Choice wildlife viewing spots in Washington
Perhaps the most reliable spot in the state to watch elk is the Oak Creek Wildlife Area northwest of Yakima, a traditional winter feeding station where this year a near record 2,700 animals are fed daily in the early afternoon. The station is on U.S. 12 two miles east of its junction with State Route 410.
Elk winter in the valleys on the west side of Olympic National Park, which offer a more wild setting for viewing. Be patient. The Queets, Quinault and Hoh river valleys all have trails at the end of forest roads accessible from Highway 101 between Hoquiam and Forks.
Bighorns are fed midmorning every day at a small feeding station near Oak Creek. It's just off SR 410 about four miles west of Naches. Head north on the first road west of the junction with U.S. 12 and find the station shortly on the left.
Bighorns are often seen on the lower slopes of the Yakima Canyon, on the west side of the Yakima River. Take Exit 109 off of Interstate 90 in Ellensburg and head south to Canyon Road (SR 821). There are ample opportunities to pull off the road and scan the slopes.
Mule deer are particularly visible this year all over north-central Washington. About 700 are being fed in the Palisades area of Moses Coulee at several feeding stations. They are all on private land; do not trespass, but pull off and watch from the road. Drive south from Wenatchee on SR 28. About six miles south of Rock Island Dam, go left on Palisades Road. The first feeding station is four miles in.
Mule deer are being seen daily in abundance along SR 153 in Okanogan County, between Pateros and Twisp, and on Highway 20 between Twisp and Winthrop.
Swans and geese
Trumpeter and tundra swan populations have been increasing in recent years, and hundreds winter on the bays and farmlands of the lower Stillaguamish and Skagit valleys, along with thousands of snow geese.
Cruise the side roads until the birds are sighted. Do not block traffic, and do not stop at all on the Fir Island Road, a main thoroughfare. Head north on I-5, take the Stanwood exit and head west on SR 532 to Stanwood, then south into the farmlands. For the Skagit Flats, take the Conway exit, head west on Fir Island Road and find side roads.
It It takes sharp eyes and a good pair of binoculars to spot mountain goats, but in winter the animals move down to surprisingly low elevations. Look for white dots and movement on the lower slopes.
Excellent viewing areas include the Mountain Loop Highway outside of Granite Falls, from the Verlot Ranger Station east to Deer Creek, where the road is now closed by snow, and the slopes of Mount Si.
For the latter, take Interstate 90 to the main North Bend exit, go right at the light in town, then left on Ballarat Road. Follow that north until it becomes the North Fork County Road, which provides a good vantage point to scan Si's steep west face.