Nestled in the heart of Ridgefield, Washington lies the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, a 5300 refuge for many different animal species. The refuge consists of 5 sections – each unique in both habitat and the type of animal species that live there. While three of the sections are closed to the public, two are open for exploration, sight-seeing, and nature-spotting. (And they are BEAUTIFUL!)

Our previous visits to the refuge were often during the warmer months. However, the kids and I were craving a little break in our afternoon – and decided to visit the refuge. We weren’t sure what to expect – not knowing what animals may be active or present in the late winter. Much to our delight, we had an incredible experience – one we all agreed surpassed our previous summer-time visits.

I wanted to share a few reasons I think you should consider a visit to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge in the late winter/early spring:

Migrating Birds

If you are a bird lover, (and probably even if you’re not) you will LOVE visiting the refuge in the winter. Thousands of ducks, geese, and swans spend their winters at the refuge.

According the their website, “Winter is the best time to view large numbers of ducks, geese, swans and other migratory birds that use the area as a resting place during the long cold months.”


It’s Less Crowded

Our favorite feature of the refuge is the “Auto Tour.” There is a guided driving loop that allows you to observe wildlife from the comfort of your car. (My kids commented that it reminded them a bit of driving through Yellowstone – only without the buffalo.) 😉

When we’ve visited during the warmer months, there is often a line of cars – leaving your viewing time somewhat at the mercy of the cars in front and back of you. However on our recent visit, there was only one car ahead of us, and no one coming behind us – allowing us freedom to stop and take our time to look without feeling rushed (or rude for stopping).

Observe and Explore Nature While Staying Warm

Winter in the Pacific NW can be tough. Once the holidays are over, many of us are itching for spring and long to get back outside. Often, the lower temps and less than favorable weather keep us indoors – and away from all that nature has to offer.

That’s why I love the refuge. Even though the hiking trails are closed in the winter months, the 4 mile Auto Loop allows you to connect with nature from your car.

Heron, great blue heron

It is so much fun to simply stop your car – roll down your windows – and LISTEN. It’s incredible. There’s just no replacement for nature.

white nutria, nutria

On our visit, we were able to spot:

  • Geese
  • Ducks
  • Swans
  • Heron
  • Nutria (including a White Nutria – shown above)
  • Deer
  • Beavers
  • Countless other birds


I highly encourage you to visit the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. You can learn more about the refuge by visiting:

Stay connected with the refuge through social media: 

Like the Portland/Vancouver Wildlife Refuges Page on Facebook

Follow @USFWSPacific on Twitter