For travelers and explorers with an interest in reptiles, it may seem like you need to go somewhere tropical and remote to find unique and diverse herps – dense rainforests, vast deserts, and isolated islands may come to mind – but that simply isn’t true!
Interesting reptiles can be found all throughout the world, on every continent save Antarctica and in almost every nation, and that includes the United States!
North America has a wide assortment of distinct reptile species, everything from snakes and lizards to turtles and crocodilians, and the USA’s wide assortment of nature preserves and wildlife parks provide a great opportunity to experience these animals for yourself.
Several different habitats – including forests, lakes, wetlands, canyons, and cliffs – converge here to offer incredible sights and form unique ecosystems for a diverse array of wildlife.
While several species of lizards and freshwater turtles call this preserve home, the real selling point for reptile-lovers is the famous Snake Road – the only road in the world that is regularly closed for snake migrations!
Uniquely situated right between the wetlands and limestone cliffs of Shawnee, snakes cross this road in the thousands twice a year (Spring and Fall) in order to migrate between these two very different ecosystems.
Many different species can be seen on Snake Road,
from harmless colubrids like:
and earth snakes
to venomous vipers such as:
and timber rattlesnakes
Being such a beautiful locale (as well as one of the best places in the central US to see snakes!), Shawnee attracts plenty of visitors each year, and therefore offers a variety of experiences to have – hiking, camping, boating, and horseback riding being just some!
Accommodations can be found in the form of cabins, campgrounds, and various hotels and inns of nearby small towns.
For those wanting an especially diverse experience, we recommend visiting the famous Reptile Gardens, located in the Black Hills just south of Rapid City and on the way to Mount Rushmore National Memorial.
With 225 distinct reptile species, this zoo boasts the Guinness World Record for world’s largest reptile collection – making it a true must-see for any diehard reptile fans!
The animals that can be found here include everything from saltwater crocodiles and Komodo dragons to giant tortoises and a truly staggering variety of snakes and lizards – and that’s just reptiles!
If planning a visit to the Reptile Gardens, remember that it is a zoo and has specific hours of operation and months it’s not open at all, so make sure to plan around that. In terms of lodgings and accommodations, your best bet is to check out one of the many inns and hotels found throughout Rapid City.
3. Everglades National Park – South Florida
Possibly the most famous option on this list, the Everglades National Park is a massive wetland preserve and designated World Heritage Site of international renown!
Taking up much of Florida’s southern tip and less than an hour away from major cities like Miami and Naples, the park receives over a million visitors a year – and it’s easy to see why.
A wide diversity of wildlife is able to flourish in these habitats, including reptiles such as:
American alligators, crocodiles, and caiman
Lizards like anoles, skinks, geckos, and glass lizards
A variety of snake species, including kingsnakes, pythons, hog-nose, coral, garter, rat, and mud snakes
Tortoises and freshwater turtles
Sea turtles like the loggerhead, leatherback, and Atlantic ridley
As it’s such a popular tourist spot, you can expect plenty of options to experience the Everglades – whether that be guided tours, boating through the waterways, or walking along the reserve’s many paths and bridges.
Lodging and accommodations are of course available, mainly in nearby towns and cities in the forms of hotels, motels, and inns. The park also has a number of campsites available, for those wanting to spend the night under the stars!
For an even better chance to see some live crocodilians, consider checking out Gatorland, a renowned animal theme park and wildlife preserve in central Florida!
Located just outside Orlando, the “Alligator Capital of the World” features thousands of alligators and crocodiles, many rescued from nuisance wildlife situations.
Offering tours, nature walks, educational and conservation programs, and a specially-designed enclosure for their large collection of albino and leucitic alligators, Gatorland is perfect for crocodilian-enthusiasts and nature-lovers alike!
A short drive from the Orlando International Airport, Gatorland is pretty easily accessible and offers both foot paths and a mini train that loops around the park every 20 minutes.
Being so close to both Orlando and Kissimmee means there’s no shortage of accommodation options for visitors, either!
