Almost every big city has a zoo, but seeing the animals behind bars and in access-controlled enclosures gets boring after a while. The real fun is still in seeing the animals in their natural surroundings, being wild! Fortunately, there are numerous national parks in India where you can do that. An added benefit about visiting such places is the prospect of camping in the wilderness, under the stars. So, get ready, as we bring to you a list of the best national parks for camping and wildlife tours:

1. Jim Corbett National Park

The first national park of India certainly deserves the first place on our list. Located in the terai region of Uttarakhand, it was specifically created to protect the Bengal tiger, in 1936. Its lush hills all around, thick forest cover and wide, open grasslands are prime big cat territory. Moreover, the park is home to around 650 species of birds, so remember to bring a camera. All five zones of Corbett National Park — Dikhala, Bijrani, Jhirna, Durgadevi and Dhela — are open for tourists.

  • Area: 1,318.54 square kilometres
  • Prominent Mammal Species: Tiger, gharial, elephant, spotted deer, leopard, barking deer
  • Other Prominent Species: Pallas’ fish eagle, crocodile, gharial
  • Visiting Months: 15th November to 15th June
  • Entry Fee: ₹200 onwards
  • Nearest Railway Station: Ramnagar (1 km)
  • Nearest Airport: Pantnagar airport (82 km)

Also read our blog on the most popular weekend getaways from Delhi

2. Gir Forest National Park

This has to be the most unique protected territory in India, because this is the only home of the Asiatic lion, the true king of the jungle, in the world. Located in the Gir Somnath, Junagadh and Amreli districts of Gujarat, it is a vast scrub and savannah forest, the kind in Africa that is inhabited by lions. As per estimates, the area has more than 2,000 species of wildlife, so all nature lovers are in for a definitive treat.

  • Area: 1,412 square kilometres
  • Prominent Mammal Species: Asiatic lion, leopard, jungle cat, striped hyena, Bengal fox, golden jackal, spotted deer, four-horned antelope, sambar, chinkara, blackbuck, wild boar, nilgai
  • Prominent Bird Species: Bonelli’s eagle, tawny eagle, king vulture, crested serpent eagle, painted stork, crested hawk eagle, pelican
  • Visiting Months: 16th October to 15th June
  • Entry Fee: ₹150 onwards
  • Nearest Railway Station: Junagadh (77 km)
  • Nearest Airport: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport, Ahmedabad (336 km)

3. Ranthambore National Park

One of the best places India to see the tiger, Ranthambore National Park is located in the Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan. This is where the world’s most famous tiger, Machhli, thrived; she has been featured in various National Geographic and Discovery Channel documentaries. Moreover, the national park is home to Ranthambore Fort, which gives this place a historical significance. Apart from seeing the various structures within the fort, you might also be able to see tigers, many of whom either live or are frequent visitors here.

  • Area: 1,334 square kilometres
  • Prominent Mammal Species: Tiger, spotted deer, sambar, nilgai, desert fox, chinkara, sloth bear, wild boar, golden jackal
  • Prominent Bird Species: Peafowl, sarus crane, kingfisher, owl, crested serpent eagle, pelican, stork, flamingo
  • Visiting Months: 1st October to 30th June
  • Entry Fee: ₹100 onwards
  • Nearest Railway Station: Sawai Madhopur (14 km)
  • Nearest Airport: Jaipur International Airport (182 km)

Here is our blog on the best weekend getaways from Jaipur

4. Bandhavgarh National Park

One of the most famous tourist destinations in Central India, this is another national park with a fort. It is one of the best places to see the tiger in India, because, as per reports, there are eight of these big cats per every square kilometre here. Elephant and jeep safaris are conducted in the morning and evening through the four tourist zones of the protected territory: Magadhi, Tala, Panpatha and Khitauli. The vegetation here is typical of the Deccan Plateau region: dry deciduous forests with open grasslands.

  • Area: 1,536 square kilometres
  • Prominent Mammal Species: Tiger, leopard, sambar, nilgai, wild boar, barking deer, four-horned antelope, gaur, chinkara, Bengal fox, golden jackal, striped hyena
  • Prominent Bird Species: Sarus crane, Egyptian vulture, crested serpent eagle, lesser adjutant, black vulture, changeable hawk eagle, white-backed vulture, long-billed vulture
  • Visiting Months: 25th October to 30th June
  • Entry Fee: ₹250 onwards
  • Nearest Railway Station: Umaria (33 km)
  • Nearest Airport: Rani Durgawati airport, Jabalpur (177 km)

5. Kaziranga National Park

Kaziranga National park, India

If any place is bestowed with the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is definitely worth a visit. The honour is well deserved because Kaziranga is one of the last strongholds of the endangered one-horned rhino (the rhinos in Africa are two-horned). The dominating feature of this protected territory is the wide, open grasslands, known as doors in the local language. Apart from these iconic animals, the park is home to several other large mammals, including the Indian elephant; the wild water buffalo, easily distinguishable by its massive horns; and the gaur (Indian bison), which weighs 1,500 kg on average.

