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144. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, Olympia, Washington

A constantly changing world of wind and water, and gulls, shorebirds, and other estuary wildlife.

Since it was established in 1974, Nisqually NWR has been a jewel for birdwatchers. The refuge offers four miles of easy-to-navigate trails and a bird list that tops 200 species.

The new mile-long Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail winds over vast tidal mudflats, providing a stunning view of a constantly changing world of wind and water, and gulls, shorebirds, and other estuary wildlife.

On a recent visit, I watched a Great Blue Heron wait patiently by a pool, then suddenly strike, coming up with a beakful of fish. The equally patient photographer next to me was also rewarded. The boardwalk is part of a $13 million estuary-restoration project. For the last 100 years, dikes had sealed out the tide. Now the waters have reclaimed the land that once was theirs.

Other highlights are the forested Twin Barns Loop Trail, a hotspot for spring warblers, and the Twin Barns Overlook, perfect for viewing waterfowl, raptors, and marsh birds. Great Horned Owls and Rufous Hummingbirds nest in plain view of their human admirers. My advice: Pack a lunch and plan to spend the day here. — Christine Dubois

Christine Dubois is a freelance writer and a writing teacher at North Seattle Community College. She is also a long-time birdwatcher who maintains a backyard sanctuary for birds.

144. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, Olympia, Washington


Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge protects mudflats and fields at the south end of Puget Sound. From Olympia, take I-5 North eight miles to exit 114. Turn left onto Brown Farm Rd. NE, then right onto the entrance road. From Tacoma, take I-5 South 18 miles to exit 114. At the end of the exit ramp, turn right on Brown Farm Rd. NE, then right into the refuge.

At a Glance

Click on the coordinates below to view location:
47°4’21.77″N 122°42’47.79″W


Tidal mudflats, fields, freshwater ponds, mixed conifer forests.

Flat. Twin Barns Loop Trail wheelchair-accessible. Boardwalk is wheelchair-accessible; portions of trail leading to it are not.

Year-round: Great Horned Owl, Black-capped and Chestnut-backed Chickadees, woodpeckers, gulls, Bald Eagle, Northern Harrier. Migrants: Short- and Long-billed Dowitchers, Baird’s Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, Whimbrel. Fall and winter: Dunlin, American and Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Peregrine Falcon. Spring and summer: Yellow, Orange-crowned, and Wilson’s Warblers, Western Tanager, Willow Flycatcher, Rufous Hummingbird, five species of swallow (look for nests at visitor center), Wood Duck.

When to go

Visitor center with educational exhibits and nature shop open Wednesday through Sunday, 9-4. Maps and brochures near entrance. Printable checklist at Restrooms and picnic tables. Observation platforms and tower, benches, and photography blinds on boardwalk. Black Hills Audubon Society leads bird walks Wednesday mornings, 8-11.

National wildlife refuge. Open daily, sunrise to sunset. $3 entry fee admits four adults; children 16 and under free. Free parking.

Part of Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail closed during hunting season (October-January). Scopes helpful. Check tide table on refuge website to plan your trip; birds vary with the tides.

For more info
Nisqually NWR, (360) 753-9467.
Black Hills Audubon Society, (360) 352-7299.
Nisqually Delta Restoration

Sites nearby
Priest Point Park
Olympia city park with three-mile trail through old-growth conifer forest and along saltwater-bay beach. Osprey nest near trailhead.

Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve
19 miles south on I-5, five miles west of exit 95. Rare mounded grassland prairie ecosystem. White-tailed Kite, Short-eared Owl, Vesper Sparrow, woodpeckers, and bluebirds.

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