(Last Updated On: December 27, 2022)

flying bat at an american state park

Take some time off from your hectic life to visit the most incredible animals you can see in America, all for your favorite state parks.

From aquatic animals like dolphins and sea lions to land animals like elk and black bears, the outdoors have a host of stunning creatures ready to impress.

We have compiled our top state parks featuring animals in their habitats to help get you started.

Pick your favorite and make a reservation at a state park today!

1. Buffalo

buffalo grazing at a state park in south dakota

Where to find them: Custer State Park, South Dakota

The new Custer State Park Bison Center, located at the Buffalo Corrals on Wildlife Loop Road, adds an all-bison experience to the park’s magnificent journey over the southern plains of our 71,000-acre park.

Nearly 1,400 bison wander freely at Custer State Park, making it one of the largest herds of its kind owned by the public.

Located in the scenic Black Hills of western South Dakota, Custer State Park is home to verdant woodlands, peaceful meadows, and towering peaks. Every autumn, cowboys, cowgirls, and park staff saddle up to herd in the rumbling herd, making the earth shake and the air thick with dust.

Usually, on the last Friday of every September, Custer State Park hosts a public Buffalo Roundup with over 150 vendors selling buffalo-themed wares.

2. Moose

moose wading at a state park in maine

Where to find them: Baxter State Park, Maine

Located 90 miles north of Bangor, Baxter State Park protects almost 200,000 acres of Acadian forest and Appalachian highlands.

A thriving population of almost 30,000 Moose call the park home wandering freely with their slow pace and giant antlers. They frequent Russell Pond and Sandy Stream Pond in Baxter in the mornings and afternoons.

Bull moose may be more active during the autumn rut when they are seeking cows and fighting. Baxter State Park offers a set of wildlife-watching and photographing ethics to avoid stress and disturbance of its resident animals.

Moose should not be approached closely as this needlessly agitates the enormous deer, who can be highly dangerous if they feel threatened, especially with their babies.

3. Bats

bats flying from a tunnel at a state park in Texas

Where to find them: Old Tunnel State Park, Texas

A pilgrimage to Old Tunnel State Park as summer begins to fade to fall is a rite of passage for San Antonio residents in Texas.

Old Tunnel State Park in Fredericksburg, an hour from the city, has 3 million Mexican free-tailed bats and 3,000 cave myotis bats in residents. They hunt in the abandoned railroad tunnel, where they spend the night for sustenance.

These little critters can travel 60 kilometers for food and migrate from Mexico to Texas from May 1 to October 31 each year. Due to daylight, they emerge best in August and September.

Texas’s tiniest park offers bat viewing by permit only and a small entrance fee per person, which must be purchased online. However, it’s worth the effort to see the bats and all the splendor of the park.

4. Wild Ponies

wild pony mare and foal at a state park in virginia

Where to find them: Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia

The wild ponies at Grayson Highlands State park in Virginia are believed to be descended from Assateague and Chincoteague ponies near Mount Rogers National Recreation Area and Grayson Highlands State Park.

They have roamed free since the seventies to control the brush in the park along with goats. You can expect to see up to fifteen breeds of these beautiful 10 to 12-hand-tall breeds.

As a semi-wild miniature horses, they are quite friendly and approach people to satisfy their curiosity and beg for food.

However, the park discourages feeding, caressing, or bothering them as ponies cannot vomit like humans, which means they can choke on human food.

Therefore, the best way to enjoy these unusually beautiful horses is to take pictures and watch from a respectful distance.

5. Manatees

manatee swimming at a state park in florida

Where to find them: Blue Springs State Park, Florida

Florida has a record quantity of crystal-clear freshwater springs, including Blue Spring State Park, an hour north of Orlando.

Not only are the waters a beautiful hue, but the temperature stays 72 degrees year-round, perfect for the manatees you can visit while visiting. Manatees can be seen swimming in spring between November 15 and March 15, although this is the most typical season.