  • Area: 430 square kilometres
  • Prominent Mammal Species: One-horned rhino, Indian elephant, wild water buffalo, gaur, swamp deer, hog deer, tiger, leopard
  • Prominent Bird Species: Ruddy shelduck, bar-headed goose, kingfisher, Eurasian eagle owl, Pallas’ fish eagle, Himalayan griffon, cinereous vulture
  • Visiting Months: 1st November to 30th April
  • Entry Fee: ₹50 onwards
  • Nearest Railway Station: Nagaon (74.5 km)
  • Nearest Airport: Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi International Airport, Guwahati (213 km)

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6. Hemis National Park

Located high up in the Himalayas, this national park has little vegetation, as it is located amidst a cold desert. With an average altitude of more than 10,000 feet above sea level, it is a paradise for adventure enthusiasts and ardent trekkers. Its main highlight is the elusive snow leopard, the largest population of which in the world exists here. With snow-covered mountains, regardless of the month, and clear, starry night skies, it is an amazing place to set up a tent.

  • Area: 4,400 square kilometres
  • Prominent Mammal Species: Snow leopard, Himalayan wolf, Himalayan brown bear, blue sheep, Tibetan sheep, Ladakhi urial, red fox
  • Prominent Bird Species: Himalayan griffon vulture, golden eagle, lammergeier
  • Visiting Months: Year-round (extra caution advisable for winters)
  • Entry Fee: ₹20 onwards
  • Nearest Airport: Kushok Bakula Rimpochee Airport, Leh (48 km)

7. Sundarbans National Park

Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, this great swamp forest is one of the few places on earth where tigers are as comfortable swimming in rivers as they are running on land. Unlike most national parks in India, the way to navigate this one is on boats, not feet or jeeps. With so many small distributaries of the Ganga snaking their way through the mangrove forest, you never know what natural jewel you will find.

  • Area: 1,330 square kilometres
  • Prominent Mammal Species: Tiger, leopard cat, fishing cat, fox, spotted deer
  • Other Prominent Species: Stork, saltwater crocodile, white-bellied sea eagle, grey-headed sea eagle
  • Visiting Months: November to March
  • Entry Fee: ₹60 onwards
  • Nearest Railway Station: Sealdah Station (115 km); Howrah Junction (124 km)
  • Nearest Airport: Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport, Kolkata (119 km)

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8. Periyar Tiger Reserve

Arguably the most famous national park in South India, Periyar Tiger Reserve is named after the Periyar River, the longest in Kerala. It is everything that the Western Ghats embody: lush hills, trekking trails, lakes, rivers and diverse wildlife. Apart from enjoying jeep safaris, you could just sit on the shores of Periyar Lake, on gently sloping hills, and enjoy a picnic. The entire region is known for its endemic wildlife, which has earned the Western Ghats a place in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

  • Area: 305 square kilometres
  • Prominent Mammal Species: Tiger, gaur, dhole, elephant, Nilgiri tahr, Nilgiri langur, Indian giant squirrel
  • Prominent Bird Species: Blacked-necked stork, great hornbill, Nilgiri wood pigeon, rufous-bellied eagle, Sri Lankan frogmouth
  • Visiting Season: Year-round
  • Entry Fee: ₹155 onwards
  • Nearest Railway Station: Madurai (138 km)
  • Nearest Airport: Madurai airport (151 km)

Check out our list of the most amazing places to visit in South India

9. Great Himalayan National Park

One of the recent additions to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list, the Great Himalayan National Park embodies the very essence of the world’s highest mountain range. Its elevation ranges from around 5,000 feet to more than 19,500 feet, so the entire diversity of the Himalayan vegetation is visible. At the lowest altitudes are subtropical pine forests, beyond which lie the temperate coniferous forests, dominated by deodars, spruces and firs. Further up, the conifers are replaced by subalpine grasslands and meadows.

  • Area: 754 square kilometres
  • Prominent Mammal Species: Snow leopard, Himalayan brown bear, bharal, Himalayan tahr, goral, musk deer, blue sheep, red fox
  • Prominent Bird Species: Monal pheasant, lammergeier, golden eagle, Himalayan griffon vulture, eagle owl
  • Visiting Months: October to June
  • Entry Fee: ₹150 onwards
  • Nearest Railway Station: Shimla (196 km)
  • Nearest Airport: Shimla airport (205 km)

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10. Blackbuck National Park

As the name suggests, this national park in Gujarat was created to protect the blackbuck, a species of deer. Another reason to visit this protected territory is that it is one of the handful of places in the country to see the Indian wolf (different from the Himalayan wolf). Unlike Corbett and Kaziranga, which boast greenery, this place features a vast carpet of tall, golden grass, with few trees here and there. This may be one of the smaller protected territories in the country, but, in no way, is it less worthy of a visit.

  • Area: 34.08 square kilometres
  • Prominent Mammal Species: Blackbuck, Indian wolf, striped hyena, golden jackals, wild boar, nilgai, hare
  • Prominent Bird Species: Bustard, eagle, crane, stork, falcon
  • Visiting Season: Year-round (October to March recommended)
  • Entry Fee: ₹20 onwards
  • Nearest Railway Station: Bhavnagar (45 km)
  • Nearest Airport: Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport, Ahmedabad (151 km)

These national parks of India give a vague idea about the country’s ecological, wildlife and geographical diversity. Other than these ones, the famous places in India for wildlife tours and camping include Kanha, Pench, Panna, Nagarhole, Valley of Flowers, Desert, Bandipur, Manas, Bannerghatta and Eravikulam national parks. So, as soon as the lockdown is properly lifted, you have got to visit these places for a tryst with nature.