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Carty Lake Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Gathering of great egrets (Ardea alba) on Carty Lake, Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (bobcat)
Pacific tree frog (Pseudacris regilla), Ridgefield NWR (bobcat)
Under the willows, Carty Lake Trail, Ridgefield NWR (bobcat)
Willow weed (Persicaria lapathifolia), Carty Lake Trail (bobcat)
Young western painted turtle (Chrysemys picta bellii), Carty Lake Trail (bobcat)
The seasonal hike along the shore of Carty Lake (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Ridgefield TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Lake River Overlook
  • Hike Type: In and out
  • Distance: 2.8 miles
  • Elevation gain: 60 feet
  • High Point: 75 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: May 1st to September 30th
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: No


Hike Description

This is a flat walk that takes you through willow bottomlands and along the west shore of Carty Lake in the Carty Unit of the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. The walk is on a gravel track, and you will get good views of Carty Lake and its marshy shores. Most of this route is closed from fall through mid-spring, so you will not see flocks of migrants while you are hiking, but the verges of the lake are alive in late spring with the calls of marsh wrens, blackbirds, rails, bitterns, and egrets. Always bring binoculars on this hike. You can partner this trail with the Oaks to Wetlands Loop Hike if you want a longer walk. Do not go beyond the refuge signs restricting access, and respect the seasonal closure from October through April.

Note that there is a southern starting point for this hike at the Port of Ridgefield. This entrance gives free year-round access to the Lake River Overlook.

After paying the day use fee at the Ridgefield Trailhead kiosk, cross the universal access Ridgefield Railroad Bridge, and descend its long ramp to pass a couple of large spreading oaks. Soon, you'll reach the Cathlapotle Plankhouse. If the plankhouse, a model of a Chinook dwelling, is open (weekend afternoons, mid-April to early October), you may enter and learn about native architecture and family life as witnessed by explorers such as Lewis and Clark. Continuing on the main trail a few yards, go left at an unsigned junction, and follow a gravel tread past Duck Lake. You will pass by a thicket of prunes on the left, pass under a large and venerable oak tree, and descend to enter a willow/ash bottomland and cross a small bridge over Gee Creek. (The seasonal closure begins at the bridge; do not proceed further from October through April.) As you cross the wetland, you'll see native wetland plants, such as wapato, nodding beggar ticks, and willow weed, which bloom in late summer. Look for early sandhill cranes here in late September. Pass through another fence, and follow the path across a boggy area before veering left to begin traversing the west shore of Carty Lake.

The lake itself is verged by a thick growth of reed canarygrass, but wapato, a Native American staple, blooms in the shallows in profusion in late summer. To your right is a field that has been planted with native wetland trees such as ash and cottonwood; snowberry is the predominant shrub. This should eventually form a leafy riparian thicket. Scan Carty Lake for waterfowl, nutria, and sunning turtles. Sometimes there are large congregations of great egrets. A short loop heads left off the main trail to take you a little closer to the lake. Pass through a gate to reach a gravel area with a decorative trellis and entrance kiosk. (This area beyond the gate is open all year.) Bear right to take a short walk out to a viewpoint over the Lake River, which flows from Vancouver Lake north to join the Columbia River.

Beyond the kiosk and fee station at this end of the hike is the site of a former wood treatment plant that has undergone a $70 million environmental cleanup. In winter, this is good vantage point for scoping out the flocks of wintering waterfowl, including trumpeter and tundra swans. (Park at the Port of Ridgefield Trailhead, which gives you year-round access to the overlook.)

For now, return the way you came, and do the Oaks to Wetlands Loop Hike if you have the time.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • There is a $3 fee per person at the entrance station kiosk at the Ridgefield Trailhead. Envelopes are available at the kiosk. All of the fees collected remain on-site. A host of other passes are accepted.
  • Trail open May 1st to September 30th
  • Respect all signs restricting access to certain areas.
  • Dogs are not permitted anywhere in the refuge.

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • Urban Trails: Vancouver by Craig Romano
  • 100 Hikes: Northwest Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Wild in the City: Exploring the Intertwine edited by Michael C. Houck and M.J. Cody

More Links


Oregon Hikers Field Guide is built as a collaborative effort by its user community. While we make every effort to fact-check, information found here should be considered anecdotal. You should cross-check against other references before planning a hike. Trail routing and conditions are subject to change. Please contact us if you notice errors on this page.

Hiking is a potentially risky activity, and the entire risk for users of this field guide is assumed by the user, and in no event shall Trailkeepers of Oregon be liable for any injury or damages suffered as a result of relying on content in this field guide. All content posted on the field guide becomes the property of Trailkeepers of Oregon, and may not be used without permission.