8 of the Best Safari Destinations in the U.S.

herd of bison on the prairie below the snow-capped Grand Teton Range under a blue sky with white clouds
Bison in Yellowstone National Park migrate around 1,000 miles each year alternating between their summer and winter ranges.

Matt Anderson Photography / Getty Images

At some point in life, almost everyone with an interest in nature or adventure dreams about going on a safari. There is something romantic about the idea of trekking through the wilderness in Africa, seeking out animals that can't be seen in the wild anywhere else in the world. But there are plenty of unique wildlife-viewing experiences available much closer to home. 

Many parts of the U.S., including some of America's national parks, are filled with undeniably impressive wildlife (think bears, bison, moose, alligators, and armadillos). The excitement of viewing these special animals up close, or through a telephoto lens, can be enjoyed remarkably easily if you know where to look.

Here are eight of the best safari destinations in the U.S.

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Katmai National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

brown bear walking along the rocks next to a stream in front of a green hill with a mountain capped with snow in the background under a blue sky with white clouds

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With over four million acres, Katmai National Park and Preserve has a remote feel and plenty of wildlife, most notably a large population of brown bears. Katmai, named after a volcano that sits at its center, has a variety of easily accessible ecotourism activities, including trekking and kayak trips, interpretative hikes, backcountry skiing, and fly fishing.

Katmai's bears, which number over 2,000, stay in the area because of the salmon-packed rivers. The ursine inhabitants are managed by the National Park Service and the wealth of fresh food in the rivers makes them generally unaggressive toward human visitors. These mammoth creatures are best seen from the park's bear viewing platforms, where visitors are able to get some amazing snapshots, especially during salmon run season.

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Yellowstone National Park (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming)

herd of migrating bison walking across the lower elevations of Yellowstone National Park in winter with snow topped mountains in the background under a blue sky with patches of white clouds

Mark Miller Photos / Getty Images

While the most popular areas of Yellowstone National Park can be jam-packed, a majority of the more than two million acres of land is surprisingly uncrowded. Walking along any trail, even a few steps from the main roads, will undoubtedly lead to some wildlife encounters, with foxes, birds, bears, and bison among the animals in the park. 

One of the most interesting animal inhabitants in Yellowstone is the American bison (also called the buffalo). These one-ton creatures thrive in the park, with over 4,600 roaming freely during the peak grazing season. Scouring Yellowstone's meadows and grasslands will certainly lead to some great bison pictures. Visitors can imagine what it must have been like when these impressive beasts dominated the prairies of the Midwest and Mountain West more than a century ago.

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Denali National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

pair of white Dall sheep on a path at the Polychrome Overlook next to green covered lowland and snow covered mountains under blue sky with white clouds in Denali National Park

Daniel A. Leifheit / Getty Images

This park in south-central Alaska is one of the best places in the country to get a “safari” experience. Denali covers over six million acres, with a third dominated by its namesake mountain. Visitors often focus on bears when seeking out wildlife in Denali. While there are large grizzly and black bear populations inside the park, these creatures, though impressive, are just two of the many species of animals that inhabit this region of Alaska. 

Herds of caribou roam freely in grazing areas, and Dall sheep are found in the high mountains, while moose dominate the wetlands. Other creatures, from beavers and foxes to gray wolves, lynx, and wolverines have also been spotted in Denali, making it one of the best places for seeing multiple species of animals. And, of course, the stunning mountain panoramas are as much of an attraction as the animals themselves.

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Cumberland Island National Seashore (Georgia)

Grazing Horses under tall, lush green trees along the shoreline at Cumberland Island Geaorgia

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Cumberland Island National Seashore is located on the southernmost of Georgia's barrier islands. This nature-dominated area can be reached only by ferry, which helps to keep it pristine and uncrowded. Cumberland is a birder's paradise, with over 300 species of endemic and migrating birds calling the island home.

But the avian residents are only part of this Georgia paradise's story. The beaches draw sea turtles during nesting season, and wild horses, deer, and even armadillos can be seen around the island. Meanwhile, manatees float in the shallow coastal waters. This is a great place for a Southern safari, and historic ruins, scattered around the island, can give an adventure here another exciting dimension. Campgrounds and inns are located on Cumberland, so wildlife-seekers can choose the right level of comfort for their safari experience.

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Fossil Rim Wildlife Center (Texas)

a group of five zebras under a tree on a grass field surrounded by lush plants at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center

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This unique attraction in Texas is not the place to go if you want to see wild animals in their natural habitat, but it is one of the best places in the U.S. to get close to a safari experience. Fossil Rim covers about 1,800 acres and is home to more than 50 species of animals, all of which roam freely. A 7.2-mile scenic drive allows visitors to see the animals—many of which are endangered or threatened—from their vehicles.

The residents of this fenceless wildlife center include giraffes, gazelles, zebras, rhinos, and cheetahs. Fossil Rim is involved in conservation breeding, education, and professional training. Successful breeding programs have led to the release of some animals born at the property back into the wild.

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Everglades National Park (Florida)

Side view of alligator swimming in a large body of shallow water in the wetlands of the Florida Everglades with mangroves growing in the distance

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The Everglades has the distinction of being the largest tropical wilderness in the continental United States. It is almost completely covered by wetland landscapes. The waters of Everglades National Park teem with wildlife not found elsewhere in the U.S.

Snakes, tropical birds, and small mammals abound in these swampy conditions, but it is one of the park's toothiest animals that enjoys headliner status. Alligators can be seen both by boat and along several walking trails that run through the park. This is one of the best places in the U.S. to see these impressive prehistoric-looking creatures up close. Another attractive aspect of the Everglades is its location, which is less than a one hour drive from Miami.

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Moose Alley (Maine)

moose in a pond of water surrounded by green, yell, and red trees and plant in the fall at Baxter State Park

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Aside from creatures like bison and grizzly bears, moose are one of the most impressive species in North America, size-wise. These large members of the deer family can weigh more than 1,000 pounds. Males are known for their huge antlers, which are at their biggest in the summer and fall. 

If you want to see moose, one of the best places in the U.S. is in Maine, particularly in an area dubbed Moose Alley. Some of the roads in this region (Route 16 and Route 201) are ideal for spotting the large mammals, and local resorts offer moose tours that allow people to head out and do more than whiz past the creatures as they drive down the highway.

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Bison Range (Montana)

herd of bison grazing on rolling green hills in Bison Valley, Montana with stream and mountains in the distance under a blue sky and white clouds

Debraansky / Getty Images

This 18,000-acre refuge for the impressive American bison, a species that once dominated the plains of the U.S., is a great place to see these wooly one-ton creatures in their natural habitat. Between 300 and 500 bison call the range home at any given time of year. Other species like elk and deer also wander the range. 

Because of the range's relatively small size, catching a glimpse of wildlife is not as difficult as it is in some of the million-plus acre national parks. Formerly run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in December 2020 federal trust ownership of the Bison Range was restored to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.