5 Animal Sightings That’ll Make Your Friends Jealous

Jessica GeraciNPF Blog
View of bison in snowy forest from a car in the rear view mirror
Bison in Yellowstone National Park - NPS Photo / Neal Herbert

Fresh air is blowing in through your open car windows as you pass by unforgettable views of the Shenandoah landscape. Suddenly, a black bear appears in the distance. You have now earned that “I saw a black bear in Shenandoah National Park” sticker they were selling at the gift shop in the visitor center. But more importantly, you are reminded of one of the reasons national parks are so great: the animals that thrive in them.

Here are some of my favorites and the parks where you might get a glimpse of them. And while you may be tempted to take photos to make your friends jealous, please remember not to disturb the animals and appreciate them from a very safe distance!

Black-Tailed Prairie Dog

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Chubby prairie dog sitting on its rear at Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Carl Colliander, Share the Experience

In addition to the feral horses, bison, and long horn steers, Theodore Roosevelt National Park hosts the black-tailed prairie dogs. These burrowing rodents have a bark-like call and were named for their black tipped tails. They create elaborate tunnel systems, with multiple escape routes and a large number of closely spaced burrows.

"Prairie-dogs are abundant...; they are in shape like little woodchucks, and are the most noisy and inquisitive animals imaginable. They are never found singly, but always in towns of several hundred inhabitants; and these towns are found in all kinds of places where the country is flat and treeless." - Theodore Roosevelt

The prairie dog was once a vital part of Great Plains life, with colonies stretching for miles. You can still find prairie dogs in the meadows of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. You’re most likely to see them on sunny summer days.

Sea Turtles

Biscayne National Park

Green turtle swimming in the ocean

Protecting one of the most extensive coral reef tracts in the world, Biscayne National Park is a watery wonderland home to thousands of years of history. While diving to view one of its six shipwrecks, you’re likely to spot another one of its many wonders: sea turtles.

Conservation efforts by the national park began in 1984 for the hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback, and green sea turtles. You can volunteer to help the park improve sea turtle nesting beaches.


Yellowstone National Park

View of bison in snowy forest from a car in the rear view mirror
NPS Photo / Neal Herbert

Yellowstone boasts the highest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states. None of them are more striking than the bison. Reaching an impressive 2,000 pounds, these bison are the largest land-dwelling animal in North America. They have lived in Yellowstone since prehistoric times, which makes the sight of them feel like a trip into the past. 

The bison can be found roaming freely in the grasslands during summer, along the Madison River and Blacktail Ponds during winter, and in the Hayden and Lamar Valleys all year round.

Synchronous Fireflies

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Fireflies at night in the forest
Raugc, Share the Experience

For two weeks every year, these synchronous fireflies perform a mating ritual that transforms the area into an enchanted forest. The species is able to synchronize its flashes, illuminating the surrounding woods in unison.

While synchronous fireflies are not common, you can also find them in Congaree National Park in South Carolina and Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania between May and June. You can learn more about the synchronous fireflies at Great Smoky Mountains National Park here.

California Sea Lions

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

Sea lions swimming under the water
Brett Seymour, Submerged Resources Center

Pacific coast maritime history is documented at the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park with a large collection of historic vessels and the maritime museum. Fantastic views of the San Francisco Bay mean you’re bound to catch sight of one of the California sea lions. They sometimes gather in large groups to eat, barking loudly to communicate with one another.

You can find the sea lions all throughout winter and in the summer after they return from breeding in southern California. If you don’t see them within the park, they’re an easy find anywhere else along Fisherman’s Wharf, or in nearby Redwood National Park.

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