Free to See: 20 Animal Viewing Spots in the U.S.

A bat cave in Texas, a manatee watering hole in Florida, and an elk refuge in Montana, along with first-class zoos and aquariums make up our list of 20 free animal viewing spots in the U.S. Get a sneak peek of the list below, then visit us online for the full lineup:

Congress Avenue Bridge Bats Austin, Texas

In summer, Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge is home to 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats—the largest urban colony in the world. At sunset they take flight in search of a bite to eat, and the spectacle blackens the Texas sky. The Austin American-Statesman maintains a free viewing area next to the bridge, as well as a bat hotline with the latest flight times.

Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary Florida

This sanctuary on Florida’s Gulf Coast bills itself as the largest wild bird hospital and sanctuary in the United States. It brings in some 10,000 wild birds a year to be nursed back to health for re-release into nature. Hundreds of birds are on view here at any given time, from pelicans to birds of prey.

Point Reyes National Seashore California

The rocky headlands and beaches of Point Reyes are a popular spot for elephant seals, and a growing population of some 1,500 to 2,000 of the enormous animals can be seen here during breeding season from December through March. Be sure to gaze out to sea as well—migrating gray whales can often be seen between January and May.

Help us build our list! Tell us about your favorite (and free!) animal viewing spots in the U.S. or the world. Leave the details in the comments section below.

Photo: Chad Fife/My Shot

Sponsored by Toyota Venza


  1. Diana Maxwell
    Chincoteague and Assateague
    September 7, 2011, 6:39 am

    Don’t go in July for the annual pony swim. Go later when the crowds have left and see the wild ponies in their herds and the variety of other animals that share their beautiful island.

  2. Stefanie Reed
    Isle Royale
    August 29, 2011, 8:48 pm

    Seeing Moose on Isle Royale was the thrill of a lifetime!

  3. Allison @TrailerHitched
    Denver, CO
    August 29, 2011, 12:03 pm

    Estes Park, at the foot of Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, is a great place to see bugling elk in the fall. You can see them in the park as well, but nor for free. In autumn the elk can be seen everywhere in town, near (sometimes swimming) in the lake, on the golf course, and even in people’s front yards!

  4. Gary Arndt
    August 29, 2011, 12:01 pm

    My favorite spot is Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. Bison can walk up to your car window.