American safaris: Best places to see wildlife in the United States

Story highlights

Many travelers don't realize how much of the U.S. is comprised of wild, untamed badlands

The country is home to about 3,000 wild animal species

Bears can be found in the wild in almost every state

CNN  — 

Many American travelers find themselves stunned by the richness of wildlife they observe abroad. Yet they don’t realize how much of their homeland is comprised of wild, untamed badlands full of the kinds of native fauna they name football teams after.

If you’re in the United States with European amounts of holiday time, you can be leisurely about getting around to each of America’s 3,000 or so wild animal species.

Most of us, however, must take more of a Walmart approach to checking off the nation’s wildlife if we want to get through the list before we’re 800.

You won’t see any zoos or controlled sanctuaries on this list. If you want to spot wildlife indigenous to the USA – or just want to know how to avoid them – these are the places in America where you’re likeliest to do it.

53 stunning wildlife photos (and how to capture them)


Yosemite National Park (California)

The best way to observe an American wildcat while keeping your soft tissue intact is in a zoo or basketball arena. But there are plenty of natural big cat habitats nationwide for the adventurous, and Yosemite National Park is among the most representative.

Your chances of actually spotting one is slim, however, being that they’re solitary (often apex) predators – being unseen is kinda their thing.

So while you’re looking for them, they’re probably looking at you.

Still, they’re likeliest to appear at dawn and dusk, the most active times for their favorite foods – deer and elk for big cats, jackrabbits and rodents for the smaller guys – making any list of cat-watching locations a de facto list of those, too.

Where to find individual wildcat species

Mountain lion, Idaho County (Idaho)

Once prevalent throughout the mainland United States, the cougar (aka, panther/puma/catamount) is largely isolated to a dozen or so western states and Florida, none more imposing than those in the Idaho panhandle, according to Game & Fish magazine.

Bobcat, Kiawah Island (South Carolina)

Found in 47 states, this is America’s most common wildcat (population: 1 to 2 million and rising).