The National Parks' Most Eye-Catching Flora and Fauna
America's 59 national parks encompass widely varied environments—arid deserts, rocky mountains, thick forests, glittering lakes—that, together, contain some of the world's most diverse flora and fauna.
The best national parks for spotting wildlife come with an abundance of species. Yellowstone's 2.2 milliom acres are home to roaming bison, elk, and moose—not to mention the occasional mountain lion, hopefully spotted from afar. The Everglades' complex ecosystem—a swampy terrain of mangroves, marshes, and pinelands—breeds a variety of land- and water-based animals including crocodiles and alligators, flamingoes and egrets, slow-moving manatees, and endangered Florida panthers. Alaska's parks are favored by a variety of cold-weather-loving creatures, from the bald eagles of Kenai Fjords to the orca whales in Glacier Bay to the grizzly bears of Katmai. And some of America's most adaptable species—horned lizards, rattlesnakes, roadrunners—call the barre, desert landscape of Arizona's Saguaro their home.
The parks also feature an equally impressive range of plant species, including some found nowhere else on earth. The largest trees in the world flourish in the old-growth forests of California's Redwood and Sequoia National Parks, while the distinctive bristlecone pines that live in Utah's Bryce Canyon are some of the oldest. From the wild forests of Denali to the dust and rocks of Joshua Tree, each landscape is a portal into another natural world. Here, we highlight 11 of the most noteworthy wild inhabitants of our national parks.
Bull Moose in Denali, Grand Teton, and Others
A prime attraction in parks from Grand Teton to Denali, this magnificent creature is revered for its antlers, which it sheds each winter and regrows each spring. Nourished by a casing of furry skin called velvet, the new set is ready by summer, when the moose rubs the velvet off against branches and brambles. He is then ready for battle.
Giant Sequoias in California's Sequoia National Park
General Sherman, the most Brobdingnagian example of the largest tree species in the world, stands in Giant Forest, in California's Sequoia National Park. It is 275 feet tall and 36 feet in diameter.
Island Foxes in California's Channel Islands National Park
The mottled canid, which can be found only at California's Channel Islands National Park, nearly vanished in the 1990s, when golden eagles arrived in the archipelago and began preying on it. Following a recovery program, the animal is thriving again.
Gray Wolves in Yellowstone National Park and Michigan's Isle Royale
The reintroduction of this predator to Yellowstone in 1995, after a 70-year absence, helped control the park's elk and coyote populations, leading to a rise in foxes and beavers, as well as willows, aspens, and cottonwoods. A similar initiative is under consideration in Michigan's Isle Royale National Park, in Lake Superior.
Saguaro Cacti in Saguaro National Park
Growing up to 70 feet tall, this cactus—which thrives in its namesake park in the Sonoran Desert—is known for its trademark white blossoms, the Arizona state flower.
Bald Eagles in Yellowstone and Others
America's national bird can be spotted in several parks—most famously Yellowstone, where as of 2015 there were 19 active nests. It was removed from the endangered species list in 2007.
Joshua Trees in Joshua Tree National Park
Ice Age ground sloths are thought to have dispersed the original seeds of this Seussian desert plant, which grows throughout the Southwest, including in the California park that bears its name. One is pictured here, at sunset.
Florida Panthers in the Everglades
This silky cat was once common throughout the South, but today its habitat is limited to the Everglades. It is one of the world's most endangered mammals, with fewer than 100 remaining in the wild today.
Bristlecone Pines in Bryce Canyon and the Great Basin
Found in Nevada's Great Basin and Utah's Bryce Canyon, this gnarled, resilient tree is among the world's most ancient living things. Some specimens are more than 4,000 years old.
Bison in the Badlands and Other National Parks
Tens of millions of bison once roamed the prairie. By the beginning of the 20th century, they'd been hunted almost to extinction. Theodore Roosevelt, who first went to the Dakota Territory in search of a trophy, later helped save the animal, an effort that gave birth to the modern conservation movement.
Alligators in the Everglades
This swamp dweller is critical to the ecosystem of the Everglades. It offers a classic example of species interdependence: Florida red-bellied turtles use active and abandoned alligator nests to incubate their eggs.