While birdwatchers might think of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, the Southern Oregon wetland that hosts one of the largest colonies of sandhill cranes in the country, ain’t got much more than numbers on this gem. Ridgefield’s 5,150 acres of interspersed wetlands, grasslands and oak-and-conifer forests play host to an incredible array of birds. Reach the backwaters of Gee Creek in October, and you might be rewarded with the sight of tens of thousands of waterfowl clustered along the banks.
ROUTE: From the parking lot, cross the bridge over the railroad tracks, and follow the signs to the Oaks to Wetlands Trail. Take a peek inside the Cathlapotle Plankhouse on your left, just opened in 2005, to get a sense of how the Chinookan people lived here 200 years ago. When you come to the split in the trail, head left to take in the wetlands first, or turn right to parallel the railroad tracks and soak up the oak-and-conifer forest. Whichever segment you choose, make sure to follow the loop west of the main trail out onto a peninsula that juts into Gee Creek, providing a spectacular view of the wetlands and resting waterfowl. Note that the loop northwest of Boot Lake is on private property and is closed to the public from Sept 30 to Feb 28.
DIRECTIONS: Follow I-5 north about 14 miles and be on the lookout for Exit 14 to Ridgefield. Get off here and head three miles west. Follow the signs from the town of Ridgefield to the north entrance of the refuge.