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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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Watching Wildlife in Sequoia National Park

Located in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains just east of Visalia, California is the Sequoia National Park. Established in 1890 to protect the 404,064 acres of forest that are contained within the park, many people don’t realize this national park is home to the highest point in the contiguous United States: Mount Whitney. The mount rises 14,505-feet above sea level.

Sequoia National Park is situated south of Kings Canyon National Park, and both are managed by the National Park Service.

The park is named for the giant sequoia trees that litter the land. The oldest tree on earth, the General Sherman Tree, can be viewed within the park. The tree is located in the Giant Forest, which contains five of the ten largest trees in the entire world. The parks giant forests are considered part of the old-growth forests that are shared by both of the parks. Thanks to their early conservation efforts, the parks preserved a landscape that resemble what it looked like before the European settlers arrived.

Of all of the magnificent trees in the park, there are also some amazing wildlife viewing opportunities available at your fingertips. The most high-profile mammal in the park is the black bear, which has learned to adapt and thrive. In order to avoid domesticating the bear, refrain from feeing the black bears during your time there.

As you move down into the foothills of the park, you can find lowland mammals, like the fox, bobcat, skunk, woodrat, gopher, and quail. As you move into denser parts of the forest you can catch mule deer, black bears, mountain lions, birds, and chipmunks frolicking among the ancient trees.

The Sequoia National Park’s Top Animals

  • Coyotes
  • Badgers
  • Black bears
  • Bighorn sheep
  • Deer
  • Foxes
  • Cougars
  • Woodpeckers
  • Turtles
  • Owls
  • Snakes
  • Wolverines
  • Beavers
  • Frogs
  • Muskrats
    • The muskrat is a medium-sized semiaquatic rodent that is found in wetlands over a variety of climates. These water rodents are often referred to as “rats” since they are able to adapt to a variety of food sources and climates.

Viewing Locations

Tokopah Valley Trail: Down in the valley, check out foothill animals like bobcats, squirrels, chipmunks, beavers, and so forth. Look for muskrats in ponds, pools, and river ways as you make your way through the park.
Moro Rock Trail: A great spot to find rock-dwelling animals like bighorn sheep and mountain goats.
Black Rock Pass Loop: This pass is great for catching a glimpse of bighorn sheep and mountain goats as they prance from rock to rock.
Crescent Meadow Trail: You can catch everything from black bears to owls and deer on this hike.
Log Meadow Loop: Also part of the Crescent Meadow Trail, this loop is another catch-all option for those looking to get in as much wildlife viewing as possible.

When Should You Go?

The best time of year to visit this park is from the beginning of June through the end of September. The park is open 24-7, however, the cold winds, snowy conditions, and icy rain storms can make it unsafe to navigate the park starting at the end of October. If you are experienced with hiking and exploring in the wintertime, then the park can be rewarding and filled with less visitors. Animals can generally be seen in the park year round. Catch migratory animals and birds passing through during the spring and fall months.

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Watching Wildlife in Saguaro National Park

Situated in southeast Arizona within Pima County is the Saguaro National Park, a 92,000-acre park that has both the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mount District contained therein. The park is famous for preserving the Sonoran Desert landscapes, flora, and fauna, and of course, the famed saguaro cactus.

The park was home to early Native Americans before Spanish explorers and missionaries arrived in the 1800s. In 1933, President Hoover established the Saguaro National Monument within the Rincon Mountains. It wasn’t until 1961 when President John F. Kennedy added the Tucson Mountain District to the monument. Congress combined the Tucson Mountain District and the Rincon Mountain District to form Saguaro National Park in 1994.

Today people travel to the park to go hiking and capture the iconic Route 66 postcard image. There are plenty of biking trails, horseback riding trails, and wilderness camping sites available as well.

The park gets its name from the saguaro cactus, which does not grow anywhere else on the earth.

