Utah is an international crossroads for migratory birds, and other creatures can certainly be espied in the state's many forests, canyons and wildlands, as well as around its reservoirs and lakes.
But if you want to head to a location set aside for the animals — and for those who want to find them in their natural settings — you can't beat a bird or wildlife refuge.
Here are just a few of the sites set aside for wildlife, most a day-trip away from northern Utah's most populous areas:
Antelope Island State Park: OK, it's not a refuge technically … but it is. A handy visitor center, a renowned bison herd, antelope, eagles, hawks, shorebirds, songbirds — Antelope Island, the Great Salt Lake's largest — has a lot to offer. And it is so easy to get to, sitting off the shore of Davis County proper and accessible via the county's causeway. You can hike, bike, ride horses, launch a boat or kayak, or just drive along the east side road to the historic Fielding-Garr Ranch. The causeway itself offers great bird-watching. There's even a campground. The park entrance fee is $9 and there is also a $2 causeway fee. The principal roads are paved. To get there, take I-15's Antelope Drive exit and head west to Syracuse.
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge: Just west of Brigham City off I-15/I-84's Forest Street exit. Established in 1928 and managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the refuge includes the James V. Hansen Wildlife Education Center (a visitor center) and a loop drive along dikes in the Bear River delta. It covered some 74,000 acres of marsh, open water and mudflats. (Construction is under way on the road to the sanctuary, though reserved tours are available; call ahead.) Forest Street is paved — or or being repaved; the loop is a gravel road.
Web: www.fws.gov/bearriver class="bullet-item"> Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area: Probably the nearest for most Utah city-dwellers, this 12,000-acre refuge, first built in 1935, has documented more than 200 different bird species, and is noted for as a home to great blue herons, ducks, geese, eagles and various hawks. It is managed by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. There are multiple entries; the main one is via Farmington's Glover Lane (925 South) off I-15 (though the lane itself does not have an exit; approach Glover via the east-side frontage roads from Centerville and Farmington). There is a small visitor center; the interior roads are gravel.
Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge: Now this one is a bit remote. Fish Springs is on the gravel Pony Express route in Tooele County between Faust and Wendover. Tooele is 104 miles away; Wendover is 105 miles to the northwest. Delta, to the south, is closest: "only" 75 miles away, according to the refuge Web site. Fish Springs, established in 1959 as a harbor for migrating wetland birds, it encompasses 17,992 acres and a 10,000-acre marsh system. It is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. After you get away from major towns and highways, the roads are gravel, and sometimes spotty. Watch out for the weather.
Ouray National Wildlife Refuge: 30 miles south of Vernal off U.S. 40, Ouray is an out-of-the-way gem situated along bends of the Green River and encompasses 11,987 acres. Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it is home to birds, deer and other mammals, including prairie dog colonies. S.R. 88 is paved to the refuge, while the sanctuary's roads themselves are gravel.
Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge: This 19,000-acre refuge is just over the Utah border in southeastern Idaho, at the top of Bear Lake. Access is from communities such as Paris, Montpelier and Dingle. Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it includes diked marshes, attracting many species of birds, and part of the slope of Merkle Mountain. The roads are gravel. The office is in Montpelier.
Browns Hole National Wildlife Refuge: Nestled in a sheltered — and remote — valley, the Browns Hole refuge, established in 1963, is actually just across the Utah border in extreme northwestern Colorado. Half of the valley is in Utah; the other half is in Colorado. The sinuous Green River, below Flaming Gorge, flows through and provides a lush habitat for birds and other wildlife. Along the river is a scenic eight-mile "wildlife drive." And unlike most area refuges, Browns Hole has campgrounds within its boundaries and nearby (so yes, it's probably more than a day-trip). There is a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service headquarters in the park.