One of the wonderful things about travelling or living in an RV is that it enables you to reach a wide range of exciting and beautiful natural destinations. And one of the best things about spending time in scenic natural spots is wildlife watching.
An RV will not only take you to a range of natural beauty spots, it can also serve as a ‘hide’ or look out to allow you to watch the wildlife without disturbing it. As a mobile base, an RV can be the epicentre for a range of wildlife-watching activities.
But how to you get the most possible from an expedition watching wildlife from your RV? How can you maximise the amount and variety of wildlife that you see? And where are the best spots for wildlife watching of various kinds around the United States? Read on for a series of tips for wildlife watching from your RV:
Getting the Most from A Wildlife Watching Expedition
Before you set out to explore the natural world of flora and fauna, it is a good idea to take some steps to make sure that you get as much as possible from your RV wildlife watching expeditions. Below are some suggestions to help you do just that.
Learn How To Identify Wildlife
Some creatures are easier to identify than others. A squirrel seen on a Californian road trip.
All would-be wildlife watchers will get more from the experience if they are able to identify more of the wildlife that they see. The more creatures you can identify, the more you can gain from the wildlife watching adventure, and the more you will be able to appreciate the true diversity and splendor of the planet we call home.
Many of us are familiar with the mammals that we are likely to see on our RV adventures. But those larger creatures are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the animal kingdom. Most people are less familiar with the many species of reptile, amphibian, fish, birds and invertebrates that they may encounter on their travels.
It may sound obvious, but the more that we can learn about the wildlife that we might encounter on our travels, the more we are likely to be able to spot it. Learning more about the habitats in which certain wildlife is to be found, and its patterns of normal behaviour will help us understand where and when we have the best chance of seeing it. What is more, the more we know about all the different creatures we may encounter, the more fascinating those encounters can be.
Consider Participating in Citizen Science
One great way to learn more about wildlife is to participate in a citizen science project such as a species count or bioblitz. Be helping to collect data about the animal life that is found in a certain location, we can learn a lot more about our planet’s biodiversity.
What is more, participating in such a project is also a great way to contribute to scientific data that will help us to combat the mass extinction and major global problems like climate change. By understanding how exactly different animal populations are impacted by global warming and weird weather events.
Having an RV, an interest in wildlife and an ability and desire to travel means that RV owners could consider not simply watching wildlife for their own personal satisfaction, but also to travel to take part in citizen science projects all over the place. By doing so, you could get (and give) even more when watching wildlife from your RV.
Get Some Good Books on Wildlife
Researching online is all well and good. But sometimes there is no substitute for a good reference book. Good books on wildlife will not only help you learn more about the wildlife you might encounter before you head off to your destination, they can also help you look up and identify unusual wildlife when you are out on the road.
Unlike the Internet, books are reliable even in the most remote of places. You will be able to look up and with any luck identify creatures even when there is no hope of a WiFi signal. And since such spots are often amongst the best for wildlife watching, it can be a wonderful idea to take a small library of reference books with you on your adventures.
Consider Downloading Some Wildlife Apps
If you are online, of course you can look things up online too. But perhaps one of the most useful things about a smart phone or other device when it comes to wildlife watching is that you can download some handy wildlife apps onto them. These apps are great for helping with identification, and could also give you some interesting titbits of information about the creatures you see.
Take Photographs or Otherwise Document Your Wildlife Encounters
A quick snap of Bison in Yellowstone, taken on the road.
Seeing the wildlife can be reward enough in and of itself. But you might get even more from your wildlife watching if you can document the encounters that you have to look back on in future, or to share with your friends or family.
Whether you simply use your smart phone camera, a digital camera or an old film camera to take your photographs, photography can certainly add something to the experience – giving wildlife watching a more creative side, as you seek to get the very best angles and document wildlife behaviours in the most beautiful and interesting of ways.
Of course, photography is not the only way that you could document your wildlife encounters creatively. You could also draw or paint the wildlife you see, if you are an artist, or write about wildlife encounters, if writing is more your thing. Writing a simple travel diary, a short story or a poem could be a wonderful way to prolong your wildlife watching experience.
Maximising The Amount of Wildlife You See
When you are actually out and about, there are a number of things that you can do to maximise your chances of wildlife encounters, and to maximise the amount of wildlife that you see. Here are some of the things to think about:
Choose a Wildlife Friendly Pitch
Ducks at the lakeside stop in Washington State.
While you will encounter wildlife almost everywhere, if you look hard enough, it is obvious that some spots will be far better than others when it comes to wildlife.