Blue Spring’s centerpiece is the half-mile boardwalk that follows the spring run and offers many views into the water. River cruises are only offered for a portion of the day and include a narrated tour of local wildlife and ecology.

In addition, this park allows certified scuba divers and snorkelers to explore the tunnels and caverns where they may get a closer glimpse of the animals.

6. Bald Eagles

bald eagles in a tree at a state park in illinois

Where to find them: Starved Rock State Park, Illinois

Many eagles fly south from Canada every winter, and Illinois is home to a large number of them at Starved Rock State Park. The Starved Rock Lodge offers a Bald Eagle Trolley Tour on select days to show off these majestic birds.

Also, since Starved Rock’s 125-foot peak is one of the best viewing spots, plan to dress warm and get to the park early for the climb.

The park sits about 130 miles north of Springfield, with tons of activities for everyone to enjoy year-round, and these beautiful North American birds are frequent outdoor sights.

American bald eagles symbolize the nation’s natural beauty and are in more abundance as they are no longer endangered. However, they can no longer be hunted, so enjoy their beauty from afar.

7. Alligators

alligator with mouth open at a state park in florida

Where to find them: Myakka River State Park, Florida

Popular activities surrounding the Myakka River State Park in Florida include hiking and dodging alligators often found on the main road bridge.

Upper Myakka Lake is another wonderful and easily accessible observation spot, as the lake is home to hundreds, if not thousands, of alligators. Alligators are best seen on cooler days as they prefer to stay in the water during the hot season.

Alligators like solitude unless provoked, so they are less likely to attack unless you make a scene. However, use your camera or phone’s telephoto capability to take great photos from afar.

Then, take a boat cruise to breathe in the fresh air and spot alligators along with other wildlife like flamingos, manatees, and more.

8. Flamingos

pink flamingos at a state park in florida

Where to find them: Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Florida

Visit Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, an hour north of Tampa, to spot flamingos off the coast.

The park is home to a top-notch wildlife rehabilitation facility with the chance to see more than pink birds; you can also see the Florida panther, bald eagles, manatees, and Lu the Hippo, moved in from the San Diego Zoo.

The flamingo is one of the most fascinating birds due to its tall stature and surprisingly lightweight. Depending on the amount of beta-carotene in its diet, they can be anything from the palest pink to a deep magenta.

Most of the creatures are found in the Wildlife Walk area. Take a Wildlife Walk Tour to learn more and notice nests with newborn flamingos.

9. Black Bears

black bear mother and cub at a state park in new hampshire

Where to find them: Franconia Notch State Park, New Hampshire

Franconia Notch State Park offers all the splendor of New England as it’s located in White Mountain National Forest.

The stunning pass offers a unique drive from the Flume Gorge to Echo Lake and the chance to sight black bears in their natural habitat. North American black bears are the smallest but can still double the size of a man.

Black bears are clever, intuitive, and resourceful, yet they are tolerant and curious, though not an animal you should meet in close contact.

Always practice safety precautions, as these bears can smell you and your food from afar. You may only see them in passing as massive black dots, but you can also spot moose and other wildlife.

10. Elk

elk crossing a stream at a state park in pennsylvania

Where to find them: Sinnemahoning State Park, Pennsylvania

Sinnemahoning State Park in Pennsylvania has more elk than anywhere else in the continental United States.

These gentle herbivores nibble on trees and shrubs close to the Maple Picnic Area, Sinnemahoning Animal Center, and the wildlife observation platform has elk.

Sinnemahoning State Park covers 1,910 acres in the Pennsylvania Wilds’ steep valleys region, perfect for these majestic creatures to thrive.

Remember, while predators, elk are wild and dangerous, especially during June and during the fall season. Stay on the paths and use the northern food plot viewing platform to see elk and other wildlife.

Furthermore, visitors may view bald eagles, coyotes, elk, and bobcats. Stick to photographs instead of trying to get close to these animals, as they are all deadly.

