With its high mountain peaks, deep forests, wide-open meadows, bountiful rivers and epic waterfalls, the Marion County community is the ideal home, not just for us residents but also for the diverse array of wildlife that shares that home with us. From the tiniest tadpole to the mightiest moose, all of Salem’s natural spaces provide refuge for each and every one of these amazing creatures. Equally true, the abundance of so many natural spaces for these animals means ample opportunity for wildlife watching in Marion County, creating fantastic opportunities to view animals as they live and interact with each other in the very place we all call home.

Marion County Natural Wildlife Viewing
The Streaked Horned Lark is just one of a few endangered species that call the Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge home. Photo credit: David Leonard/U.S Fish and Wildlife Service

Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge

Jefferson, OR

Offering a multitude of ways for visitors and locals alike to explore and learn all about Marion County’s natural wildlife is the Ankeny Hill Nature Center, located within the Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge. Much like our animal friends, it has proven to be the perfect home for the nature center. It allows them to provide multiple educational environments, including educational nodes, picnic areas, and a Nature Explore area for kids.

As for the refuge itself, it offers convenient access to miles of boardwalk and earthen trails as well as accessible viewing platforms. A plethora of wildlife can be found in this historic wetland area, though its primary residents are the dusky Canada goose and other migratory waterfowl. Likewise, the refuge’s riparian forest sanctuary hosts a range of inhabitants, from the tiny Pacific chorus frog to black-tailed deer.

Marion County Natural Wildlife Viewing
Blacktail deer make frequent appearances at the Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: George Gentry/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge

10995 OR-22, Dallas

With over 230 recorded species of birds, as well as coyote, Fender’s blue butterfly, Western pond turtle, and many more species of wildlife, visitors to Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge are sure to see something interesting no matter what time of year. The refuge’s many trails, observation decks, and roads that are available year-round further provide excellent opportunities for these sightings.

Not only is it home to common species, but it is also home to many threatened and endangered ones. This includes the famous Fender’s Blue Butterfly, which was thought to be extinct from 1940 until the late 1980s when biologists discovered a few remaining populations in the Willamette Valley. The threatened passerine, the Streaked Horned Lark, also considers the area home, as they tend to favor wide open spaces with few trees and shrubs like that of the Baskett Slough National Wildlife Refuge.

Marion County Natural Wildlife Viewing
A signboard at the E.E. Wilson Wildlife Area showcases the region’s wildlife. Photo credit: Rick Obst

E.E. Wilson Wildlife Area

29555 Camp Adair Road, Monmouth

Covering approximately 1,788 acres, the E.E. Wilson Wildlife Area came into existence when the U.S. Government gave quitclaim title of the property to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in 1950. The area offers a diversity of Willamette Valley habitat types and is home to species such as the bald eagle, bobcat, river otter, minx, and Roosevelt elk.

Nearby, the Oregon State University’s MacDonald Research Forest offers horseback riding, hiking, cycling, and interpretive trails, happy to guide you along. In addition, the Wildlife Area Headquarters offers reservations for educational group tours, which have proven to be perfect field trip opportunities for teachers and students.

Marion County Natural Wildlife Viewing
Adorable rabbits are just one example of critters you may encounter at Silver Falls State Park. Photo credit: Ian Sane

Silver Falls State Park

Encompassing 9,200 acres, Silver Falls State Park is the largest start park in Oregon, one of the most popular, and famous for its abundance of picturesque waterfalls. While most of the park is woodlands and forest, there are still plenty of open areas, which has resulted in a wide variety of birds that have taken up residence in the park.

During spring, it’s the perfect place to spot warblers, vireos, and woodpeckers, and it is a reliable spot for Great Horned Owl, Great Gray, and Flycatcher any time of year. Catching glimpses of deer and beaver makes further exploration equally exciting, as visitors are invited to hike, bike, horseback ride, camp, and picnic while in the park, giving ample opportunity for sightings. Just remember to keep an eye and ear out for bears and mountain lions, as they also call Silver Falls State Park home.

With its diverse ecosystems and abundant wildlife, Marion County is definitely a paradise for nature enthusiasts. Whether you are squirrel-watching from your kitchen window or heading out on a grand adventure at any of these Salem area wildlife centers and refuges, you’re bound to witness the incredible diversity of life right before your very eyes. Bearing witness to these remarkable creatures is a humbling reminder that we all share this beautiful place we call home.

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