If you enjoy nature and all of its surroundings, you will love visiting the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in Ridgefield, WA. This beautiful 5,218 acre refuge is home to hundreds of kinds of wildlife. The land is comprised of wetlands, grasslands, riparian corridors and forests. Established in 1965 as a way to provide wintering habitat to the Canadian geese, the refuge continues to be a place of serenity and peace for wildlife and visitors alike.
Deciding this would be a perfect outing to take my kids on, we piled in the car, picked up my mom and headed out. We went around 1:00 in the afternoon on a hot summer day, which I later learned was not the best time to go. (I wish we had reviewed the Wildlife Viewing tips in advance.) There are two parts to the refuge, one driving route and one walking route. We decided to start with the driving route. Eagerly, we drove down the dusty, rocky path that led to the refuge. We viewed the wetlands to the right and gazed out the windows, trying to see the beautiful wildlife. The first creature we saw was a crane to the right of our car. It was far from us, but we could still make out its long legs and white body.
We continued driving for a few moments. Parking the car at a nearby stop, we found a walking trail. Seeing a sign saying there was a duck blind ahead, we continued on the path. I did not know what a duck blind was, but later learned it is a place to hide so the ducks do not see you, and is traditionally used for hunting. Approaching the duck blind, we saw something dart out of the wooden structure. When we entered, we quickly heard the faint sound of chirping and observed a small nest with baby birds. Suddenly, the mother bird, which we believe was a swallow, entered the duck blind and began feeding her babies. We were able to catch glimpses of the babies’ beaks and see a little of their fragile bodies. The mother swallow darted in and out several times. We enjoyed seeing these unique wildlife creatures up close.
We returned to our car and continued along the 4.2 miles of paved road. Although we strained to see more creatures, the only thing in our sights were a few ducks, several birds and more cranes. As local Clark County resident and refuge regular Karen Rommel later told me, “The best time to visit is in the morning, from about 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. or later in the evening.” She reports seeing many wildlife in the refuge, including deer, turtles, coyotes, swallows, cranes, eagles, geese, muskrats and an owl. The Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge published a wildlife checklist.
We finished driving the rest of the loop without seeing much more wildlife. Anxiously, we headed across town to the entrance of the walking trail of the refuge, known as the Carty Unit. Anticipating more great views of nature, we headed over a stunning bridge overlooking the Columbia River. Just past the bridge, we were pleasantly surprised to see a plank house. This plank house was reconstructed to emulate the houses that Lewis and Clark described when, over 200 years ago, they visited Cathlopte, a small village. We enjoyed looking at the 37 by 78-foot Western Red Cedar structure that is open to the public on the weekends from 12:00 to 4:00 p.m., mid-April through the first weekend in October. The Plank House is also open for special programs on select days. You can see the schedule here.
After the plank house we continued down the path and came across some breathtaking oak trees. We found one that was over 400 years old. The trees in this area are rooted where basalt islands elevate the land above the flood plane. Happily, my kids began climbing and exploring the gorgeous, aged oak tree.
We caught a glance of a few more cranes and followed the path just a little longer. The Oaks-to-Wetland hiking trail that we were on is two miles long, but my kids were exhausted and hot, so we turned around on the trail without completing it.
I was able to learn a little more about the refuge through Rommel, the aforementioned refuge regular. She shared with me that autumn is her favorite season to visit, as there are geese and goslings as far as the eye can see. “The refuge is one of my favorite places to visit, as it is a relaxing drive and you see something different every time you go, depending on the season of the year,” she explained.
Although we did not see as much wildlife as we would have liked to, I am pleased with the experience and plan on visiting again in the morning or at night, not midday as we mistakenly did. I highly recommend this beautiful outing for all Clark County residents to experience a little bit of wildlife in your own backyard.
For more information on planning your visit to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, click here. Find a map to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge here.