Sitting in the northwest of Washington State, Seattle offers an exceptional opportunity for wildlife viewing with locations that can be accessed in as little as one to three hours. There is no shortage of National Parks with Mount Rainier, North Cascades, Mount Baker and Olympic all within striking distance while state parks, wildlife areas and commercial establishments all add to mix. With the close proximity to the coast, those on the hunt for wildlife have the chance to spot not just large land mammals, but whales and countless migratory birds as well. Here are twelve must-visit wildlife viewing destinations in the Seattle area!
Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
The Nisqually River Delta sees the freshwater Nisqually River combine with the saltwater of Puget Sound to form an estuary rich in nutrients and detritus, ideal for supporting a large network of sea life. Over 200 species of birds use the refuge as a migratory stopover. Additionally, the refuge attracts beavers, coyotes, deer, river otter and mink.
Chelan Butte State Wildlife Area
This high elevation wildlife area, nestled between the Columbia River and Lake Chelan, is home to bighorn sheep, coyote, golden eagles and mule deer. Access is from Chelan Butte Road in the north, Downie Canyon Road in the west and Stayman Flats Road from the south.
Tip: The hours just before sunrise and just after sunset are always the best time to watch for bears, deer, elk, moose and wolves.
Deception Pass State Park
Spanning both Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands, Deception Pass State Park encompasses over 4,100 ac (1,659 ha) and includes 77,000 ft (23,470 m) of saltwater shoreline. The park is home to seabirds such as cormorants along with bald eagles, porpoises, seals and whales. Highway 20 runs through the park.
Located 17 miles south of Port Angeles on Hurricane Ridge Road, this is one of the most easily accessed mountain areas in Olympic National Park. The road to the Visitor Center and the trails around it offer opportunities to view black bear, deer, mountain goats, Olympic marmots and snowshoe hare.
Hurn Field Property
The Hurn Field Property provides food and shelter during the winter and spring for a large quantity of elk. The property can be found 3 miles west of the town of Concrete on Highway 20. A pullout parking area and interpretive sign are found at the base of the field where visitors are asked to remain to observe the elk.
Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier is an icon of the Washington State landscape. The mountain is an active volcano and is the most glaciated peak in the continuous US, spawning five major rivers. Wildlife abounds in the park and includes black bear, bobcat, coyotes, black-tailed and mule deer, elk, marmots, mountain goat, mountain lion (cougar), red fox, weasels (including the Pine Marten) and more.
Mount Saint Helens Area
The Mount Saint Helens area is home to black-tailed deer and elk which can often be seen along the Merrill Lake shoreline and in the Mudflow Wildlife Area Unit, but be aware the Mudflow Area is closed from December 1 through April 30 to help improve elk winter forage. The wetland areas throughout the region are home to songbirds and are popular with birders.
North Cascades National Park
A wild and rugged park, North Cascades National Park offers up virgin forests, fragile subalpine meadows and hundreds of glacier-clad mountain peaks. The park is home to black and the occasional grizzly bear, black-tailed deer, fisher, mountain goats, marmots, pikas, grey wolf and over 200 species of birds.
Tip: To avoid dangerous wildlife encounters with large mammals, bring binoculars and keep a safe distance.
Northwest Trek Wildlife Park
While the animals viewed here are not technically in the wild, Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, located in Eatonville, is home to over 40 different native Northwest animals. These include bears, bison, big cats, wolves and more. The park features a tram tour, adventure and photo tours, zip lines, hiking trails and more. Visit nwtrek.org for more information.
Olympic National Park
The Olympic Mountains feature glacier-capped mountain peaks and old growth rainforest along the Pacific side of the park. Wildlife abounds both on land and water and includes black bear, deer, mountain goats, Olympic marmots, Roosevelt elk and whales. There are over 300 species of birds found in the park including bald eagles, black oystercatchers, northern pygmy owls and sooty grouse.
Wolf Haven is a nationally recognized wolf sanctuary that has provided a lifetime home for 300 displaced, captive-born animals since 1982. The haven offers guided, 50-minute walking tours by appointment only where visitors can get a rare, up-close view of the wolves which are often impossible to see in the wild. Visit wolfhaven.org for more information.
Woodward Bay Conservation Area
The Woodward Bay Conservation Area, just outside Olympia, provides habitat for shorebirds and songbirds. Visitors will find bald eagles, harbor seals, river otters, a large maternity colony of bats and one of the most significant heron rookeries in the state. Trails run through the conservation area providing viewing access.
And there’s more!
For even more incredible wildlife viewing areas around Seattle, check out our Washington State GPS Maps, and keep your eyes peeled for the Washington State Backroad Mapbook, coming soon!