Hikes with Kids: Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge

Nitty Gritty

  • Lovely nature reserve with mostly flat walking paths
  • Perfect for the youngest walkers
  • Several paths to choose from for distance (some paths closed seasonally)


After a full week of Spring Break, our school took an extra day off just to make sure we were all really ready to send our kids back to school. We tried to make the most of that, and the beautiful weather, by getting outside and exploring someplace new!


IMG_0738We took the short drive down Hwy 99 from Portland to Sherwood to check out the Tualatin River National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge is 712 acres of land laid out between two very busy roads on the Tualatin River floodplain that acts as an island for foul aloft or afloat, although the pamphlets say the refuge is not only home to nearly 200 species of birds, but also 50 species of mammals, 25 species of reptiles and amphibians, and a wide IMG_0752variety of insect, fish and plants. While we were there we saw Anna’s Hummingbirds, Double-Crested Cormorants, Common Mergansers, Brewers Blackbird, Spotted Towees, and what we think might have been juvenile bald eagles. We also heard either Pilated Woodpeckers or Northern Flickers tapping away at trees (we didn’t see them, so we aren’t sure which). We saw lots of other species as well, and next time I will take pen and paper to write things down!

IMG_0739When I looked up the hiking map for the refuge online, I thought we would be doing around a 3-mile loop. When we got there I learned that Monday was the only day of the week the visitor’s center was closed and found that much of the loop we were planning to walk is close for a good part of the year due to nesting. So much for my research! The looping trail opens up again on 30 April, so we were about a month early. Making limoncello out of lemons, we decided to set off through the “study sites” where the trails were open and out to the overlooks and observation deck.

By the end of the walk, we ended up with a 2.4 out-and-back walk. This walk is ideal for kids (even the youngest walkers!) as it is a mostly flat gravel walk, that isn’t too long, IMG_0757and has lots of things to look at. Plus there is a bridge. IMG_0749I don’t know about your kids, but my kid loves a bridge! Make sure you take lots of snacks and water (and don’t forget to take your trash out with you). On warm days there isn’t a huge amount of shade from what I was seeing. Also, there are no pets allowed, so you might want to leave your 4-legged fur-babies at home. The trails are open dawn to dusk, but they say the best times to be there to see as much action as possible is either early or late. We saw quite a bit, but were there around 11am on a cool day, which meant we weren’t seeing as much as we might have earlier in the day.
IMG_0765A few other things you might want to bring with you are a good set of binoculars, a birding book or guide of some sort to help with bird identification (there are “Watchable Wildlife” pamphlets available to guest at the visitors IMG_0766center, but they don’t have many pictures of the wildlife in order to match to what you are seeing). One other thing I found hugely useful is my Merlin Bird ID app. It is a free app I keep on my phone and it helps with ID’ing birds. The only down side is that there is no journal feature to keep track of the birds you saw, but it does send feedback to the app so they can track the birds you are seeing too. It is really easy to use and there are bird calls available that help you identify the birds in another way! It is really slick and you can’t beat free!

We would recommend this hike and will be going back to try and walk the parts we didn’t get to, as well as checking out the visitor’s center in the future!

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