Wildlife has always been one of America's great treasures, but it has not always been cherished. Prior to European expansion in North America, millions of buffalo and hundreds of thousands of wolves roamed the continent, but by 1960, there were only 300 wolves left in the lower 48. Today both species have made a comeback in pockets such as Yellowstone National Park’s Lamar Valley, a place so rich in wildlife it’s often referred to as America’s Serengeti. Wolves, grizzlies and buffalo can be seen from the road cutting through it.
A moment witnessing the natural world’s grandeur can be a palliative to the din of modern life, but that wildlife needs a home. “In the U.S., we’re fortunate to have a network of public lands where these animals can thrive,” says Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society. “But to be successful, we need to connect these isolated pockets of habitat.” He says the scale could be as ambitious as linking the Yellowstone Ecosystem to the wild areas of Idaho, or as modest as a backyard pollinator garden that serves as a stopover for migrating butterflies and birds. Here, some national parks and sanctuaries where you can catch a glimpse of protected wildlife.
Badlands National Park
In these rugged 244,000 acres of stony parkland, black-tailed prairie dogs, mule deer, antelope, bison, coyotes and bighorn sheep roam in spades. Underneath lies a vast deposit of dinosaur fossils.
Kenai Fjords National Park
A tremendously unique ecosystem of sparkling estuaries and stunning glaciers, the area rewards with yearround whale watching of orcas, humpbacks, grays and belugas.
Hawk Mountain Sanctuary
From September to December, a dramatic procession of raptors soar over this scenic mountain, headed south for winter. In order of appearance: broad-winged hawks, red-tailed hawks, golden eagles, rough-legged hawks and bald eagles.