The United States may be best known for its captivating cities stretching from Honolulu to Boston, but there’s no denying that the country is home to some truly spectacular natural beauty as well. One of 17 megadiverse nations across the globe, the States are packed with a wide array of national parks and protected preserves, many of which are home to a wealth of both endemic and endangered species. As we celebrate this year’s World Wildlife Day, check out a few of the country’s underappreciated destinations that offer spectacular animal experiences.
Honey Island Swamp, Louisiana
Ranging from tiny insects to gargantuan gators, there’s no shortage of wild creatures to be discovered throughout this verdant 70,000-acre mass of marshland. While raccoons, wild boar, and great blue herons are a common sight for those exploring the area, lucky visitors may be able to spot some top predators skulking through the swamp, ranging from black bears to cougars. In addition to these legitimate species, fans of cryptozoology should keep their eyes peeled for the elusive Honey Island Swamp Monster, a ghoulish beast that’s been purported to lurk in the depths of the swamp since the 1960s. For those visiting the nearby city of New Orleans, the Slidell-based Cajun Encounters Tour Company is the perfect host for a trip into the wilderness, offering multiple boat tours along with a pickup service that stops at a wide range of hotels across the French Quarter.
Dana Point, California
A true pioneer in the North American whale watching industry, the coastal city of Dana Point was recently approved by both World Animal Protection and the World Cetacean Alliance to become the nation’s first Whale Heritage Site, a prestigious designation that’s shared with just three other locations across the globe. This certification highlights the city’s steadfast devotion to responsible and sustainable whale watching, making it a top choice for ethical wildlife tourism on the Pacific coast. Winter visitors should keep an eye out for migrating gray whales surfacing alongside common dolphins, while summer brings the opportunity to spot the iconic blue whale, the largest living creature on earth. When it comes to booking an excursion onto the high seas, Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Watching Safari is tough to beat, offering underwater pods beneath the ship that provide a spectacular view of any nearby cetaceans.
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Outer Banks, North Carolina
Measuring in at roughly 200 miles, this sprawling chain of barrier islands is best known for its idyllic beaches, but there’s far more to OBX than simply sand. In addition to shorebirds, sea turtles, and dolphins, the Outer Banks is home to roaming herds of feral horses perfectly adapted to life on the North Carolina coast. While the horses have lived in the area for centuries, it’s unclear how exactly these equids arrived in the area—one popular theory is that they were brought here by Spanish or English sailors who shipwrecked along the shore, leaving the beasts to fend for themselves in the wild. For any visitors hoping to spot these majestic beasts on a trip to the Outer Banks, be sure to book an excursion with Wild Horse Adventure Tours, one of the region’s most reputable wildlife tourism groups.
Located in the isolated northern reaches of Alaska, this tiny community is home to just over 200 people, yet serves as a particularly popular destination for those hoping to spot polar bears in their natural habitat. Given its incredibly remote location, most visitors choose to make their journey to Kaktovik with Northern Alaska Tour Company, a Fairbanks-based organization that offers a wealth of forays past the Arctic Circle. Guests embarking on the Polar Bear Expedition will be treated to spectacular views of the Alaskan landscape before arriving in the tiny city of Kaktovik, where they’ll board a small ship to venture out in search of the largest land carnivore on earth. While there’s no shortage of fascinating wildlife experiences to be had in Alaska, seeing one of these massive beasts in the wild is a truly rewarding experience.
Custer State Park, South Dakota
A renowned gem of biodiversity within North America’s Great Plains, this 71,000-acre preserve is one of South Dakota’s most popular destinations for those hoping to spot iconic American wildlife. Though there’s a wealth of species to be encountered throughout Custer State Park, the most acclaimed by far is the American bison, the heaviest land mammal on the continent. Roughly 1,400 of these majestic creatures call the park home, but that’s not all there is to see around Custer—the park is also home to cougars, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, a wide assortment of deer, and even feral donkeys. Lovingly referred to as “Begging Burros”, these wild equids have developed an affinity for visiting humans, and often approach their cars in search of snacks. If you’re still in search of more pristine Dakotan natural beauty after a trip to Custer, head east to Badlands National Park to encounter some truly incredible geological formations.