Can’t Miss Wildlife Viewing Experiences in Alaska: Denali National Park

If you’re headed to the Last Frontier, one of the best places for viewing Alaska’s wildlife is the vast, six-million-acre Denali National Park. Covering an area larger than the state of New Jersey, Denali is home to thousands of Alaska’s iconic wild creatures – think grizzlies, Dall sheep and moose. But those are just a few of the creatures you’ve got a chance to see while visiting this wilderness landscape – don’t forget the many birds and small mammals that are key components of this complex tundra ecosystem.

When you go, be sure to check out the National Park Service’s downloadable wildlife checklists to help you spend your vacation “collecting” these amazing species. And remember, always observe wildlife safety rules to protect both you and the wildlife.

The Big Five

The “Big Five,” as they’re locally known, are the large mammals that are often the main attractions to Denali National Park – there aren’t many places you can view grizzly bears, moose, gray wolves, caribou and Dall sheep coexisting naturally (if not peaceably).
Caribou Denali National Parkvia
Some bull moose get as large as 1,600 pounds, and during rutting season, their neck muscles swell to twice their normal size. Wolves and bears will prey on young moose, caribou and Dall sheep. Populations of each of the Big Five fluctuate depending on conditions such as winter severity. You’ve got a good chance to see at least a few of these large mammals even from the park road. Denali tour buses provide an opportunity to see these creatures without disturbing them. You also can drive yourself or take other excursions, such as a tundra wilderness tour.

Grizzly bears

Alaskan Grizzly Bearvia
Yep, we know they’re part of the Big Five, but his majestic beast is so awesome it deserves its own category. Chances are high that you’ll see these ursine quadrupeds even along the roadside, (but don’t get out of the car, as tempting as it is) and there are prime viewing opportunities in the back country as well, especially near salmon spawning areas and berry patches. If you’re backpacking, make sure you use bear-resistant food storage containers and please, do not feed the bears. Keep in mind that bears get stressed out by close proximity to people. (The park service recommends keeping a 300-yard distance. That’s three football fields, folks.) Bears might lose their natural fear of humans, leading to property damage or dangerous encounters. Remember the “wild” in wildlife.

Learn how National Park ecologists have helped regulate and protect grizzly populations in Denali through aerial darting and radio tracking, and check out these other great places for bear watching.


Peregrine Falconvia
Denali is home to 169 species of birds during the summer months, including the peregrine falcon, which reaches speeds of well over 200 miles per hour mid-dive, making it the fastest creature on Earth. The species was listed as endangered in the 1970s, but reducing environmental pollutants like DDT has helped the species to recover. The peregrine was removed from the list in 1999. Look closely at Denali’s cliffs and bluffs for these fierce raptors.

Visiting Denali also provides a chance to see species such as willow ptarmigans, trumpeter swans, northern hawk owls, gray jays and golden eagles. Try a guided birding tour to get the most checkmarks on your birding list.

What you won’t see

red fox in Denali Alaskavia
You probably won’t see any mountain lions in the park – Alaska is generally outside of mountain lion range, though some have wandered into the state’s Southeast. Polar bears only live along Alaska’s north coast – no worries of encountering one in Denali. The gorgeous Arctic fox lives in only the coastal areas, too. Coyotes live in Alaska, but they’re generally elusive and rarely seen.

There also aren’t any reptiles in Denali, so you don’t have to worry about hearing that scary rattling noise as you hike the park trails. For more on the best places in Alaska to view particular wildlife, check out this wildlife viewing advice.

Other critters

Beyond the Big Five, remember to keep your eyes open for the park’s 34 other mammal species. You might catch a glimpse of wolverines, arctic ground squirrels, hoary marmots, collared pika, snowshoe hares and red foxes. The park has just one species of frog: The wood frog, which makes its home in forests and wetlands in the park.

If you want to learn more about the history and ecology of Denali while keeping an eye on the tundra, a guided hiking tour can be a great way to experience this national park and its wildlife. And be sure to check the National Park Service page on the Denali Visitor Center for park alerts for road closures due to snow or for delays due to construction. Stop at the center to learn about the best places and best practices for your Alaska wildlife viewing trip.


Featured image from flickr.

Africa’s Best Game Parks

Etosha National Park


The Etosha National Park, covering more than twenty-thousand square kilometers, in northwestern Namibia is Namibia’s premier national park and offers some of Africa’s most hypnotic landscapes. The park is in what is called the Etosha pan – a massive, flat, saline dessert that, for a few days each year, is flooded by rains and turned into a shallow lagoon teeming with life. Although the area may look barren, areas around the park are home to a hundred-fourteen species of mammals, three hundred bird species and sixteen species of reptile and amphibians. Unlike most African wildlife parks, where you have to go find the animals, Etosha is known for the fact that, you can find a watering hole and wait and the animals will come to you.

