If you and your budding naturalists enjoy wide-open green spaces, bird-watching, easy hikes, and seeing river otters do their thing in the wild, you need to run, not walk, to check out Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. The sanctuary encompasses over 5,300 acres of wetlands, croplands, forests and grasslands, and is home to thousands of cool animals. The best part, is that before the kids ask, “Are we there yet,” you will have arrived — the refuge is just 30 minutes north of downtown Portland.
The large greenspace is not only gorgeous, but it’s also a quiet, tranquil and inspiring outing that will keep the kids entertained and enjoying the fresh air for hours. The sanctuary is home to thousands of waterfowl, like ducks, geese, shorebirds, swans, herons, hawks and all of their associated hatchlings. Other animals live here, too, including deer, coyotes, river otters and beavers.
One of the best spots for bird watching is the Observation Blind, a hut that allows you and the little birders to watch and observe the fowl behavior quietly. It is a very cool experience, a quick walk from the car, and the trailhead is conveniently located right by a restroom.
The two-mile Oaks to Wetlands hike is rockier and uneven – great for little walkers, but not for strollers. Plus poison oak’s around this trail, so keep an eye out with your knee-high minions.
There’s also a 4.2-mile road around the refuge, so everyone can snack and check out the scene from the car. Even though it’s less than 5 miles, plan on the loop taking about an hour to complete from start to finish.
The refuge is run by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, who asks for a $3 entrance fee per car (exact change is preferred), and is open from 6 a.m.-8:30 p.m. If a staffer is on hand when you arrive, he or she will give you maps of the refuge and make recommendations for how to see it best. Pets, jogging, running, biking and picnicking are not allowed. This place is super peaceful and they want to keep it that way.
The RNWR is off of Exit 14 on I-5 in Washington, in the town of Ridgefield. It’s about 5 exits past Clark County Amphitheater so if you’re going to a show anyway, it could be an easy peasy add-on. It’s also close to some of RT’s fave lakes and water-friendly options and Vancouver’s many kidtastic haunts.
A great time to check it out is at the refuge’s annual Birdfest . This year, Birdfest fall on the weekend of October 4-5 and offers up kiddo activities and games, guided hikes, history talks in the plank house and live bluegrass music, making it a super-fly time for the whole gang.
Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge
28908 NW Main Avenue, Ridgefield, WA, 98642
Online: Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge
Where do you and the kids like to chase birds? Tell us in the comments section below!
– Liz Overson
Photos courtesy of southwestwashingtonzest.com, Rebecca at RNWR and Liz Overson