The Best North American Destinations for a Bird-watching Trip — and Our Tips for Having the Best Time in Each

These crowd-pleasing North American destinations are as perfect for bird-watching as they are for a good old-fashioned vacation.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the bird-watching boom? Newcomers are flocking to the hobby, which studies have shown has the power to boost happiness. Another upside: unlike many outdoorsy pursuits, this one requires little in the way of specialized equipment or physical fitness.

Serious aficionados often plan their vacations around migrations, visiting spring hot spots such as Nebraska’s Platte River Valley or the shores of Utah’s Great Salt Lake. But if you’re still easing into the hobby — or traveling with friends or relatives who don’t know a warbler from a woodpecker — these five alternatives have plenty to offer in addition to bird-watching bliss.

<p>STUART THURLKILL/COURTESY OF THE GREEN O</p> A Round Haus villa at the Green O, in Montana.


A Round Haus villa at the Green O, in Montana.
<p>blickwinkel / Alamy Stock Photo</p> The northern pygmy-owl

blickwinkel / Alamy Stock Photo

The northern pygmy-owl

Greenough, Montana

Bird-watchers appreciate western Montana’s avian biodiversity; it’s particularly known for its populations of greater sage grouse, golden eagles, and Bohemian waxwings. The family-friendly Resort at Paws Up and its luxe, adults-only sibling property the Green O grant guests access to trails through 37,000 acres of wilderness. About 30 minutes away in Missoula, the 42-acre Greenough Park is another destination for bird spotters, with robust signage detailing local species.

Bragging Rights

The ​​northern pygmy-owl is an adorable but ruthless carnivore that snacks on songbirds.

Besides the Birds

Both Paws Up and Green O offer a huge array of other outdoor activities, including horseback riding, rappelling, and guided fly-fishing for experienced anglers as well as those just learning to cast.

<p>Cassie Wright/Courtesy of The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island</p> The Lodge on Little St. Simons, a Georgia island known for its conservation efforts.

Cassie Wright/Courtesy of The Lodge on Little St. Simons Island

The Lodge on Little St. Simons, a Georgia island known for its conservation efforts.
<p>HOWARD CHEEK/GETTY IMAGES</p> Rainbow-colored painted buntings


Rainbow-colored painted buntings

Little St. Simons Island, Georgia

Accessible only by boat, this privately owned island is home to the Lodge on Little St. Simons Island. It is also part of the Golden Isles, one of the most important coastal conservation areas on the Eastern Seaboard. With rookeries of boisterous wading birds and a beach full of plovers, it’s perfect for “hard-core birders,” says Little St. Simons naturalist manager Nate Ramey. “But others can relax on our seven miles of beaches — which you only have to share with twenty or thirty other people,” because they’re open only to guests.

Bragging Rights

Rainbow-colored painted buntings are big on the island, as are wood storks. “They were a protected species, but now they’ve bounced back dramatically,” Ramey says of the long-legged wader. “It’s a testament to conservation.”

Besides the Birds

In addition to the beaches, the island has a network of hiking trails, while overnight guests can borrow bikes and fishing gear. In July, the island-wide bloom of hibiscus grandiflorus draws gardening geeks from around the U.S.

<p>BUTCH LOMBARDI/COURTESY OF AUDUBON SOCIETY OF RHODE ISLAND</p> The Audubon Nature Center & Aquarium, in Bristol, Rhode Island.


The Audubon Nature Center & Aquarium, in Bristol, Rhode Island.
<p>Cal Vornberger/Alamy Stock Photo</p> The saltmarsh sparrow

Cal Vornberger/Alamy Stock Photo

The saltmarsh sparrow

Bristol, Rhode Island

This scenic bayside village between Newport and Providence is home to intriguing species such as the wading willet and the iridescent purple martin, depending on the season. Spotting them is made easier by the boardwalks at the Audubon Nature Center & Aquarium and the hiking route at the Osamequin Nature Trails & Bird Sanctuary.

Bragging Rights

The saltmarsh sparrow may look like an everyday songbird, but this species, which nests at Jacob’s Point Preserve, is at risk of habitat loss as sea levels rise.

Besides the Birds

Bristol’s waterfront Blithewold estate has 33 acres of manicured gardens surrounding a historic mansion. In nearby Newport, the famed Cliff Walk gives a glimpse of the Gilded Age; spend the night at The Vanderbilt, Auberge Resorts Collection, where the 33 stylish rooms and suites are fresh off a two-year renovation.

<p>SIMONE MONDINO/COURTESY OF WICKANINNISH INN</p> Wickaninnish Inn, in Tofino, British Columbia.


Wickaninnish Inn, in Tofino, British Columbia.
<p>Don White / Alamy Stock Photo</p> Western sandpiper

Don White / Alamy Stock Photo

Western sandpiper

Vancouver Island, BC

Summer is the best time to visit this densely forested destination, where the “fall” migration season starts as early as July for some species. Along the island’s serene eastern coast, check out the BC Bird Trail between Parksville and Qualicum Beach, where black oystercatchers, tufted puffins, and bald eagles are commonly seen. On the wild western coast, between Tofino and Ucluelet, visitors can spot soaring albatross while scouting for humpback whales, orcas, and other marine life. “May and September are also prime time for migrating seabirds,” says Mark Maftei, executive director of the Raincoast Education Society. “The nearshore and offshore waters host hundreds of thousands of waterfowl and seabirds that are moving up or down the coast in those months,” he adds.

Bragging Rights

Despite only weighing the equivalent of four nickels, the plucky western sandpiper migrates thousands of miles between Alaska and South America.

Besides the Birds

Outdoor adventures of all sorts can be had on the island. Milner Gardens & Woodland, on the eastern coast near the BC Bird Trail, has a “hidden” teahouse and trails that thread through its 70 acres of gardens and forest. In Tofino, the oceanfront Wickaninnish Inn is a family-owned Relais & Châteaux property known for its fireplaces and the dramatic views from its picture windows.

<p>ARTHUR MORRIS/GETTY IMAGES</p> The roseate spoonbill


The roseate spoonbill

Lafayette, Louisiana

About a two-hour drive west of New Orleans, this city is the gateway to Cypress Island Preserve and Rip Van Winkle Gardens, both prime springtime habitats for bitterns, rails, and grebes. The broader Atchafalaya National Heritage Area surrounding Lafayette is home to five-inch-tall prothonotary warblers, with their bright-yellow feathers, and the five-foot-tall whooping crane, one of the rarest birds in North America.

Bragging Rights

With pink plumage reminiscent of a 1980s bridesmaid’s dress, the roseate spoonbill is a wading bird with a large, ladle-shaped beak.

Besides the Birds

This is the land of crawfish and zydeco, where every meal is an occasion. Dive in at Spoonbill Watering Hole & Restaurant, a James Beard Award nominee inside a refurbished Conoco station in Lafayette, where the motto is “Tastes like good times.” Maison Madeleine is a characterful alternative to the chain hotels in the area.

A version of this story first appeared in the July 2023 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline "Bring the Binoculars."

For more Travel & Leisure news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on Travel & Leisure.