I was tempted to start off with research on the educational benefits of seeing animals in nature. But, honestly, catching glimpses of wildlife is just fun — for kids and kids-at-heart.
Most of the recommendations for bird and duck viewing will be safe bets for sightings, but we can’t guarantee a sighting for mammals (the Oregon Zoo is still your best bet for a definite animal encounter). Here are some family-friendly, scenic spots for exploring and wildlife viewing. Have fun!
Jennings Lodge, Milwaukie
Animals to see: Ducks, birds, nutria, fish
If you go: This new oasis in the city is right off 99E. Meander along the 1,500-foot boardwalk trail and play in the new nature playground.
Animals to see: Elk
If you go: Sightings are less guaranteed than many of the animals and parks listed, but families often see elk at the Gearhart Golf Links, and in Cannon Beach in Les Shirley Park. The best times are mornings and late afternoons or evenings. You can also see elk seasonally at the Jewell Meadows Wildlife Area in Seaside (pre-purchased parking pass required).
Commonwealth Lake Park
Cedar Hills, SW Foothill and SW Huntington
Animals to see: Ducks, geese, birds, heron, nutria
If you go: There are two playgrounds nearby, plus green lawns for playing and picnicking, and a paved path around the man-made lake for walking and biking.
Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden
Animals to see: Birds, ducks, bald eagles, nutria
If you go: This is a lovely garden with paths for roaming, three waterfalls and two bridges. There is an admission fee during the spring and summer; check their website for rates. There is also limited capacity to ensure safety during Covid restrictions.
Animals to see: Birds, ducks, geese, nutria, eagles
If you go: Fernhill is an active wastewater treatment facility, but it’s a lovely place with fun bridges and paths. The new playground Anna & Abby’s Yard is about a mile away.
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge
Animals to see: Ducks, geese, swans, birds, heron, river otters, invertebrates. Families have also seen deer.
If you go: The daily entrance fee to the Refuge is $3.00 (cash/check only). Check the website before heading out to learn more about seasonal trail closures and the auto loop.
Rood Bridge Park
Animals to see: Birds, ducks, heron, snakes, chipmunks
If you go: Walk paved and unpaved paths through forested areas and wetlands, explore the rhododendron garden and the small stream that runs through it, play on the large playground structure, and have a picnic on one of the large grassy areas.
Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area
Animals to see: Birds, ducks, river otters, deer
If you go: Bring binoculars if you have them on this kid-friendly walk with pretty viewpoints. It’s a fun find tucked in North Portland among port terminals and warehouses.
Animals to see: Ducks, geese, turtles, nutria
If you go: Explore the boardwalk to watch the ducks and geese, then play on the nature-inspired structures (it’s our readers’ choice for best playground).
Whitaker Ponds Natural Area
Animals to see: Rabbits, garnet snakes, osprey, birds, heron, ducks
If you go: This is a kid-friendly spot with two ponds, a ½ mile loop trail and a gazebo.
Willamette River Greenway – Wapato Access
Animals to see: Birds, frogs, snakes
If you go: No Sauvie Island parking pass is required since this is an Oregon State Park. The pathway is a flat, scenic two-mile loop around Virginia Lake, passing through forest, wetlands and by the river.