A chance encounter with wildlife can be the most memorable part of any trip. Running into rabbits on a hike or seeing a family of deer or elk on the side of the road are a huge treat for kids and grownups alike.

At the Oregon Coast, wildlife is everywhere — not just at visitor attractions that charge a fee for entry. Whale-watching and tide-pooling are time-honored traditions, but there’s a lot more out there to discover.

Here are a few less-crowded spots where you can encounter wildlife along the Coast year-round.

  1. Take a walk through coastal forests and sandy dunes and spot the wildlife at Fort Stevens State Park, near Astoria. Viewing platforms by the lake and the bay let visitors spot great blue herons, bald eagles, auklets Virginia rails, Roosevelt elk, beavers, harbor seals and thousands of migrating shorebirds.
  2. Bring your binoculars and spend some time at Three Arch Rocks National Wildlife Refuge, just off the coast near Tillamook. The teeming flocks of seabirds, harbor seals and sea lions, which sun on the rocks across the way, will entrance visitors.
  3. From May to August, the tufted puffin can be found nesting on Haystack Rock at Cannon Beach and Face Rock State Scenic Viewpoint in Bandon.
  4. Beaver Creek State Natural Area, near Newport, is home to beavers, river otters, Pacific treefrogs, osprey and marsh wrens, and well as deer and elk. A visitor’s center provides a deck to view the marsh and creek, and through Labor Day, park guides give tours of the river, with kayaks, life preservers and paddles are provided.
  5. Steller sea lions give birth to pups in June and July; it’s possible to spot the young at Three Arch Rocks as well as Rogue River Reef in Gold Beach and Shell Island near Charleston.
  6. Visitors may catch up-close views of herds of up to 120 Roosevelt elk (named for President Theodore Roosevelt) at the Dean Creek Elk Viewing Area near Reedsport. The area’s interpretive center is a handy spot to learn about wildlife of the region’s meadows and marshes. Beavers, muskrat, mallards, Canada geese and blue heron also make their home here.

For more inspiration, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife has an interactive wildlife-viewing map denoting hundreds of spots along the Coast and rest of the state. Plus, refer to their tips for keeping the wildlife and coastal habitats safe and healthy.  Check for updates to their wildlife areas and come back year-round, to experience the diversity of the seasons.

iStock photo by Kenneth Canning