Nature is a part of our soul. We treasure the wildlife around us, but with increasing urban sprawl, there can be a disconnect with nature. Those that call the Northwest home know that keeping as much natural habitat available for native species of all sorts – from turtles to bears, elk to butterflies is very important and something to be treasured. There are many, many opportunities for seeing wildlife around the Northwest including roadside refuge viewpoints, designated wildlife refuges, hiking trails, rehabilitation centers, and sanctuaries. In addition to the public zoos found in Portland, Tacoma, and Seattle, you can find a multitude of ways to appreciate wildlife of all types. We’ve gathered a few well worth a visit:
What it offers: A large driving loop located in SW Washington that takes you through a variety of wetland landscapes. There are plenty of options where you can get out and take photographs, hike on a designated path, or sit and enjoy the wildlife. The driving loop takes you past areas to see nutria, birds, turtles, deer, migrating geese, heron, and more. The most wildlife will be visible in morning hours or just before sunset.
The main attraction: The driving loop allows visitors to stay in their car and still be able to view wildlife – perfect for the elderly, small children, mobility impaired, or during inclement weather.
Details: Open year-round sunrise to sunset. Bathrooms available. $3 entrance fee per vehicle (cash only)
What it offers: Similar to a zoo, but dedicated to conservation, and education by showing animals in their Northwestern natural habitats. A family friendly place you can spend the whole day with the kids. Special areas include a tram ride, wilderness walks, zip line course, and kids trek play area.
The main attraction: Elk, bear, cougars, wolves, foxes
Details: Open summer hours 9:30-4 weekdays, 9:30-5 weekends; winter hours vary. Admission $10-22
Grants Pass, OR
What it offers: A chance to see a wide variety of native animals up close. Animals that are sick, injured, or orphaned are brought to the center for to be treated and for rehabilitation. Those animals that cannot be released are available for viewing.
The main attraction: Badgers, bobcats, bears, birds
Details: Open winter hours Fri-Sun 10-3; Summer hours open 7 days a week 10-4. Admission $7-14
What it offers: Located on a large island in the middle of the Columbia River just outside of Portland. The island is home to pumpkin patches, berry picking, and apple orchards, as well as designated wildlife viewing areas home to many migratory birds.
The main attraction: Bird watching
Details: Open 4 am -10pm. Parking permits required $10/day or $30/year and are available online through Oregon Department Fish & Wildlife
What it offers: Located between Albany and Salem, the site has trails, observation blinds, interpretive signs, and boardwalks for hiking and walking, and has some paths available for bicycling. Interpretive signs help you view and understand the wildlife you see.
The main attraction: Bird watching
Details: Open year-round, from sunrise to sunset. Free.
What it offers: A drive-through visit to see wildlife from around the world up close in a habitat as close to native as possible. Stay in your car as you watch animals from all over the world as well as those native to the Pacific Northwest. Free visitors center. Located in southern Oregon between Roseburg and Grants Pass.
The main attraction: Zebras, Giraffes, Ostrich, Bears, Lions
Details: Open 7 days a week Summer hours 9-5, Winter hours 10-4. Cost $16-22
What it offers: A roadside viewing area along the southern Oregon coast, home to native elk herds. Because they are wild, there is not guarantee you will see elk when you visit, but when you see them, it is a treat! Elk are also commonly found roaming the beaches and towns of the northern Oregon coast around Gearhart and Warrenton.
The main attraction: Native elk herds
Details: A roadside viewing platform with a good chance of seeing a herd of elk lounging in the sun. Your chances of viewing are better in the morning hours. Free.
What it offers: This rehabilitation center focuses primarily on birds of prey including eagles, hawks, vultures, and owls. They have many full-time resident birds as well as birds currently being rehabilitated. Guided tours are available or do a self-guided tour.
The main attraction: Birds of prey
Details: Open Tuesday – Sunday 10:00 – 4:00 winter hours or 10:00 – 6:00 summer hours. General admission $6-9