Think you need to travel to the African savanna or South American rain forest to see fantastic wildlife? Think again. According to Martha Kauffman, a managing director and scientist at the World Wildlife Fund, the United States has an abundance of opportunities for memorable wildlife encounters. “The U.S. is home to thousands of species of wildlife, and it’s possible to see lots of these animals up close in their natural habitats,” she said.
Wildlife tours are springing up around the country. Here are four options for this winter and spring.
Sandhill Cranes in Nebraska
Ms. Kauffman said that one of the most spectacular wildlife viewing experiences she’s ever had was in March in Nebraska’s Platte River valley, when more than 80 percent of the world’s sandhill cranes, more than 550,000 in all, congregate in the area. They roost in the river by night and forage in the surrounding fields by day, and it’s a sight to behold. The birds are on their way to Canada and Alaska, and come from Mexico, Texas and New Mexico.
One way to see the cranes is on the overnight photography tour from the Crane Trust. Visitors spend the night in a photo-video blind: a 20 foot by 8 foot plywood structure that can accommodate two people. The blind is stationed near the roosting birds on the river, and it’s possible to photograph them in both the morning and evening. Prices start at $250 a blind, and tours run from March 4 to 31. Reserve by emailing the Trust directly, at [email protected]
Eagle Spotting and Bison Watching in the Ozarks
In winter, several species of animals make their home in the 10,000-acre Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, in Missouri’s Ozark Mountains. The park is home to eagles, bison, elk and otters. Visitors can encounter these animals through a private two-hour wildlife viewing tour with a park ranger (prices start at $200 for up to three people) or go on a self-guided biking or walking wildlife viewing tour using the brochure available at the park’s visiting center. Visit the park’s website for more information, and to book a tour.
Sleigh Rides in Idaho
Through the winter, the Shore Lodge, in McCall, Idaho, offers both guests and visitors who haven’t booked a room the chance to go on an hourlong sleigh ride along the Gold Fork River to see and feed Rocky Mountain elk. Riders will also likely see white-tailed deer and foxes on the trip. Tickets are $20 per adult, and nightly rates at the Lodge start at $260. Visit shorelodge.com to book.
Child-Friendly Petting Tours in Pennsylvania
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, in Farmington, PA, is situated among 2,000 acres of forest in the Laurel Highlands. The wildlife in the vicinity includes pygmy goats, Iranian sheep, and black bears. Both guests and passers-by can see these animals by signing up for a two-hour tour, offered daily throughout the year. The tours are run by a wildlife expert who takes guests on an open-air cart through the woodlands. During portions of the trip, participants can get-off the vehicle to feed some of the wildlife they encounter, including the sheep. Tickets are $90 a person, and resort rates start at $159 per night. Book by calling the resort directly, at 1-866-399-6957.