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A wolf surveys Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park
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The USA is where the buffalo roam, bald eagles soar, grizzly bears fish and much more.

No trip to the country’s great outdoors is complete without stunning wildlife photographs to take home so you can remember your wild vacation for years to come. Whether you’re an expert or novice photographer, there are challenges unique to wildlife photography. Dan Westergren, director of photography for National Geographic Traveler, offers tips on where to capture some of the USA’s most notable animals and how to set up for just the right shots.

1. Go Where the Animals Are

There’s no shortage of wildlife viewing opportunities in national and state parks in the U.S., but Westergren points to a few spots that are high on photographers’ must-see lists:

Custer State Park, South Dakota: Bison are an iconic sight on the U.S. grasslands, and South Dakota’s Custer State Park— located only a 20-minute drive from the equally iconic Mount Rushmore — has nearly 1,300 of them. If you want to guarantee you’ll see them, plan your trip around the annual bison roundup, when local cowboys bring in the herd for sorting in late September or early October.

Channel Islands National Park, California: Harbor seals, elephant seals, sea lions — you’ll find all three and more at this Pacific island sanctuary off the coast of southern California. An easy day trip from Los Angeles, the Channel Islands can be reached by boat from visitors’ centers in Ventura (113 kilometers north of Los Angeles), or Santa Barbara (161 kilometers north of Los Angeles).

Upper Mississippi River, Minnesota and Iowa: To photograph the iconic bald eagle, look no further than the USA’s mightiest river. Travelers can find bald eagle nests in a variety of places, from the Mississippi National River & Recreation Area in Minnesota’s Minneapolis-St. Paul area to Keokuk, Iowa, and nearby locales.

Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland and Virginia: Assateague Island is the place to get photos of wild horses. This 60-kilometer-long island along the Atlantic coast — partly in Maryland and partly in Virginia — is about 225 kilometers from nation’s capital Washington, D.C., and is home to more than 300 roaming ponies.

Located just off the coast of southern California, Channel Islands National Park is a popular gathering spot for sea mammals like the elephant seals pictured here.

Located just off the coast of southern California, Channel Islands National Park is a popular gathering spot for sea mammals like the elephant seals pictured here.
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