Best Hikes for Wildlife Spotting

Hike these trails to find owls and marmots and nearly 200 species of birds—oh my!
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Golden Gate Trail
Paradise, Mount Rainier

Map of Golden Gate
Difficulty: Moderate; 3 miles, approx. 1,000-foot elevation gain Location: About two and a half hours southeast of Seattle at Paradise on Mount Rainier. Nearest town: Ashford, 23 miles. $15 park entry fee; dogs prohibited; nps.gov 

In late summer, this trail cuts through a meadow so awash with vivid wildflower color, it may take you a while to spot them, but once you do, you can’t stop spotting them: hoary marmots. These mangy-looking but playful critters abound along this trail, often popping their heads up from behind rocks to stare pertly at passersby, or lounging, seal like, trailside, as if waiting for their morning scritch. (Don’t do it, of course—these are wild animals and may bite.) As you toil up switchbacks winding steeply through the valley, feeling the effects of the altitude, with Mount Rainier towering over your left shoulder, there’s no denying the comic relief these marmots bring. Stop at the top where Golden Gate meets the Skyline Trail; here, you’ll find excellent resting rocks (and probably more marmots, who will try to make off with your snacks). Head back the way you came, or better, make it a loop back down the Skyline Trail.

 

 

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
Near Olympia

Map of Nisqually
Difficulty:
Easy (paved and boardwalk); length varies, mostly level ground 
Location: About 90 minutes southwest of Seattle via Interstate 5. Nearest town: Olympia, 8 miles. $3 entrance fee, dogs prohibited; fws.gov/nisqually 

This pristine refuge in Thurston County is considered Puget Sound’s last unspoiled major estuary, and has been designated as a National Natural Landmark. Explore the 3,000 acres of saltwater and freshwater marshes, grasslands and other habitats via five miles of walking trails—including a lovely, accessible boardwalk loop. On a good day, you might spot dozens of the 275 species of migratory birds, and beavers, rabbits, frogs and salamanders that rest, nest and live here; a complete list is at fws.gov/nisqually. (This month, watch for juvenile eagles on the wing and all manner of creatures dining on summer berries.) There is a multitude of free tours and programs available; times and days vary; visit fws.gov/nisqually for details.

 

Juanita Bay Park
Kirkland

Map of Juanita
Difficulty: Easy (paved and boardwalk); length varies, zero elevation gain 
Location: About 20 minutes from Seattle in north Kirkland; kirklandwa.gov 

There are nearly 200 species of birds here, including great blue heron and osprey, but what you may remember are the many turtles that lounge on nearly every log in this marshy urban wildlife habitat. A looping system of trails and boardwalks winds through wetlands and over water, through reeds and cattail stands and among trees replete with nesting birds and alive with the cries, screetches and splashes of the creatures that call these 110 acres home. Download a habitat map at kirklandwa.gov, and see how many of the birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles you can cross off the checklist; lucky strollers might spot beaver and muskrat, river otters and Pacific tree frogs, and more; free tours led by park rangers depart from the parking lot at 1 p.m., rain or shine, on the first Sunday of every month.

Dig Deep Into Wine at the Northwest Wine Encounter

Dig Deep Into Wine at the Northwest Wine Encounter

An intimate affair for wine lovers who get their geek on over things like the impact of soil, weather, terroir and altitude
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A flight of wine awaiting tasting at one of the educational panels

If you love good wine—really good wine—you’ll want to put Northwest Wine Encounter on your radar.

Haven’t heard of it before? That’s not surprising. The inaugural event, which I attended last spring, was an intimate affair with space for just a few dozen wine lovers who got their geek on over things like the impact of soil, weather, terroir and altitude on winemaking, learning about these during educational panels led by some of the region’s finest winemakers. And, of course, it helped to taste through flights of really fine wine as the winemakers offered insights and perspective.

The return engagement, on the weekend of April 28-30 (from $485/person including lodging, events and gala dinner), will follow a similar format and will once again be held at Semiahmoo Resort, a lovely spot overlooking Semiahmoo Bay, with the U.S./Canadian border and Peace Arch in view across the water. This year, there will be room for around 100 wine lovers (sign up for Northwest Wine Encounter here).


Winemakers and guests enjoying Friday night’s bonfire at Semiahmoo 

This quintessential Northwest location was chosen to complement the local wines that are the focus of the weekend. At Semiahmoo, Mount Baker frames the view in one direction, the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound in another. At one time in its history, Semiahmoo was also the site of a salmon cannery. Hard to get more Northwest than that.

The 2017 winemaker lineup includes a few superstars from Oregon and Washington: Chris Figgins of Leonetti Cellars, Walla Walla’s oldest winery; David Merfeld of Northstar Winery, Chris Upchurch of DeLille Cellars; Tony Rynders of Panther Creek and wine grower Mike Sauer of Red Willow Vineyards. New this year is the addition of a British Columbia winemaker, Walter Gehriner of Gehringer Brothers Estate Winery.

 

At last year’s events, the panel discussions were interesting, but the Friday night kick-off event was almost worth the price of admission alone. It had the air of an informal party where everyone was enjoying each other’s company. All the winemakers were in attendance, pouring and chatting about what they love most: making wine. The party eventually spilled out onto the beach where a bonfire warmed the crowd. Marshmallows optional, wine required.