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How To Best View & Photograph Wildlife At National Parks

When traveling many of us have aspirations of capturing moments we cannot find in our own backyard. From zoos to National Parks this many times equates to capturing photos of the many animals which we find fascinating.

But unlike in zoos where you have a controlled environment a National Park offers a first hand look of animals in their natural setting. Because of this the rules are a little different for those wanting to snag those images however and there isn’t a lot of room for bending these.

Knowing the rules is the most important thing you can do when you visit a park as an amateur photographer or just a visitor. You can obtain these rules typically through the visitors centers or in the park brochures, however being prepared before can also come in handy.

How can you stay safe? What are the best tips to remember no matter your location?


This might seem like a given with some of the more scary species but even down to the smaller ones you never want to feed the animals for several reasons. Animals are not commonly acclimated to food designed for people, this can be harmful to them in the long run far beyond your initial visit. Additionally, by feeding an animal you make them somewhat reliant on humans as opposed to being wild.

These two reasons obviously are enough to discourage most, however you might also want to consider a deterrent to feeding them getting bit.

At the Grand Canyon, for example, there are signs located all around the South Rim about not feeding the squirrels because they often bite. Yet despite these signs there are dozens of reported bites annually by those who disregard the rules.


When you are staring through the lens of a camera trying to capture that perfect image it is common to lose focus of the world around you. One moment you have everything in frame and the next however you could be wishing you had not been solely focused on what was ahead and instead used your other senses to assure you were good in all directions.

If you are traveling alone make sure to always keep your ears free of distractions such as earbuds or headphones this will allow you to be more aware of possibly movement around you. Some animals in particular like to sneak up from behind and can move with great stealth.

If traveling in more commercial or frequently traveled areas where tourists abound this might not be as much of an issue however there are always possibilities of stepping off sidewalks and boardwalks into a twisted ankle, backing into a tree which might have thorns and other alternatives which could have been avoided by simply being more aware.


Many National Parks encourage you to know your distance which you can safely observe animals from and this varies from animal to animal. A bear or wolf for example you always want to keep at a minimum of 100 yards due to its violent nature, big claws and ability to run and maneuver quickly. A bison or elk they recommend at least 25 yards.

Other animals they do not recommend you go near or seek out in general due to their nature and these include mountain lions.

Being prepared for keeping this safe distance is important, but equally as important is knowing what to do if you happen to encounter one of these animals at a distance not recommended.

Knowing which animals to back away from, which animals to make yourself bigger, which to make noise and which to be quiet with is very important.


While this might seem to be a time frame, it is also a time of year. During certain times of the day animals are more active just as they are more so during certain times of year.

The key to this is knowing these times and also how you personally are traveling. If you are traveling alone, never try to see bears in a more remote location during the time of year when they have their cubs, this is very dangerous. You are more likely to have a positive viewing and photographing experience during a time when they are a bit less combative.

Typically the most movement in parks happens in the early morning or late evening around dawn and dusk. Animals feel more comfortable moving at these times because decreased number of people in their area. Their heightened sense of smell is also much more pronounced during this time as the dew clears the air and allows them to move freely and smell at even a more vast distance.


You want to be able to capture the perfect images and have the best visuals while still staying at a safe distance so you will want to make sure you have a camera designed for lower light, longer distances and rapid fire. You will also want to come prepared with set of binoculars for viewing or finding before setting up your perfect shot.


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