Friendly Marmot on Mount Hoffman, Yosemite National Park, California.

9 Best Destinations For Wildlife Spotting in California

Best known for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and Los Angeles, California is often overlooked when considering a destination to get in better touch with the great outdoors. California is one of the largest states in the United States and has plenty of great places to go and observe what Mother Nature has given. From Yosemite National Park, one of the most visited national parks in the US, to Burney Falls State Park, encompassing the serene Lake Britton, discover the best destinations for wildlife spotting in California.

Yosemite National Park

Two deers in the meadow in the Yosemite Valley. Yosemite National Park, California,
Two deers in the meadow in Yosemite National Park, California.

Yosemite National Park needs little introduction. It is one of the most popular and visited national parks in the United States. Located in Northern California, just west of the Nevada border, nearly 3.5 million people visit the park annually.

Taking a walk along any of the park's trails is a sure way to come into contact with the wildlife that calls Yosemite home. Big Horn Sheep and Mule Deer are not too hard to find, along with a litany of various bird species that nest in the park's tall pine trees.

Channel Islands National Park

An island fox (Urocyon littoralis) poses on Santa Cruz Island in the Channel Islands National Park off the coast of Southern California
An island fox (Urocyon littoralis) in the Channel Islands National Park.

Surprisingly close to the Los Angeles metro area, the Channel Islands can be found west of Santa Barbara and LA. These islands are relatively remote and can only be accessed by boat. While somewhat difficult to reach, the untouched nature that thrives on these islands is certainly a result of its isolation.

The islands are teeming with small mammals such as foxes and deer mice who live in the tall grasses that spread across much of the area. However, the islands are best known for their abundance of nesting birds. Eagles, hawks, and other birds of prey are known to nest on the islands, making it the perfect place to see birds raising their young. The island scrub-jay is also endemic to the islands.

Lake Tahoe

The clear blue water of Lake Tahoe.
The clear blue water of Lake Tahoe.

Another staple of the Californian outdoor scene is the famous Lake Tahoe, this massive lake in Eastern California stretches across state lines into Nevada. No matter which side of the lake you visit, you are in for a one-of-a-kind experience.

While the lake itself is nothing short of beautiful, there is still plenty more to do and see in the surrounding area. Visitors can expect to catch a glimpse of the rare mountain beaver in nearby creeks and streams, as well as porcupines and the American marten.

Cowell's Beach

Two surfers heading out in the early morning near Santa Cruz.
Two surfers heading out in the early morning near Santa Cruz.

Cowell's Beach is a great spot in Santa Cruz that both locals and tourists go to if they want to relax, enjoy the good weather, and take a dip in the ocean. It is also a great place to observe birds and other forms of wildlife.

The typical seagulls are all over the beach, but that is nothing too special. What is notable is the appearance of birds, such as pelicans and cranes. If you are really lucky, there might even be a chance you could see a pod of dolphins swim by if you are at the right vantage point.

Ellwood Butterfly Grove

Monarch butterflies flock to Ellwood in the thousands.
Monarch butterflies flock to Ellwood in the thousands.

Just a short drive outside of Los Angeles is the fascinating Ellwood Butterfly Grove. This is the perfect place to go if you want to observe a type of animal that is usually not on the radar of even the most enthusiastic wildlife admirer.

The Ellwood Butterfly Grove is one of the best spots on Earth to witness the migration of the Monarch Butterfly. Tens of thousands of butterflies can be seen at once when visiting this lovely sanctuary. It is certainly an experience that will stand out from the rest.

Morro Bay

Seal colony at Morro Bay, California Central Coast
Sea lions in Morro Bay, California.

Morro Bay is a truly tranquil natural harbor that sits along the Californian coastline. The town is just as lovely as any other beach town in California. What makes it really special is the massive cliff that peers over Morro Bay from the coastline.

Spotting animals here is a breeze. Since it is located on the coast, water birds such as pelicans, buffleheads, and loons are common sightings. Sea otters are also known to enter the harbor as well to feast on the crabs that live nearby.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

A view of Lassen Peak overlooking a quiet lake.
A view of Lassen Peak overlooking a quiet lake.

Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the major attractions of Northern California. The park is celebrated for its vast hydrothermal pools of both water and mud. The water in the hydrothermal areas is acidic and not open for swimming, but there are several lakes for swimming throughout the park.

The area is also filled with all types of wildlife and animals that you would come to expect. There is quite a healthy population of black bears. If you are careful and mindful of not getting too close, there is no reason not to enjoy these magnificent creatures like any other (at a safe distance). Common bird species include the bufflehead duck, pied-billed grebe, and spotted sandpiper.

Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

Towering redwood trees are a staple of the Northern California landscape.
Towering redwood trees are a staple of the Northern California landscape.

Only an hour's drive south of the Oregon border is the majestic Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Another feather in the cap of Northern California, this state park is often much less busy than the major national parks of Yosemite or Lassen.

Prairie Creek is home to an incredibly diverse group of habitats. There are tons of lizards and other reptiles that live in the creeks and ponds within the park. Be on the lookout for the Coastal Giant Salamander and the Pacific Chorus Frog.

McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park

Burney Falls is an iconic landmark within the park.
Burney Falls is an iconic landmark within the park.

Encompassing the pristine Lake Britton, McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park has a near-endless supply of jaw-dropping views and natural wonders to show off to its guests. Another gem of Northern California, Burney Falls State Park, is a great place for wildlife spotting.

Birds such as woodpeckers and Stellar jays can be seen nesting in the tall trees around the park. The distinct thudding noise of a woodpecker digging for food is by no means an uncommon occurrence. Deer and other small animals, such as foxes and muskrats, inhabit the park, too; just make sure to look out for black bears and the elusive mountain lion.

California is one of the most beautiful states in the Union and the perfect place to go if you want to take a good look at wildlife. Whether you have a taste for birds, reptiles, or woodland creatures, California will never run out of options for nature enthusiasts.


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