Five Underrated US States For Wildlife Lovers


When it comes to ecotourism, states like Alaska, Florida, and Hawaiʻi have all earned worldwide acclaim for their high levels of biodiversity and wealth of iconic species, but there’s a world of potential waiting to be discovered all across the United States. While each state is home to its own unique array of flora and fauna, certain regions are often overlooked when it comes to wildlife tourism, serving as perfect destinations for those who prefer a vacation that strays off the beaten path. As you plan your next cross-country excursion, don’t miss out on these five under-the-radar ecotourism destinations across the United States.

Nebraska

Nebraska is best known for its agricultural prowess, but beyond the endless rows of cornfields, there’s a wealth of wildlife to be discovered across the state. While Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge is perfect for spotting bison, elk, and other iconic grassland mammals, avid birders should be sure to time their visit for the annual sandhill crane migration, one of the planet’s most spectacular natural wonders. From February to April, approximately one million of the birds descend upon Platte River to fuel up before migrating north, with both Rowe Sanctuary and the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center offering ample opportunity to see this fascinating process firsthand.

Rhode Island

Measuring in at 1,214 square miles, Rhode Island is the smallest state in the United States of America—and in spite of its small stature, there’s a surprisingly vast array of native species to discover within its borders. In the interior of the state, destinations like Great Swamp Management Area and Audubon Caratunk Wildlife Refuge are perfect for spotting native New England birds like cedar waxwings, yellow-rumped warblers, and eastern wood pewees. For those in search of one of Ocean State’s cutest residents—the harbor seal—be sure to pay a wintertime visit to Rome Point, a picturesque coastal preserve just north of Narragansett.

North Dakota

North Dakota may be one of the most sparsely-populated states in the nation, but all of that wide open space leaves room for a plethora of native wildlife. Once driven to the brink of extinction, the majestic American Bison has made a triumphant return to the plains of the Peace Garden State, with the iconic Theodore Roosevelt National Park housing several hundred of the animals alongside elk, pronghorn, and prairie dogs. In the eastern reaches of the state, the Devils Lake Wetland Management District serves as a crucial stopover point for migratory birds, drawing snow geese, pintails, northern shovelers, and a wealth of other waterfowl during migration season.

Mississippi

In search of a new ecotourism destination in the US South? Don’t miss out on Mississippi, a sprawling state that’s equipped with more than 60 miles of coastline. During a trip to Coastal Mississippi, visitors can head to the Alabama border to find Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, an 18,000-acre expanse of salt marsh and pine savannah that’s rife with native birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Just west of the reserve, Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge is a haven for far more than just its namesake, with native Magnolia State species like the pig frog, Henslow’s sparrow, and eastern fence lizard all found within the preserve’s borders.

West Virginia

West Virginia is renowned for its abundant natural beauty, and all of those rivers, valleys, and mountains are home to a wealth of Appalachian flora and fauna. While there’s no shortage of wildlife-rich destinations across the Mountain State, Monongahela National Forest is certainly one of its most impressive natural features, measuring in at 920,000 acres of dense second growth forest. Iconic birds like the hooded merganser, ruby-throated hummingbird, and red-tailed hawk are just a few of the species that call the region home, while mammals range from bobcats to beavers to West Virginia’s state animal—the black bear.

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