Let’s face it – the UK is hardly Top of the Pops when it comes to potential for wildlife encounters. The closest we tend to get to the animal kingdom, is either a cuddle with a humble house cat, or maybe a fox making a racket behind the bins while we’re trying to sleep. When you move to the USA, it will be a different story entirely. Forget the humble badger, in some parts of the USA, you’ll have coyotes, mountain lions and bears living in your neck of the woods!
Fear not – they rarely visit built-up areas, but you won’t have to travel far to see these animals in their natural habitats. Plus, trips like this are a wonderful way to experience what your new country has to offer. Today, in honour of World Wildlife Day on 3rd March, we’re running through 10 of the wildest weekends you’ll be able to enjoy once you finally make the move to the USA.
1 – Horse and trail riding
There is not a human being out there that didn’t grow up playing cowboys and Indians, and when you move to the USA, you get your chance to play for real. Whether you’re confident in the saddle or a complete novice, there are horse riding experiences for you and your family to enjoy across the USA. And, given how enormous the country is, you’ll be able to cover more ground aboard your trusty steed. One of the best spots for horseback riding is the home of Yogi the Bear – Yellowstone National Park. Here you can enjoy guided horse rides through spectacular mountain scenery and camp out under the stars. Yellowstone is also home to bison, bears, wolves, bobcats, mountain goats and moose, so keep those eyes peeled and those binoculars at the ready.
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2 – Kayak trips out to whale watching – San Juan Islands
Forget Disney World, how about a kayaking trip to a top orca spotting location? The San Juan Islands in Washington State are a favourite hangout of whales of all kinds, but particularly killer whales. It doesn’t matter if you’re a kayaking novice, the waters of the San Juan Islands are sheltered and ideal for beginners. Around two thirds of all trips enjoy encounters with these whales, who head to this spot to feed on salmon and to play in the calm waters. Choose a kayaking trip guided by an environmental scientist or biologist so that you can pass off your weekend getaway as educational as well! The San Juan Islands are easily accessible from Seattle, which is a great place to spend a few days anyway. There are also numerous national parks within the state offering hiking, climbing, rappelling…you name it. Also, if you feel like climbing a mountain, Mount Rainier could be just the ticket.
3 – Scuba diving
The Coral Reef State Park in the Florida Keys is the only living coral reef in the continental USA. The warm waters are perfect for divers, snorkelers, kayakers, or even those who prefer to relax aboard a glass bottom boat with cocktail in hand, Ernest Hemingway-style. The offshore reefs and mangroves are home to over 600 native fish, tropical water birds, manatees and endangered sea turtles. Plus, The Florida Keys themselves are a must-see spot when you move to the USA. If it’s sea turtles you’re particularly keen on seeing, perhaps you can treat yourself to a trip to Hawaii, and in particular Molokai’s south coast, where you can encounter green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles as well as manta rays.
If it’s sea turtles you’re particularly keen on seeing, perhaps you can treat yourself to a trip to Hawaii, and in particular Molokai’s south coast, where you can encounter green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles as well as manta rays.
4 – Dog sledding in Alaska
Alaska is a nature-lovers paradise. There are four national parks that are completely out of this world – Denali, Katmai, Kenai Fjords and Glacier Bay National Park. One of the most exciting excursions to enjoy with your family is a dog sled ride through the Alaskan forest. You can also enjoy snow shoeing, or when it’s a touch warmer, sea kayaking trips to see dolphins, humpback whales, sea otters and porpoises. If possible, try and time you visit to Alaska to fall between September to late April – the best time to see the Northern Lights.
5 – Crocodile and alligator spotting on the Everglades
When it comes to wild encounters, there is nothing quite like a trip to Florida’s Everglades – a two-million-acre wetland ecosystem, which is home to crocodiles and alligators. Alligators are much more common and you’ll find them nesting in the freshwater channels of the park. You’ll find the crocodiles tend to stick to the saltwater areas of the park, closer to Florida Bay and its coastal mangroves. Take the whole family on an exhilarating airboat ride to see all the park’s most exciting wildlife.
