Top Spots for Wild Animal Sightings

By Lynn O’Rourke Hayes

For animal lovers, seeing your favorite creature in a natural environment can be one of life’s great thrills. Here are five ideas to consider.

A Wildlife Wonderland: Yellowstone

When you see a gaggle of cars stopped alongside the road, it’s your first clue. Other visitors to this storied national park, America’s first, have stopped to ogle what they came for. Perhaps it’s a grizzly with cubs, a lone wolf, or a moose snacking in the marshy grass. Yellowstone, a nearly 3,500-square-mile wilderness recreation area sitting atop a volcanic hot spot, is a nature lover’s nirvana. Beyond the wildlife, visitors come to hike alongside alpine rivers, through lush forests, and to marvel at the gushing geysers, most notably, Old Faithful. Stay in one of the park lodges and you’ll wake right in the middle of the action.

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Whale Sharks in Cancún, Mexico

Swimming with the largest fish in the sea is a thrill worth seeking. Whale sharks reach lengths of 40 feet and can weigh 15 tons. Despite their imposing presence, the gentle creatures peacefully share the warm seas with visitors who arrive via boat from the shores of nearby Cancún. Two at a time, along with a guide, you’ll don a life jacket or wet suit and fins before jumping in for a swim with these plankton-slurping vegetarians. No touching is allowed (the mega-fish are considered a “vulnerable species”), but you can swim alongside as they thrust forward their supersize square jaws and begin filtering everything in their path like a water-born vacuum cleaner.

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Burros in Oatman, Arizona

Yep, it’s true. There are more wild burros than people in this small town tucked within a Bureau of Land Management wilderness area along Route 66. The burros are the offspring of the original critters that worked alongside gold miners back in the day. Some shops even sell carrots that can be fed to the four-legged creatures. The colorful town might have faded into history were it not for the resurgence of interest in the Mother Road. And the burros, of course.

Today, visitors channel the Wild West history (be on the lookout for staged shoot-outs on Main Street); stroll along wide-planked, wooden sidewalks; go for a hike in the adjacent wilderness areas; and briefly consider adopting a burro.

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Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Center, Wyoming and Montana

Learn about the evolution, habitat, social interaction, and historical significance of this mustang herd during a tour of the extraordinary landscape that is their home. Many believe the magnificent creatures are descendants of Spanish horses brought to the area by Native American tribes, including the Crow. The daylong tour, available May through October, might include bear, bighorn sheep, and other wildlife sightings as you traverse land that straddles the Montana and Wyoming border.

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Bison at Custer State Park, South Dakota

Each year, the public has been invited to hear the thunder of hooves and photograph the moment as experienced riders round up a herd of some 1,300 buffalo during the state’s Buffalo Round Up and Arts Festival. Considered a critical management tool in maintaining a healthy herd, the buffalo are corralled and then tested, branded, and sorted. The fall event typically includes a pancake feed, Western and Native American entertainment, and the chance to peruse the fine art and crafts offered by more than 150 vendors. Weather permitting, you can snag top-notch views of wildlife via the 18-mile Wildlife Loop State Scenic Byway. Possible sightings include elk, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, and the resident bison roaming the park.

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Lynn O’Rourke Hayes ( is an author, family travel expert and enthusiastic explorer. Gather more travel intel on Twitter @lohayes, Facebook, or via Copyright 2023 Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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