First of all, it is a good idea to consider the general bio-region, and the ecosystems found within that general climate-zone that are most biodiverse (ie. have the largest number of creatures). Particularly biodiverse ecosystems include:
- forests and woodlands
- oases/ watering holes in arid regions
Generally speaking, the edges of ecosystems are the most biodiverse spots – for example, the sunny edges of a woodland, where a forest meets the edge of a lake, or a coastal estuary where it meets the sea.
Choosing a campground or pitch in a particularly biodiverse spot will, of course, make it more likely that you will experience a range of wildlife encounters on your RV adventure. Read on to discover some of the top spots in the US for wildlife encounters at the end of this article.
If you are camping on a campground, no matter where it is, it is also worthwhile choosing your pitch carefully. If you are able to choose a spot on an outer loop, especially one which is as far as possible from other campers, toilet/ shower blocks and lighting could mean that you have a richer wildlife experience. If there is a stream or river running through the campground, opting for a pitch overlooking it could also maximise your chances for wildlife encounters.
Attract Wildlife to Your Campsite
While there are definitely plenty of occasions when it will not be a good idea to attempt to attract wildlife to your campsite (see safety tips below), if you are spending a relatively long period of time in one place while summering in an RV, or living full-time in your RV, there are a number of things you could do to attract wildlife to your campsite.
If you are growing your own food in your RV, attracting pollinators can be important. Attracting bees and other insects can be easy. The very act for creating a container garden, with flowers as well as food, will draw them in. If you are staying a while, you could also consider placing a shallow pebble pond so bees and other pollinators can drink safely.
If you are spending quite some time in one particular location, you could also consider adding a bird feeder to your RV. You could place a bird table and bird bath outside your RV, just like you might do in a home garden. You could also affix hooks to the outside of your RV which could hold hanging baskets or hanging bird feeders, depending on your preferences and the season.
Camouflage Your RV
No matter where you choose to go with your RV, watching wildlife will be easier if your RV does not distract or frighten the wildlife that you wish to see. A bright white or bright or pale-coloured RV may have excellent visibility and so be safe on the road. But there may be times when you wish that it would blend in a little more.
Camouflaging your RV to make it less visible to passing wildlife could be a good way to go. Camouflage might take the form of a permanent paint job – using a similar technique to that often used by the armed forces to camouflage their vehicles.
You could also purchase some camo netting to drape over your vehicle. This would mean that it can be added or removed as and when required. However, this is a rather costly option, especially if your RV is on the larger side.
Perhaps the best option for camouflaging your RV is to park in such a way that the trees and other foliage in the vicinity break up the unnatural, man-made shape of the vehicle. Depending on where you are, you may also be able to drag and place brush and branches around your vehicle, so that it blends in more with its surroundings. You could also consider, in certain scenarios, parking partially obscured behind a bluff or rocky formation, or in a natural dip.
The less obtrusive your vehicle is, the more wildlife you are likely to see.
Invest in Some Good Binoculars
In certain scenarios, the wildlife you are watching might be some distance from where you are in your RV. Having a good pair of binoculars will definitely maximise the amount of wildlife that you are able to see.
For example, binoculars would allow you to scan a distance tree-line or mountainside for movement. It would enable you to look down from a higher vantage point into a valley below, or from a coastal clifftop over the ocean or from the shore out over a lake.
Slow Down When Driving Your RV
It should really go without saying but it is always essential to take your time. Not only will driving slowly help make sure that you don’t hit anything, it will also make it much more likely that you will see any wildlife that you pass by.
Head Out For Wildlife Watching Outside Your RV
Watching for wildlife on a riverside hike in Mount Rainer NP.
While there is plenty of wildlife that you can encounter without stepping foot out of your RV, spending some time outside your RV enjoying a hike, cycle or other outward bound adventure from your RV base is definitely a good idea if you truly want to maximise your chances of some wonderful wildlife encounters.
Watching Wildlife Safely
Watching wildlife can be an extremely safe and relaxing pastime. But there will be occasions on RV adventures when the wildlife can pose threats to your safety. No matter where you go and what you do when you get there, is it vital that you are aware of any dangers pertaining to wildlife that you might experience at your RV trip destinations.
Keeping Your Distance From Predators
In certain locations, bear safety is a major concern for campers. Other large predators such as wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, alligators or crocodiles, for example, could also be concerns – depending on the regions through which you are traveling.
Of course, you should always heed any safety signs that are posted on campgrounds or, for example, in National Parks, and make sure that you know how to respond should you have an encounter.
A bear warning at Glacier NP.
While there are exceptions, however, it is important to remember that the wildlife will usually be more scared of you than you are of it! You will usually be perfectly safe keeping quiet and watching wildlife from your RV.
