Tag Archives: wildlife

Cape Cod National Seashore

Overview

Northernmost of the ten National Seashores in the National Park Service (NPS) system, Cape Cod National Seashore includes 40 miles of shoreline on the narrow glacial deposit that sticks out of Massachusetts like a fishhook.  Its 44,000 acres are interspersed with towns that manage (and charge for) many of the beaches along the coastline.  Watch for gray seals playing in the surf, which attract predators like great white sharks to the shallows.  Even if you want to swim in the chilly ocean water, if you see gray seals it is best to go somewhere else so you are not confused with food.

Highlights

Nauset Light, Three Sisters Lighthouses, Old Harbor Life-Saving Station Museum

Must-Do Activity

The best place to start your visit is Salt Pond Visitor Center, which has a museum run by the NPS.  Located right off Highway 6, it is also a great place to stretch your legs on the Buttonbush or Nauset Marsh Trails.  From there, it is a short drive to Coast Guard or Nauset Light Beaches that offer tram service when parking lots are full.  Lifeguards are on duty at specific beaches from late June through Labor Day, which should give an indication of the short season when it is actually warm enough to enjoy the water.

Best Trail

There are 12 self-guided trails within Cape Cod National Seashore, plus three bicycle trails up to 7.3 miles long.  Our favorite was the one-mile Beech Forest Trail near Race Point Beach at the tip of Cape Cod.

Instagram-worthy Photo

If the red-striped Nauset Light looks familiar that is because you might have seen it on a bag of potato chips at the grocery store.  While there, take a walk over to the Three Sisters Lighthouses that have also been moved inland from their original eroding clifftop locations.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/caco/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All roads are paved and a permit from the Oversand Station at Race Point is required for those wishing to drive on designated sand routes.

Camping

No camping is offered through the NPS, but there are several private and state-run campgrounds, plus countless motels and vacation rentals.

Related Sites

Salem Maritime National Historic Site (Massachusetts)

Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area (Massachusetts)

Fire Island National Seashore (New York)

Explore More –Who was the famous Italian inventor that transmitted transatlantic radio signals from massive antennas on Cape Cod in the early 1900s?

Top 10 National Park Service Sites for Wildlife Watching

There are 419 units in the National Park Service (NPS) system and they are among the best places to watch wildlife in the United States.  We previously ranked our Top 10 places for spotting wildlife among the 62 National Parks, so this is the best of the rest.  Click here to check out all of our Top 10 lists.

10. Ozark National Scenic Riverways (Missouri)

There are many fish-eating birds all along these floatable rivers, plus beavers.

9. Big Thicket National Preserve (Texas)

Wildlife in this diverse preserve ranges from alligators to roadrunners.

8. Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument (U.S. Virgin Islands)

There is no dry land within its acreage, so expect many tropical fish and other mangrove residents.

7. Cumberland Island National Seashore (Georgia)

Feral horses are one of the main draws to this remote section of the Atlantic Coast.

6. Padre Island National Seashore (Texas)

The Gulf Coast is a great place for white-tailed deer and sea turtles, but watch out for Portuguese man-o-wars.

5. Kaloko-Honokōhau National Historical Park (Hawai‘i)

There is good snorkeling just outside the park where sea turtles are commonly seen.

4. Cape Cod National Seashore (Massachusetts)

Gray seals attract great white sharks, so swim at your own risk.

3. Big Cypress National Preserve (Florida)

Alligators and Florida panthers are among the residents of this wild section of the Everglades.

2. Buck Island Reef National Monument (U.S. Virgin Islands)

Possibly the best coral reef in the entire NPS system surrounds this tiny island.

…and finally our #1 National Park Service sites for wildlife watching:

1. Point Reyes National Seashore (California)

Tule elk have been reintroduced here, plus watch elephant seals and gray whales in the winter.

Honorable Mentions

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park (Maryland)

Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is adjacent to this swampy park.

