There is certainly no shortage of outdoor recreation opportunities in and around the Seattle area. This is, after all, the great Pacific Northwest. Natural vistas are great, with water, mountains, and forests of towering conifers everywhere you turn. But why not up the thrill with an up-close wildlife encounter?
At Northwest Trek Wildlife Park, visitors are guaranteed a one-of-a-kind experience checking out native Northwest wildlife in a serene natural setting. Located some 60 miles south of Seattle near the base of Mt. Rainier, Trek is unique in that the animals roam in acres-large enclosures amidst pristine mountain meadows and forest land. A paved interpretive trail – accessible to wheelchairs and strollers – wends its way through this natural wonderland, as does a tram tour, both of which allow for a sensational variety of animal sightings.
A heard congregates to drink at Northwest Trek Wildlife Park. — Photo courtesy of Panoroamio unchainedworldThe particular beasts you see, and what behaviors they demonstrate, depends on the season in which you visit. In the spring, it could be a bighorn sheep ewe tending to her newborn kid in the meadows. Fall is breeding season for the resident elk herd, when bull elk can be seen locking antlers as they vie for a mate during the “rut.”
No matter what time of year, there is always activity here, and arriving from Seattle by mid-morning allows for a day of “trekking,” so to speak. In addition to the 50-minute tram tour, there are nature centers, a historic trapper’s lodge, and naturalists’ presentations to check out throughout the day. For a break and to refuel, food is available at the Forest Café, which offers lunch fare such as burgers, salads, sandwiches, and kids’ meals.
The café is located at the main entrance, and hours vary seasonally. The Trek Treats concession stand is near the tram tour station, also offering a range of snacks and lunch options, but note that food is not allowed on board the tram. Instead, enjoy your meal at picnic tables in the meadow or under the sheltered picnic pavilion.
Situated on acreage donated in the 1970s by a Tacoma pediatrician, the late Dr. Richard Hellyer, Northwest Trek’s mission is conservation, education, and recreation.
That goal is accomplished by displaying, interpreting, and researching native northwest wildlife and their natural habitats, so whether you’re feeling the breath of bellowing bison just steps from the tram or wandering the trails here, you are contributing to the cause.
From the tram, common sightings are bison, Roosevelt elk, moose, mountain goats, and mountain sheep. A naturalist is along for the ride, providing commentary as the tram cruises through the park’s 435 acres of meadows, woodland, and lakes.
Big cats roam large, naturalistic enclosures in one area of the park. — Photo courtesy of Panoroamio unchainedworldOn a self-guided walk along a paved, forested path, visitors witness large predators such as grizzly bears, wolves, and cougars behind fences in large, naturalistic enclosures with interpretive signage.
Animal Trailside Encounters are scheduled trailside presentations led by park keepers. Beaver, porcupines, skunks, and other small animals are the stars of the show, and these guided walks get visitors up close to the critters while learning about their habitat, behaviors, and diet.
In addition to the guided experience, you can take in beautiful Northwest forest scenery on five miles of paved and primitive trails, each coded with a different icon coordinated to the trailhead map.
At the Cheney Family Discovery center, kids especially will get excited at the sight of Pacific Giant Salamanders, Gopher snakes, the Western toad, and the Rubber Boa snake.
The Baker Research Cabin is a representation of an old trapper’s cabin dedicated to conservation and research. Here visitors get a chance t spy on the park’s wolf pack from the kid-sized observation tunnel or to use remote cameras for observing resident coyotes and foxes.
Also available throughout the year are various reservations-only wildlife experiences, such as the Elk Bugling tour, Keeper Tours, and Photo Tours. These special experiences often include meals and special access and cost more than basic entrance fee. Advanced reservations are required, so check ahead for dates and to register.
Before heading back to Seattle, you can stop in the gift shop near the main entrance for a souvenir to remember your trek, including Northwest-inspired handmade jewelry, art, t-shirts, and toys.