Finding Wildlife in Oregon Refuges

Oregon is home to vast forests, high peaks, lush valleys, and rugged coastline, creating spectacular habitat for visitors to explore and wildlife to thrive. The deepest lake in the nation, Crater Lake, is located in Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park, and captures the magnificence of Beaver State and its beauty. The state also boasts 18 national wildlife refuges (NWR) that allow for wildlife viewing and sport across the state. We’ve picked a few that provide visitors with opportunities to observe amazing wildlife in some of these refuges:

Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge

Humpback whale
Humpback whale leaping out of the water. Photo donated by National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Mehmet Kaya
Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge borders the Pacific coast. It encompasses both old-growth forest — including a famous sitka spruce that is approximately 800 years old — and coastal habitat. These habitats support a variety of wildlife, including Northern spotted owls, harbor seals, and black oystercatchers, among others. The winter is the ideal time for wildlife watchers to see many impressive whale species like humpback whales, gray whales, orca, and sperm whales.

Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge

Steller sea lions on the Rogue Reef Unit of Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Roy W. Lowe/USFWS
Steller sea lions on the Rogue Reef Unit of Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Roy W. Lowe/USFWS
Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge offers some unique wildlife and landscape viewing opportunities due to its location. Much of the area is offshore, with grand cliffs and up-close views of the Pacific coast, making it a prime place to spot wildlife throughout the year. In the winter, visitors can search for the same whale species as seen from Cape Meares NWR. Additionally, wintering birds like loons and geese can be found in the area. During other times of the year, visitors can see sea lions, puffins, and many species of shorebirds.

Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

Oregon spotted frog
Klamath Marsh NWR is possibly one of the only habitats left to find the Oregon spotted frog. Photo by USFWS
Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, located in central Oregon along the Cascade Mountains, is comprised mainly of meadows and wetlands. The wetland and marsh area provides important habitat for an array of waterfowl, and the area is historically significant because it was once used and is still protected in part by the Klamath tribes. Visitors can look out for mallards, sandhill cranes, as well as a rare species of spotted frog.

Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge

Snow geese flock. Photo by Jon Nelson via Flickr Creative Commons
Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge is found along the border of Oregon and Washington and includes areas in both states. Winter is an ideal time for wildlife watchers to visit because thousands of birds, such as snowy owls and swans, rest and nest in the area. One of the most common species to see at this time of year is snow geese, which can be spotted in flocks of hundreds or even thousands.

Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge

Pronghorn in Hart Mountain NWR. Photo by wild trees via Flickr Creative Commons
Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, located in south central Oregon, features great opportunities to see pronghorn antelope. This NWR is an ideal place for hunters to find pronghorn, mule deer, bighorn sheep, and other game species. Hunting seasons begin in August and continue through January. This area’s mountainous landscape provides shelter to wildlife like mountain lions, bobcats, and pika. Also found in this refuge are western juniper trees, which are some of the oldest living species in Oregon.


Recently, Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon was closed following an armed takeover. The National Wildlife Federation and its affiliates are urging Americans to buy federal Duck Stamps to stand up for our national wildlife refuge system. Most Americans support public lands and oppose ongoing efforts to sell them or turn them over to individual states, and duck stamps send 98 cents of every dollar to help preserve this vital habitat.

Comment and show your support for our national wildlife refuge system with a memory or photo from a NWR!

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Published: January 12, 2016