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Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica
Want the squeal-inducing wildlife sightings of a rainforest adventure without worrying about guerillas or paying for an epic plane ride? Head to this Costa Rican park, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. The park is packed with macaws, toucans, and parrots, not to mention four different species of monkeys. Keep your eye out for the snakes that inhabit the area—boa constrictors can reach 13 feet—and, if you’re extremely lucky, you might spot one of the Osa Peninsula’s elusive pumas or jaguars. Four of the park’s ranger stations offer tent or bunk camping, and you can rent equipment in the nearby town of Puerto Jiménez. From there, take a bus to the La Leona ranger station on the southern coast for your first night. Depending on your ambition—and whether you want ocean or rainforest views—hike north across the Osa to Los Platos station, or head west along the coast to Sirena station, then continue to the park’s northwest corner and San Pedrillo station. visitcostarica.com
Channel Islands National Park, CA
Explore beaches, backcountry, and shorelines on a 24.5-mile hike and kayak tour of Santa Cruz Island, just 19 miles off the Southern California coast. While paddling the shore, peek into sea caves to spy ashy storm petrels, pigeon guillemots, and Xantus’s murrelets, along with harbor seals and sea lions resting in the caverns’ interior. Keep your eyes peeled for elephant seals, dolphins, gray whales (from December through March), and humpback whales and blue whales in July and August. Grab views of the Pacific while hiking the Scorpion Canyon Trail and be on the lookout for golden eagles, island foxes, feral pigs, and tons more wildlife. For a complete trip guide, head to backpacker.com/channelislands.
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
See black rhinoceroses, hippos, and lions in this park that boasts more than 160 volcanic craters, including one of the world’s largest. Take the “walking safari,” a guided hike through the huge caldera, where dense populations of wildebeest, zebras, hippos, rhinos, and gazelles graze. Time it right: In December, 1.7 million ungulates, including 260,000 zebras and 470,000 gazelles, along with more than 500 species of birds, migrate into the area. In June, they decamp and head north. On the crater rim, look for large elephants, buffalo, hyena, and other life-list animals. ngorongorocrater.org
Yellowstone National Park, WY
Take the 18.5-mile point-to-point trek through the Black Canyon on the Yellowstone River Trail, and, according to recent counts, you could simultaneously share a two-square-mile area with a wolf, mountain lion, grizzly, and black bear. The low-elevation and mostly downhill route begins with a trot through a forest of Douglas fir before reaching the Yellowstone River suspension bridge. Keep moving through a
rocky canyon and grassland, score views of Electric Peak, then cross the Blacktrail Bridge and hike down to the river. Camp at miles 12.4 or 13.5 (bring a bear canister). (307) 344-2163; nps.gov/yell