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.

Road Trip: Concrete and East Skagit County

Road Trip: Concrete and East Skagit County

Enjoy a scenic drive and stay out in eagle country
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View the eagles during the Skagit Eagle Festival; snap a pic and enter it by January 15 in the Skagit River Bald Eagle Center’s 20th anniversary photo contest. Go win it!

WHERE: Concrete and east Skagit County.

WHY: Eagles are flocking to their spectacular winter getaway—why not join them? The Skagit Eagle Festival (1/1–1/31; concrete-wa.com) happens every January weekend, and your car makes a perfect blind for snapping pictures without scaring off these magnificent birds. Celebrate along the Skagit River with arts and crafts, wine tasting, photography tours and river rafting for eagle spotters.

NIGHT OWLS: Check out the Concrete Theatre, built in 1923 (45920 Main St.; 360.941.0403; concrete-theatre.com), updated for films, live music and events during the festival. early birds: Stop by 5b’s Bakery (45597 Main St.; 360.853.8700; 5bsbakery.com) for quality gluten-free baked goods and more for breakfast or lunch. For dinner, there’s Annie’s Pizza Station (44568 State Route 20; 360.853.7227; anniespizzastation.net), whose handcrafted cuisine would be a hit even in a town bigger than Concrete, population 753.

RULE THE ROOST: Spend the night in one of Ovenell’s Heritage Inn log cabins, located on a historic ranch across the river (46276 Concrete Sauk Valley Road; 360.853.8494; ovenells-inn.com). Pick up a steak or two—the cows are raised right there on the ranch—and throw them on the provided barbecue. Had enough of eagles? Elk, deer and coyotes are known to roam the ranch on a daily basis.