San Juan Island National Historical Park (Washington)

Tide pools are a big attraction to this park’s 6.1 miles of protected shoreline.

Buffalo National River (Arkansas)

Bald eagles, ospreys, and great blue herons make this a dangerous place to be a fish.

Cumberland Island National Seashore

Overview

Off the coast of Georgia, Cumberland Island National Seashore was established in 1972 and is only accessible by boat.  While kayaks and private boats are allowed, most visitors arrive by ferry from St. Marys (reservations recommended).  Much of the northern half of the island is designated wilderness with backpacking campsites dispersed near places where freshwater is available for filtration.  Bicycles can be rented once you arrive on the island (they are not allowed on the ferry) and are permitted on the many miles of roads, but not on the trails or beach. 

Highlights

Dungeness Ruins, Ice House Museum, Marsh Boardwalk, First African Baptist Church

Must-Do Activity

While it is fun to spend time beachcombing, what really sets Cumberland Island apart are the trails that cut through the maritime forest of twisty live oak trees.  Watch for feral horses, white-tailed deer, armadillos, turkeys, and other birds along the way.  Alligators can also be seen in the freshwater ponds.  Fossilized shark teeth are commonly found on the island, especially on the roads.  Guided tours in vans can be reserved, which can be a good option on rainy days or if you want to make it to the 1890s African-American settlement at the northern end of the island.

Best Trail

The island has more than 50 miles of trails and you can form loops of varying lengths by walking the beach and the inland Parallel Trail.  The trails are very well packed though sandy, and not as hard to walk on as we imagined.  The only deep sand we encountered was on the designated dune crossings between the beach and the inland forest.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Dungeness is the name of a mansion built by the Carnegie family that burned down in 1959.  It was constructed atop the ruins of a house of the same name previously owned by Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/cuis/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$10 per person or America the Beautiful pass, plus the charges for ferry tickets and overnight campsites

Road Conditions

Roads are packed sand and heavily rutted, but unless you own property on the island or take the van tour you will not have to worry about their spine-rattling condition.

Camping

Reservations are required for all overnight stays, including at the privately-owned inn.  Sea Camp offers cold showers and potable water a moderately short walk from the ferry dock.  There are numerous backcountry campsites, but all camping is limited to seven days.

Related Sites

Fort Frederica National Monument (Georgia)

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve (Florida)

Cape Lookout National Seashore (North Carolina)

Explore More – Related to American Quarter Horses, Tennessee Walkers, Arabians, and Paso Fino, what is the total population of feral horses living on Cumberland Island?

Buck Island Reef National Monument

Overview

Located 1.5 miles north of the large Caribbean island of St. Croix is Buck Island, which covers only 176 acres of the 19,015 acres designated as Buck Island Reef National Monument.  Arguably the best coral reef in the entire National Park Service (NPS) system is the barrier reef around the island’s northern and eastern shore, which includes large examples of elkhorn coral with its beautiful yellow branches.  Private boats can get a permit to visit the island, but most tourists reserve trips with an NPS-authorized concessionaire that provides the gear for guided snorkeling and scuba diving experiences.

Highlights

Snorkeling, Underwater Trail, West Beach, Observation Point

Must-Do Activity

Snorkeling on the eastern end of the island is the highlight of a day trip to Buck Island.  The water offshore from St. Croix is cooler, even though your boat will moor in a lagoon, so consider wearing a wet suit.  There is an Underwater Trail with interpretive signs at one location along the coral reef.  Watch for a variety of parrotfish, angelfish, filefish, and sharks (lemon and nurse).  Sea turtles (green, hawksbill, loggerhead, and leatherback) are more common the west side of the island.

Best Trail

A steep, sandy trail climbs from Diedrichs Point and forms a loop when you walk West Beach, the designated anchorage area.  The 45-minute trek has a must-do spur to Observation Point for the best views, otherwise you will not be able to see through the thick vegetation of thorny trees interspersed with organ pipe cactus.  Stay on the trail and be careful not to touch poisonous manchineel trees or Christmas bush (related to poison-ivy).

