Watching Wildlife at Big Bend National Park

Located in western Texas bordering Mexico, Big Bend National Park is the largest protected area of the Chihuahuan Desert topography in the U.S. The park is famed for protecting more than 1,200 species of plants, 450 species of birds, 56 species of reptiles, and 75 species of mammals.

Unlike other U.S. parks, dinosaur bones and volcanic dykes can be observed in this national park, making it a popular archeological site that has history dating back 10,000 years. Today, the park encompasses 801,163 acres of land. It’s notorious for its hot semi-arid climate, with dramatic, extreme weather fluctuations throughout the seasons.

Since the climate is hot by day, most of the native species are not visible due to their nocturnal adaption. But as you can image, the park comes alive at night with most animals emerging to forage for food. Keep your eyes peeled for cougars, coyotes, kangaroo rats, roadrunners, and bears in the park, as well as rattlesnakes, bullsnakes, southern prairie lizards, and mule deer.

Big Bend National Park’s Top Animals

  • Cougars
  • Golden eagles
  • Roadrunners
  • Kangaroo rats
  • Coyotes
  • Gray foxes
  • Jackrabbits
  • Black bears
  • Mule deer
  • Rattlesnakes
  • Bullsnakes
  • Prairie lizards

Viewing Locations

Rio Grande: One of the best ways to see the animals in the park is to check out the Rio Grande River which serves as their main source of water. The river supports 40 species of fish, several species of turtle, beavers, and plenty of birds.
Cottonwood Campground: This campground is one of the best for catching local animals roaming to and from their food sources in the morning. Be sure to tie up your food at night so no bears are tempted to break into the campground.

When Should You Go?

As a desert region, it’s best to visit this park in the early morning and evening hours. Since temperatures can get hot at the Mexico border, it’s best to visit the park in the fall, winter, and spring months and avoid the summer. Note: it can get cold enough to snow in the winter, so be sure to pack accordingly.

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Watching Wildlife at Kobuk Valley National Park

The Kobuk Valley National Park is the lesser-known Alaskan park to the acclaimed Denali National Park. Designated in 1980 by the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act to preserve the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, as well as the surrounding caribou migration routes, park goers are required to bring their own gear for camping, hiking, etc. There are no designated trails or roads in the park – this is as rugged as it gets.

Today, the park encompasses 1,750,7160 acres of land, making it larger than the state of Delaware. It is also one of the eight National Parks in Alaska, making Alaska the state with the second-most parks after California.

Since there are no roads in the park, in order to see it, visitors need to charter an air taxi from Nome, Bettles, or Kotzebue. Due to this, the park is one of the least visited in the United States. However, the park is an amazing geological spectacle at the center of the vast ecosystem between Selawik National Wildlife Refuge and the Noatak National Preserve.

The summertime is when this park really shines, with life abounding along the Kobuk River. Sit back and watch wolves, foxes, bears, and more dart across the tundra in search of food. Additionally, since the park is so far north, you can enjoy Alaska’s midnight sun which provides access to the park into the wee hours of the morning.

The park is also home to millions of birds that flock to the sheltered lakes and rivers for breeding. The arctic tern will actually fly from the Kobuk River to the coast of Antarctica and back.

Fun fact: Kobuk Valley is home to one of the largest migrations on the planet when the Western Arctic Caribou Herd passes through the valley on a 600-mile adventure between their summer and winter locations.

Kobuk Valley National Park’s Top Animals

  • Grizzly bears
  • Wolves
  • Wolverines
  • Foxes
  • Porcupines
  • Moose
  • Salmon
  • Terns
  • Herons
  • Caribou

Viewing Locations

Since there are no roads, hiking trails, visitors centers, or special points, there is no specific place to go to watch wildlife in this park. However, visiting this park is something you will never forget. The lack of people or roads means the wildlife feel more comfortable roaming free. In the summer, you can catch just about every animal emerging from the woods to take a drink from the Kobuk River.

When Should You Go?

Since chartering an air taxi is not possible with dangerous weather, the best time of year to visit this park is hands-down May through September. During this time, the snow and ice retreats, the sun shines early, and life appears back in the valley. Any other time is nearly impossible for travelers– and very dangerous. Note: bring bug spray, as since millions of insects thrive in the ponds that develop from the melted snow.

