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Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

The refuge was created in 1974 to protect the diverse fish and wildlife that call the Nisqually River Delta home. In addition to a myriad bird species, harbor seals, otters, salmon, and many other animals enjoy these expansive tideflats, and interested hikers can while away many hours watching active wildlife.

Before you start your hiking, you'll want to be sure and have binoculars. Bring your own, or check them out from the visitor center, open Wednesday through Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Binoculars are important; they will allow you to enjoy close-up views of the many species of dabbling and diving ducks that stop to feed in the wetlands or the several species of raptors, such as owls, harriers and kestrels, that survey the fields for prey. Also be sure to grab an information pamphlet, which includes a map of the hiking trails in the area.

There are several hiking options in the refuge, but the most exciting is the Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail. This trail starts at the visitor center and is accessed by walking one-half mile on the Twin Barnes Loop trail. After half a mile of hiking along an old boardwalk that sits just above the wetlands, hikers will reach a fork for the Twin Barns Observation Platform.

This is a good stopping point for hikers with young ones. Venture out to the platform and enjoy views out to Puget Sound to the west and the tidelands below your feet. There are also two Port-A-Potties available here, one standard and one that is handicap accessible.

To continue onto the boardwalk, take the right fork. Just before the trail comes to a T, a gravel path veers off to the left. This path, called the Brown Farm Dike Trail, leads to the Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail. Jutting far out into the delta, the boardwalk runs a full mile, taking hikers above the water when the tide is in. When it's out, folks will be treated to mudflats peppered with shorebirds searching for food.

The trail features an observation tower, an enclosed viewing platform, several push-outs for those who want to linger with their binoculars and two covered viewing platforms. There are thoughtful touches, like the areas with lower railings and mesh coverings to allow unobstructed views for kids and those in wheelchairs, as well as informative signs all along the trail.

The highlight is the Puget Sound Viewing Platform at the end of the boardwalk, which provides a 360-degree view, including McAllister Creek, the Olympics, Mount Rainier and several islands in Puget Sound.

Returning the way you came, either retrace your steps, or complete the Twin Barnes Loop, taking time to detour out to the Riparian Forest Overlook just before arriving to the parking lot.

Trails at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge are open sunrise to sunset every day, and there is a $3 per car vehicle charge. Parts of this trail will have an annual seasonal closure from October to January for waterfowl hunting season. And although Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is not open to hunting, waterfowl hunting does occur on Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife land immediately adjacent to the trail.
Driving Directions:

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is on the southern end of Puget Sound between Olympia and Fort Lewis. Take Exit 114 from I-5 and follow the signs to the refuge. The refuge is open daily during daylight hours. The daily entrance fee is $3; waived if you have one of the many passes they honor. About 100 parking spots are available.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 51 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge — Mar 25, 2014 — Anna Roth
Day hike
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Kindra and I headed out for a whirlwind tour of southwest Washington before seeing some folks at Tra...
Kindra and I headed out for a whirlwind tour of southwest Washington before seeing some folks at Trails and Ales, but first, we decided to stop by Nisqually NWR.

Amazingly, the weather held pretty well, we just had a few drops of rain, nothing we weren't prepared for. The Twin Barns Loop and the Nisqually Estuary Trail are pretty, green trails that feel quite remote, despite their proximity to I-5.

Armed with point-and-shoot cameras and an iPhone, we weren't as well equipped as some wildlife watchers; a gentleman who found out we had come without binoculars looked pityingly at us before he told us about some sandhill cranes hanging out on the tidelands. Turns out we didn't need binocs -- the cranes were HUGE. We took several minutes both on the way out and back to appreciate them.

There was plenty of other wildlife about. Birds called, fished, swam, and pooped all around us for the entire 5 miles of our outing. A great start to a hike-filled day.
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Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge — Mar 07, 2014 — Nutmeg
Day hike
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Splendiferous day at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, including SEVENTY degree, sunny weather (wh...
Splendiferous day at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, including SEVENTY degree, sunny weather (what?!?!)!!! The migrating birds were nearly outdone by phenomenal skyscapes. In addition to all the regular ducks, geese, gulls, and herons, we saw Northern shovelers, Lesser scaup, Green winged teal, and even Eurasian wigeons! Many were acting pretty silly (ok, that's OUR perception; their ladies seemed impressed enough) as breeding ramps up. Pics are at: http://www.flickr.com/[…]/.
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Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge — Feb 25, 2014 — Bob and Barb
Day hike
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The 3 owlets have left their nest and we saw them today in the area of last year's nest along the gr...
The 3 owlets have left their nest and we saw them today in the area of last year's nest along the gravel path on the East side of the loop from the visitor's center. 2 of the owlets were together on a limb far, far away, but the other was close in a tree beside the path. An adult was in the tree that apparently was a nest last year. After watching them for at least an hour we walked the boardwalk where we saw a variety of ducks, herons, gulls, and bald eagles.
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Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge — Feb 11, 2014 — Hikingqueen
Day hike
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A year ago today we saw 2 baby great horned owls in a tree here. I found out from ebirds.org that th...
A year ago today we saw 2 baby great horned owls in a tree here. I found out from ebirds.org that this year there are 3 babies in a tree not far from last year's location. This place is great for birds and all kinds of animals and provides a great location year round for all to see. I highly recommend it. Bring the family see the birds in the area, walk the boardwalk trail past twin barns it's on the straight away you will see 2 snags on the right side one has a nice hole where the babies are living. There's usually a group of people pointing and taking photos. They are all snuggled up together and times had their eyes all open. So fun to watch. It's all up to nature when they will be strong enough to fly off.
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Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge — Oct 20, 2013 — jeffbottman
Day hike
Features: Fall foliage
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We enjoyed the marvelous 4 mile walk through the Nisqually delta, including the mile long boardwalk ...
We enjoyed the marvelous 4 mile walk through the Nisqually delta, including the mile long boardwalk over the mud. The refuge is a regional treasure and a wonderful spot for bird watching. The day was hazy, cool, with warm fall colors. Saw some blue herons and spoonbill ducks. Don't miss this great lowland winter walk.
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nisqually boardwalk tomas.jpg
The new Nisqually Boardwalk. Photo by Tomas.
Location
Puget Sound and Islands -- South Sound
Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge
Statistics
Roundtrip 5.0 miles
Features
Coast
Rivers
Wildflowers/Meadows
Wildlife
User info
Good for kids
Dogs not allowed
National Park/Refuge entry fee required
Guidebooks & Maps
Winter Hikes of Western Washington - Craig Romano (Mountaineers Books)
Map and binoculars are available at visitor center

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47.0687986 -122.7129036
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