Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, a Good Place to Take a Break

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center

We’d driven I-5 between northwest Washington and Hank’s Columbia River home country many times. About halfway to our destination, we always looked out over the Nisqually River Delta and thought how it seemed to beg exploration. We knew dike removal had been done there in 2009 to allow the tides of southern Puget Sound to restore the estuary.

As we drove back north this time, fighting heavy traffic about 8 miles east of Olympia, I wondered out loud if there might be some place to take a break down there on the delta. Hank swung onto Exit 114. Signs directed us under the freeway and into a different world. The road ended in woods that opened into fields and watery areas. There’s a Visitor Center and Nature Shop, from the deck of which visitors can view a freshwater wetland as tree swallows swoop around them.

Come take a walk with me!

The Refuge has 4 miles of trails. We followed a handicapped accessible boardwalk trail along the freshwater wetland, then detoured out toward a couple of large barns and back along the edge of the saltwater wetlands, where various waterbirds fed in shallow water. If we’d had time, we could have followed a boardwalk trail out across the estuary, where fresh and saltwater combine to form habitat rich in nutrients for over 300 species of birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, and amphibians. There are a wildlife viewing tower and platforms along the way where visitors can watch hawks, owls, and other raptors hunt in the marshes and fields. Shorebirds search for food in the mudflats, and harbor seals haul out in the salt marshes. Salmon and steelhead use the estuary in their passage to and from freshwater, and for nurseries for their young.

Most major estuaries in Washington have been filled, dredged, or developed, but in 1974, Nisqually River’s was set aside for wildlife with the establishment of Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.  More than 760 acres have been reconnected with the tides of Puget Sound. It’s the largest estuary restoration project in the Pacific Northwest.

It not only provides respite for migrating wildlife and a permanent home for other species, it’s a peaceful stopping place for human travelers who need respite from the rigors of the road.

Freshwater wetlands from the Visitor Center
Twin Barns and wetlands, with newly planted native vegetation in foreground

Saltwater marsh with feeding ducks

For more information about the refuge, go to or call 360/753 9467.

One thought on “Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, a Good Place to Take a Break”

  1. I've seen this from the freeway, Joan, and thought it looked interesting, but never stopped to check it out. It sounds like a wonderful stop along the way, or even a destination of its own. Thank you for exploring it and sharing it with us.


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