Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge provides numerous recreation opportunities for thousands of visitors every year. People enjoy viewing the unique geology and diverse wildlife, whether hiking, bicycling, or driving. Regulation of recreation activities allow for public enjoyment of the refuge while still protecting the wildlife and habitats. A general refuge brochure and hunting brochures are available at the entrance fee kiosk and Visitor Center. Stop at the interpretive kiosk by Winslow Pool on the Refuge entrance road or at Turnbull’s Visitor Center for more information on the Refuge’s history, wildlife and management. The Refuge’s support group, Friends of Turnbull’s nature store, is in the Visitor Center and offers a wide variety of books, t-shirts, sweatshirts and other gift ideas. The nature store is closed during the winter months from October 31 through March 31.
Visitor access is limited to a 2,200-acre Public Use Area, Columbia Plateau Trail and designated sites identified in hunt permits. The remaining portions of the Refuge are preserved as a wildlife sanctuary, with disturbance even by refuge staff kept to a minimum. Wildlife observation and photography are encouraged. You will find excellent wildlife viewing opportunities in the Public Use Area with its several trails that loop through wetlands, grasslands, pine forest andhabitats. Visitors are welcome to drive, walk or bicycle the 5.5-mile auto tour route where most waterfowl and other wildlife can be observed. Moose, deer, and elk are often observed during the early morning or evening hours which is the best time for viewing wildlife. In addition to the 44 mammal species and over 200 bird species, the refuge offers a plethora of wildflowers that peak in mid-May. Arrowleaf balsamroot, camas, prairie star and lomatium are just a few examples of the beautiful flora found on Turnbull.
Turnbull is open year-round during daylight hours (6 am -9 pm PDT/6 am - 6 pm PST). The office is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 am to 4:00 pm. The Friends of Turnbull bookstore, located in the Complex Headquarters, is open on weekends from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm from April 1 through October 31.
With the passage of the National Wildlife Refuge Improvement Act in 1997, six wildlife-dependent recreational activities are often managed on refuges as long as they are determined to be compatible, legitimate and appropriate public uses of the refuge. Hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, environmental education, and interpretation are often referred to as the "big six". Turnbull offers five of the big six including a large and diverse environmental education and interpretation programs, great wildlife viewing and photography opportunities, and a limited entry elk hunting program initiated in 2010 to protect thehabitat of the refuge.
National Wildlife Refuges serve many purposes, and one of our most important roles is to serve as an outdoor classroom to teach about wildlife and natural resources. Many refuges offer environmental education programs for a variety of audiences. Refuges provide unique and exciting outdoor environments – excellent locations for hands-on learning activities. Thousands of youth and adult groups visit every year to learn about a specific topic on wildlife, habitat, or ecological processes.
Refuge System interpretation programs provide opportunities for visitors to make their own connections to the natural world. From self-guided walks to refuge staff and volunteer-led programs, many national wildlife refuges help visitors learn more about the wildlife and habitat behind the landscapes.
In addition to staff and volunteers presenting programs to audiences, refuges use a variety of exhibits, signs, brochures, and electronic media to communicate natural history stories to visitors. Printed and virtual information is often available on many topics, including plants and animals, seasonal migrations, habitats, refuge management strategies, and endangered species.
If you enjoy getting outdoors and looking for wildlife, consider a visit to your nearest. From birding to whale watching, from viewing speedy pronghorn antelope or slow-moving box turtles, wildlife observation is the most popular activity for refuge visitors.
From every state and all parts of the globe, about 55 million people visit each year, especially for the chance to see concentrations of wildlife and birds. The National Wildlife Refuge System’s extensive trail system, boardwalks, observation decks, hunting and photography blinds, fishing piers and boat launches encourage visitors to discover America’s best wildlife spectacles.
Perhaps the fastest growing activity on national wildlife refuges in the past decade has been wildlife photography. That’s not surprising – the digital camera population explosion and smart phones with ever-improving picture-taking abilities are increasing the number of nature photographers at a rapid rate. You don’t need to purchase expensive equipment or have any experience to get started. A small camera or basic smart phone will do fine for most visitors.
Millions of people visit outdoor areas each year to photograph wildlife, and national wildlife refuges naturally are at the top of the list. Refuges provide enhanced opportunities to photograph wildlife in natural habitats by providing platforms, brochures, interpreters, viewing areas, and tour routes. Wildlife photography is a high-priority activity in the Refuge System. We welcome beginning and expert photographers alike to record their outdoor adventures on film, memory card or internal hard drive.