11. Brown Bears

brown bear catching a fish at a state park in alaska

Where to find them: Chugach State Park, Alaska

Chugach State Park, minutes from downtown Anchorage, Alaska, features some of the best animal viewing and outdoor enjoyment. It’s the third-largest US state park, with half a million acres and brown bears peppering the land along with many other wild animals.

Anchorage locals frequently recommend this park as a prime location to view brown bears and other wildlife when tourists ask them where to go in Alaska.

In the alpine regions of the park, brown bears are frequently observed feasting on fresh growth on south-facing slopes in May and June and berries on alpine tundra in late summer and fall.

You can also expect to see moose and black bears while visiting. Check out the Campbell Creek Valley and bring Mountain binoculars or spotting scopes to see these impressive beasts.

12. Butterflies

monarch butterflies on a flower at a state park in iowa

Where to find them: Bellevue State Park, Iowa

Witness the beauty of butterflies at the Bellevue State Park in Iowa. You can view two distinct stages of their lives in Iowa: during migration and after their life cycles have concluded.

Through the course of the year, the Butterfly Garden at Bellevue State Park plays host to approximately sixty distinct butterfly species.

Guests are welcome to assist themselves to the garden whenever the park is open.

This garden has been carefully designed to attract butterflies by including both nectar plants for the adults and host plants for the larvae. Around the garden is a three-acre prairie and several feeding plots for local wildlife.

Finally, more than two miles of trails allow visitors to stroll around the park and get up close and personal with the diverse array of native flora and fauna.

13. Florida Panther

panther walking at a state park in florida

Where to find them: Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Florida

At Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, about two hours west of Miami, you have the chance to spot the endangered Florida Panthers.

This park has about 77,000 acres of marshes, royal palms, and bromeliad-covered trees for Florida panthers. Take the Janes Scenic Drive trams to get a safer view of these dangerous beauties.

Florida panthers are three times larger than bobcats and have tails approximately a third as long. They eat meat exclusively, and they are fast, making them doubly dangerous.

As these giant cats only breed in southern Florida, it’s a great park to visit for a chance to spot a few and enjoy the other amenities the park offers.

14. Elephant Seals

elephant seals on a beach at a state park in california

Where to find them: Año Nuevo State Park, California

Año Nuevo State Park, an hour west of San Jose, California, has a diverse natural habitat with up to 10,000 elephant seals. The aquatic animals breed, give birth, and molt in the park’s Natural Preserve.

Surfers and beachgoers can easily walk to Cove Beach or enjoy Año Nuevo’s coastal terrace prairie, wetland marshes, dune fields, and coastal scrub.

The park has the largest mainland northern elephant seal breeding colony. Otters, California sea lions, coyotes, cormorants, terns, and elephant seals are protected in a Natural Preserve.

The Natural Preserve protects native plants and the intertidal ecosystem. The Wildlife Viewing Area offers docent-led tours and self-guided permits to see elephant seals year-round. Otters, harbor seals, and magnificent Steller Sea Lions also live on the rocks.

15. Dolphins

dolphins jumping from the water near a state park in texas

Where to find them: Mustang Island State Park, Texas

Mustang Island State Park has miles of sandy beach for a relaxing vacation close to Corpus Christi with the opportunity to see bottlenose dolphins.

Mustang Beach offers an 18-mile Texas barrier island with great camping, beach-combing, turtles, dolphins, birds, and more. This unspoiled barrier island park offers diverse wildlife and pristine coastlines.

Mustang Island in Texas hosts Port Aransas off the Gulf of Mexico, and it’s famous for its beaches and dolphins, which you can tour on the water by boat.

Dolphins are best seen in the morning or evening. Spend hours enjoying the view of dolphins playing, swimming, feeding, and performing tricks when they are in the mood.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, America has a lot of wonder and beauty to display. Animals are the life of water and land, bringing about spectacular sites to behold.

When you need time away from the world of humans, head into the wild to visit popular animals along with their surrounding scenery.

Just remember not to get too close, as wild animals may be impressive but also dangerous.