5. Big Thicket National Preserve – Southeast Texas
Do you like basking in the sun? Are you often too cold to move in winter? If so, you might be a reptile. 🦎
With swamplands, hardwood forests, prairie, and sandhills all meeting here, this vast region allows for an incredibly diverse array of different species – including 43 distinct reptiles such as:
Alligator snapping turtles
Box turtles and mud sliders
Vipers like cottonmouths, copperheads, and timber rattlesnakes
Garter, milk, rough green, and corn snakes
And a variety of water snakes
With over 40 miles of trials and countless crisscrossing waterways, hiking and paddling/canoeing are really the best ways to get around and explore the beautiful geography (and wildlife) of this park. And as a preserve, camping, fishing, and hunting are all options available to visitors as well!
If campgrounds or RV parks aren’t your thing, you may have to seek out lodging at the nearby town of Kountze, the closest population center to the preserve.
6. Mojave National Preserve – San Bernardino County, California
Hiking on public lands in my greater backyard this past weekend, we found this beautiful Great Basin collared lizard (Crotaphytus bicinctores) sunning on basalt rock in northern Mojave Desert. Predators of side-blotched lizards. I imagine dinosaurs pic.twitter.com/eswrhaXn4J
While it may seem pretty inhospitable to us, the scorching Mojave Desert is practically ruled by its wide assortment of reptiles – many of which unique and specially-adapted to their extreme habitat.
There are 36 distinct species that call the Mojave home, including:
Collared, whiptail, desert spiny, and horned lizards
Rattlesnakes like the sidewinder, diamondback, speckled and Mojave
Blind snakes and coachwhips
Kingsnakes, gopher, glossy, and shovel-nosed snakes
Many of these species can’t be found anywhere else, making a trip here a truly unique experience!
If planning a visit here, make sure to plan accordingly though!
While there are numerous hiking trails and campsites throughout the Mojave, it is a vast and dangerously hot area that will likely require a personal vehicle to travel any significant distances.
Since it’s pretty far from major population centers like Las Vegas and Barstow, you may want to look into lodgings provided by the many resorts and roadside motels that have popped up around the park. Smaller towns like Laughlin and Bullhead City are fairly close, but still quite a drive away from.
7. Floridian Beaches – Melbourne Beach, Vero Beach, Florida Keys
Both a vital keystone species and cultural icon, sea turtles are beloved by seemingly everyone, and seeing them in the wild has become a much sought-after goal for many – and there’s few places better to do so than the beaches of Florida!
While this is less a specific place, and more a type of place, several major Floridian beaches and coastal nature reserves have become among the best spots in the country to find sea turtles and their hatchlings.
Five of the seven species of sea turtle – the loggerhead, leatherback, hawksbill, green, and especially rare Kemp’s Ridley – have nesting sites along the Florida coast and offshore islands like the Keys, making a visit a great chance to see the famous egg-laying or hatching process of these incredible reptiles!
As sea turtles are critically endangered, it’s extremely important to not disturb them (especially when nesting). As such, you will have to walk to any potential nesting site, or take a snorkeling and/or boat trip off the coast for a chance to find some turtles in their natural habitat.
For animal-lovers looking to explore the fascinating yet often overlooked world of reptiles, it can be hard to find travel options that fill this specific niche.
Even within the USA, with all its national parks, wildlife preserves, and animal parks, places that advertise reptile-focused diversity and experiences can be difficult to come by.
Fortunately, these places do exist, and we’ve found 7 must-see locales for any reptile-enthusiasts looking to travel:
Shawnee National Forest/Snake Road – Herod, Illinois
Reptile Gardens – Rapid City, South Dakota
Everglades National Park – South Florida
Gatorland – Orlando, Florida
Big Thicket National Preserve – Southeast Texas
Mojave National Preserve – San Bernardino County, California
Floridian Beaches – Melbourne Beach, Vero Beach, Florida Keys
So the next time you’re planning an excursion, consider adding some of these spots to your bucket list!