Want to get up close with wildlife? You’re guaranteed to spot critters and creatures of all kinds in these beautiful destinations, from bison in South Dakota to wild horses in Virginia. Visit one of these amazing U.S. destinations to spot wildlife on your next family adventure.
Written by Amanda Geronikos Norcross
Buffalo - Black Hills, S.D.
Want to see buffalo up close? Head to Custer State Park in the rolling Black Hills of South Dakota. Tour the park on your own or take a Buffalo Jeep Safari Tour. You're guaranteed to spot the gentle giants, along with elk and pronghorn.
Related: U.S. Safaris for Families
Elk - Estes Park/Rocky Mountain National Park, Colo.
Elk can be spotted just about everywhere, at any time, in Rocky Mountain National Park and the little town at the foot of the mountains, Estes Park. Don't be surprised if you have to wait for them to cross the street or move out of the parking spot you're trying to nab! Photo ops abound -- just don't get too close.
Bighorn Sheep - Colorado Springs, Colo.
Want to see Bighorn sheep in real life? Head to Colorado Springs -- specifically Garden of the Gods and/or on the trails surrounding Glen Eyrie Castle. It's a surreal moment to see them up close.
Moose - Maine Highlands, Maine
It's quite common to spot moose in Maine -- especially in the Maine Highlands. We recommend Baxter State Park and Moosehead Lake for moose sightings, beautiful scenery and outdoor fun. Moose are commonly seen mid-May through July -- during family vacation season!
Manatees - Tallahassee, Fla.
Manatees inhabit the rivers in and around Tallahassee, including the Wakulla River. The best way to spot them (and perhaps the most unexpected way)? A kayak tour with Harry Smith Outdoors! On a recent tour, a mama manatee and her baby came right up to our kayaks!
Alligators - Lafayette, La.
Many people head to Everglades National Park in Florida to spot alligators, though we prefer a trip to the Louisiana Bayou for close encounters. Just outside of Lafayette, take a swamp tour from the Atchafalaya Basin Landing & Marina. You're guaranteed to see male, female and even baby alligators on a 90-minute tour.
Dolphins - South Padre Island, Texas
You can spot dolphins on many tours, but we never saw so many as we did on a tour with Osprey Cruises in South Padre Island. The dolphins swim alongside the vessel, occasionally popping up for their close-up picture, of course.
Whales - Glacier Bay National Park, Ala.
Alaska is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure for families, especially due to its many wildlife encounters. In Glacier Bay National Park, you'll see various whale species, including orca and humpback. Several outfitters offer chartered excursions; sightings are best between June and September.
Wild Horses - Chincoteague Island, Va.
Wild horses roam the shores of Chincoteague Island, located between Maryland and Virginia. It's truly a sight to behold. Time your visit to see the annual Chincoteague Island Pony Swim in July, or see the horses up close on a narrated excursion with Captain Dan's Around the Island Tours.
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