Seeing a 100-year-old tortoise slowly lumber through the grass, lion cubs playfully climbing over their mothers in the shade of acacia trees, and herds of bison moving through open plains makes for magical moments. Whether you crave Wyoming’s valleys and mountains, Africa’s broad savannas, Georgia’s woodlands, or Ecuador’s sea islands, here are four great wildlife encounters to add to your bucket list.
Yellowstone National Park's Lamar Valley
Often dubbed America’s Serengeti, Yellowstone National Park harbors herds of bison and elk as well as pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, bison, bears — black and grizzly — as well as other animals. Lamar Valley is a good place to encounter these critters as the habitat draws a diversity of wildlife and the region’s open vistas create optimum viewing conditions.
Although you can drive the road yourself, it’s best to go on a guided tour. The experts know the location of the latest sightings and bring along high-powered binoculars or spotting scopes that enable you to see what you otherwise might miss: the wolves on the hillside, an osprey pair nesting in a tree, or a mountain goat balanced on a distant mountain ridge. On the Wake Up to Wildlife Tour, ride in a refurbished 13-passenger, historic Yellow Bus, circa 1936, with a roof that rolls back for open-air travel and optimum wildlife viewing. You can also book a private tour of Lamar Valley through the Yellowstone National Park Lodges or the Yellowstone Association Institute.
For more information, visit yellowstonenationalparklodges.com or call 307-344-7311.
In the Galapagos Islands, watch sea lion pups frolic at the shore, walk by iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks, meet 500-pound tortoises, and observe colonies of blue- or red-footed boobies.
Austin Adventures' Galapagos Islands
In the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles offshore of Ecuador, watch sea lion pups frolic at the shore, walk by iguanas sunning themselves on the rocks, meet 500-pound tortoises, observe colonies of blue- or red-footed boobies, plus snorkel with penguins, manta rays, and rainbow-colored fish. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the wildlife rich archipelago of 13 major islands and seven smaller ones contributed to Charles Darwin’s formulation of his theory of evolution by natural selection.
Austin Adventures, which specializes in small group experiential trips, offers both sea-based and land-based departures. On the cruise-only voyages, you depart your 20- to 48-passenger yacht each day to explore six or more islands on your trip. On the land-only vacations, you stay on Santa Cruz, Floreana, and Isabela, going on wildlife walks as well as snorkel, kayak, and beach outings. A speedboat provides transfers between islands. Austin Adventures also offers designated family departures. Either way, you’ll have the experience of a lifetime.
For more information, visit austinadventures.com or call 800-575-1540.
Sea Island's Broadfield Sporting Club & Lodge
At Broadfield, 45 minutes from the coastal Georgia resort of Sea Island, sporting enthusiasts enjoy quail hunts, continental pheasant shoots, falconry, and fishing for largemouth bass, complete with expert guides and hunts that come with a southern-style lunch. The 5,800-acre property features both pine forests and old-growth hardwood bottomlands.
Borrow one of Broadfield’s retrieving dogs or bring your own. You and your four-footed pal stay together in either the Lodge or Guest House. You don’t have to be a seasoned hunter to participate since the guides can pace the hunt to accommodate novices. Hone your skills before the hunt with some practice on the sporting clays course.
For more information, visit seaisland.com/accommodations/broadfield or call 855-714-9201.
CW Safaris Into Africa
Lions, leopards, elephants, Cape buffalos, and rhinos comprise the “Big Five,” a sobriquet that hunters gave to this game because of how difficult it is to bring them down when stalked on foot. On CW Safaris’ photographic journeys, South Africa and Tanzania provide the best places to capture all five by camera. Except for the endangered white and black rhinos, most of the Big Five plus scores of other wildlife can be viewed on all of CW Safaris’ trips, which also include journeys through Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. Depending on the destination, watch herds of Cape buffalo and zebras move across the savanna, elephants spray themselves with mud at a waterhole, a cheetah stalk through the grass, a giraffe munch leaves from tree branches, and an impala gracefully leap 15 feet in the air.
CW Safaris, which offers small group departures, incorporates active elements in its trips. You can track cheetah on foot in Namibia, visit local communities in Zambia and Zimbabwe, and stroll with Maasai warriors in Tanzania. For 2017, CW Safaris offers post-trip extensions to Zanzibar, Victoria Falls, Cape Town and to the Virunga Mountains in Rwanda to see gorillas.
For more information, visit cwsafaris.com/safaris or call 888-483-7696.
For more travel experiences available from Xanterra Parks & Resorts and its affiliated properties, visit xanterra.com/explore.