Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

The Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge on the Nisqually River Delta in southern Puget Sound was established in 1974 for the protection of migratory birds. Three thousand acres of salt and freshwater marshes, grasslands, riparian and mixed forest habitats provide resting and nesting areas for migratory waterfowl, songbirds, raptors, and wading birds. The Refuge is located at 100 Brown Farm Road Olympia, Washington 98516. Sheila McCarten, Visitor Services Manager, at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, explained the refuge, “The refuge has about 5 miles of trails open every day from sunrise to sunset. It’s a great place to walk, be out in nature, and see wildlife (mainly birds) and other types of wildlife. It’s so close to Tacoma and I-5 and it is open year round and very accessible to the local area.

There is a $3 daily entrance fee that’s good for four adults and kids under age 16 are free. There is also a $12 annual pass available for people to purchase and come in as much as they want.

Management is here to ensure habitats are healthy for wildlife so that the animals can come and go in their natural setting/habitat. People can be a part of that and walk on the trails and see wildlife in their natural habitat. Also, just being out on the nature the trails which are lovely; especially on the boardwalk. There are different habitats so many people can come get renewed, spend some time outside, or people that have a specific interest in birds can watch and photograph them.

We’re just ensuring their habitats are good as they can be and that there is food for the animals. All wildlife is coming and going. A majority of the mammals that people see are deer, mink, long tail weasel, river otter, harbor seals, and raccoons.”

As the Visitor Services Manager for the Refuge, Sheila is responsible for all the public programs on the Refuge. She commented: “We are fortunate that we have approximately 200,000 visitors a year that participate in the following recreational activities: photography, hiking, fishing, and environmental education. We have the trails, a visitor center that’s open five days a week, we have weekend public programs, a Watershed festival that’s at the end of September, and special events throughout the year that public come here for. There’s a summer lecture series during July and August. I provide outreach and education to the public to show that we have good facilities and programs for the public when they come.”

Sheila shared what she thinks of the Refuge, “The Refuge is really a special place and I get to come here every day and work. Visitors tell us regularly how it’s a very special place for them because you can really get out in nature and see natural habitats at work. There are not many places that are at a convenient location with flat and easy walking trails; that are acceptable to just about everybody. It’s so unique…you really see things when you’re here; most people don’t see a great horned owl and their chicks. There are a lot of opportunities to see birds and wildlife, and get a chance to appreciate those natural resources that we have.”

Sheila revealed how the Refuge is unique compared to other places, “It’s different from a zoo, as animals are on their own and are not caged or fed by humans. The animals here are in their natural habitat.” She discussed what many people may not know about the Refuge, “About two years ago, we had a major restoration effort and we restored about 760 acres of habitat back to the tidal estuary, and now there’s a boardwalk (a mile long on the tidal estuary). It’s a very unique experience to walk out of the tide flats and salt marsh of Puget Sound and you’re up above it, approximately 10 to 12 feet on a board walk. It’s a unique experience because living on the Puget Sound, most people see the Puget Sound, but don’t get to walk up and over it.”

There will be weekend nature programs on Saturday and Sunday at the Refuge. Sheila explained, “We have naturalist lead programs that are open to the public. They cover a whole variety of topics this past Saturday, we had one on nature photography and a bird walk. Other topics are plants, cultural history, and general nature walk. People can come and participate in these programs and they last two to three hours. It’s a great way for people to go out with guides that really know the Refuge, know their plants and birds, do photography, and get more information and knowledge at what they’re looking at. All programs are posted at the Refuge’s website: People do have to pay entrance fee to the Refuge, but programs are free to attend.”

When asked who she recommended attend the Refuge, Sheila replied, “I recommend that everybody come, it’s a great place for people of all ages. We have families with young kids that are pushed in strollers on trails, we also have a nature explore area designed for young kids. The nature explore area is exploring nature and natural objects and is recommended for children age two to ten. It’s great for families with young kids and I think getting kids outside is one of the most important things to do. We have “Discovery Packs” which are activities for kids to do outside on the trails. The Junior Refuge Manager program is for kids to obtain a booklet and answer questions and upon successful completion, a Junior Refuge Manager badge. We have a lot of college age people in the area and it’s a great place for them to observe natural history. We also have people that want to come out and walk…various birders (people that like to watch birds) it’s a great place really for everybody to come.”

For first time visitors to the Refuge, Sheila recommends people visit the Visitor Center to get their questions answered. There is also a nature shop and exhibits that visitors can visit prior to walking on the trails. No dogs or bicycles are allowed on the Refuge.

By: Carly Calabrese, staff for

4 thoughts on “Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge”

  1. What a lovely place for everyone!! In our fast paced world, it’s such a gift to know of these special places to appreciate where we can slow down and connect with nature. Thank you to all who keep it safe and alive for us to enjoy!!

  2. From the heart

    I have always enjoyed the out doors. I am always looking for new and exciting places to visit. I have seen the tidal estuary from I-5 in my car occasionally wondering what it would be like to actually experience it first hand. Now that I know a little more about it, I will have to stop next time and discover it for myself.

    As always, A very nice article Ms. Carly =))

  3. Pingback: Nisqually Trail Network « Friends4Trails

  4. It is nice to have a place to reflect on the actual life’s story…NATURE. I will see
    it again when I visit the Tacoma area. Nice Article Ms. Carly !!!

Comments are closed.