From Katmai for brown bears to Dry Tortugas for nurse sharks, these are the best American national parks for wildlife watching
A canyon large enough to influence the weather, a hotbed of volcanic activity and an eerie desert landscape home to one of the hottest places on Earth. Yes, American national parks boast some of the most astounding natural wonders on the planet.
For many, however, the real appeal of America’s national parks is the living flora and fauna, often rare and unusual, that quietly inhabit the landscape. Moose, bears, bison, elk, wolves and mountain lions often steal the show, but there are hundreds of other species roaming the American plains.
On average, each US national park is home to 415 species of wildlife with each playing an essential role in the ecosystem. From the tiny but tough pika to America’s largest waterfowl, the trumpeter swan, these reserves are full of wild surprises. But where are you most likely to run into them?
Vacation specialists Casago recently commissioned an analysis of National Park Service (NPS) data to find out which parks have the most wildlife and plants per 100km2 and which are the most biodiverse overall.
Parks by numbers
The number of amphibians, birds, fish, mammals, reptiles and vascular plants was compiled using NPS-approved records of species that fell under any of those six categories for each park. The counts were then combined to find the total number of animals and vascular plants per national park.
To find flora and fauna density, wildlife species (all five categories of animal species) and vascular plant species were calculated per 100km2 for each park.
- Congaree in South Carolina has the highest density of wildlife species at 362 per 100km2
- Biscayne in Florida has the highest number overall with a total of 1,002
- New Mexico’s Carlsbad Caverns has the highest density of bird species at 194 per 100km2
- Cuyahoga Valley in Ohio has the most biodiverse plant life at 935 species per 100km2
- The Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee has the highest number of plant species overall at 2,278
- American Samoa has the highest number of fish species at 818, followed by Biscayne with 698
America’s top wildlife experiences
From up-close encounters with alligators to unique experiences with iconic North American mammals, the US is brimming with unforgettable wildlife.
- Watch brown bears fish for salmon at Brooks Camp, Katmai
- Track wild wolves at Yellowstone
- See elephant seals in California
- Witness the bison rut in Grand Teton or Yellowstone
- See bats fill the skies from the Bat Flight Amphitheater at Carlsbad Cavern
- Observe the sandhill crane migration in Nebraska
- Go on an Alaskan safari in Denali or Katmai
- Watch humpback whales in Hawaii
- Get up close with alligators in the Everglades
10 best American national parks for wildlife watching
Ranked by number of animal species per 100km2.
- Congaree, South Carolina: 362
- Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio: 317
- Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico: 286
- Pinnacles, California: 255
- Acadia, Maine: 242
- Wind Cave, South Dakota: 235
- Dry Tortugas, Florida: 223
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado: 219
- Mammoth Cave, Kentucky: 217
- Bryce Canyon, Utah: 215
10 best American national parks for birdwatching
Ranked by number of bird species per 100km2.
- Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico: 194
- Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio: 187
- Congaree, South Carolina: 186
- Acadia, Maine: 183
- Wind Cave, South Dakota: 167
- Pinnacles, California: 157
- Bryce Canyon, Utah: 150
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado: 141
- Dry Tortugas, Florida: 112
- Mesa Verde, Colorado: 109
10 best American national parks for plant lovers
Ranked by number of plant species per 100km2.
- Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio: 935
- Congaree, South Carolina: 804
- Mammoth Cave, Kentucky: 749
- Haleakalā, Hawaii: 712
- New River Gorge, West Virginia: 686
- Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Colorado: 673
- Bryce Canyon, Utah: 672
- Wind Cave, South Dakota: 626
- Pinnacles, California: 619
- Acadia, Maine: 613
Below is the complete data index of the best American national parks for wildlife spotting. The data was collected in February 2023.
Gateway Arch National Park was excluded from the analysis due to its small size (0.8km2) as it was previously a national memorial. Additionally, the contiguous Californian parks of Sequoia and Kings Canyon were combined as they are jointly administered.
A = amphibians; B = birds; F = fish; M = mammals; R = reptiles.
|2||American Samoa, AS||908||1||61||818||12||16|
|5||Channel Islands, CA||675||4||357||259||44||11|
|6||Grand Canyon, AZ||651||15||456||29||98||53|
|7||Glacier Bay, AK||649||5||252||332||57||3|
|8||Big Bend, TX||624||13||410||51||88||62|
|9||Great Smoky Mountains, NC, TN||620||73||267||117||107||56|
|10||Hot Springs, AR||596||22||387||87||52||48|
|11||Dry Tortugas, FL||583||0||292||281||6||4|
|12||Carlsbad Caverns, NM||541||15||367||5||92||62|
|13||Death Valley, CA, NV||535||9||421||7||62||36|
|14||IN Dunes, IN||531||20||352||76||60||23|
|17||Mammoth Cave, KY||465||32||210||124||57||42|
|19||Yellowstone, WY, MT, ID||441||8||330||19||75||9|
|21||Joshua Tree, CA||421||5||300||1||63||52|
|22||Guadalupe Mountains, TX||419||12||272||3||76||56|
|23||Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio||418||24||246||77||47||24|
|28||Lassen Volcanic, CA||377||12||249||16||80||20|
|30||Grand Teton, WY||369||6||266||22||70||5|
|31||North Cascades, WA||367||13||231||33||81||9|
|32||Isle Royale, MI||366||13||260||62||26||5|
|33||Sequoia & Kings Canyon, CA||365||13||220||19||89||24|
|34||Capitol Reef, UT||364||6||249||15||73||21|
|35||Wrangell–St. Elias, AK||364||2||208||92||61||1|
|36||Crater Lake, OR||363||11||247||8||83||14|
|37||New River Gorge, WV||363||34||195||57||54||23|
|38||Rocky Mountain, CO||361||5||270||12||71||3|
|41||Mesa Verde, CO||343||7||232||0||84||20|
|42||Great Basin, NV||336||4||240||11||65||16|
|43||Theodore Roosevelt, ND||336||8||219||32||64||13|
|44||Kenai Fjords, AK||327||1||233||40||53||0|
|45||Petrified Forest, AZ||327||7||239||0||60||21|
|46||Great Sand Dunes, CO||323||6||240||6||63||8|
|47||Wind Cave, SD||323||6||229||9||67||12|
|48||Bryce Canyon, UT||312||4||218||1||76||13|
|50||Mount Rainier, WA||296||16||185||22||68||5|
|52||Lake Clark, AK||285||1||181||55||48||0|
|54||Black Canyon Gunn., CO||272||2||176||16||67||11|
|55||White Sands, NM||247||7||153||1||53||33|
|57||Virgin Islands, VI||218||8||174||0||20||16|
|58||Gates of the Arctic, AK||190||0||134||17||39||0|
|59||Kobuk Valley, AK||188||0||125||26||37||0|
|60||Hawaii Volcanoes, HI||114||4||78||4||15||13|