Several miles of trails offer access to nearly every habitat within Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Please note that the trails are present to support wildlife viewing, photography, education and natural interpretation; dogs, jogging, frisbees, kites, soccer balls and footballs are not consistent with Refuge purposes and are not permitted. Those visiting the Refuge to hike the trails need not make any extraordinary preparations. A comfortable pair of walking shoes, clothing appropriate to weather conditions, and some water are all most visitors require. Be sure to use the restroom at the Visitor Center before heading out on your walk; the only facilities on the trails are located at the twin barns, near the north end of the Twin Barns Loop Trail.
Twin Barns Loop Trail (1.0 mile)
This level, mile-long boardwalk passes through woodlands, grasslands, and freshwater marshes, past the Twin Barns and an observation platform, ending back where it starts at the Visitor Center. This loop constitutes the heart of our trail system at Nisqually NWR. There are four spur trails off the main trail: the Riparian Forest Overlook, the Nisqually River Overlook, the Twin Barns Observation Platform, and most significantly, the Estuary Trail.
To Riparian Forest Overlook (0.1 mile spur trail)
A short trail to an observation deck branches off the east side of the Twin Barns Loop Trail. It curves through a surge plain, where tidal changes cause the Nisqually River to spill into a wooded habitat.
To Nisqually River Overlook (0.1 mile spur trail)
A little under half of a mile around the east side of the Twin Barns Loop Trail, the boardwalk extends for another 150 yards to the river. Here there is an observation deck with a mounted spotting scope for wildlife viewing along the Nisqually River.
The Twin Barns Observation Platform (0.1 mile spur trail)
About half of a mile around the west side of the Twin Barns Loop Trail, a boardwalk spur to the left goes to the Twin Barns Observation Platform. This elevated platform provides excellent views of the freshwater wetlands and the tidal estuary outside the dike. Mounted spotting scopes can assist with viewing wildlife.
Nisqually Estuary Trail (1.5 mile spur trail)
This trail starts just prior to the Nisqually River Overlook and is on top of an earthen dike. The salt water tidal estuary is to the north of the trail and freshwater wetlands are to the south. The first 1/2 mile is on top of an earthen dike, the remaining mile is an elevated boardwalk. At the beginning of the boardwalk, there is a viewing tower with great views into freshwater wetlands and the salt marsh. There is a mounted spotting scope on the tower. Further along the boardwalk is the Shannon Slough Viewing Blind, the McAllister Creek Viewing Platform, and the boardwalk terminates at the Puget Sound Viewing Platform. The trail is flat and easy walking. NOTE: There are no restroom facilities on the Nisqually Estuary Trail. The absolute last facilities are two port-a-poties located at the twin barns, near the north end of the Twin Barns Loop Trail. Also, please note that the last 700 feet of the boardwalk is closed seasonally from early October through late January during the waterfowl hunting season.
Accessibility for this trail: The first half mile is on the Twin Barns Loop Trail which is a boardwalk. The next half mile is on an earthen dike that is topped with gravel. It is flat and has a hard surface, but the gravel can be hard to push wheels through. Many do it, but it is a bit challenging! Once you get to the Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Trail, the going gets much easier. The surface is flat and smooth! There are several places along the boardwalk where the railing is lower for better viewing.
Follow Us Online
The reclusive American Bittern is a master of disguise. When it feels threatened, it stretches its neck and all but disappears among the reeds.