Stunning Fall Color and Wildlife at Southwest Washington’s Conboy Lake

An animal watcher's paradise lies just two hours away, home to elk, coyotes, and over 200 varieties of birds.

By Brian Barker October 19, 2015 Published in the November 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

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Image: Brian Barker

A Northwest version of the Serengeti, this little-known 6,500-acre destination in Southwest Washington teems year-round with all manner of flora and fauna. Established as a refuge in 1964, the rehabilitated pasture and farmland consists of an expansive open prairie and seasonal marshland ringed by a cool, lodgepole pine forest, clumps of wispy aspens, and forested foothills. The refuge cradles 40 species of mammals, 10 kinds of reptiles, and seven different amphibian varieties—including the endangered Oregon spotted frog. Bird life is especially rich, with nearly 200 varieties recorded here, many of which nest locally. Visitors commonly spot mallards, northern harriers, western kingbirds, and greater sandhill cranes. (Conboy is home to at least 20 nesting pairs.)

Grab your binoculars and follow the easy Willard Springs Trail on a two- or three-mile safari along the edge of the marsh, up through waving, golden grasslands, and into a screen of ponderosa pines overlooking a pancake-flat meadow. From an elevated observation platform, take in gorgeous views of Mount Adams and scan for members of the resident elk herd (some 300 strong), convoys of wild turkeys, or even a solitary coyote scavenging for a meal. At the southern end of the loop, near the visitor center, poke around inside the historic Whitcomb-Cole Hewn Log House, which dates to the 1890s and is thought to be one of the oldest surviving pioneer-era homes in Klickitat County.

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Image: Brian Barker

Post-Hike Watering Hole: Carson’s amiable Backwoods Brewing Company is filled with metallic fish artwork, antique logging saws, and lots of locals who know they’re onto a good thing. Aside from plentiful taps, the house specialty is piping-hot pizzas like the margherita, layered with a garlicky red sauce and fresh mozzarella. 509-427-3412

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