An African safari may be on most people’s travel bucket lists, but for wildlife viewings closer to home (and at a fraction of the cost), consider an American safari. Thanks to a handful of stateside safari parks, it’s possible to see zebras and giraffes roaming vast grasslands from an open-air vehicle. For something less structured, consider a self-guided drive through South Dakota to view buffalo, or just pick a prime spot in the Great Smoky Mountains to observe elk in their natural habitat.
1. Safari West.
Although Sonoma is best known for its wineries, it’s also home to Safari West, a 400-acre wildlife reservation. The goal here is conservation and propagation, and animals such as cheetahs, gazelle, wildebeest, and giraffes are allowed to roam freely. Visitors might also spot lemurs and flamingoes while on safari in an open-air vehicle.
2. Moose Alley.
Maine has the second highest moose population in the US, second only to Alaska. There are about 70,000 moose in Maine, and the best time to see them is in the spring when they venture out to lick salt from the roads. To catch a glimpse of these giant creatures, sign up for a guided tour through either Maine Moose Watching Tours in Greenville or the New England Outdoor Center in Millinocket.
3. American Serengeti.
Lamar Valley is known as the “American Serengeti” thanks to the sheer number of wildlife residing here, including wolves, bison, elk, bighorn sheep, coyotes, and foxes. Xanterra’s Parks & Resorts offers guided excursions at dusk, which is the best time to view animals, and a photo safari.
4. Wolf Spotting.
Northeastern Minnesota is the best place in the U.S. to see timberwolves—the area contains all but about seventy-five timberwoves in the continental U.S. Head to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) or Voyageurs National Park for your best chance at wolf spotting. Located in northeast Minnesota’s Superior National Forest, BWCAW spreads over 1.2 million acres and is filled with more than 1,000 lakes, rivers, and streams.
5. Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour.
Head to Custer State Park to view the abundance of wildlife, including buffalo, pronghorns, and elk that live in the park’s 71,000 acres. Guests can do a guided tour in an open-air jeep, or there’s a self-drive 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road. Look out for prairie dogs, too.
6. Bobcat Safari.
The Point Reyes National Seashore stretches for 80 miles along California’s coast and is home to tule elk, badgers, and long-tailed weasels. But for many people the star attraction is the American bobcat. Point Reyes Safaris offers full- and half-day tours of the park.
7. Safari Wilderness Ranch.
Safari Wilderness Ranch opened in 2012 and is an easy drive from Orlando. The park covers 260 acres, and guests can hop in a canopied safari vehicle to cross wetlands and grasslands. The animals roaming here include zebra, kudu, springbok, and water buffalo.
8. Bison Safari.
Although bison are most commonly found in the Great Plains of the U.S., they can also be seen on Catalina Island. Although not native to the area, they were left on Catalina Island after the 1924 filming of The Vanishing American. Visitors can hop on jeep tours or bio-fuelled Hummers to the island’s interior where bison are often spotted.