By Dana Perkiss
The U.S. boasts 63 National Parks, each with its own unique ecosystem and wildlife. From sure-footed animals living on craggy cliffs to underwater elephant creatures, here are the coolest animals to see in U.S. National Parks!
Bison are the biggest mammal in North America, but were almost extinct in the late 1800’s due to hunting and habitat loss. They are now a symbol of resilience — literally, as Congress passed the National Bison Legacy Act in 2016 making them the national mammal (besides the bald eagle).
You can catch this magnificent species grazing on grass in many National Parks, but the most common is Yellowstone. You can also witness burly bison in Grand Teton, Theodore Roosevelt, Badlands, and Wind Cave National Park.
Fun Fact: Bison are both fast and furious! They might look slow and docile, but they can run up to 30 to 45 mph and may attack if provoked.
You’ve seen a Bald Eagle on the back of a sports team and even on money, but have you seen this magnificent bird soar above you with its 8-foot wingspan? This patriotic bird has been the national emblem of the U.S. since 1782, and conservation efforts have succeeded in saving this once-endangered species.
Spot these extraordinary birds flying above lakes and rivers in Yellowstone, particularly Hayden Valley and Madison River. Make sure to keep your eyes locked on the sky to see them soaring, or check the tree-tops for large nests.
Fun Fact: They’re not really bald! Bald Eagles have a chocolate-brown body and white heads, but their name comes from an old English word “piebald” which refers to “white-headed”.
Ever seen memes or videos of those sheep with huge horns banging heads against each other? Yep, those wild sheep are known as Bighorn Sheep, and males usually use their horns as weapons to defend their territory.
You can see (or hear) these loud creatures in Rocky Mountain, Zion, and Glacier National Park! Make sure your eyes are glued to the hillsides and cliffs to see them balanced on small ledges.
Fun Fact: Bighorn Sheep horns can weigh up to 30 pounds! They are a symbol of power amongst the species, and males are often fighting through mating season — you’re sure to hear an orchestra!
Known as the “elephants of the sea”, Elephant Seals are earless seals that have long flabby noses resembling a trunk. They’re pretty huge, with females weighing up to 1,800 pounds and males up to 5,000 pounds!
Elephant Seals spend most of the year living in the sea and typically only come ashore twice: in the winter for breeding, then late spring/early summer to shed and regrow their coat. You can check out this amazing species at the Elephant Seal Overlook in Point Reyes National Seashore, California!
Fun Fact: Elephant Seals can hold their breath underwater up to almost two hours, which is longer than any other mammal!
With their enchanting howls, ancient mythology, and relation to man’s best friend, wolves are truly majestic. There’s nothing like seeing these beasts hunt in the wild, witnessing a pack race in sync through the wilderness.
Luckily, you’re likely to see wolves running in six National Parks: Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Voyageurs, Isle Royale, Denali, and Katmai.
Fun Fact: Wolves aren’t actually howling at the moon, but they are communicating with each other! Wolves howl to assert their territory, find members of their pack, or to warn others of danger.