The following is the second of a seven part series. Part two is focused on fall migrations. The remaining articles will be published, two per week, throughout October.
Part 1: Fall Colors
Part 2: Migratory Species
Part 3: High Water
Part 4: Mushrooms
Part 5: Desert Visits
Part 6: Hot Springs
Part 7: Off-Season Lodge Rates
Come the turn to fall, many species of birds make their annual trip south to warmer weather. Whales do the same, heading for the comfort of warmer waters. Spawning salmon make their return to their natal streams to complete their lifecycle. In California, monarch butterflies also make their seasonal migration west of the Rockies. These eight adventures are recommendations of great places to watch fall's remarkable migrations.
On the Oregon Coast between Lincoln City and Neskowin lies Cascade Head, a giant basalt Pacific Ocean outcropping. Exploring the headland will almost assuredly give you the opportunity to view its two resident herds of Roosevelt Elk, but that's just a side attraction this time of year. Just south of the headland is the Salmon River estuary, and like its name implies, it will certainly be teeming with Chinook salmon returning to spawn upstream. Head to Knight Park (also the Cascade Head Hike Trailhead) to launch your boat into the estuary and start exploring. If you're feeling really adventurous and you have a sea kayak in your possession, paddle out to explore Oregon's longest sea cave.
Within an hour's drive of Portland, the Salmon River, an undammed tributary of Mount Hood's Sandy River, is one of the healthiest riparian ecosystems in the region. You can find old-growth Douglas firs, western hemlocks and western redcedars looming over this river and protecting the Chinook salmon that come to spawn here every year. This year's salmon run is one of the largest in years, and the Salmon River is a perfect place to get an up-close view.
In the Columbia River Gorge, Eagle Creek is a famed hiking trail that showcases waterfall after waterfall. Few people realize, however, that the section of the creek downstream of the hike's trailhead is also one of the most accessible locations in the Portland area to see salmon spawning. Note that many of these salmon are from the nearby hatchery, but that doesn't detract from how exciting it is to see so many salmon spawning in the lower section of Eagle Creek.
The Smith Homestead on the Wilson River was once a pioneer homestead dating back to 1886. It was eventually turned into a road house outfitted with 11 additional rooms to board travelers headed between the Oregon Coast and Portland. Today it is one of the best day-use parks in the coastal range. The deep and cool waters of the Wilson River running by the park also provide an excellent spot to observe salmon heading further upstream.
Interestingly, as raptors (e.g., hawks, eagles, etc.) make their annual migration south for warmer weather, they tend to use prominent geographical features, particularly ridgelines, to navigate. At Bonney Butte, on the east side of Mount Hood, it just so happens that three distinct ridgelines converge, making it one of the best raptor watching locations in the region. HawkWatch International uses the location between the end of August and the end of October as a monitoring research station to tally up the number of birds flying overhead. Even better, it's open to visitors every day, where you may get a chance to release a tagged raptor.
Found on the northern stretch of the Big Sur coast in California, Andrew Molera State Park is the largest of the state parks within the magnificent Big Sur area. With over 20 miles of hiking trails (including the Headlands Trail), a scenic and accessible beach, an abundance of wildlife, and the Big Sur River, the park offers something for just about everyone, including the chance to see migrating monarch butterflies throughout the fall and winter months. On pure instinct alone, monarch butterflies from throughout the Western U.S. and Canada make their mass migration down to the mountains of Southern California and Mexico. The Big Sur coastline is one of the most convenient and beautiful locations to watch.
Put this adventure on your calendar, as it actually doesn't occur in the fall, but rather during the winter months of January and February. On the mouth of Grays Harbor in Southwest Washington lies a prominent natural jetty called Damon Point. It also happens to be a favorite wintering ground for snowy owls, the largest owls in North America by weight, and by far the most striking.
Despite this being the time of year when gray whales make their annual migration down to Baja to breed, it unfortunately doesn't make for the best viewing time. Why? The whales are in hurry, plunging under water for deep and fast dives. During the spring and summer, when they return to their feeding grounds in Alaska, they swim at a much more leisurely pace, and this is when we'd recommend catching a glimpse of these massive mammals.