Here’s where to look for creatures of the wild.
Whenever I see groups of people playing Pokémon Go, I think, “Well, at least they’re outside getting some exercise.”
The second thing I think is, “It’s a shame they aren’t just as excited to see all the real creatures living around them.”
The Pacific Northwest is home to some fabulous animals. And some of the best wildlife viewing in the nation can be found within a few hours of Seattle.
Seeing a large mammal in its natural habitat is an unforgettable experience. In my years of leading tours through national parks, I learned that there’s a rush people experience when they spot a big mammal for the first time. And the hunt to see more is usually more addicting than any video game.
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Here are some favorite wild places to see some living, breathing pocket monsters in the Pacific Northwest. Just remember, there’s no guarantee. Part of the fun of wildlife viewing is that you need a little bit of luck (and good viewing etiquette) to find them.
Favorite terrain: Seen throughout the Northwest, from ocean beaches to mountaintops. This time of year, they’re often seen fattening up in the high mountains.
How to find them: Of the 50 or so bears I’ve seen in the wild, most are just running across the road. The easiest way to see a bear is to look for the traffic jam. When you’re hiking, scan meadows with lots of biodiversity, and keep an eye open for fresh scat, which is typically dark and full of seeds.
Good chances of seeing them: Keep an eye out during any high-country hike and almost anywhere along the Pacific Crest Trail. The Marmot Lake Backcountry Ranger Station in the Olympics is known for almost daily bear activity. The Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia has black bears, grizzlies and white Kermode “Spirit Bears.”
Favorite terrain: Mountain goats use steep cliffs to elude predators, so they love sheer rock faces — the higher and scarier the better.
How to find them: Look for little tufts of white on cliff faces and mountain ridges. Mountain goats crave salt and they’re often seen near popular trails and campsites lapping up gray water and even urine. Goats will tear up bare soil, so you should dispose of all liquids over bare rock.
Good chances of seeing them: The Enchantments, near Leavenworth; Ingalls Pass, near Teanaway, and high on Mount Rainier.
Marmots and pikas
Favorite terrain: Some of the cutest critters in the Northwest reside in places that appear uninhabitable. Marmots (looking like a cross between a beaver and a squirrel) and pikas (like a rabbit mated with a mouse) live in avalanche chutes and boulder fields where they feed on wildflowers, seeds and grasses.
How to find them: When you pass big jumbles of rocks, listen for warning cries. Marmots emit a sharp whistle, while pikas make a shrill peeping sound. Find a place to sit quietly until they regain their bravery and emerge from their dens.
Good chances of seeing them: Any high-country hike. In the Olympics, search around Hurricane Ridge or Deer Park. They’re almost guaranteed along the Snow Lake trail at Mount Rainier.
Favorite terrain: Lakes, ponds and rivers with slow-moving water and lots of foliage on the shore.
How to find them: Beavers are nocturnal so they’re usually seen around dawn and dusk. Look for freshly gnawed tree stumps and beaver dams. Listen for their tails slapping on water. When they swim they resemble a large dog.
Good chances of seeing them: You don’t have to travel far. I’ve seen beaver from the Highway 520 bridge as it crosses the Arboretum and along the Kirkland and Juanita waterfronts. Lord Hill Regional Park, near Monroe, has regular beaver activity. The north-end ponds of Seattle’s Golden Gardens park has them, too.
Favorite terrain: They thrive in lowland old-growth forests and forest-edge meadows.
How to find them: Early mornings and late afternoons are their most active hours. During the fall rut, listen for the ghostly wails of bull elk, which sound like a plastic hose being twirled through the air.
Good chances of seeing them: Elk are found in large numbers in Olympic National Park, especially around the Hoh River and Lake Quinault, and around Dosewallips State Park, on Hood Canal. The community of Mineral, on the way to Rainier, is another good bet.
Favorite terrain: Wetlands with lots of aquatic plants, reeds and grasses.
How to find them: Moose spend much of their lives feeding around water, so search rivers, lakes and wetlands when you’re traveling in the Northern part of the state.
Good chances of seeing them: There was a time when seeing a moose in Washington was practically unheard of, but now they wander through the Methow Valley, around Mazama, Winthrop and Twisp, with some regularity. They’ve also made a comeback in the Wenatchee Valley, near Fish Lake.
If you go
Wildlife hot spots
Some places are blessed with huge concentrations of wildlife. If you prefer a sure thing over the thrill of the hunt, here are places in the West where you’ll encounter lots of mammals:
• Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho: Probably the best wildlife location in the Lower 48, you can’t miss the bison and elk. Wolves roam the Lamar Valley, and you stand a good chance of seeing bear, moose and lots of smaller mammals such as river otter and coyotes.
• Denali National Park, Alaska: The shuttle buses within the park are akin to an African safari, featuring high concentrations of caribou, apex predators such as grizzlies and wolves, and loads of smaller creatures such as lynx, beaver and arctic foxes.
Parks and sanctuaries
If all else fails, Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, in Eatonville, Pierce County, houses local mammals in big enclosures that resemble their natural habitat (nwtrek.org).
Wolf Haven, near Tenino, is a nonprofit wolf sanctuary with large natural pens (wolfhaven.org).
Fun with critter cams
To put a fun new spin on wildlife viewing, try using a motion-activated creature camera.
The water-resistant Stealth Cam ($89 and up) can take a burst of images or record video. Various models have night vision so you can see what’s sniffing around your tent late at night. Place one near animal trails and the time/date stamp will tell you when and how frequently creatures are passing by.
• Never approach or feed wild animals.
• For the animal’s safety and yours, stay in your car whenever possible.
• Train your eye to notice shapes that seem out of place.
• When you’re in a target-rich environment, sit quietly and remain still.
• Dogs will scare away wildlife. Leave them at home.
• Search in the early morning and dusk when animals are the most active.
• Learn where animals like to spend their time and what food they eat. When you encounter those areas, pay close attention to sounds, movement and tracks.
Find more tips on the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Wildlife Viewing web page: