Best Road Trips for Animal Lovers in the U.S.

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From condors in California and sea cows in Florida to wolves, bison, and elk in Yellowstone, you can find incredible wild animals (in their natural habitat!) in every corner of the country.
Animals lovers, rejoice! If wildlife is your thing, you’ll be happy to know that there are tons of places across the country where you can see American wildlife. National Parks are prime spots, of course, but there are also plenty of places known only to the locals.
No matter which biome you inhabit (or what your zip code is) there’s amazing wildlife not too far away. With car insurance from Jerry and roadside assistance in case of emergency, you’re ready to explore.
Ready to make wildlife your destination? Let’s go!

West Coast

Condors in California

Condor country is in Mt. Pinos in Los Padres National Forest, just two hours from Los Angeles on I-5. Pinnacles National Park is 45 minutes from Salinas and two hours from Big Sur.
Why you should go
We have to warn you, condors can be very difficult to spot in the wild. But a single glance of these majestic and ancient creatures will be well worth all your efforts. The viewing sites are not far from other great destinations, like Big Sur.
What you should do
Morning and evening offer your best shot at catching a glimpse. If you’re near LA, get an early start and head to Mt. Pinos for the condor observation site at the summit.
No luck? Continue to Pinnacles and try the Bench Trail or the High Peaks Trail. If all else fails, take a tour.
A California Condor swooping towards its next meal.
California Condor

Orcas in the San Juan Islands

Drive to Friday Harbor, three hours north of Seattle. You’ll take I-5 to Route 20 and then board the Anacortes ferry. It’s one of the most beautiful ferry rides in the world!
Why you should go
Orca whales are a point of pride in the Pacific Northwest, and the San Juan Islands are the best place to immerse yourself in island life and get to know these incredible mammals.
What you should do
You can sometimes see orcas from the shore, but it’s far more magical to do so by kayak or tour boat. Plan to stay for a few days. Be sure to book a ferry reservation, too!
Pro Tip Make sure you time your trip to the right season. You’ll need to visit between March and October if you want a chance of seeing orcas.
Swimming in the waters around the San Juan Islands are Orcas.
Orca swimming around the San Juan Islands, Washington

Bighorn sheep and mountain goats at Glacier National Park in Montana

There are a million acres to explore in Glacier National Park, so you’ll need about a week. The park is two and a half hours from Great Falls via I-15 or four hours from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho via I-90.
Why you should go
Bighorn sheep and mountain goats are quirky, skillful creatures—and Montana has the most bighorn sheep in the entire country.
What you should do
The Highline Trail, Logan Pass, and the area around Hidden Lake are the best places to encounter bighorn sheep. They like alpine meadows, so look up.
A male Bighorn Sheep looks for a mate in Glacier National Park, Montana.
Bighorn Sheep in Glacier National Park, Montana

Wolves, bison, and elk in Yellowstone National Park

There are five entrances to the park. The north entrance in Wyoming brings you closest to the wildlife viewing areas below.
Why you should go
Yellowstone is the oldest national park in the country, so it has been protecting wildlife for generations. Bison have lived here since prehistoric times. Here, you get access to truly wild animals in their natural habitat: untouched wilderness. Plus, there are trails and recreational activities galore.
What you should do
With two million acres to explore, you need a starting place for wildlife encounters. The Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center hosts rescued bears that you can see up close.
Head to Lamar Valley, Hayden Valley, or Dunraven Pass to see bears, wolves, and bison. Mammoth Hot Springs is the place for elk sightings.
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Gray Wolf prowling in the snow during winter in Yellowstone.
Gray Wolf in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Midwest

Buffalo and wild horses in South Dakota

Custer State Park, where the buffalo roam, is just 40 minutes from Rapid City, South Dakota. Drive an hour south on US-79 to reach the wild horse sanctuary.
Why you should go
Here you can see wild mustangs and buffalo running free against the gorgeous backdrop of the Black Hills. This area is the best of America—and it’s not too far from civilization so as to be inconvenient.
What you should do
Book a private tour at the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary in Hot Springs, South Dakota to meet the wild horses. Then head to Custer State Park to camp out for a few days (some dispersed sites are free).
Pro Tip Winters get very cold here—but summers draw a ton of tourists. Plan your trip accordingly!
Bison standing next to a campground sign in South Dakota.
South Dakota Bison

Deer, moose, and beavers in wintry Minnesota

The frozen tundra of wintry Minnesota is host to amazing wildlife like moose, beavers, owls, and foxes. It’s only $35 per year to access all the state parks—but you’ll have to drive a few hours north of Minneapolis to access true wilderness.
Why you should go
If your vehicle can handle winter roads, then Minnesota is prepared to reward you with unique wildlife sightings that you won’t find hardly anywhere else in the country. Loons, otters, snowshoeing, and more await you here.
What you should do
Pack your layers and prepare for adventure. For moose, go to Gunflint Trail in February or March. Beavers don’t hibernate in winter, and Voyageurs National Park is a good viewing spot (it’s also a great place to view the night sky). Go to Minneopa if you’re interested in bird watching.
An orange-toothed Minnesota beaver chewing on some wood.
Minnesota Beaver

