Animal Adventures in the Seattle Area

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For critter-crazy kids, Seattle offers abounding opportunities for encounters with animals, native, exotic, and domestic. Spot a bald-eagle at the beach, a kangaroo at the zoo, or feed a furry friend at the farm ­– it’s all possible.  Here’s a round-up of our favorite wildlife destinations, all must-stops for your little animal adventurer:

Woodland Park Zoo – Just north of downtown Seattle, this 92-acre zoo is home to over 300 species of animals. While the penguins are always popular and gorillas worth a gander, don’t miss the zoo’s new Meerkat exhibit. Your kids will find them cute beyond compare. Wend your way through the Northern Trail exhibit to spot brown bears, mountain goats, Roosevelt elk, and wolves. Stop into the Australasia Willawong station to feed feathered friends (Tip: Little birds flap all around and might even land on you…fun for older kids/potentially scary for little ones). Swing through the Tropical Asia Trail of Vines exhibit to see orangutans, siamangs, and elephants. Then on to the African Savannah for sightings of hippos, giraffes, lions and zebras. Finally finish your tour through the zoo’s forests. In the Temperate Forest exhibit, find waterfowl, Asian cranes, and Red Pandas. In the Tropical Rain Forest, spot lemurs, monkeys, and elusive jaguars. That will bring you back to the penguins, where right next door is the food pavilion, the last essential stop for those who have worked up a ferocious appetite.  The Woodland Park Zoo also offers kids ages 8+ Eye-to-Eye Behind-the-Scenes tours for an even closer look at the animals by the zoo caregivers.

Seattle Aquarium – Located on Seattle’s Pier 59 right on Elliott Bay of Puget Sound, the Seattle Aquarium offers a magnificent underwater world of wildlife that’s sure to wow children of all ages. Thousands of fish and critters of scales, feather, and fur are on display. Gaze into the Window of Washington Waters, a 120-thousand gallon showcase that’s home to native Salmon, rockfish, and sea anemone. Meet a Giant Pacific Octopus in the Life of a Drifter exhibit and spot Cowfish and Scorpionfish among other unusual species in the Ocean Oddities exhibit. Continue on and you’ll find shore birds and alcids, harbor seals and Northern fur seals, sea otters and river otters in adjacent exhibits. Don’t miss the underwater dome.  Look up and see salmon, shark, sturgeons, and skates. Time it with a talk and feeding of the fish by Aquarium scuba divers at 1:30 pm daily.

Cougar Mountain Zoo – Nestled in the Northern slope of Cougar Mountain in Issaquah, WA, just 15 miles from Seattle, you’ll find Cougar Mountain Zoo. Just eight acres, offering an easy tour for the littlest of legs, the zoo is still home to a wealth of wildlife, including the largest herd of Siberian Reindeer in the U.S.  At front and center is the Mountain Lion plaza, where cougars and tigers roam nearby. From there, make your way to the zoo’s main exhibit, the Magic Forest. You’ll meet lemurs, macaws, alpacas, deer, cranes, wallabies, and emus. A cheetah exhibit is coming soon. For an additional donation, kids can also participate in the Zoo’s “Close Encounter” program with tigers. Separated by just a 7/8-inch safety glass, participants get an up-close-and-personal look at the rare resident tigers while learning more about their unique behaviors.

Farm Parks – Farm tours offer kids a great opportunity to meet animals of “Old MacDonald” fame. Visit Kelsey Creek Farm Park in the heart of Bellevue to meet ponies, goats, pigs, sheep, and rabbits. Schedule your visit at springtime for a peek at the baby animals in the barnyard. Farrel-McWhirter Farm Park, in Redmond, also includes a popular children’s animal farm, home to pigs, cows, goats, chickens, horses and more. Both parks offer walking trails and playgrounds.

Natural Habitats Near You – Surprise your kids with animal encounters in their natural habitats at a nature park near you. Throughout the summer, Seattle’s environmental learning centers at Camp Long, Discovery Park, Carkeek Park, and Seward Park offer programs geared toward animal encounters.  Kids can look and listen for moths, bats, and owls during guided twilight hikes.  Park naturalists also facilitate low-tide beach explorations and a family-friendly birding series, perfect for introducing kids to a host of a native wildlife species.

Take a hike through Bellevue’s Mercer Slough Nature Park, the largest of Washington’s remaining freshwater wetlands, home to a variety of a native birds and animals. Don’t miss the summer programs, which include a family-friendly series on animal tracking, bird watching, and insect and amphibian discovery.

Visit Kirkland’s Juanita Bay Park for a kid-friendly bird-watching experience. On the first Sunday of every month, park rangers offer tours. Common bird sightings include the American Coot, Great Blue Heron, the Belted Kingfisher, and the Northern Flickr.

Or just step into your backyard, where birds, squirrels, snails, and various insects are sure to be found. Just watch out for the occasional raccoon visitor. They’re cute but can be trouble!

-Erin Sirianni