Instagram-worthy Photo

Bring an underwater camera for great photo opportunities.  We followed a spotted eagle ray and a large school of blue tangs around the reef.  We also saw a nurse shark, lemon shark, and dozens of barracudas.

Peak Season

Anytime except hurricane season

Hours

Buck Island is only open during daylight hours

https://www.nps.gov/buis/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, except for concessionaire boat trip

Road Conditions

There are no roads on the island, so a boat tour through an NPS-authorized concessionaire is necessary to access it.  There is a large parking lot (fee) near the Christiansted marina and floatplane airport.  Note: you drive on the left side of the road in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but in standard American left-side driver seat vehicles.

Camping

Buck Island is closed between sunset and sunrise, with no overnight mooring allowed.  On St. Croix, there is no official NPS campground at Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve, but people camp along the coast there and at many beachside locations around the entire island.

Related Sites

Christiansted National Historic Site (U.S. Virgin Islands)

Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve (U.S. Virgin Islands)

Virgin Islands National Park (U.S. Virgin Islands)

Explore More – What type of domesticated animals were let loose on Buck Island in the 1700s (permanently altering the vegetation)?

Top 10 National Parks for Wildlife Watching

There are 62 National Parks of the 419 units in the National Park Service (NPS) system and they are among the best places to watch wildlife.  As with all of our Top 10 lists, this is a ranking of our favorite parks and not necessarily a true reflection of biodiversity or the likelihood of spotting the animals listed.  Note: brown bears and grizzly bears are the same species, so we stuck with the Alaskan name.  We have published a travel guidebook to the 62 parks with much more information about where to go to see wildlife (available on Amazon).

10. Theodore Roosevelt (North Dakota)

Bison, elk, pronghorn, white-tailed deer, mule deer, prairie dogs, wild horses, prairie rattlesnakes

9. Virgin Islands (U.S. Virgin Islands)

Sea turtles, stingrays, barracudas, parrotfish, iguanas (introduced), frigatebirds, bananaquits, pelicans

8. Rocky Mountain (Colorado)

Elk, moose, bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer, mule deer, black bears, yellow-bellied marmots, pikas

7. Glacier (Montana)

Mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, elk, mule deer, brown bears, black bears, lynx, yellow-bellied marmots, pikas

6. Great Smoky Mountains (Tennessee-North Carolina)

Elk, white-tailed deer, black bears, raccoons, turkeys, salamanders, synchronous fireflies

5. Denali (Alaska)

Caribou, moose, Dall sheep, brown bears, black bears, gray wolves, beavers, hoary marmots

4. Badlands (South Dakota)

Bison, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, white-tailed deer, mule deer, prairie dogs, black-footed ferrets

3 (tie). Kenai Fjords/Glacier Bay (Alaska)

Sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals, whales, porpoises, moose, mountain goats, brown bears, black bears, bald eagles

2. Everglades (Florida)

Alligators, crocodiles, dolphins, barred owls, anhingas, roseate spoonbills, wood storks, ospreys, pelicans

…and finally our #1 National Park for watching wildlife:

1. Yellowstone (Wyoming-Montana-Idaho)

Bison, elk, moose, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, brown bears, black bears, mountain lions, gray wolves

Honorable Mentions

Voyageurs (Minnesota)

River otters, beavers, moose, white-tailed deer, black bears, gray wolves, lynx, bald eagles, loons

Channel Islands (California)

Sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals, whales, dolphins, anemones, sea urchins, starfish, sea gulls, pelicans

Dry Tortugas (Florida)

Sea turtles, parrotfish, groupers, tarpons, sharks, crocodiles, frigatebirds, noddies, boobies, terns, pelicans

Find more great photos and ideas about where to watch wildlife in our guidebook to National Parks (available on Amazon).

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