Northeast

See wild horses at Assateague Island in Maryland

There are two entrances to Assateague and it costs $20 per vehicle to enter. The north entrance is eight miles south of Ocean City, MD, just three hours from DC. The south entrance is near Chincoteague, VA, two hours from Virginia Beach on US-13.
Why you should go
If you ever read the classic book Misty of Chincoteague as a child, then you’ll know all about the wild horses of Maryland and Virginia. There are 37 miles of sandy beaches and completely wild horses.
What you should do
May to September is the best time to see little foals—plus the weather is generally pleasant. Get your pass in advance and pack plenty of food, as there aren’t many options at your destination.
Wild Horses gathered by the shores of Assateague Island, Maryland.
Wild Horses in Assateague Island, Maryland

Puffins and moose in Maine

Bar Harbor is only three hours from Portland, Maine and five hours from Boston via I-95.
Why you should go
Bar Harbor is home to Acadia National Park, home to more than 40 species of mammals and more than 330 species of birds.
What you should do
Between April and August you can see Atlantic puffins roosting in Maine. Eastern Egg Rock is only accessible by boat. Take a puffin tour boat from Bar Harbor.
You can also try Machias Seal Island in Acadia. Moose prefer the woods, so drive four more hours north on the 95 to Aroostook County to see them.
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An antlerless Moose walking along a creek in Maine.
Maine Moose

South

Padre Island National Seashore Corpus Christi in Texas

Just 40 minutes from Corpus Christi and two and a half hours from San Antonio, this little spot on the Gulf of Mexico is an animal lover’s paradise.
Why you should go
Bask in picture-perfect white sandy beaches while spotting turtles and colorful birds—and you can be home in time for dinner.
What you should do
Time it right and you’ll get to see baby sea turtles. Keep an eye out for the Black Simmer and other unique birds like the painted bunting. Camp out for a magical seaside experience.
A Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle swimming by Padre Island National Seashore, Corpus Christi, Texas.
Sea Turtles in Corpus Christi, Texas

Alligators, blue herons, and manatees in Florida

Take FL-50 east one hour from Orlando to Merritt Island. An hour and a half west of Orlando is Three Sisters Springs to see manatees. Take I-75 further south to see tropical birds.
Why you should go
Cajun country is home to some of the most impressive wildlife in the country—and you don’t have to go all the way south to the Everglades. Within an hour and a half of Orlando and Tampa, you can see wild horses, colorful birds, manatees, and more.
What you should do
There’s a 7-mile wildlife drive at the Merritt Island refuge to see wild bobcats, turtles, and eagles. Snorkel with manatees at Three Sisters Springs. Two and a half hours south of Tampa is Sanibel Island where the roseate spoonbills are straight out of The Lion King.
Wetlands boat tours offer your best chance to see alligators in the wild, and you can even see wild horses at the Paynes Prairie Preserve in Micanopy, just outside Gainesville.
Key Takeaway Within just an hour and a half of Orlando, you can swim with manatees and soar with the spoonbills.
A florida alligator about to climb out of the waters.
Florida Alligator

Honorable mentions

The Gentle Barn in Santa Clarita, California is a sweet stop to visit with rescued farm animals.
Alaska and Hawaii, while not accessible for most people on a casual road trip, do offer some of the most awe-inspiring experiences for animal lovers.

Traveling with your pet

If your canine pal or adventure cat is coming along, be sure to prepare appropriately.
  • Call ahead to confirm that your lodging is pet-friendly
  • Don’t bring your animals along for a hike where there are wild animals—and if they start to act up, pay attention because there might be a predator nearby
  • Pack extra water and seasonal supplies for your pet (like snow boots and thermal jackets)
  • Make sure their registration and chip are up to date in case you get separated—an GPS tracker is a good investment for animals that will accompany you outdoors
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Why you need roadside assistance

You’ll be driving through rural areas to see wildlife. If you get a flat tire or run out of gas, you won’t be able to walk into town.
Jerry’s roadside assistance is only $6.99 and covers lockout assistance, winching, fuel delivery, tire changes, and more. Don’t leave home without it!

How to get cheap car insurance

An intelligent tool like Jerry is the easiest and most effective way to find a car insurance policy that is customized for you.
After providing you with a comprehensive cross-analysis of the best policies across providers, Jerry will handle the phone calls, paperwork, and renewals for your top pick so that you don’t have to. So why do all that extra work when Jerry can do it better?
Jerry blew my mind, honestly. From start to finish, using the app took me 10 minutes and I ended up with $100 of savings a month. Best of all, customer service answered all my questions about rental car reimbursement and roadside assistance.” ––Savanna R.

FAQs

Where can I have a wildlife encounter that isn’t a zoo?

National parks are the best places to see truly wild animals. Just remember, you’re on their territory!

Which animals are close to extinction in the U.S.?

The Florida panther, Monarch butterfly, and red wolf are close to extinction. There are lots of opportunities to get involved with conservation efforts near you or on your road trip.
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