6 – Wolf and bear safaris – Jackson Hole
While there are many spots around the USA where bears and wolves roam, arguably the most scenic is Jackson Hole in Wyoming, making it an absolute must for a wild weekend getaway. From Jackson Hole, where you can also ski, you and your family can enjoy a safari into the Yellowstone National Park. The park is 3,500 square miles of wilderness perched on top of a series of underground volcanoes. This volcanic landscape is dotted with geysers and beautiful lakes. Most of the park is located in Wyoming, but such is its size that it spills over into Montana and Idaho too.
In small groups, you will be taken on safari via the park’s best attractions – Old Faithful, which is a famous geyser, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Mammoth Hot springs and several waterfalls, but the majority of your time will be spent in Lamar Valley – also known as the Serengeti of North America. This is prime grizzly bear and wolf habitat. Furthermore, these safaris are educational as well as exciting. You and your family will be taught how to track wildlife, safety tips for run-ins with the dangerous ones, as well as plenty of pointers on how to spot the animals. Alaska’s Katmai National Park is another wild spot perfect for spotting grizzlies, especially those fishing for salmon.
Should you be out and about and come across a bear, you’ll have wished you’d read this excellent guide to surviving encounters with bears. Why not check it out first!
7 – Dolphins and manatees in Florida
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If all these encounters sound a little too nail-biting, perhaps you fancy meeting some of the friendly and decidedly cuter fauna found in the USA. We don’t blame you! Down on Florida’s Gulf Coast, beyond the white sandy beaches lurk Flipper and friends. As well as dolphins, you may chance upon sea turtles and lots of tropical fish. Alternatively, in nearby Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, you can get up close and personal with manatees, or sea cows as they are sometimes known, at this designated sanctuary, which is open between November and March every year.
8 – Round-up the buffalo in South Dakota
When September rolls around, take your family on a weekend trip to Custer State Park, where you can watch real life cowboys and cowgirls round up the 1,300 bison that live within the 71,000 acre park. The free event attracts huge crowds, but seeing the thunderous herd being wrangled into their enclosures is a once in a lifetime experience. If you prefer to dodge the crowds, visit at a quieter time of year and enjoy an off-roading tour, where you’ll get to see the buffalo roaming free as well as bighorn sheep, burros (wild donkeys) and unbelievably cute prairie dogs, which will be a real winner with your little ones.
When September rolls around, take your family on a weekend trip to Custer State Park, where you can watch real life cowboys and cowgirls round up the 1,300 bison that live within the 71,000 acre park
9 – Moose spotting
Despite their enormous size, moose are decidedly stealthy. For your best chances of spotting these gentle giants, we recommend heading to Isle Royale National Park, which is located in Lake Superior close to Michigan’s border with Canada. The national park is a fantastic spot for camping and trekking, no matter your ability. There are an estimated 1,300 moose still living in the park, and given it’s an island – chances are high you’ll enjoy a sighting. In addition to scenic hikes, you can also kayak the parks lakes and waterways, or hop on a more relaxing boat tour.
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Keep an eye out for moose taking a dip, or sea otters. There are 450 smaller islands surrounding Isle Royal, which means plenty of gorgeous untouched beaches. If you’re a scuba diver, there are several dive sites within the lake that allow you to explore shipwrecks. The Rocky Mountains in Colorado are another superb spot for spotting moose given how many call the state home.
10 – Wild horses in Maryland
Another excellent option for a wild weekend when you move to the USA is a visit to see the wild horses of Maryland. Set up a tent on Assateague, a 37-mile long barrier island of sandy dunes, which faces the Atlantic Ocean and is home to wild horses that where brought to the island in the 17th century and which gallop free along its beaches. This is also a bird watchers paradise, with over 320 species thought to visit the island. The best times to visit are during spring and autumn, when the mozzies aren’t out in full force.