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Eastern United States: Wildlife Destinations

Acadia National Park

Acadia's star species: Bald eagle • Peregrine falcon • Loon • Eider duck • Harlequin duck • Beaver • Harbour seal 


The Maine coast at its most diverse, Acadia National Park is a rugged patchwork of forested islands, lakes, marshes, sheltered inlets and rocky shores. The fact that it also straddles the transition zone between eastern deciduous and northern coniferous forests only adds to its biodiversity. An impressve 338 bird species have been recorded in the park, including no less than 23 varieties of warbler. Seabirds, eiders, peregrines and bald eagles also breed here, while the estuaries are an important wintering site for shorebirds such as purple sandpiper and harlequin duck. From mid-August to mid-October, rangers and volunteers carry out a HawkWatch survey from Cadillac Mountain (the park’s highest point), counting migratory raptors like American kestrel and sharp-shinned hawk as they head south for the winter.

Getting there Around six hours north of Boston, most of the park is located on Mount Desert Island, accessible by vehicle.
In summer, buses operate between Boston and Bangor (80km from park), and on to Bar Harbor on the east coast of Mt Desert Island.
Getting around Free Explorer Bus on Mount Desert Island mid-June to early October; Island Explorer bus links park to nearby villages and campgrounds, as well as Hancock County airport.
When to go Park open year round; most facilities close during winter.
Visitor centres Hulls Cove (mid-April to late-October).
Things to do Cycling, birdwatching, boating, climbing, fishing, hiking, horse riding, scenic drives, rock-pooling, sea kayaking.
Places to stay Two campsites on Mt Desert Island.
Further information nps.gov/acad


Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains' star species: Black bear • Elk • Spring flowers • Salamanders • Woodpeckers


The Appalachian Mountains rucked up in all their glory, Great Smoky Mountains National Park lays a leafy cloak across the border of North Carolina and Tennessee. America’s most visited national park, most people arrive with the hope of glimpsing one of its 1,500 or so black bears. Open areas like Cataloochee and Cades Cove are probably your best bet for bear-spotting (you may also see white-tailed deer, raccoon, and woodchuck). However, there’s a lot more to Great Smoky than bears. The park supports over 1,660 species of flowering plants. At the peak of spring blooming (usually mid-April), trilliums, orchids, irises, columbines and violets carpet the ground, the display continuing into summer with lilies and cardinals. The park also supports 30 species of salamander and a wonderful variety of birds. Explore spruce forest on the highest ridges for red-breasted nuthatch, or try your luck in the lower-elevation hardwood forests for downy woodpecker, belted kingfisher and summer-visiting scarlet tanager and Acadian flycatcher. 

Getting there Cherokee, Gatlinburg and Townsend provide access to the park’s three main entrances. Trolley service from Gatlinburg; bus service from Cherokee.
Getting around Extensive road and trail network.
When to go Park open year round; some roads and campgrounds closed winter; fall colours best from October to early November. Avoid crowds by visiting outside weeknds during summer and fall.
Visitor centres Cades Cove, Oconaluftee, Sugarlands (open daily).
Things to do Ranger activities, hiking, cycling, fishing, horse riding.
Places to stay Le Conte Lodge, plus various campsites for group, horse riders and backcountry hikers.
Further information nps.gov/grsm


Voyageurs National Park

Yoyageurs' star species: Black bear • Grey wolf • Moose • Beaver • River otter • Bald eagle


Some 200 years ago, fur traders paddled this watery maze in birch bark canoes piled high with animal pelts, and it’s still very much somewhere to explore afloat. Canoeing on lakes and drifting silently past forested islands, you’ll slow down to the natural rhythm of Voyageurs National Park, pausing to listen to the haunting call of a common loon, or snapping alert as you hear a bear or deer moving through the woods. If you’re lucky, you might even witness the paddle-arresting howl of wolves.

Getting there Directions Falls International, Minnesota, is the nearest airport, five hours’ drive from the park. There’s no public transport to Voyageurs.
Getting around Canoes and boats available to rent; boat tours.
When to go Park open year round; lakes frozen in winter.
Visitor centres Rainy Lake (open year round), Kabetogama and Ash River (open mid-May to late September).
Things to do Boat tours, canoeing, kayaking, boating, guided tours, ranger activities, hiking, fishing, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing.
Places to stay Campsites, backcountry camping.
Further information nps.gov/voya


Read the latest posts on North American wildlife travel

wildlife travel essentials: eastern united states


Major airline hubs include New York, Washington DC, Boston and Chicago, served by numerous airlines. Greyhound and Amtrak provide bus and rail services in the region. 


The Environmental Adventure Company offers nature trips worldwide, including several on home turf to destinations ranging from Alaska to the Everglades. Tours in the Eastern United States feature the Great Smoky Mountains, Lake Superior and Isle Royale.
Whale-watching trips depart Boston’s Long Wharf, April to November; operators include Boston Harbor Cruises.


Climate varies from hot and humid year round in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast to a typical Atlantic climate of warm summers and cold, snowy winters in Maine. All of the areas featured here offer activities year round.

GMT-5 (New York),
GMT-6 (Dallas)


There are a wide range of lodges, hostels and campsites.

Further information: visitmaine.com • exploreminnesota.com • virginia.orgvisitnc.com


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Wildlife Wishlist was founded by zoologist, conservationist and award-winning travel writer and photographer William Gray. Sharing his passion for wildlife and recommendations for responsible travel, Will has spent around 30 years tracking down the world's best wildlife holiday experiences.