When most travelers think “safari,” they think African safari. However, North America is home to some of the most beautiful, unique, and amazing wildlife in the world. For those seeking an active, nature-centric vacation without the long-haul flights, check out these adventurous wildlife safari tours that don’t require a trip across the pond.
Walk Among Giants in Kodiak Country
Kodiak Bears are larger than any grizzly or other brown bears in North America. Though technically a subspecies of brown bear, these giants rival their polar bear brethren with males standing 10 feet tall on their hind legs and weighing nearly 1,500 pounds. Spotting them is notoriously difficult as they’re shy, reclusive, and wary of humans. Kodiak Treks leads wildlife-viewing hikes into the heart of Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. The tours last up to a week, during which time hikers spend most nights in the company’s backcountry out-camp. Days are spent exploring the bear country with plenty of opportunities to fish, kayak, and chat with local guides. Prices start at $375 per person per night, including all accommodations, meals, equipment, excursions, and guide service.
Canoe Through Moose Country
No animal feels more quintessentially Maine than the moose. Most moose safaris are glorified van tours, but Northeast Whitewater offers a far more up-close experience. Their private moose safaris guide visitors through the wilds of Moosehead Lake (the state’s largest) in Greenville, Maine via canoe. That may sound like a leisurely way to spot moose in their natural habitat, and it often is. Consider, however, that while they may look slow, lumbering, and not all that bright, moose can be one of the wildest, most aggressive, and unpredictable critters on the continent. Pricing for up to two people is just $289 with a professional guide.
Get Blinded by Sandhill Cranes
Birdwatching is not the sort of thing that gets everyone’s blood pumping — you either get it or you don’t. Even non-avian aficionados can appreciate the drama that takes flight in Nebraska each year. Every March, nearly 85% of the world’s entire Sandhill Crane population — more than 600,000 birds in total — congregate in the state’s Platte River Valley on their way north to Alaska and Canada. The sheer number of creatures flying, roosting, eating, and foraging at once make this a once-in-a-lifetime experience to behold. The best part is that the Crane Trust offers photography tours that include an overnight stay in a two-person blind along the river. It’s the perfect vantage point to discreetly witness and photograph one of the most spectacular wildlife displays in the country. Prices start at $350 per person plus tax with continental breakfast included.
Spot Polar Bears on the Canadian Tundra
Polar bears are among the world’s most fascinating and fearsome land mammals. Sadly, there are few places in the world where travelers can reliably spot or track them. Hudson Bay in northern Canada is one exception. The tiny town of Churchill, Manitoba, is home to less than 1,000 full-time residents and scores of wild polar bears. Every fall, the bears descend upon the surrounding tundra in search of food stores ahead of the long Canadian winter. Tourists can venture into their habitat via “buggies” — large, purpose-built, all-terrain vehicles designed to traverse the tundra in search of the elusive beasts. For decades, Natural Habitat Adventures has been the go-to expedition leader in the area. The company’s Classic Polar Bear Adventure is a once-in-a-lifetime trip that includes three full days of polar safari in search of Arctic fox, Arctic hare, and, of course, polar bears. Dog-sledding is also included, and, although it’s unpredictable, spotting the Northern Lights is a possibility. Prices start at $6,795 per person, plus $795 internal air cost. Accommodations, meals, and just about everything else you’ll need are included.
Track Bears and Wolves in Yellowstone
There is, of course, no bad time to visit Yellowstone National Park, but autumn is an especially unique time of year. The bears begin to stock up on food ahead of their winter hibernation; elk bugling peaks when dominant, 700-pound bull elk keep a watchful eye over their mates; and the wolves are out in packs. A wildlife safari in fall also guarantees a stunning backdrop of brilliant autumn colors as the leaves are changing. Among a long catalog of nature- and wildlife-centric expeditions, Teton Science Schools leads seasonal safaris, including the Fall Wolf and Bear Tour into the heart of Yellowstone to experience it all. The three-day trips often include stops at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, Old Faithful, and Mammoth Hot Springs. Prices start at $1,550 per person and include meals.
Sail the Sea of Cortez
Going on safari needn’t be only about land animals and big game. Located south of California, Mexico’s Sea of Cortez is home to a broader biodiversity of marine life than anywhere on earth. Jacques Cousteau called it “the aquarium of the world,” while John Steinbeck described it as “ferocious with life.” AdventureSmith Explorations’ eight-day Baja’s Bounty marine safari is one of the best ways to see it all. Days are spent kayaking, snorkeling, and paddleboarding in search of massive dolphin pods, sea lions, mobula rays, and endemic birds. Top-side, passengers have the option of hiking the area’s rugged, red rock cliff formations and relaxing on the beach at sunset with cocktails and bonfire. Prices start at $4,395 per person.
- How to Survive a Bear Attack: Brown, Black, and Polar Bears
- These Outdoorsy Artist Retreats Combine Creativity With Social Distancing
- All 21 Six Flags Parks in the U.S., Ranked
- Dive Into the Heart of Lake Superior With Photographer Christian Dalbec
- A Breakdown of All the Major Types of Car Racing