Don’t be surprised if this new two-mile trail—the first one in Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge that’s open to the public—takes twice as long to hike as you think it will. The 1,049-acre sanctuary’s marshy wetlands and upland grasslands provide prime habitat for a dizzying array of migratory birds. So many, in fact, that you may find yourself lingering, waiting to see what will flap by next. More than 200 bird species have been documented here, including great blue herons and purple martins. Plus, little and big brown bats may join the winged menagerie now that bat houses have been built. Final plans for the trail include a slew of interpretive displays, but until then, train your telephoto lens on late-summer nesting birds, such as Bullock’s orioles and rare yellow-breasted chats.
ROUTE: From the trailhead, head south along a gravel path leading through a thicket of willows. At the 0.6-mile mark, turn right and cross the bridge over Gibbons Creek. After emerging from a grove of cottonwoods, the path curves around the shallow waters of Redtail Lake to meet the Columbia River Dike Trail. To loop back to the trailhead, head southeast along the dike for 0.5 miles, and look for a sign marking reentry to the Gibbons Creek trail. (Note: From October to April, this 0.6-mile portion of Gibbons Creek is closed to protect wintering waterfowl.) Along the way, you’ll spy magnificent views of Crown Point and Mount Hood presiding over the Columbia, making the trip a worthwhile diversion in any season.
POST-HIKE WATERING HOLE: Puffin Cafe. Caribbean-themed fare rules at this funky blue shed floating on the docks at the Port of Camas-Washougal marina. Try the crab soup spiked with habaneros, thyme, and coconut, or the Cuban sandwiches piled high with pulled pork, ham, and pepper jack cheese. Or just order up a Red Stripe and watch the boats drift by. 14 S A St, Washougal, Wash.; 360-335-1522
TRAILHEAD DIRECTIONS: From Vancouver, travel east on State Route 14 for approximately 10 miles, passing through the town of Washougal. Look for the trailhead turnoff on the right side of the road. No fees or permits required.