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. Wherever you go to see Oregon’s creatures, you’ll have a wild time.
Under the sea
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 Newport’s 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 — 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 eventually return to napping on the sunny outdoor shelf or the rock island in the cave accessible via a 200-foot elevator ride.
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 provides a look at the housekeeping and eating habits of badgers, porcupines, skunks and snakes.
The Cascade Raptor Center in Eugene offers one of the largest collections of native raptor species in the Pacific Northwest, including owls, eagles, harriers and kites. Visitors can see dozens of birds of prey in the center’s outdoor aviaries. Take a self-guided tour or book a personal tour or Ultimate Raptor Experience.
The Columbia Gorge Discovery Center in The Dalles gets people up close to local raptor species with its Raptor Discovery program. This interactive program for kids and adults is a great opportunity to learn about the habits and habitats of these special birds.
Lions, tigers, bears and more
Visit the Wildlife Safari in Winston with a 4.5-mile drive-thru to look at more than 500 animals of 80 species. Wild residents include hippos, rhinos and zebras in the Africa section, with grizzly bears, bison and elk in the American area. The drive offers up-close access to tigers, lions and giraffes among other large wild creatures. Visitors can get up close to the animals during reservable encounters. Help feed red pandas, tigers and giraffes this winter from a new heated barn.
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). In recent years the park has been home to 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 Red Ape Reserve. The zoo is home to 2011 mother of the year, Chinook the Cougar. 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 a condor recovery effort.