ALVISO MARINA COUNTY PARK Alviso, Calif. "You’re guaranteed to see wildlife as soon as you get out of your car," says Candice Lisle of San Jose. "There are golden eagles, jackrabbits, cranes, egrets, blue herons, white and brown pelicans, and swallows building mud nests on the walls of an abandoned cannery. Many birds nest in the wetlands, while huge flocks fly over the salt ponds." (408) 355-2200, sccgov.org/portal/site/parks.
ANO NUEVO STATE PARK Pescadero, Calif. "One of the great delights of midwinter," says Susan Alcorn of Oakland. "Depending on when you’re there, you’ll see mating behavior, male elephant seals battling for dominance, or weaners (pups) learning to care for themselves. Walks to the sandy point are guided, and you must reserve well ahead." (800) 444-4445, parks.ca.gov.
CHIMNEY ROCK TRAIL Point Reyes National Seashore. "Of course the whole park is great for wildlife watching," says Laura Look of Pinole, Calif. "But along this trail I’ve seen reptiles, small mammals such as long-tailed weasels, gray whales, hundreds of species of birds—but especially elephant seals." (415) 464-5100, nps.gov/pore.
ELKHORN SLOUGH NATIONAL ESTUARINE RESEARCH RESERVE Moss Landing, Calif. "There are way more animals here than you’d ever see at a game park, zoo, or aquarium," says Marjorie Wells of Pacifica, Calif. "The packs of seals are lots of fun, but I also enjoy the marsh birds, seabirds, and foxes. Once I saw a great clan of turkey vultures all offering their monstrous wings to the sun." (831) 728-5939, elkhornslough.org.
GRAY LODGE WILDLIFE AREA Butte County, Calif. "A totally magical experience," says Karen Killebrew of Applegate, Calif. "If you visit in January, the water is covered by waterfowl of every description. Sandhill cranes graze in nearby rice fields and raptors abound. Every so often the sky fills with thousands of squawking ducks and snow geese." (530) 846-7505, dfg.ca.gov/lands/wa/region2.
HUNTINGTON LAKE Auberry, Calif. "Watching bald eagles and red-tailed hawks dive for their dinner here is a spectacular sight, whether you’re floating along in a boat or relaxing on the shore," says Nicole Warner of Fresno, Calif. (559) 855-5355, fs.fed.us/r5/sierra/recreation/lakes.
JAMES V. FITZGERALD MARINE RESERVE Moss Beach, Calif. "There’s such an abundance here," says Diane Thornton of Keaau, Hawaii. "Hundreds of harbor seals; tide pools full of sea stars, crabs, sea urchins, and octopuses; passing whales and dolphins; pelicans, quail, great blue herons, egrets, cormorants, gulls, hummingbirds, hawks, raccoons—and don’t forget the occasional banana slug on the trails." (650) 728-3584, fitzgeraldreserve.org.
LANDS END COASTAL TRAIL San Francisco. "A wondrous place," writes Jay Pascua of Union City, Calif. "You’ll see flocks of gulls, pelicans doing their fishing aeronautics, red-tailed hawks swooping into cypresses, and sea lions sunbathing on coastal rocks." (415) 561-4323, parksconservancy.org/visit/park-sites/lands-end.html.
LUCY EVANS BAYLANDS NATURE INTERPRETIVE CENTER Palo Alto, Calif. "You can see all sorts of shorebirds—from egrets and herons to godwits and dunlins—along the miles of trails from this center to the Shoreline at Mountain View Park," writes John McCabe. "You might even sea a harbor seal that came up the slough to do some people watching." (650) 329-2506, cityofpaloalto.org.
MOSS LANDING STATE BEACH Moss Landing, Calif. "Magical!" says Jane Jestice of Soquel, Calif. "Take a picnic or rent a kayak and see a raft of up to 50 endangered sea otters floating in the harbor, protected from predators and totally relaxed. You can also watch sea lions competing for spaces on the jetties as pelicans, cormorants, and other seabirds soar overhead." (831) 649-2836, parks.ca.gov.
OLD HAUL ROAD MacKerricher State Park, Fort Bragg, Calif. "This beautiful walking trail along the Pacific shore provides wildlife views on any given day," says Mary Makela of Fort Bragg. "You’ll see industrious ground squirrels, deer herds, jackrabbits, ravens, gulls, ospreys, ducks, geese, and, at the right time of year, gray and humpback whales." (707) 964-9112, parks.ca.gov.
PIER 39 San Francisco. "From the walk-through fish tank at the Aquarium of the Bay to the loud antics of sea lions on the docks, this spot never fails to deliver animal entertainment," says Russell Thompson of Santa Rosa, Calif. (415) 981-7437, pier39.com.
