If you’re looking for pikas in Washington State, you’ve come to the right place. A wildlife lover’s paradise, the mountains of the Pacific Northwest are home to many animals, including the darling pika.
Between their adorably plump body, enormous eyes and furry curiosity, pikas are one of the most charming creatures you will encounter on a trail in the PNW.
I love that they sometimes seem to follow me on the trail, dashing in and out of the rocks to peak through every now and then, especially in the North Cascades. And I love them for their sweet calls that remind me of a childhood cartoon sitting vaguely in my subconscious.
Pika adaptations have several features that work well with their environment.
- Thick Fur: Protects against cold temperatures.
- Rounded Ears: Reduces heat loss.
- High Metabolic Rate: Helps maintain body temperature.
- Haypile Making: They collect and store plant material for winter food.
- Strong Hopping Legs: Aid in navigating rocky terrains.
- Vocalizations: Communicate with others for social interaction and alerting to danger.
Pikas in Washington State
Pikas, small relatives of rabbits and hares, are often found in high-altitude rocky areas. They are known for their distinctive calls and round, furry appearance. Washington State’s diverse mountainous regions provide an ideal habitat for these animals, making it a prime location for pika lovers.
Where are pikas found in the state of Washington? All sorts of places, but you are better off seeing them if you’re able to hike.
The North Cascades
The North Cascades are among the top destinations for pika sightings in Washington. The high elevations and rocky terrains, especially around Cascade Pass, are ideal for these creatures.
Here, the mix of alpine and subalpine environments provides a rich habitat for pikas. They can often be seen darting among the rocks, gathering food, or sunning themselves.
I have seen them on such trails as Artist Point, Heather Maple Loop, Chain Lakes and Sahalee Arm.
Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier National Park, with its iconic peak and surrounding meadows and rock fields, is another excellent location for observing pikas.
The Sunrise and Paradise areas of the park, known for their breathtaking views and wildflower meadows, also serve as perfect environments for pikas. Focus on the rocky areas and listen for the characteristic ‘eep’ sound of the pikas.
You will often find marmots in the same area and they make an interesting, if less adorable, sound as well. Pika calls are generally higher-pitched, short, and sharp, resembling barks or whistles, while marmot calls are deeper, longer, and can range from grunts to melodious whistles.
I have seen them on many trails at Mount Rainer like Fremont Lookout, Third Burroughs, Skyline Loop, and Mazama Ridge.
Listening to recordings of each can help you become more familiar with their distinct sounds.
Olympic National Park
The Olympic National Park, with its unique combination of coastal, forest, and mountain ecosystems, also hosts pika populations. Hurricane Ridge, a popular destination within the park, offers not only stunning vistas but also a good chance to spot pikas among the rocks.
The park’s diverse habitats make it a rich site for wildlife watching in general.
The Enchantments, part of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, is a region of unparalleled beauty. This area, with its crystal-clear lakes and rugged peaks, is not only a hiker’s paradise but also a great place for pika sightings.
The trek through The Enchantments can be extremely challenging, but the serene environment and the possibility of encountering pikas make it a rewarding experience.
Close to Seattle, Snoqualmie Pass offers an accessible yet adventurous location for those hoping to see pikas. The rocky terrain around the Alpental ski area, particularly during the warmer months, is a suitable habitat for these animals.
An early morning hike in this region can be fruitful, especially during the summer and early fall. I have seen them on such trails as Kendall Katwalk, Snow Lake, and Kendal Peak Lakes.
How Can I Spot a Pika in the Wild?
Pikas are somewhat elusive and blend well with their rocky environment, making them challenging to spot. Spotting a pika requires patience and attentiveness.
Since they are small and blend well with their rocky surroundings, it’s often easier to hear them before seeing them. Listen for their distinctive “eep” call. Look for movement among the rocks.
I often plan my hike to have lunch in the boulder field, on the way there or back, so that I can sit and see as many pikas as possible. You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) leave the trail in order to see them fairly close-up.
What do American pikas eat?
American pikas primarily eat a variety of green plants. Their diet includes different types of grasses, sedges, thistles, and fireweed. T
hey are herbivores and forage for their food, which they also store in large quantities during the summer months for winter use, in a behavior known as “haying.”
They are well-adapted to their high-altitude environments and have a diet that reflects the vegetation available in these regions.
Do pikas hibernate?
Pikas do not hibernate. Unlike many other animals living in similar cold climates, pikas remain active throughout the winter.
They have adapted to these harsh conditions by gathering and storing food during the summer months to sustain them when the landscape is covered in snow.
This behavior is essential for their survival, as the stored food allows them to maintain their high metabolic rate even during the cold months.
Photography Tips for Capturing Pikas
Photographing pikas requires readiness and patience. These animals are quick and often blend into their surroundings.
The best pika photos are often taken in the early morning or late afternoon when the light is softer, and the animals are more active.
The Importance of Conservation
Are pikas endangered? How many American pikas are left? The pika is not listed as endangered on a global scale, and there are some positive local population trends.
For instance, on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge, the American pika is making a strong comeback with volunteers reporting pikas at 23 out of 31 sites surveyed, which is a significant increase since 2018.
The Cascades Pika Watch program involves volunteers and citizen scientists in monitoring pika populations and contributes to the understanding of their status and the effects of climate change on their habitats.
If you are interested in volunteering or obtaining more detailed numbers or trends for specific areas, contacting the organization directly.
Joining Guided Wildlife Tours
For those unfamiliar with the region or wildlife watching, joining a guided tour can be a great way to increase your chances of seeing pikas. Local guides are knowledgeable about the best spots and times for sightings and can provide insights into pika behavior.
What Is the Best Time to See Pikas in Washington State?
The best time to see pikas is during the warmer months, from late spring to early fall. Pikas are most active during the cooler parts of the day, such as early mornings and late afternoons.
During these times, they are often seen foraging or heard calling. Their activity decreases in the midday heat and during the winter months when they remain mostly hidden under the snow.
FAQs on Pikas
Pikas are found in western North American states, including California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming, primarily in rocky, mountainous areas.
Pikas are not currently classified as rare globally, but some populations, especially in lower elevations, are declining due to habitat loss and climate change.
The top pika predators include birds of prey like hawks and eagles, as well as mammalian carnivores such as weasels and martens.
Pikas are wild animals with specific habitat needs and are not domesticated for pet life.
Pikas in Washington State are typically found in high-altitude, rocky environments such as mountainous regions. Key locations include the North Cascades, particularly around Cascade Pass, Mount Rainier National Park (especially in the areas around Sunrise and Paradise), Olympic National Park (with a focus on Hurricane Ridge), The Enchantments and Snoqualmie Pass near the Alpental ski area.
Final Thoughts on Pikas in Washington State
Washington State’s mountains provide an excellent opportunity for those interested in observing pikas in their natural habitat. From the majestic North Cascades to the serene Enchantments, each location offers a unique experience in pika watching.
Remember to approach this activity with patience, respect for wildlife, and a sense of adventure. Happy pika spotting!