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Where the wild things are

When you think of wildlife-watching expeditions, you probably
have visions of tracking cheetahs on safari in Africa or spotting
giant tortoises in the Galapagos, but more and more outfitters are offering
similar jaunts a little closer to home. Not only are these outings cheaper
than far-flung journeys, they're often perfect for the entire family. Whether
you're partial to land or sea creatures, these five getaways will give you a
chance to learn about some of your favorite animals in gorgeous environments
that also happen to be perfect for hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, and
other pursuits. Finally, an excuse to really get wild on vacation!

Play with manatees - Central Florida

At around 1,000 pounds, manatees,
sometimes referred to as "sea cows,"
are like big, wet, blubbery teddy bears.
From October through March they
migrate inland and congregate by the
hundreds in the spring-fed, 72-degree
lagoons of Central Florida's Crystal
River National Wildlife Refuge, about
75 miles north of St. Petersburg.
Catch a tour boat from the town of
Crystal River to swim, scuba dive, or
snorkel with the lumbering beasts,
which are protected-for now, at
least-as an endangered species. Captain
"Manatee Joe" Detrick offers
daylong conservation-oriented tours
for no more than six people at a time
($85 per person; fun2dive.com).

While you're there
To tour the refuge
under your own power, rent a kayak or
canoe from Manatee Tour & Dives
($35 for a half day; manateetoursusa.com). Further explore the Florida wilds by checking out native bobcats, river
otters, and crocodiles (from a distance,
naturally) at the Homosassa Springs
Wildlife State Park, just seven miles
south of Crystal River (floridastateparks.org/homosassasprings).

Where to stay

Crave another encounter
with the manatees? The Plantation
Inn & Golf Resort offers swim tours
in addition to country club-style golf
and tennis, and beach volleyball (rooms
from $114; plantationinn.com).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make tracks for moose - Northern Maine

The sparsely populated north woods
here are home to 6-foot, half-ton
moose, which feed on vegetation in
the marshy inlets of Millinocket Lake
(about 200 miles from Portland). Glide
silently into their habitat by canoe,
courtesy of the New England Outdoor
Center (NEOC). Guides lead morning
and evening tours to watch the
moose, but loons, osprey, beaver, and
muskrat abound, too ($49; 800-766-
7238 or neoc.com). Grab an oar from
mid-May through July, and September
through October for peak sightings.

While you're there

NEOC guides will also lead rafting trips on the Dead,
Penobscot, and Kennebec Rivers
nearby (from $89 per person for a fullday
outing); just let them know if
you're looking for an adrenaline rush
or a more low-key, family-friendly option.
They'll even teach novices how
to fly-fish on local rivers that are
famed for their landlocked salmon
(from $118 per person per day, including
equipment). Back on terra firma,
hoof it over to Baxter State Park,
home of 5,267-foot Mt. Katahdin, the
northern end of the Appalachian Trail
and a very challenging eight- to
10-hour round-trip hike.

The park's many bogs and ponds are
prime moose habitat for do-it-yourself
wildlife watches (just use common sense
and always give a moose a wide berth).
Hike the three-mile round-trip route to
the crowd-free Dwelly
Pond to see them, or
rent a canoe at Trout
Brook Farm campground
to spy on
moose that feed near
the shores of Lake
Matagamon ($1 an
hour; 207-723-5140).

Where to stay
The
rustic log cabins at Twin
Pine Camps have full
kitchens and sleep up to
eight (from $190 per
night; neoc.com).



Have a whale of a time - Maui, Hawaii

Like honeymooners flocking to the
Hawaiian islands, humpback whales
make a 3,500-mile migration from
Alaska and the North Pacific each fall.
They breed and nurse their young before
reversing course in the spring. For
equal parts adventure and learning, book
a tour with the nonprofit Pacific Whale
Foundation (PWF), which funds ocean
research, education,
and conservation efforts
with its whalewatching
outings, led
by naturalists from
December through
mid-May ($32 for a
two-hour tour; pacificwhale.org). Year-round,
PWF also runs snorkeling
trips to see the
green sea turtles that
gather at the underwater
lava spans known as Turtle Arches
($80 for a five-hour outing). Or take a
PWF cruise that tracks wild bottlenose,
spinner, and spotted dolphins cavorting
in the waters around the island of Lanai
($80 for a five-and-a-half-hour trip).

