Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge

Visit Us

Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge provides recreation opportunities to thousands of visitors every year. Shorebirds migrating from as far south as Argentina stop to rest and feed in Grays Harbor Estuary every spring. The estuary's open mudflats provide ample food for the migrants and great wildlife viewing opportunities for the public. Whether birding, practicing photography, or participating in educational programs, visitors enjoy viewing the unique ecosystems and diverse wildlife. Regulation of recreation activities allows for public enjoyment of the refuge while still protecting the wildlife and habitats.

There is one official entrance to the Refuge on Airport Way. Visitors park in a marked parking area along Airport Way and walk 1/3-mile along a blacktop road owned by the Port of Grays Harbor to reach the Sandpiper Trail. The parking area has a kiosk with brochures and Refuge information. The Port of Grays Harbor maintains a secure gate across the road at the location of the kiosk. Through a cooperative agreement with the Port, Refuge visitors are allowed to walk the blacktop road to reach the trailhead. Access to the hangars and the runways is not permitted for safety and security reasons.

The Sandpiper Trail is open year-round and visitors take approximately 90 minutes from the parking area. Benches are provided to sit, relax, and observe the changes in wildlife as the tide fluctuates. Take caution during rainy fall days and winter when the boardwalk may be slippery. Refuge staff and the Washington Conservation Corps. members regularly blow leaves and sand the boardwalks during these months.

Restrooms and potable water are not available at the Refuge.

Activities

Although the Refuge is in a rural setting, the area is well-known in the birding community and visited often by birders from throughout western Washington. Most visitation occurs during a three-week period in the spring when shorebirds migrate through the area. The Refuge is close to U.S. Highway 101's Pacific Coast Scenic Byway and is adjacent to State Highway 109, which is the main highway for visitors along the Washington coast. This route was designated the Hidden Coast Scenic Byway. Other wildlife can be seen from the trails, including deer, coyote, and small mammals. Songbirds are abundant in the alder and cottonwood forest. During April and May, the Refuge offers field trips for classes participating in the environmental education program so they can witness the wildlife and ecological connections learned in the classroom.

A majority of the Refuge is intertidal flats and salt marsh salt marsh
Salt marshes are found in tidal areas near the coast, where freshwater mixes with saltwater.

Learn more about salt marsh
that is crucial habitat for shorebirds to build reserves for their long migration. Human disturbances can have detrimental effects on their ability to rest and feed. For this reason, fishing, clamming, and hunting are not permitted within the Refuge.  

Trails

The Sandpiper Trail leads visitors into the salt marsh salt marsh
Salt marshes are found in tidal areas near the coast, where freshwater mixes with saltwater.

Learn more about salt marsh
and through the alder and cottonwood forest for quiet reflection and wildlife observations. Benches are positioned in open viewing areas looking over the intertidal flats. The wooden boardwalk is level for an easy stroll. The tidal stage is important to note for watching shorebirds. The best viewing time is three hours before to three hours after high tide. During this period, the tide pushes birds closer to the Sandpiper Trail for closer viewing.

Other Facilities in the Complex

Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge is managed as part of the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge Complex. A National Wildlife Refuge Complex is an administrative grouping of two or more refuges, wildlife management areas or other refuge conservation areas that are primarily managed from a central office location.  Refuges are grouped into a complex structure structure
Something temporarily or permanently constructed, built, or placed; and constructed of natural or manufactured parts including, but not limited to, a building, shed, cabin, porch, bridge, walkway, stair steps, sign, landing, platform, dock, rack, fence, telecommunication device, antennae, fish…

Learn more about structure
because they occur in a similar ecological region, such as a watershed or specific habitat type, and have a related purpose and management needs.  Typically, a project leader or complex manager oversees the general management of all refuges within the complex and refuge managers are responsible for operations at specific refuges. Supporting staff, composed of administrative, law enforcement, refuge manager, biological, fire, visitor services, and maintenance professionals, are centrally located and support all refuges within the complex.

Other refuges in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge Complex include: Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge and the Black River Unit of Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. The Refuge Complex headquarters is located at Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually Refuge in Olympia, Washington.

Rules and Policies

The Refuge's primary purpose is to protect habitats and wildlife, and provide quality viewing opportunities to visitors. Please be mindful of allowing wildlife to remain undisturbed and respectful of other visitors. Review and adhere to the rules and regulations included in What We Do - Law Enforcement.  

Locations

Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge
1000 Airport Way Hoquiam, WA 98550

Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge is adjacent to Bowerman Airfield and access to the Sandpiper Trail from the kiosk is on the Port's asphalt road. Refuge and Watchable Wildlife signs are posted to guide visitors to the discrete location. Plenty of parking is available but there are no facilities (restroom, office) at this Refuge. To access the Sandpiper Trail from the parking area, walk through the pedestrian gate near the Refuge kiosk and continue to the end, passing all the airport hangers. This is an active runway and access to the hangars and runways are not permitted.

The Sandpiper Trail is a low boardwalk with pullout viewing areas into the salt marsh salt marsh
Salt marshes are found in tidal areas near the coast, where freshwater mixes with saltwater.

Learn more about salt marsh
and mudflats. The loop takes visitors into the salt marsh and closer to the water's edge for exceptionally close birdwatching. 

There is no fee to visit Grays Harbor Refuge.

Driving Directions

Grays Harbor Refuge is adjacent to Bowerman Airfield in Hoquiam, Washington.

From Hoquiam, drive west on WA 109 and turn left onto Paulson Road (Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge can be seen on the corner). When you get to the end of Paulson Road, turn right onto Airport Way, and travel to the end. There is plenty of parking and the Refuge kiosk provides additional information.  The official street address for the Refuge is 1000 Airport Way, Hoquiam, WA, 98550 but the building is not open.  

From Ocean Shores, drive north on WA 115 to WA 109 until you arrive at Paulson Road. Turn right and drive to the end then turn right onto Airport Way.

Hours
Sandpiper Trail
Year-round
Sunrise - Sunset
Bowerman Airfield Road (Port of Grays Harbor)
Year-round
Sunrise - Sunset