Although it’s a hot and dry landscape, the Saguaro National Park is still home to a slew of medium-sized and large mammals with more than 30 species marked. Some of the most notable residents include cougars, coyotes, bobcats, deer, mule deer, foxes, jackrabbits, cottontails, ring-tailed cats, squirrels, and bats. The park also supports a wide range of birds, like flycatchers, whiskered screech owls, great horned owls, cactus wrens, ravens, turkey vultures, roadrunners, quails, and hummingbirds.

The park is home to 36 reptiles, like the famous desert tortoise, diamondback rattlesnakes, and spiny lizards. The canyon tree frog, the lowland leopard frog, and the Couch’s spadefoot can also be spotted within the park.

Since the park ranges from 2,180 feet to 4,687 feet in elevation, there are two biotic communities, desert scrub, and desert grassland habitats available for exploration. There is also some annual rainfall and more activity than is typically found in a plain desert region. If you think you will merely see cacti when visiting this park, think again!

The Saguaro National Park’s Animals

  • Coyotes
  • Foxes
  • Bats
  • Bobcats
  • Deer
  • Mule deer
  • Rabbits
  • Squirrels
  • Bats
  • Javelinas
    • Also known as a skunk pig, the javelina is a medium-sized, pig-like, hoofed mammal that can be found in Central and South America. They weigh about 50 pounds and can be spotted making their way up into the Saguaro National Park. They live in small herds.

Viewing Locations

SNP East: Available after a mild hike, SNP East is a great spot for seeing javelinas in the washes. During the hot sunlight hours the animals will be hidden, so head out early in the morning to see them.
Catalina Mountains: At the top of the Catalina Mountains, especially at Mt. Bigelow, visitors can see deer, turkeys, bobcats, coyotes, and most other large mammals.

When Should You Go?

The Saguaro National Park has relatively stable and predictable weather year round – cool in the mornings and hot in the afternoons. For wildlife viewing, your best bet is super early morning or at dusk. The winter months can be cooler at night and in the morning, but it’s an overall safe bet that you aren’t going to be dealing with blizzards.

If you plan to hike by day, please pack plenty of water.

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Watching Wildlife in Petrified Forest National Park

Nestled into the Northeastern portion of Arizona, the Petrified Forest National Park is named for the deposits of petrified wood that cover about 230 square miles of the park. Encompassing semi-desert shrub and colorful badlands that make it look like you’re on another planet, Petrified Forest National Park is also situated near the famed Route 66.

Known for a dry, windy climate and situated abut 5,400 feet above sea level, visitors can expect hot summer temperatures and freezing temperatures in the wintertime. It’s also home to fossils that can be traced to nearly 225 million years ago, containing sediments that are part of the Chinle Formation. Leftover from the residency of Native Americans, there are also plenty of petroglyphs that can be discovered throughout the park.

With the arrival of Europeans and the gold rush movement, roads and railways brought tourism to the park. Plenty of fossils were taken from the park before it was protected. Unfortunately, theft of petrified wood remains a real problem in the 21st century.

The Petrified Forest National Park is home to plenty of large animals, like pronghorns, coyotes, bobcats, deer mice, snakes, lizards, and frogs. It is also a layover spot for many migratory birds. Other animals that can be enjoyed in the park include prairie dogs, foxes, and golden eagles. Due to its desert climate, most of these animals will be hidden by day. According to park websites, the one animal you are guaranteed to see while hiking there is the raven.

Lastly, the park is home to more than 400 species of plants, dominated by bunchgrass, sacaton, and blue grama.

The Petrified Forest National Park’s Animals

  • Pronghorns
  • Coyotes
  • Bobcats
  • Deer mice
  • Ravens
  • Snakes
  • Lizards
  • Frogs
  • Bullsnakes
    • This large, nonvenomous snake is one of the longest snakes in North America, with lengths up to 8-feet. It can be found in and around the park.
  • Praying mantises
  • Scorpions
  • Red-spotted toads
    • Most active in the rainy season, which extends from July through September, these toads can be found around rocky areas, near streams, and in the canyons.

Viewing Locations

Pintado Point: This is a great spot for wildlife viewing at dawn or dusk. Since the park is in the desert, many of these animals will be asleep during the day.
Agate House: This unique point is a great spot to add to your trip.
Blue Mesa Badlands: Stare out onto the badlands and into the sky to catch birds and ravens floating above your head on wind streams.