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Watching Wildlife at White Sands National Park

Reminiscent of the Sahara Desert and located right in the United States, the White Sands National Park is nestled into New Mexico on U.S. Route 70. With an average elevation of 4,000 feet in the Tularosa Basin, the park is famously known for its field of white sand dunes and gypsum crystals. The park encompasses 145,762 acres that protect the dunefields and the White Sands Missile Range.

Designated the White Sands National Monument in 1933 by President Hoover, it wasn’t re-designated as a national park until Congress passed the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act in 2019.

Fun fact: gypsum dunefield is the largest crystal dunefield on Earth.

The inhabitants of the Tularose Basin included Native Americans for thousands of years. When Spanish settlers arrived in the 1800s, they stared to build farms, ranches, and mines, driving out the previous inhabitants.

Upon their arrival, they began to discover there is more than meets the eye in the arid New Mexico landscape. Today the park is home to more than 600 invertebrates, 300 plants, 250 birds, 50 mammals, 30 reptiles, and 7 amphibians. There is even one fish that calls the park home. The White Sands National Park is the most visited site in New Mexico, boasting 600,000 or more visitors per year.

Thanks to the scorching hot temperatures, most of the animals in the park have developed coping mechanisms – namely being nocturnal. They are able to survive with very little groundwater.

White Sands National Park’s Top Animals

  • Bleached earless lizards
  • Sand-treader camel crickets
  • Sand wolf spiders
  • Moths
  • Spiders
  • Wasps
  • Tarantulas
  • Mockingbirds
  • Ravens
  • Roadrunners
  • Kangaroo bats
  • Coyotes
  • Bobcats
  • Badgers
  • Foxes
  • Bats
  • White Sands pupfish
    • The only fish endemic to the Tularose Basin, the White Sands pupfish has dark eyes, silver scales, and is miniscule. It has adapted to the scorching hot desert temperatures.
  • Great Plains toad
    • This toad is able to store more water in their urinary glands than any other toad species. Due to this water retention, they can survive with less water access than normal amphibians.

Viewing Locations

Dunes Life Nature Trail: Hike this trail at dusk to watch the local mammals come to life out of their burrows. Listen to their calls as they soak in the night sky.
Interdune Boardwalk: This family friendly boardwalk is an easy way to see wildlife in the early morning or evening hours.
Alkali Flat Trail: Where you go to get that incredible shot of nothing but white sand and horizon, check for insect movement along the sand during the morning and evening hours.

When Should You Go?

It’s no secret that temperatures can get scorching hot in White Sands National Park. Therefore, plan to visit the park from September to May, or in the early morning or evening hours. For your best shot at seeing wildlife, 5-6AM and 9-11PM are the best windows to catch their movement.

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Watching Wildlife in the U.S. Virgin Islands

The Virgin Islands National Park is a tropical American park that preserves about 60% of the land of Saint John within the United States Virgin Islands. The park houses more than 5,500-acres of ocean, half of Hassel Island, and the Saint Thomas harbor. Ferries take visitors to and from the park out of Red Hook, St. Thomas, and an additional three times per day from Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. Upon arrival, the park’s visitor center can be accessed in Cruz Bay.

The park is most famously known for scuba diving and snorkeling, as well as its hundreds of hiking miles that provide visitors with views of tropical rainforest. Due to its gorgeous access to the Caribbean Ocean, the park is at risk for high wind hurricanes. Two category 5 hurricanes hit the islands in 2017 alone, both Irma and Maria. However, that hasn’t stopped park visitors, with more than 112,287 making the journey in 2018 to take in the natural flora and fauna.

The history of the park is unique in that it came about from a selfless land donation. In 1956, Laurance Rockefeller’s Jackson Hole Preserve donated the land to the National Park Service under the conditions that the land would not be developed further. Today, the park protects waters, coral reefs, and delicate shorelines. In fact, the park’s boundaries have been expanded since its founding in 2001 when the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument was founded.

Today, the Virgin Islands National Park is home to 140 species of birds, 302 species of fish, 7 species of amphibians, 22 species of mammals, and 74 species of plants. There are also about 50 coral species, as well as tons of sponge varieties. It’s what makes the islands one of the top snorkeling destinations in the entire world.