Kruger National Park

Lion Kruger National Park

The Kruger National Park in South Africa. Kruger is one of the largest game reserves in Africa with an area of almost twenty-thousand square kilometers. Opening in 1926, it is also South Africa’s first national park. Kruger has more species of large animals than any other African game reserve; including lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalos. Kruger is one of the best known, most accessible and best equipped of Africa’s game parks with lots of signs, making it great for self-driving, and even has restaurants and gas stations. It’s where you can see the drama of life and death play out with up close, action-packed sightings of wildlife.

Serengeti National Park

Elephants African Safari

The Serengeti National Park in Tanzania is one of the oldest, and one of the best known of the African game parks. The nearly fifteen thousand square kilometers of Serengeti is renowned for it’s predators, especially it’s lions. Serengeti is probably most famous for the annual migration of millions of wildebeests and thousands of zebras and gazelles, all of which are followed by their natural predators making for a truly awesome display of nature, at it’s best and most gruesome.

Masai Mara National Reserve

wildebeest migration maasai mara

Masai Mara National Reserve, or Maasai Mara, and known as “The Mara” is located in Narak County, Kenya, named for the Maasai people, who live there and contiguous with the Serengeti is relatively small, compared to some game parks, but is home to ninety-five different species of mammals, amphibians, reptiles and over four-hundred different bird species. Like the Serengeti, during the annual migration, some 2.5 million animals make a 2000 mile round-trip journey through the reserve. The Mara has been described as the most prolific wildlife park and is perhaps Africa’s greatest safari destination.

Chobe National Park


The Chobe National Park encompasses nearly eleven thousand square kilometers and is located in the northwest corner of Botswana and is best known for it’s incredible elephant population, numbering roughly fifty thousand or more, possibly the highest concentration of elephants in all of Africa.

America’s Best Game Parks

There’s no better way to really get to know the animals of the world than to visit one of America’s many game parks. More than mere zoos, game parks let you get up close to animals from all over the world, providing opportunities to get hands-on with many exotic species that are rare even in their natural habitats. These five parks give visitors the best, most immersive wildlife experiences for the money.

san diego zoo safari park

  1. San Diego Zoo Safari Park
    The San Diego Zoo Safari Park is a true jewel in the crown of one of the world’s most prestigious zoos. More than two million people come to visit the park’s huge collection of animals—more than 300 species—every year, and there is far more to see than just a single visit can cover. It’s one of the only places in the world to see rare animals such as the California condor and the northern white rhinoceros! The park also boasts an amazing botanical gardens, as well as tons of fun activities such as the Flightline and the Jungle Ropes that will thrill children and adults alike!
  1. West Coast Game Park Safari

little-lepoardGet up close and personal with your favorite animal friends at the West Coast Game Park Safari, the largest wildlife park in Oregon. The moment you step into the park, you and your family are greeted by friendly goats, deer and many others, roaming free and ready to enjoy your attention… and a little snack, if you want to feed them. Have you ever wanted to scratch a lemur’s belly? The park’s ambassador animals can’t wait to meet you and pose for photos! With over 450 animals from more than 75 species, it’s sure to be a great time and a fun learning experience.


  1. Wildlife Safari

The Wildlife Safari in Winston, Oregon, offers a truly magical experience for animal lovers of all ages, chock full of opportunities to see some of the most wonderful wildlife up close and personal. There are more than two dozen animal encounter programs that give families an intimate look, as well as the opportunity to participate, in the lives of big bears, majestic tigers, amazing painting pachyderms, and more than 60 other species! There are also fun programs for kids, such as daycames and the Junior

Zookeeper, to learn tons of awesome animal facts while gaining a deeper understanding of nature and the creatures which inhabit it.

  1. Olympic Game Park

buffaloThe Olympic Game Farm in Sequim, Washington, has been delighting animal lovers for over four decades, and was once the home to many of the animals Walt Disney filmed in their many documentaries and specials. The Olympic Game Farm is open year-round and offers several exciting options, such as their famous driving tours, which bring you close to more than two dozen animal species that inhabit the park’s beautiful 84 acres, and let you feed a few hungry friends. The farm is, and has always been, a family-operated enterprise that places the greatest priority on the health and safety of their animals.


  1. zebraNatural Bridge Wildlife Ranch

Nestled amongst the gentle prairies in the heart of the Lone Star State, the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch features a large number of wild animals from all over the globe in a large, open area. More than 500 animals call the park home, in an environment quite reminiscent of their natural habitats in Africa. Giraffes roam amongst antelope and bison come right up to your car to say hello in their own special way—and moon for the camera! Kids won’t be able to resist the adorable babies in the Petting Barnyard, and there are many other games and activities suitable for the whole family.