While you're there

Back on the beach,
dip into the latest trend, paddle
surfing, which combines stand-up
surfing and outrigger paddling for
a full-body workout. Action Sports
Maui starts beginners in flat water,
but for instant big-wave access try
body boarding, in which surfers
use fins to propel themselves into
the rollers (lessons from $89 to
$109; actionsportsmaui.com).

Where to stay

The ocean-side
Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa
offers after-dark stargazing sessions with
its resident astronomer-and his planetarium-
on the resort's rooftop (from
$325 per night; maui.hyatt.com).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Explore wolf and bear country - Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho

The nation's first national park is a
sanctuary for two of the West's top
predators: Northern Rocky Mountain
wolves and grizzly bears. These foodchain
kings-along with elk, bison,
foxes, and coyotes-inhabit the vast
and remote Lamar Valley in the park's
northeastern corner. Go there safaristyle
with Wildlife Expeditions out
of Jackson, Wyoming (summer rates
from $1,695 per person for four days, including meals and lodging
in park-adjacent motels; wildlifeexpeditions.org). On the
daylong tours you'll ride in
SUVs that have open rooftops
for unobstructed viewing,
and naturalists will lead
you to where the bison, elk,
eagles, moose, and more
roam. At dawn and dusk
(prime times to catch harderto-
see animals like wolves
and grizzlies), guides will set
up powerful sighting scopes.

While you're there

You can't
visit Yellowstone without
following the herd of other
tourists to the park's geothermal
features, including
its famed geyser, Old Faithful,
and the bubbling Mudpots.
But the more physical
effort you put into seeing
this park-such as on the
three-mile climb up Observation Peak
or the 12.5-mile Blacktail Deer Creek-
Yellowstone River Trail hike that drops
1,100 feet to the river's edge-the more
rewarding and uncrowded it is.

Where to stay
Since Wildlife Expeditions
runs its trips from Jackson, bunk
pre- or post-safari at Snake River
Lodge & Spa in Teton Village (rooms
from $319 per night, 866-975-7625
or snakeriverlodge.com). If you loved
the invigorating fresh air during your
outings, hit the spa for the Spirit of
Wyoming exfoliation, a scrub scented
with cedar, pine, and juniper ($190
for 75 minutes).

Try seal spotting - Vancouver Island, British Columbia

The cold, nutrient-rich waters off Pacific
Rim National Park on Vancouver
Island's remote west coast
support teeming colonies
of sea mammals. From
May through October, Subtidal
Adventures sets out
aboard a hard-hulled inflatable
boat to the Broken
Islands, a group of more
than 100 protected islets in
nearby Barkley Sound ($89*
for three hours; subtidaladventures.com). En route
you'll spot breaching gray
whales, rock outcroppings
covered in seabirds, harbor
seals with their pups, and
beaches blanketed by California and
Stellar sea lions. Captain Brian Congdon,
a former Broken Islands park
warden, provides expert guided tours
as well as warm, windproof "cruiser
suits," a must-have in the wet and
chilly weather (even in August).

While you're there

Hike North America's
last remain ing temperate rain
forest to long, driftwood-strewn
beaches and starfish-filled tide pools.
Based just outside the park in the
bohemian harbor town of Tofino, Surf
Sister leads two-hour or two-day surf
lessons ($75* to $195*, including board
and wet suit; surfsister.com).

Where to stay
If you become enchanted
with Tofino, stay at one of the many
B&B's in town, such as the BriMar
(rooms from $150*; brimarbb.com). Or
reserve a rustic-chic cabin just steps
from the shore at Terrace Beach Resort
near the town of Ucluelet (from
$349* per night; terracebeachresort.ca).


* All prices are in Canadian dollars.

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