Hunting is an important wildlife management tool that we recognize as a healthy, traditional outdoor pastime, deeply rooted in America’s heritage. Hunting can instill a unique understanding and appreciation of wildlife, their behavior, and their habitat needs.
As practiced on refuges, hunting, trapping and fishing do not pose a threat to wildlife populations, and in some instances are necessary for sound wildlife management. For example, because their natural predators are gone, deer populations will often grow too large for the refuge habitat to support.
Enjoy a hike on one of the several trails at Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge. Several short hiking trails and 3 accessible trails are available in the Visitor Use Area. Accessible Trails include Pine Lake Loop Trail, Kepple Peninsula Interpretive Trail and W. Blackhorse Lake Boardwalk. Less than ¼ mile, the Boardwalk Trail is our shortest accessible trail. It offers a smooth boardwalk surface, interpretation panels and ends overlooking the beautiful Blackhorse Lake. The 1.25-mile Pine Lake Loop Trail, with its compacted gravel surface, allows individuals greater mobility in getting out to Pine Lake and enjoying the variety of waterfowl and other wildlife that can be seen near or on the lake. Stationary binoculars purchased by the Friends of Turnbull, have been installed at the head of the trail overlooking Winslow Pool on the entrance road. Restroom facilities, with running water, and an interpretive kiosk is also located in this area. For those seeking a longer hike, a 5.6-mile gravel loop trail allows non-motorized access to Stubblefield Lake, a hot spot for spring migrants. The 2-mile Bluebird Trail, near the entrance to the auto tour route, provides an enjoyable hike through Turnbull’s habitats. The 0.5-mile Kepple Lake Peninsula Trail has a packed gravel surface from the parking lot out to the point of the peninsula. Interpretive guides are available at the trail’s entrance. Environmental education shelters are located at Headquarters, East and West Blackhorse Lake, and Kepple Peninsula Interpretive Trails. Paved parking facilities and vault toilets are also available at these areas. An accessible wildlife observation blind is available on the refuge’s Kepple Peninsula Interpretive Trail thanks to the efforts of several volunteer groups. Please remember that all visitors are required to stay on designated trails and roads March 1 through August 15 to reduce disturbance to wildlife and habitats.
Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge General Brochure
Other Facilities in the Complex
The Inland Northwest National Wildlife Refuge Complex includes three National Wildlife Refuges, several subunits, and conservation easements in northeastern Washington and northern Idaho. The refuges, Turnbull, Little Pend Oreille and Kootenai, are managed as a complex, sharing common work priorities, budgets, and some staff. Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge serves as the complex headquarters. Turnbull, located just outside Cheney, Washington, is a 2-3 hour drive from Little Pend Oreille and Kootenai Refuges, respectively.
Despite common management oversight, each of the three complex refuges is unique.
Turnbull features over 130 wetlands, ponderosa pine forest, steppe grassland, aspen, and rock outcroppings set in a distinctive landscape that offers many possibilities for experiencing nature.
Location: Southwest of Spokane, in Spokane County, Washington in the “Channeled Scablands”
Purpose: “. . . as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife (EO 7681, July 30 1937) and “. . . for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds.” Acreage: nearly 19,000 acres
Habitat: The Refuge supports an extensive complex of deep permanent sloughs, semi-permanent potholes and seasonal wetlands formed in the depressions left in a landscape scoured by Ice Age floods over fifteen thousand years ago. The uplands are a mixture of ponderosa pine, Palouse steppe, basalt outcrops and scattered aspen.
Public Use: Turnbull attracts an estimated 49,500 annual visitors to its 2,200-acre public use area. Wildlife observation is the primary use but hiking and bicycling on the auto tour are also popular. In 2010 Turnbull offered its first elk and youth waterfowl hunts.
Kootenai is a small gem of diverse wetland, cropland, and upland habitats and recreational opportunities.
Location: West of Bonners Ferry, Idaho in Boundary County’s scenic Kootenai River Valley
Purpose: “. . . as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife." (June 24, 1964 approved by MBCC Memorandum).
Acreage: 2,774 acres Habitat: Provides diverse habitats including wetlands, forests, streams, and areas as well as crops for foraging wildlife.
