1. Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado

Species per square meter: 219
Home to a variety of wildlife habitats, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in western Colorado supports a diversity of animals, from lizards and mule deer to bighorn sheep and river otters.

  1. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

Species per square meter: 217
Mammoth Cave National Park in central Kentucky is known for its expansive underground cave system, home to a diverse range of species including bats, cave crickets, and salamanders.

  1. Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Species per square meter: 215 
Despite its arid appearance, Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah is abundant with life, including various species of lizards, squirrels, and even predators like mountain lions and black bears.

Elisabeth Kwak-Hefferan, a freelance journalist with expertise in climate, environment, outdoors, and travel, compiled this information.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about U.S. National Parks Wildlife

What are the top 10 U.S. national parks to see wildlife?

The top 10 U.S. national parks for wildlife viewing, according to a report from vacation rental site Casago, are Congaree National Park in South Carolina, Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio, Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, Pinnacles National Park in California, Acadia National Park in Maine, Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota, Dry Tortugas National Park in Florida, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado, Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, and Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

What factors were considered to rank these parks?

The ranking was based on the total number of species per square meter in each park. The report advises considering smaller animals, such as insects and birds, in addition to larger fauna when seeking to observe wildlife.

Is Yellowstone National Park on this list?

Despite its fame for large animal sightings, Yellowstone National Park does not appear on this list. The report emphasizes the number of species per square meter, which can prioritize parks with high concentrations of smaller creatures.

What kind of wildlife can one expect to see in these parks?

The wildlife varies by park. Visitors may encounter animals as varied as fireflies and alligators in Congaree National Park, or bats and porcupines in Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Other notable sightings may include the endangered California condor in Pinnacles National Park and various species of sea turtles in Dry Tortugas National Park.

Are there specific activities recommended for wildlife viewing in these parks?

Yes, each park offers unique activities to enhance wildlife viewing. For instance, paddling the Cedar Creek Canoe Trail in Congaree National Park or birdwatching in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Visitors are encouraged to check the park websites for information on guided tours, ranger talks, and other activities.

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8 comments

TravelBug88 July 31, 2023 - 1:47 pm

I’ve been planning a trip to Pinnacles National Park. Reading this just made me more excited about the trip. Can’t wait to see the California condors!

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BirdWatcher July 31, 2023 - 9:21 pm

Cuyahoga Valley National Park sounds like a bird lover’s paradise. Over 200 bird species? count me in!

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natureLover101 August 1, 2023 - 12:03 am

been to Congaree myself. Beautiful place. The variety of species is amazing, really! If your into nature, its def a must visit.

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SnorkelingSam August 1, 2023 - 4:07 am

Dry Tortugas here I come. Diving with sea turtles, sharks, and all kind of fishes. That sounds like a dream vacation to me!

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HikingHelen August 1, 2023 - 5:18 am

Bryce Canyon always struck me as a barren place. Its really surprisng to see how much wildlife actually lives there.

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MikeJr August 1, 2023 - 6:53 am

Wow! Never realized that there was so much to see in these national parks, especially when it comes to wildlife. I always just thought it was about the views, ya know?

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EcoWarrior August 1, 2023 - 8:03 am

It’s great to see how species recovery programs are bringing back populations of various animals in places like Wind Cave National Park. Shows that conservation efforts really work.

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rockClimber August 1, 2023 - 8:52 am

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park seems like the perfect place for an adventure. Gotta watch out for that poison ivy tho!

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