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You likely are aware that Yellowstone National Park is a great destination to see elk and bison in fall, and that Glacier National Park will reward you with mountain goat and bighorn sheep sightings. But where else can you head in the National Park System, preferably someplace without so many crowds? Let’s take a quick look at some of the options:

Acadia National Park, Maine

Birders know fall is a great season to head to Acadia, as migratory raptors including kestrels and Bald eagles ride the northerly winds south for the winter. Head up to Cadillac Mountain where Hawk Watch personnel will help you identify what you’re seeing. The migration peaks in September.

Biscayne National Park, Florida

Whether you want underwater wildlife encounters or need to add to your birding life list, this park can meet your needs. Underwater there’s a reef snorkelers and scuba divers can explore, with yellow-striped porkfish and neon-hued grunts among the reef fish to count. The park also boasts a birding trail, along which you might spy Yellowcrowned night herons.

Sun-loving harbor seal at Cape Lookout National Seashore/NPS

Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina

Looking for some unusual wildlife? Visit Cape Lookout in late fall and stroll the beaches and you just might spot a Western Atlantic Harbor Seal. Park staff say these seals sometimes will come ashore to warm themselves in the sun. They’re trying to conserve energy and calories, so observe from a distance.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

One of the most incredible wildlife displays across the National Park System occurs here, where thousands of Brazilian free-tailed bats exit the cave en masse at sunset to hunt their dinner. Rangers offer free nightly programs through October.

Channel Islands National Park, California

While you’re in California for butterflies at Muir Woods NM, stick around to look for whales off this line of islands. Migrating gray whales pass the park most often in mid-to-late December, according to the National Park Service. Northern elephant seals also start arriving at their rookery sites on the islands in late fall.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ohio

This is another park with beavers. Head out around sunrise looking for them in the park’s wetlands and along the Cuyahoga River, and also watch for river otters. Try the appropriately named Beaver Marsh. The elevated boardwalk here serves as a great viewing platform. And keep a lookout for migrating birds, especially in November.

Want moose in your camera? Head to Grand Teton National Park/NPS

 

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Moose are one of the locals, and you often can spot them in the marshy area behind Jackson Lake Lodge or across the road around Christian Pond. Bison, pronghorn, and often elk can be spotted along River Road, where it’s a good idea to drive a four-wheel-drive rig.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee

You can easily snag a trifecta — black bears, elk, and wild turkeys — with a visit to Great Smoky in North Carolina and Tennessee. Black bears and turkeys are reliably found in Cades Cove, while elk can be seen in Cataloochee Valley.

Little River Canyon National Preserve, Alabama

This jewel has a diverse array of wildlife, from feral pigs and coyotes to bobcats and striped skunks as well as black bear. A number of bat species — Big Brown Bat, Eastern Red Bat, Gray Bat, Northern Bat, Evening Bat, and Tri- Colored Bat — also can be found here. Check with the visitor center to see where you’re most likely to encounter some of these critters in fall.

Muir Woods National Monument, California

Just north of San Francisco Bay, the monument is a great spot for an unusual fall wildlife subject: Monarch butterflies. These insects, some of which winter on the California coast, begin fluttering through the monument in late August and September.

Skimmers, a shorebird, can be seen at Padre Islands National Seashore, and other seashores/Rebecca Latson

 

Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

Birding tours are popular in Fall at this seashore when 10,000 or more birds, such as Western sandpipers and possibly the Northern Aplomado Falcon, an endangered species, take a rest here.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

This beautiful park practically overflows with elk, which you can spot in Horseshoe Park, Moraine Park, and often along Trail Ridge Road. If you look for them in Horseshoe Park, keep an eye out for the bighorn sheep that come off the flanks for aptly named Bighorn Mountain for the mineral licks there. To really challenge yourself, look for White-tailed ptarmigans on the tundra on either side of Trail Ridge Road near the roof of the park.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah also has plenty of black bears and wild turkeys. Walk the Rapidan Road along Big Meadow and loop around on Stony Mountain Trail and you should have some luck spotting gobblers.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Bison? Check. Elk? Check. Feral horses? Check. Prairie dogs? Check. Heck, there are even Longhorn steers at Theodore Roosevelt, so you aren’t likely to go home disappointed. Birders can possibly spot golden eagles, wild turkeys, and great-horned owls.

Though not exactly "wildlife," longhorn steers can be seen at Theodore Roosevelt National Park/NPS

Voyageurs National Park, Minneosta

Wildlife not usually on everyone’s watch list are beavers, and you stand a chance of spotting them, or signs of them, here. Fall is the season when these guys are fixing any damage to their lodges before winter arrives. They make the repairs with freshly cut tree branches, so keep a look out for wood chips. Hike the Black Bay Beaver Pond Trail or the Cruiser Lake Trail and you’ll find beaver ponds to scan for these rodents.

Zion National Park, Utah

Looking for desert bighorn sheep? Zion has more than a few, and a good place to look for them is on the eastern side of the park along the Checkerboard Mesa.

Most likely, you’re well aware that Yellowstone National Park is a great destination to see elk and bison in fall, and that Glacier National Park will reward you with mountain goat and bighorn sheep sightings. But where else can you head in the National Park System, preferably someplace without so many crowds?

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Carlsbad Caverns National Park is in New Mexico, notTexas.

Watchi ng the bats exit the caverns at sundown is an amaziog experience


Great (and embarrassing) catch, Jennifer! We'll fix it.


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