The autumn season in the Pacific Northwest is simply irresistible. We cannot help but be invigorated by crisp breezes or beckoned by endless arrays of wilderness, wildlife, and our desire to get in touch with our own wild side. So when fall calls, we’ve got some answers. Bring your binoculars and keep your cameras handy, because something wild is waiting for you in Bellevue.

Before you go: Check the websites provided for hours of operation, parking and facilities information, entrance fees, and various restrictions.

Bellevue Area

A city treasure, the Mercer Slough Nature Park covers 320 acres, including a 7-mile trail and boardwalk system for superb hiking amid Lake Washington’s largest remaining natural freshwater wetland. The 2.4-mile slough lets you immerse yourself into a serene world where the prehistoric majesty of great blue herons will take your breath away. Ornithologists will revel in the sounds of yellow warblers, violet-green swallows, and red-winged blackbirds. American beavers call this slough home, too, providing a much-needed element of biodiversity for all of the area’s flora and 170 fauna species. Visitors can bring their own canoes or take a Saturday or Sunday guided trip provided by the city May–October.

Heading east to Issaquah, you’ll discover Lake Sammamish State Park, boasting 531 acres, including a salmon-bearing creek and a rookery where great blue heron gather. Light-dappled trails are perfect for biking or walking as winged creatures such as Canada geese, mallards, American bald eagles, ring-billed gulls, and belted kingfishers take to the treetops and skies. You might also get a glimpse of mule deer, American minks, or even bobcats roaming the surrounding forest.

Take in the entire lake as you bike the paved Lake Sammamish Loop Trail, a 20-plus-mile tour around the water. With no significant climbs, the escapade offers extraordinary views of the lake, rivers, and teeming wildlife, including geese (snow and cackling), muskrats, Northwestern garter snakes, and unique Chinese mystery snails.

Also in Issaquah, Cougar Mountain Zoo was created to increase the public’s appreciation of earth’s irreplaceable and endangered wildlife, and to help us understand the role of humanity in nature. A place where visitors are considered guardians of the planet, the zooilogical park offers behind-the-scenes encounter tours with tigers, lemurs, reindeer, mule deer, and of course, cougars. Other wildlife that resides in the zoo includes alpaca, swamp wallabies, emu, crowned cranes (East and West African), and gorgeous macaw varieties.

Get a peek: Join Visit Bellevue outdoor ambassador Kara Patajo on The Vue for an inside look into the fun that awaits at the Cougar Mountain Zoo.

Seattle & Puget Sound

A short drive west from Bellevue to Pier 69 in downtown Seattle will land you at the San Juan Clipper, where whale sightings are guaranteed. In addition to orca and humpback, gray, and minke whales, you’re also likely to see seals and porpoise in the water or American bald eagles in the sky. Half-day tours run May–October.

Forty-five minutes northeast of Bellevue, in Edmonds, you can board the Puget Sound Express whale watching boats, branded as the fastest and most comfortable vessels in the Northwest. Tour cruise the Salish Sea and San Juan Islands, and wildlife in the area range from gray whales and humpbacks, to sea lions, otters, harbor seals, and hundreds of seabird varieties.

In the hip, Seattle waterfront neighborhood of Ballard, landlubbers can join Seattle Rider Ebike Tours for a three-hour guided ride where stunning views of the Olympic Mountains kick off the excursion. If your curiosity about wildlife includes wondering what a salmon-ladder actually looks like, the stop at Ballard Locks will certainly impress. Chinook salmon run July–November, coho silver salmon in late September, and sockeye salmon June–October. At Fisherman’s Terminal, you can shop the Wild Salmon Seafood Market for fresh catch, including salmon straight off the boat.

The Islands: From Whidbey through the San Juans

Heading north from Bellevue, a 40-minute ride will take you to Mukilteo for a 30-minute ferry ride to Whidbey Island where Island Adventures offers whale watching tours. As members of the Pacific Whale Watch Association, Island Adventures has access to the best whale-sightings network in the world with orcas, humpback, minke, and gray whales being seen in record numbers.

Continuing north, you’ll drive through Fort Ebey State Park where 25 miles of mixed-use biking and walking trails reveal many species of wildlife, from black-tailed deer and American bald eagles, to black oystercatcher birds and white-crowned sparrows.

Traveling north from Ebey, you can choose the inland drive or the coastal route to Washington’s most-visited state park: Deception Pass. Rugged cliffs and mysterious coves bask in jaw-dropping sunsets. As at many of the state’s parks, great blue herons and American bald eagles reside here, along with chipmunks, rabbits, raccoons, and great horned owls. In the waters of the Sound, you’ll see orcas, porpoise, whales, and sea otters. Enjoy unobstructed views of marine life with Deception Pass Tours (April–September) aboard The Island Whaler — a jet-drive catamaran that ensures a soft and stable ride in any conditions.

Bonus! Get a sneak peek at Deception Pass State Park with our outdoor ambassador Kara Patajo. Check out the video of her visit on The Vue.

A mere eight miles north, the ultimate experience in ‘soft adventure’ awaits at Anacortes Kayak Tours, where you’ll navigate the protected waters of Puget Sound for the most productive wildlife viewing opportunities in the entire state. Watch harbor seals lounging about as sea lions and orcas pop up from below the water’s surface. Bird watchers will delight in the sandpipers and plovers scurrying along the shorelines and the American bald eagles and Olympic gulls soaring overhead. Offering a gamut of trips from “The Quickie” 90-minute outing all the way up to five-day adventure tours, one of the most unique is the Bioluminescence Sunset Tour where you’ll see living organisms lighting up the sea.