When Should You Go?

This is one of those parks that is great to visit throughout the year. Even in the winter months when it can snow, the temperatures will still be moderate in the afternoon. As for the summer, the strong winds make the park more tolerable when it gets hot during the day. Springtime blossoms and blooming plants make Petrified Forest a colorful experience which is great for photography. As for rain, the wet season starts in July and ends in October. Since this park is in the desert, there’s still never too much rainfall.

Fun fact: You are more likely to see animal life in the park if you come as early as the park hours allow you to and stay as late as you are allowed to. These are also the best times to capture photos as the sun enhances the colors of the Painted Desert.

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Watching Wildlife in North Cascades National Park

North Cascades National Park is a cherished American park located in the state of Washington. It houses more than 500,000 acres of land, making it one of the largest of the National Park Service units in the greater North Cascades National Park Complex. The park has a northern and southern portion that are divided by the Skagit River. The area is also home to protected national forests, wilderness areas, provincial parks, and other incredible outdoor activities.

The park is known for the rugged mountain peaks of the North Cascades Range, which encompasses the most expansive system in the greater contiguous United States.

Initially inhabited by the Skagit tribes, by the 19th century, the region had become a major fur trapping post managed by several British and American companies that were fighting for control of the fur trade. This went on for some years, until the area became more popularly accessed for logging and mining. As communities built out in the region, environmentalists lobbied to protect the land. By 1968, North Cascades National Park was established.

The park is not home to the most hospitable weather on the planet, with heavy snows, high risk avalanches, rain storms, and other icy conditions that make it hard to maneuver in the wintertime. Most access into the park is off of State Route 20, which follows the Skagit River. For those wishing to camp, almost all locations are accessed by hiking or horseback riding only.

Today, the park is home to a diversity of animal species, including 75 mammal species like coyote, bobcat, lynx, cougar, mink, river otter, and black bear. More than two dozen species of rodents can be observed in the park as well, from pikas to beavers, and ten species of bats. The endangered species of the timber wolf, as well as the threatened grizzly bear, can also be viewed in the park. In fact, the park is considered a primary habitat for grizzly bears, which is why the park was added to the National Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan in 1997.

There are also 200 species of birds that pass through the park, including golden and bald eagles, owls, ducks, swans, and woodpeckers. Lastly, there are 28 species of fish that can be found in rivers, like the Pacific salmon and trout.

Note: the Great Cascades National Park has experienced glacial retreat the last 20 years. The retreat is causing adverse effects to the surrounding plants and animals.

North Cascades National Park’s Top Animals

  • Coyotes
  • Bobcats
  • Lynx
  • Cougars
  • Mink
  • River otters
  • Black bears
  • Deer
  • Elk
  • Moose
  • Bighorn sheep
  • Mountain goats
  • Beavers
  • Pikas
  • Bats
  • Wolves
  • Wolverines
    • Although present in small numbers, the park is still one of the best places to get a peek at this endangered North American mammal. Gray wolves and fisher foxes can also be viewed here.

Viewing Locations

Blue Lake Trail: One of the best wildlife viewing hikes in the park, you can see sheep, goats, deer, elk, moose, bears, and bobcats. Practice safe distancing on trails in the event that a grizzly bear is in the area.
Cascade Pass: One of the area’s longer hikes, you can see just about every common mammal in the park along this trail, but tread with caution.
Sahale Arm Trail: This is a great hike for spotting mountain goats. They can be hard to see at times, so if you manage to catch a glimpse, take a photo! Considered part of the Sahale Arm Trail, the “Arm” portion of the trail is a great place to spot black bears.

When Should You Go?

Winter conditions are too advanced for beginners in this park, which is why it’s recommended you visit the park between May and October. If you do go during the winter months, prepare for difficult road conditions, snow, and partial park shutdowns. If you want to catch many of these mammals mating or migrating, then the months of May and September/October are your best bet.

For summer hikes and park exploration, bring bug spray! The park is notorious for intense bugs and gnats.

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