Virgin Islands National Park’s Top Animals

Highly unique to U.S. parks, the only animal native to the Virgin Islands National Park is the bat. These bats can be found in caves in less populated areas of the islands, where they fly only in the evening hours. It’s not uncommon to see a few dozen bats roosting together in one of the caves.

Today, there are non-native animals that have been domesticated on the islands, including:

  • Deer
  • Goats
  • Sheep
  • Donkeys
  • Cats
  • Dogs
  • Mongoose
    • Native to South Asia, the mongoose was introduced to the Virgin Islands to control the rat population. Instead, the mongoose made its own habitat and started to destroy snakes and birds. It has been a problem since their introduction.
  • Pigs
  • Iguanas
    • A reptile native to the Caribbean, iguanas are bright, florescent reptiles that sun all day in the hot rays. They can grow up to 6 feet long including their tail, which makes up half of their length.
  • Hermit crabs
    • These cute, tiny crabs which are often used as pets in households today can be seen around the islands. Unable to make their own shell, these crabs hop from shell to shell as they grow. In fact, they spend the majority of their lives finding their next shell.
  • Lizards
    • It’s common to see male anoles, geckos, and other small lizards on the islands.

You’re likely to see many of these animals roaming the streets of St. John.

Viewing Locations

Trunk Bay: Soak up the sun while you view dolphins, fish, sharks, and crabs.
Cinnamon Bay: Foray into the waters to see the same fauna as listed above.
Salt Pond Bay: Look down into the tide pools and have fun with hermit crabs. Remember: look, don’t touch.
Reef Bay Trail: Peek into the caves along the trail to see if you can spot any bats. It’s best to go with a professional tour guide.

When Should You Go?

The Virgin Islands National Park is a great destination year round thanks to its sun and surf. Temperatures can be scorching hot in the summer, although the ocean breeze can make it bearable. Even in the winter months, the weather is still beautiful, making it a nice getaway.

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Watching Wildlife in Shenandoah National Park

The Shenandoah National Park encompasses a portion of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the state of Virginia. The park is noted for being long and narrow with the Shenandoah River as its defining feature. The broad valley to the west of the park plus the rolling hills of Virginia to the east make this a great tourist destination for sightseeing and exploration.

First discovered by European settlers in the 1700s, the Shenandoah Valley was a popular hunting destination for settlers looking to supply food for their families. They were able to access beavers, elk, and American bison, a well as bears, turkeys, and bobcats. By 1935, the park was officially established as a national park, and construction on the Blue Ridge Parkway was funded. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt opened the park to the public in 1936.

Shenandoah National Park is home to 79,579-acres of land that has been designated as wilderness and is presently protected under the National Wilderness Preservation System. The highest peak in the park is Hawksbill Mountain, whose summit is only 4,051-feet above sea level.

An impressive 50 species of mammals live within the confines of the park, including white-tailed deer, gray squirrels, bats, skunks, black bears, bobcats, and plenty of birds. Coyotes have recently been expanding their presence in the park as well, now found on just about every acre.

The Shenandoah National Park’s Animals

  • Bobcats
  • Big brown bats
  • White-tailed deer
  • Gray squirrels
  • Spotted skunks
  • Shrews
  • Coyotes

Viewing Locations

Skyline Drive: The main road of the park, Skyline Drive, can be a good option for viewing local animals. The road runs along the ridge line of the mountains. You can expect to see black bears, squirrels, chipmunks, and white-tailed deer here – but be careful and drive slowly!
Trayfoot Mountain-Paine Run Loop Trail: Be on the lookout for bears, deer, rodents, and birds throughout this loop.
Big Meadows: Explore the meadows of the park and bring binoculars to look for birds, black bears, and white-tailed deer.

When Should You Go?

The park experiences a grueling winter, so it’s recommended to make your trip sometime between April and October. Conditions can get too cold and icy if you attempt to visit the park in the winter months. That said, if you have a car that can withstand difficult weather conditions, the park is open year round.

Home to some of the most beautiful autumn foliage in the world, Shenandoah National Park is a highly popular destination for “leaf-peepers” from the months of September to November. If you are looking for peak fall colors, book your trip some time in October.

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