PRAIRIE CREEK REDWOODS STATE PARK Orick, Calif. "Elk are reliably present in several areas here," writes Kay Burgess of Fortuna, Calif. "But the best sightings are often in the glades and lawns along the highway. I’ve seen males and females with newborn calves." (707) 465-7354, parks.ca.gov.
RANCHO SAN ANTONIO OPEN SPACE PRESERVE Los Altos, Calif. "On morning runs in this large park I’ve seen deer, turkeys, bobcats, coyotes, jackrabbits, cottontails, moles, and countless birds and reptiles," says Leigh Stevens of Cupertino, Calif. "I once watched a buck corner a bobcat on a picnic table—perhaps a doe and fawn were nearby." (650) 691-1200, openspace.org/preserves/pr_rancho_san_antonio.asp.
SAN LUIS NATIONAL WILDLIFE RESERVE COMPLEX Los Banos, Calif. "A fine spot to view tule elk and all sorts of animals and birds, including up to 30 species of waterfowl," writes Jermaine Case of Stockton. (209) 826-3508, fws.gov/sanluis.
TELEGRAPH HILL San Francisco. "It’s amazing to view all those bright green wild parrots flying around this neighborhood in the middle of the city," says Sandra Huang of Sunnyvale, Calif. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telegraph_Hill,_San_Francisco.
TOMALES POINT Point Reyes National Seashore. "Several times a year I take the lovely drive and hike out to the northern tip of Point Reyes," writes Angela Fong of San Francisco. "Along the way I get to see herds of tule elk and sometimes, off the coastline, gray whales." (415) 464-5100, nps.gov/pore.
WOODBRIDGE (ISENBERG) CRANE RESERVE Lodi, Calif, "Not only will you see hundreds of sandhill cranes, you’ll see thousands of white-fronted geese, tundra swans, assorted ducks and herons, and many wintering hawks," says Jim White of Auburn, Calif. If you’re lucky, you might spot a bald eagle." (209) 948-7708, wildlife.ca.gov.
GEIGER GRADE Highway 341 near Virginia City, Nev. "Wild horses congregate at a place called ‘the Flats’ at the top of this grade, where’s plenty of room to pull over," says Cynthia Kennedy of Virginia City. "Bands include pintos, roans, sorrels, and bays, and in spring lots of cute foals." viamagazine.com/weekenders/geiger03.asp.
PAHRANAGAT NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE Alamo, Nev. "Two large lakes here attract a variety of raptors and waterfowl," says Barbara Rohde of Panaca, Nev. "At times, the trumpeting of geese and ducks blocks out the noise of a nearby highway." (775) 725-3443, fws.gov/desertcomplex/pahranagat.
DEAN CREEK ELK VIEWING AREA Reedsport, Ore. "Between 80 and 120 Roosevelt elk graze along the road through pastureland in this reserve," says Charlene Bry of Reedsport. "The animals are not bashful, and many people take their pictures or use the spotting scopes provided on-site. You can often see great blue herons and ducks as well." (541) 756-0100, blm.gov/or/resources/recreation/site_info.php?siteid=31.
JEWELL MEADOWS WILDLIFE AREA Seaside, Ore. "A herd of 250 Roosevelt elk roams the meadows here from November through April—ask about the free one-hour tour," writes Penny Ehrenkranz of St. Helens, Ore. "You can see elk at other times, too, but they’re not as abundant." (503) 755-2264, dfw.state.or.us/resources/visitors/jewell_meadows_wildlife_area.asp.
WILLAMETTE HATCHERY Oakridge, Ore. "Beyond the ponds of large trout and white sturgeon, this place has a great display of used-to-be (now stuffed) wildlife: pine marten, badger, wolf, and fox," writes Gloria Youngbauer of Eugene, Ore. "There’s even a nine-hole miniature golf course that teaches you about the life cycle of salmon." (541) 782-2933, dfw.state.or.us/resources/visitors/willamette_hatchery.asp.
ANTELOPE ISLAND STATE PARK Syracuse, Utah. "A great day trip," says Tracy Flores of Salt Lake City. "There are grazing herds of bison, as well as deer and rabbits, coyotes, and bobcats. It’s also a migratory bird refuge." (801) 773-2941, utah.com/stateparks.
TURNBULL NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE Cheney, Wash. "With forest, grassland, marshes, lakes, and ponds, this reserve is home to moose, deer, coyotes, badgers, porcupines, muskrats, beavers, elk, and river otters," says Rickey Chang of Hayward, Calif. "It also supports more than 200 species of birds, especially waterfowl." (509) 235-4723, fws.gov/turnbull.
GREEN RIVER LAKES Bridger-Teton National Forest, Pinedale, Wyo. "A terrific spot for moose," says Steven Benson of Ketchum, Idaho. "More than once I’ve seen five or more." (307) 367-4326, fs.fed.us/r4/btnf/offices/pinedale
This article was first published in January 2010. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.