Plan Your Visit
Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge is open from sunrise to sunset. The gates on the McCormack Unit auto tour route automatically open at dawn and close at dusk. Please access the refuge only from designated public access areas. Parking is allowed in designated parking areas only. No overnight parking is allowed on the refuge. Click on the image to the right to see a copy of the Visitors Brochure (1.94MB PDF).
Wildlife Observation & Photography
The refuge is an important migration and wintering area for waterfowl and other birds in the Columbia River Basin, with up to 150,000 ducks and 30,000 Canada geese resting and feeding on its marshes and ponds in the fall, winter and spring.
A wildlife observation tower, photo blind, nature trail, and auto tour route are available on the McCormack Unit in Oregon. The gates on McCormack Unit auto tour route automatically open at dawn and close at dusk. The tour route highlights refuge management activities and provides opportunities for viewing both wildlife and habitat types. Vehicle access and designated parking lots are also present on the Boardman Unit in Oregon and on the Patterson, Ridge and Whitcomb Island Units in Washington. Parking is permitted only in designated parking areas.
Wildlife Viewing By Season
Choose the right season for viewing the wildlife you wish to observe. Curlews are more visible in spring when they are doing their courtship flights. Mule deer bucks are more active during the fall rut. Large concentrations of waterfowl are common in November and December.
Spring is a wonderful time to see spectacular wildflower displays on the refuge. Many species of waterfowl, shorebirds and songbirds stop to rest and refuel for their migration further north. Long-billed curlews arrive in late March to begin their spectacular courtship flights, and the refuge celebrates "Curlew Day" with talks and tours.
As the flurry of migration settles, resident wildlife begin raising their young. Look for broods of Canada geese, mallards, and cinnamon teal in refuge wetlands. Avocets and black-necked stilts probe the mudflats for food, and American white pelicans soar high above the Columbia River. At dusk, watch for short-eared and burrowing owls hunting for rodents along field edges. Mule deer does and fawns feed in uplands and agricultural fields.
In early fall, songbirds migrate through the area en route to Mexico and Central America. Duck and goose numbers begin to build up as the days get shorter and colder on breeding grounds to the north. Take an evening drive along the auto tour route to see one of the area's greatest attractions—the large mule deer herd that resides on the refuge's McCormack Unit.
The refuge is a wintering area for many species of waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds. Peak concentrations of waterfowl usually occur in November and December. Winter also brings bald eagles and tundra swans. If freezing temperatures are not too severe, and there is plenty of grain in the agricultural fields, many birds will stay in the area all winter long.
Hiking, Bicycling and Horseback Riding
Hiking is allowed along roads open to vehicle traffic and other designated hiking areas of the refuge. Bicycling and horseback riding are permitted only on roads that are open to motor vehicles. They are not allowed on trails or roads closed to vehicles. To protect nesting birds and wintering waterfowl, most refuge islands are closed to public entry year round.
Fishing for salmon, steelhead, sturgeon walleye, and bass is popular on the Columbia River portion of the refuge. A boat ramp is available on the Patterson Unit. Boating is allowed on most of the Columbia River portions of the refuge and backwaters. Boats are not allowed on McCormack Slough, except to retrieve birds during the legal hunting season.
A boat ramp is available on the Patterson Unit.
Deer hunting is permitted on portions of the refuge, as is waterfowl and upland game bird hunting. For more information, call the Waterfowl Season Hunting Hotline at (541)922-HUNT. The McCormack Slough Fee Hunt Area (see Hunting Regulations) is open for waterfowl hunting three days per week: Saturdays, Sundays, and Wednesday, Thanksgiving Day and New Years Day.
Things You Need To Know
Access difficulty varies by area. Contact the Mid-Columbia River NWR Complex Office for suggestions using the area safely (509–546-8300).
Most areas of the refuge are very remote with no restroom or drinking water facilities. Refuge visitors should plan their trips accordingly.
Firearms and other weapons are subject to state law. At all times, persons possessing, transporting, or carrying firearms on the refuge must comply with all provisions of state law. Firearms may only be discharged in accordance with refuge hunting regulations, i.e., only during the lawful pursuit of game during legal seasons.
Camping is not permitted on the refuge. Camping facilities in Oregon are available at the Boardman Marina. In Washington, camping facilities are available at Crow Butte State Park.
Other prohibitions on the refuge are dogs off-leash; off-road vehicles; and collecting of plants, animals, minerals, antlers and artifacts.
Lodging is available in Boardman, Umatilla and Hermiston, Oregon. Gasoline, supermarkets and restaurants are located in Boardman, Irrigon, Umatilla and Hermiston, Oregon.