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Wildlife Encounters


Elise Murrell
Published March 31, 2014

—  Custer State Park  —

East Custer, South Dakota

Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota offers a glimpse of the West’s scenic terrain and wildlife. Groups can explore the granite peaks and open ranges of the second-largest state park in America on a guided jeep tour, on horseback or on foot.

The Off-Road Buffalo Safari Jeep Tour allows groups to go where no car can. Guides take visitors as deep into the buffalo herds as possible, where the animals — especially burros, or small donkeys — sometimes become interactive with the group. Birds and prairie dogs can also be spotted along the way.

See the park from a new perspective by taking the trail ride, a guided tour on horseback.

“You see so much more [than on a car ride] — it’s so peaceful,” said Gina Konechne, a concessionaire on the reserve.

Horses make it is easier to see creeks, scenery, animals and places normally hard to reach by vehicle. A group might encounter bighorn sheep or even elk licking salt.

Konechne said people love how they can get away from their hectic modern lifestyles when at the park. “You can get back to the basics, away from all of the crazy schedules, cellphones and technology.” Groups can also stay overnight at lodges in the park, right in the heart of the action — you might see a herd of buffalo run by right where you’re dining.

The best part of the park, according to Konechne, is that anyone can appreciate its natural beauty and that of the animals.

“It doesn’t take an expert to get to awe-inspiring locations,” she said.


—  Wild Side Specialty Tours —

Oahu, Hawaii

Wild Side Specialty Tours on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, offers year-round group tours in paradise. You can swim with dolphins, watch whales and snorkel with sea turtles, as well as encounter tropical fish, seals, birds and coral reefs. The intimate tours focus on what each group would like to see that day.

Tori Cullins, the resident marine biologist and an environmental sciences graduate, started the business with her husband. What began as a research project on the local wildlife grew into a business when the pair discovered they could invite tour groups to work with them. Today, in addition to seeing amazing wildlife, groups have the opportunity to help see and identify new species and contribute their photos to the Cascadia Research Collective’s Hawaii marine mammal identification catalogs.

“We like to heighten [visitors’] awareness of what the animals’ lives are like,” Cullins said. Sometimes we drop in a hydrophone [underwater microphone] to listen to the whales sing. Hawaii is a fragile environment. Once you encounter something, you’re more likely to take care of it.”


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