Photographing wildlife can be challenging and unpredictable. The first step is to know where there animals are likely to be, and on this page we will feature 11 locations in the United States that are excellent for finding and viewing wildlife.
Before you set off on a wildlife photography expedition it is important to research the animals that you may encounter and to understand how to best protect yourself, as well as the wildlife. On park and refuge websites you can find information about the animals as well as tips and guidelines for any encounters you may have with the animals. Wherever you are, be sure to keep a safe distance from wildlife and avoid putting yourself in danger or disrupting the animals.
For tips on wildlife photography, please see Bring Out the Wild in Wildlife Photography.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho
Yellowstone National Park is a favorite location for many landscape and wildlife photographers. This iconic park lies mostly in Wyoming, with smaller parts stretching into Montana and Idaho. The wildlife of Yellowstone includes grizzly bears, black bears, bison, elk, moose, wolves, coyotes, bighorn sheep, and more. Although you can find wildlife throughout the park, Hayden Valley and Lamar Valley tend to be good spots to look for wildlife. For more on the wildlife of Yellowstone, refer to this page.
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico is a great place to photograph birds. The refuge consists of Rio Grande floodplain, farms, and wetlands. The variety of birds is usually best in the spring and fall. Winter (late November to late February) is the best time to find huge numbers of cranes and geese. Sunrise and sunset tend to be the best times to photograph the cranes and geese. There is a 12-mile loop road that provides a great way to see wildlife with relative ease. You can pull off to the side of the road to photograph wherever you find the wildlife. The loop road opens one hour before sunrise and closes one hour after sunset.
→ See more places to photograph in New Mexico.
National Elk Refuge, Wyoming
National Elk Refuge is in Wyoming, near Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park. The refuge is home to about 7,000 elk each winter. In addition to elk, a large herd of bison also resides on the refuge lands in the winter. Bighorn sheep, pronghorn, and mule deer can also be found here. Refuge Road provides the best opportunities to see wildlife on the refuge, and winter is easily the best time of the year.
→ See more places to photograph in Wyoming.
Katmai National Park, Alaska
Katmai National Park is a remote park on the Alaska Peninsula that can only be accessed by plane or boat. Although it will take some effort to reach Katmai, it is an amazing place to photograph brown bears. Within the park at Brooks Camp there are three viewing platforms that are great for seeing and photographing the bears. You can often find several bears at Brooks Falls as they hunt for salmon. See this page for more information on bear watching at Katmai.
→ See more places to photograph in Alaska.
Everglades National Park, Florida
Everglades National Park in south Florida is a great place to photograph wildlife that includes alligators, crocodiles, and a variety of birds. You can explore the park by car (there are 3 different entrances), by boat, or by hiking trails. See the suggestions for viewing wildlife from the National Park Service.
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Custer State Park, South Dakota
Custer State Park is in western South Dakota. It is just south of Mount Rushmore and just north of Wind Cave National Park. It is also about an hour and a half drive from Badlands National Park. Wildlife is abundant at Custer State Park, and the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road makes it easy to view and photograph the wildlife. There is a heard of more than 1,000 bison in the park and it’s very common to see bison on the road or right next to the road. You can also photograph them from a distance when they are out in the fields. The park is also home to other wildlife including elk, deer, pronghorn, mountain goats, and bighorn sheep. For more information, see our Guide to Photographing Custer State Park.
→ See more places to photograph in South Dakota.
Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, Idaho
The Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area is in western Idaho. This important conservation area is home to raptors and prairie falcons, as well as their prey, such as squirrels and jackrabbits. There is a 56-mile loop tour that you can drive to see and photograph the beautiful landscape and wildlife. Hiking trails are also available.
→ See more places to photograph in Idaho.
J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Florida
The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is located in southwestern Florida on Sanibel Island in the Gulf of Mexico. This refuge is a great place to photograph birds and other wildlife, including alligators. Home more than 200 species of birds, you can find plenty of variety here including heron, egret, ibis, pelican, osprey, bald eagle, hawk, and more. The easiest way to view and photograph wildlife is from Wildlife Drive, which is open every day except Friday. The best time is during low tide, so be sure to check the tide chart ahead of your visit.
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Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma
Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Oklahoma is a great place to photograph wildlife and the landscape. The refuge is home to bison, elk, longhorn cattle, white-tailed deer, armadillo, and more. There are hiking trails available for exploring and photographing at the refuge.
→ See more places to photograph in Oklahoma.
Shenandoah National Park, Virginia
Shenandoah National Park in Virginia is popular for its easy access to mountain views and wildlife. Skyline Drive is a 105-mile road that runs through the park. From Skyline Drive you are likely to see deer, black bears, and wild turkeys. If you get out early to photograph the sunrise you will likely find many deer out around Skyline Drive. For more on the wildlife of Shenandoah National Park please see this page. For more information, please see our Photographer’s Guide to Shenandoah National Park.
→ See more places to photograph in Virginia.
The Wilds, Ohio
The Wilds is unlike all of the other locations mentioned on this page. It is a private safari park and conservation center rather than a refuge, state or national park. Here you can find animals from around the world living in open-range habitats. The open air safari tour is a great opportunity to photograph the animals.
→ See more places to photograph in Ohio.