Public Use: Wildlife observation, wildlife photography, walking, bicycling, hunting, interpretation.
Little Pend Oreille is a mountainous forested refuge with clear streams, scattered lakes, and diverse outdoor pursuits.
Location: In Stevens and Pend Oreille counties, Washington in an area dubbed the Forgotten Corner.
Purpose: “. . . as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife (EO May 1939) and “. . . for use as an inviolate sanctuary, or for any other management purpose, for migratory birds.”.
Habitat: Six forest types including ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, grand fir, cedar, western hemlock, subalpine fir as well as 60 miles of stream, lakes, and wetlands.
Public Use: Little Pend Oreille attracts about 60,000 visitors annually who hunt, fish, view and photograph wildlife, hike, mountain bike, camp, horseback ride, cross country ski and snowshoe.
Rules and Policies
Visitor access is limited to a 2,200 acre Public Use Area, Columbia Plateau Trail and designated areas identified in hunt permits. To minimize disturbance to plants and animals, visitors are required to stay on trails and designated roadways March 1 through August 15 and are asked to comply with all regulatory signs. Bicycling is allowed only on Smith Road and the Auto Tour Route. It is not allowed on trails or roads closed to public vehicles. The refuge has a pack it in, pack it out policy. All visitors must carry out their own litter. We suggest you leave your pets at home; however dogs are permitted if they are kept on a non-retractable leash (no longer than 6 ft.) and are under the control of their owner at all times. Camping is not allowed on the refuge. Camping is available at nearby, privately owned and operated resorts and campgrounds. Group athletic training of any kind is not allowed.
Fishing, boating, camping, horseback riding, fires, swimming, bathing, on-ice activities, feeding wildlife, illegal dumping, dogs-off leash, paintball activities, and use of remotely piloted/controlled devices are not permitted on the refuge. The collection of any plant or animal or parts thereof is prohibited except licensed hunting in accordance with state and federal law. ATV, ORV and snowmobile use is prohibited on all areas of the refuge. Only street legal vehicles are permitted on Smith Road and the refuge tour route.
Sport hunting is permitted on the refuge in accordance with all state and federal regulations. Hunters should consult the Washington state hunting regulations. Special refuge hunting regulations also apply.
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.
Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is over 23,000 acres (as of 2020). Of this total, approximately 3,300 acres (roughly 7%) is open to the public as a designated public use area. Areas outside the public use area are closed to the public at all times unless otherwise specified. The refuge maintains an approved stewardship boundary and is approved by Congress to acquire up to 32,640 acres within this boundary from willing sellers. To date, approximately 66% of refuge lands were purchased with Migratory Bird Conservation Commission funds (Federal Duck Stamp monies).
To the Turnbull Visitor Contact Station (Refuge Headquarters)
Traveling from Spokane
Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge is an approximately 40-minute drive from Spokane, Washington. From Spokane, take I-90 west to the Cheney / Four Lakes Exit (exit 270). Travel west on Highway 904 for approximately 5 miles to the city of Cheney, home of the Eastern Washington University. When you arrive in Cheney continue west through 3 traffic lights. After you pass the third light proceed for one half mile to Cheney-Plaza Road. There, on your left you will see a brown and white sign that reads "Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge 4.5 miles." Turn left on to Cheney-Plaza Road and drive south for 4.5 miles until you see a large refuge entrance sign with a pair of redhead ducks. Turn left on South Smith Road. You will see a welcome sign and kiosk. Refuge headquarters is 2.5 miles down the road.
Traveling from I-90 Eastbound (Moses Lake, Ritzville, Sprague)
Take exit 257 (Tyler) onto WA-904 E towards Cheney for 10.4 miles. Turn right onto Cheney-Plaza Road and continue for 4.2 miles. Turn left on South Smith Road. You will see a welcome sign and kiosk. Refuge headquarters is 2.5 miles down the road.
Traveling from US-195 / SR-270 Northbound (Pullman, Colfax, Rosalia)
Take the exit towards Plaza (non-numbered) then turn right onto South Cheney-Plaza Road. Stay on South Cheney-Plaza Road for 12.6 miles. At the intersection, turn right to continue on South Cheney-Plaza Road for an additional 5.6 miles. Turn right on on South Smith Road. You will see a welcome sign and kiosk. Refuge headquarters is 2.5 miles down the road.