The Nisqually River experienced a tumultuous birth as glacier and snowmelt streaming off of Mount Rainier. As the river fanned out into the southern Puget Sound, it tamed as it emptied into mudflats and marshes.
Sitting just 50 miles south of Seattle, a day trip to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is perfect for anyone seeking to get out of the city without a long drive or tough hike. It’s a great place for families, as there’s plenty to do and is welcoming of all ages and abilities.
The refuge protects about 3,000 acres of wetlands and there’s history here, too: the land was once the location of a Hudson’s Bay Company fort built in 1833. Now, a day trip to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge provides a premier birding destination and a great place to catch views of the Olympic Mountains.
Animal activity is easily spotted year round on a day trip to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. The rich ecosystems house a variety of wildlife, including deer, seals, river otters, sea lions, and fox. Most people come for the birds, though, as the refuge is a seasonal rest area for 275 migratory species of birds plus more year-round residents.
Beginner and experienced birders should come prepared with binoculars (you can rent them from the visitor center) and a field guide to help with identification. If you’re interested in going with an expert, the Black Hills Audubon Society leads bird walks.
Hiking the Boardwalk
Any day trip to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is incomplete until experiencing the refuge’s centerpiece, the Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail. There are several trails in the refuge, but this five-mile round-trip walk is the best one of them all. Start at the visitor center and walk a half mile on the Twin Barnes Loop trail. You’ll pass a fork to the Twin Barns Observation Platform, a great place to get up high and scope out the scenery. Going to the right at the fork, you’ll eventually reach the mile-long boardwalk into the delta, where 360-degree views abound and wildlife sightings are plenty. The Washington Trails Association has a great description of this outing.
Kayaking the Delta
If you time your trip right, you can kayak the delta with ease. Put in at the Luhr Beach Public Boat Ramp and look at the tides to make sure you’re launching in an ebbing tide and returning in a flooding tide. Paddle close to shore and be prepared for sudden changes in weather with a wet or dry suit and plenty of provisions.
If you’re looking for an adventure near Seattle, a day trip to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is hard to beat. From a 5-mile boardwalk jaunt through tidelands to bird watching, it’s an accessible and unique experience in the south Sound.
Images of boardwalk and frog courtesy of jenn2d2 via Flickr
Image of Mink courtesy of OnceAndFutureLaura via Flickr