Other Wildlife You Don’t Want to Attract
In fact, though large predators are often the creatures that get the most press, as it were, when it comes to dangerous wildlife, it is important to remember that other, much smaller and more innocuous seeming creatures can sometimes pose more of a threat.
You should also be careful to look out for venomous snakes and spiders if traveling further south.
For example, in certain locations, it will be important not to leave out any food that could attract mice or other rodents, as these can spread certain viruses and other diseases that could pose a threat to human health. Leaving out food could also attract raccoons and other creatures that may not harm human health, but might become a significant nuisance if attracted to a campground.
In other cases you may wish to avoid attracting biting insects such as mosquitoes. These are not only unpleasant but can also, in some cases, carry disease. Burning citronella candles is one potential way to keep mozzies and other biting insects away.
However, not matter how annoyed you may be by insect life, it is important not to use any harmful chemicals that could kill or hurt beneficial wildlife as well as those pests that you want to keep away.
Top Spots for Wildlife Watching Across the United States
So, now we have covered some tips to help you make the most of your wildlife watching adventures, maximize your chances of seeing as much wildlife as possible, and stay safe on your wildlife watching RV trips. But where exactly should you go? To inspire you when it comes to selecting your next RV travel destination, here are some of the top spots for wildlife watching across the United States that you could consider:
Alaska’s National Parks
Kodiac bear catching fish in Katmai NP.
Alaska is, of course, known for its fabulous wilderness scenery and its wildlife. The non-contiguous state has nature at its most vivid, rugged and untamed and huge portions of it have fallen under state protection to ensure that these natural wildernesses are preserved for the sake of the planet and for the enjoyment of future generations. All of them are perfect places to rejoice in the beauty of our planet and watch the wildlife.
Katmai, for example, is known for the abundance of sock-eye salmon and the grizzly bears that feed on them. There is abundant life in the Kenai Fjords, both on land and in the sea. The Kobuk Valley contains a vast, diverse ecosystem between Selawik National Wildlife Refuge and Noatak National Preserve and includes about 81,000 acres of land crammed with wildlife.
The salt marshes on the Cook Inlet of Clark Lake are a particularly rich habitat and one of the parks most productive ecosystems. Brown and black bears feed here each spring. Along with Katmai, this coastal area is said to be one of the best bear watching areas in the world. The huge Wrangell – St. Elias National Park is the largest area managed by the National Park service in the whole of the United States. Much of the park is a designated wilderness and a wide variety of wildlife flourishes here. And that is before we even mention Denali National Park, Glacier Bay or the Gates to the Arctic!
And still, these are just some of the amazing wildlife watching locations in Alaska that you could consider for your next wildlife watching RV trip.
Glacier National Park
Next, we turn our attention to the contiguous states, where many more wonderful wildlife watching spots await. First up is Glacier National Park, which straddles the border between Montana and Canada.
Glacier National Park contains parts of two mountain ranges, which are sub-ranges of the Rocky Mountains. It is visited by many people each year, who come to enjoy the unspoiled landscape, the native wildlife and the many hiking trails. The park’s famous ‘Going to the Sun Road’ is a highlight for many visitors, while others prefer to get off the beaten track and enjoy the expansive backcountry of the park. It is when you get out into the wildernesses that you can really experience some stunning wildlife encounters.
Olympic National Park
Temperate rainforest in Olympic National Park.
The Olympic National Park covers the Olympic Peninsula on the Pacific coast of Washington. There are four types of landscape present within the part – the Pacific coastline, high alpine areas, the temperate rainforest to the west and the drier forests to the eastern side.
95% of the Park is now also a designated Wilderness. The coastal section has long stretches of sandy beach and some areas with rock and large boulders. Native communities live at the mouths of two rivers, the Hoh River is home to the Hoh people and La Push on the Quileute live the Quileute. The Olympic mountains themselves are jagged peaks topped with ancient glaciers. The temperate rainforest has more rainfall than anywhere in the continental United States. Because this is an isolated peninsula, it is home to a range of endemic wildlife that thrives in the range of unspoiled habitats.
Acadia National Park
The natural treasures of Acadia National Park are found in the far north-east of the United States, in Maine. The park is made up of a collection of Islands off the Atlantic coast along with the Schoodic Peninsula. It reserves and protects much of Mount Desert Island and other smaller islands round about. This is a popular destination, not just for ‘Mainers’ but for people from all over the United States and beyond. When you see the beauty and diversity of this rugged area it is easy to understand its popularity.
