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Nothing thrills the kids (or the child within) like a brush with the wild. And Oregon has plenty of opportunities for human contact with wildlife —both native and exotic — from the ocean to the desert and everything in between.

Sea lions skim down a glass wall, leopard sharks pass overhead, and otters float at eye level. The Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport offers an uncommon and 360-degree glimpse of the underwater kingdom. Watch the luminous ballet of jellyfish, or explore marine life up close in a touch tide pool. For a behind the scenes tryst with a sea lion, check out the “animal encounters” program.

Just down the road at the Hatfield Marine Science Center you can handle starfish, sea anemones and other creatures or watch the resident octopus eat lunch. At the smaller Seaside Aquarium in Seaside— one of the oldest in the West — show-offy Harbor Seals make a big splash with visitors, and underwater tanks get you face to face with Moray and Wolf eels.

For a look at sea mammals in the wild, visit the Sea Lion Caves near Florence, where fat Stellar pups snuggle up against their moms, enormous bulls roar, and surprisingly agile cows dive into the rolling waves of the Pacific. There’s daily drama: shoving, barking and posturing for a fight. But all return to napping on the sunny outdoor shelf or the rock island in the cave accessible via a 200-foot elevator ride.

A new program at the High Desert Museum in Bend — Raptors of the Desert Sky — ushers guests into the habitat of birds of prey. Walk in the woods with hawks, falcons and owls soaring overhead. The Desert Dwellers Show offers a look at the housekeeping and eating habits of badgers, porcupines, skunks and snakes. (While you are there, cast your vote to name the new baby porcupine.)

The Wildlife Safari in Winston offers a 4.5-mile drive-thru look at more than 500 animals of 80 species as well as various close-ups with tigers, lions, giraffes and other creatures. Wild residents include hippos, rhinos and zebras in the Africa section, with grizzly bears, bison and elk in the American area.

The West Coast Game Park in Bandon — a walk-thru safari — puts guests among lions, tigers, snow leopards, bears, chimps, panthers, cougars and more — a total of 450 creatures raised in captivity. The 21-acre reserve is home to more than 75 species. Visitors can feed animals (which will make you feel quite popular). This summer, you can hold baby Bengal Tigers and an African Spotted Leopard cub.

The Oregon Zoo in Portland has educational exhibits about wildlife of the Pacific Northwest, Africa and Asia, including the star of the zoo — Packy the elephant, who was born there, and newly nominated mother of the year, Chinook the Cougar (see video here). In addition to animal viewing (more than 2,000 animals on 64 acres), the zoo has various education and conservation programs — including a wildlife lecture series, ocean conservation, and condor recovery effort.

Have a wild summer, and drop us a line about your adventure!

About the Author: Eileen Garvin

Eileen Garvin is the editor of Travel Oregon’s Seasonal Features, enewsletters and annual visitor guide. When she’s not cooking up trip ideas, Oregon Dreamer profiles and outdoor adventures to write about, she’s out exploring Oregon.

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These maps and directions are for planning purposes only. You may find that construction projects, traffic, or other events may cause road conditions to differ from the map results. For travel options, weather and road conditions, visit tripcheck.com, call 511 (in Oregon only), 800.977.6368 or 503.588.2941.

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