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Photos are courtesy of their repsective parks.
Whether you watched Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom back in the day or the more recent series, Planet Earth, everyone loves the opportunity to watch the animals of the planet, even if it is in the form of animal reality television on Animal Planet. Here are five places to consider this year for vacation where you can see wilidlife in its truly wild habitat.
The National Bison Range - Dixon, Montanta
Established in 1908, the National Bison Range is 18,800 acres of U.S. Fish and Wildlife managed land with 350-500 bison on the grounds. They are the primary center for Bison research in the country. There is a visitor center in the park as well as two scenic drives that bring you via your vehicle to prime viewing areas.
They are open year round, but the visitor center goes on a reduced winter schedule and the drives are subject to weather conditions. There are also hiking trails available for those who want to take it a little slower and fishing is permitted in portions of Mission Creek. They are located just a bit north of Missoula, Montana for modern conveniences.
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge - Assateague Island, Virginia
The Chincoteague Pony, a feral breed of pony made famous by the Marguerite Henry book series, "Misty of Chincoteague," resides here and is the main draw of the island. There are also numerous waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, and song birds as well as other species of wildlife and plants that live here.
The ponies here live in two different herds, one on each of the Virginia and Maryland sides. The ponies on the Maryland side are owned by the National Park Service and with the exception that those given birth control are allowed to truly live as wild animals. The Virginia side ponies are actually owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company and by special permit are allowed to pen the ponies once a year.
On the last Wednesday and Thursday of July, the fire department runs the ponies swimming to the island to an auction where a small portion of the animals are sold. On Friday, the remaining ponies make the return swim to live in the wild for another year. The "Pony Round Up and Swim" has become quite the event with a parade and carnival as well as other wrap around events planned each year.
Katmai National Park - King Salmon, Alaska
Spanning more than four million acres, Katmai National Park is the place to go for bear watching. Approximately 2,200 bears live in the park and when the salmon are spawning, the Brooks Falls viewing platform is the place to see them in all of their beauty.
Because of the rangers at the park are vigilant at keeping human food away from the bears and prevent human confrontations, the bears are much less interested in humans, allowing much closer pictures than one would get normally. The Brooks Camp area is most visited by the bears in July and September, but you can see much more year round at locations such as Hallo Bay, Kukak Bay, Kuliak Bay, Kaflia Bay, Geographic Harbor and Chiniak Bay.
Denali National Park and Preserve - Mt. McKinley, Alaska
While you are up in Alaska you should definitely check out Denali National Park and Preserve. The park is centered on Mt. McKinley, the tallest peak in the United States and offers some of the most stunning views in the entire country. Although you can definitely see your share of black and grizzly bears here, that isn't the only reason to come. Gray wolves, herds of caribou, hoary marmots, arctic ground squirrels, beavers, pikas, and snowshoe hares are all seen regularly throughout the park.
There is only one road in the park, aptly named Park Road. It is 92 miles long and it is the primary way to see the park. The first 15 miles of the road are paved and the only way recommended to travel the remainder is by shuttle or tour bus, or of course you can hike or bike it in. The summer runs from May to September and there are ways to even fly your own personal plane into the park if you so desire.
Everglades National Park - Homestead, Florida
Spanning 1.5 million acres of wetlands, Everglades National Park is one of the most diverse habitats in the world. The park is one of the largest breeding grounds for wading birds in the country and also the largest mangrove ecosystem in the western hemisphere. There is diverse wildlife including more than 150 Florida panthers, alligators, water moccasins, and diamondback rattlesnakes.
You can also find bobcats, Everglade minks, marsh rabbits, white tailed deer and other various fish and amphibians. There are places to hike and camp within the park, and low powered motorboats are permitted as well. Swimming is highly discouraged.
So if you can't afford to take a safari overseas this year, get out and see what this country has to offer in terms of animal watching. You'll be surprised at what kind of amazing wildlife is right around the corner from your town.
Tom is a writer in the Atlanta Area. He has traveled to all 48 continental states and almost every stop in the Caribbean. In...
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