The coastal location of this national park and its diverse range of habitats mean that it is home to a wide range of wildlife. You may well see a range of smaller mammals,reptiles and amphibians, and this is considered to be one of the best birdwatching sites in New England, if not in the entire country. Birds seen here include a number of raptors, and no fewer than 23 breeding species of warbler!
Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks
Bison beside the road in Yellowstone NP.
Yellowstone National Park might be best known for its supervolano, and the mud pots, geysers and steaming craters it creates. But this is also a wonderful wildlife destination – certainly deserving its immense popularity. Bison, bear, wolves, elk and many more creatures can be found here in what has been described as America’s answer to the Serengeti!
Just to the south of Yellowstone you will also find the sprawling and biodiverse wildernesses of Grand Tetons National Park. Here too, there is plenty of wildlife to enjoy, from the high peaks to the rolling meadows.
Yosemite National Park
Another of the nation’s best known national parks, Yosemite (and the other National Parks in the Sierra Mountain Range of California) are also a wonderful place for wildlife watching adventures. While wildlife watchers here will have to be careful not to attract black bears accidentally to campgrounds, there are plenty of opportunities here to get up close and personal with many of the beautiful and fascinating creatures that call this place home.
Of course, you can see some wildlife in the main tourist areas like Yosemite Valley, but by getting off the beaten track and exploring the backcountry, you can really get to grips with the fascinating habitats you will find here and the fauna that inhabits them.
Utah’s National Parks
A raven watching us in Arches NP.
For those with an interest in the amazing wonders that the natural world has to offer, Utah is an intense concentration of beauty and fun. With five national parks in close proximity, Utah gives visitors the unique ability to visit several National Parks in a relatively small area. Each of the national parks has unusual and fascinating topography, strange rock formations make for an almost otherworldly scenery that is not only stunning to look but also allows for some amazing wildlife encounters.
In Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion you can expect to see an amazing array of creatures, many of which you are unlikely to find elsewhere.
The Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon is, of course, one of the most famous National Parks in the country – famed (and rightly so) as a wonder of the world. But a visit to the Grand Canyon is not all about gawking at the amazing rim views. Around the rim of the canyon, and especially if you take some time to descend into its depths, or make your way along the Colorado River, you will find that it is another of the best spots for wildlife in the United States.
For wildlife watching, head for the North Rim rather than the more crowded south rim. Or head off the beaten track into Kaibab Forest or Parashant National Monument.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
This is the most visited park in the United States and yet if you are a nature lover then this is a perfect destination for you. Here in the Smoky Mountains’ misty peaks, lush forests, roaring rivers and falls, peaceful flower-filled meadows and babbling streams you will find plenty of wonderful wildlife. There are more than ten thousand different plant and animal species found within the park.
No fewer than 1,500 black bears are said to live within the park – one of a number of larger mammals that guests here might just be lucky enough to see. You may also see coyotes, bobcats, elk and deer, as well as a range of other smaller creatures. The park has also been called the ‘salamander capital of the world’, as no fewer than 30 different salamander species can be found here.
The Everglades National Park in Florida is the largest subtropical wilderness in the contiguous United States. Not only are the Everglades designated as a National Park, this area is also a World Heritage Site, an International Biosphere Reserve, a Wetland of International Importance and a specially protected area under the Cartagena Treaty.
This protected area provides a habitat for numerous rare and endangered species, such as the American crocodile, the manatee, and the elusive Florida panther. Flamingo Visitor Centre is the gateway to Florida Bay. The bay and its adjoining maze of marvellous mangrove waterways also provide a habitat for myriad bird and marine species.
All of the sites above are famously wonderful for their wildlife, and should certainly be counted among the best sites for wildlife in the country. But it is important to remember that wildlife can be seen almost everywhere you go – even in the middle of cities. So wherever you roam, be sure to keep your eyes open for wildlife (especially when driving!) and do what you can to help conserve that wildlife for the enjoyment of future Rving generations.
Elizabeth Waddington has an MA from St. Andrews University and a Permaculture Design Certificate. She is a green living consultant, with a passion for sustainable travel, permaculture and the natural world. She lives in rural Fife, just north of Edinburgh, close to the Firth of Forth on the east coast of Scotland.
No stranger to RV travel, Elizabeth has travelled all over Scotland, the UK and beyond in search of natural wonders in her RV. Her camping adventures have taken her to the Grand Canyon, up the Pacific Coast of the US, to Yellowstone National Park, the Grand Tetons and to explore the wonders of Utah. She has travelled extensively in the Pacific Northwest, and around New England. In Europe, she has taken trips through much of the western part of the continent, travelled up to Norway, and down through Romania and Bulgaria to Istanbul. She looks forward to further eco-friendly adventures.