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Oaks to Wetlands Loop Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Oak woodland on the Oaks to Wetlands Trail (bobcat)
At the Oak Viewpoint, Oaks to Wetlands Trail (bobcat)
Big-leaf lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus), Oaks to Wetlands Trail (bobcat)
Reconstructed Cathlapotle Lodge (Steve Hart)
The Oaks to Wetlands Loop in Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (bobcat) Courtesy: Google Maps
  • Start point: Ridgefield TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Oak Viewpoint
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 1.7 miles
  • Elevation gain: 80 feet
  • High Point: 75 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: All year
  • Family Friendly: Yes
  • Backpackable: No
  • Crowded: Yes


Hike Description

The 5,217 acre Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge consists of five units. This hike explores northern part of the Carty Unit. The Oaks to Wetlands loop trail here is open year-round. You'll pass under enormous and regal spreading oaks, through thickets rustling with rabbits, and hike near scabland lakes whose verges bloom with wildflowers in April and May. Look for signs of beaver although you're more likely to see nutria. Waterfowl winter on these lakes, and many species breed here as well. Bald eagles and other raptors can often be seen flapping or gliding overhead. Note that you can connect this hike with the Carty Lake Hike when that seasonal trail is open (May 1st to September 30th). The Oaks to Wetlands Trail is a designated National Recreation Trail.

There have been a lot of changes to this part of the refuge in recent years. A project completed in 2020 involved the logging and removal of most of the Douglas-firs in the Oaks to Wetlands area. The purpose is to restore the oak savanna woodlands that are characteristic of these basalt scablands, a process known as "oak release." Washington Trails Association volunteers have rerouted the main part of the Oaks to Wetlands loop, shifting sections that once flooded in winter to higher ground. Other trails have been decommissioned. In addition, a new refuge headquarters building is being constructed at the trailhead.

The hike starts at the Ridgefield Trailhead, about a mile north of the town of Ridgefield. To your left is the site for the new refuge headquarters. The trail immediately crosses the universal access Ridgefield Railroad Bridge over the BNSF Railway. You can expect to see trains from BNSF, Union Pacific, and Amtrak rumbling by, but they cause surprisingly little commotion. The footbridge can be slick in icy weather, but solid handrails and a wide, flat concrete tread keep things pretty easy. There's a long, gradual ramp down on the west side of the tracks. You'll pass large spreading oaks on the left and an oak on the right shades a free library (!).

In just a few steps, you'll come to a reconstruction of a Chinook plankhouse. When Lewis and Clark traveled through this area in 1806, they paused at a large village named Cathlapotle, near here on the shore of the Columbia River. Cathlapotle today is one of the best-preserved Native American sites in the northwest United States, although it is not open to visitors. This plankhouse is an authentic recreation built in early 2000s, mostly by volunteer labor. The plank house is open from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on weekends from mid-April to early October, when there are volunteers to guide and elucidate.

Beyond the plankhouse, the trail continues north. You'll immediately pass the unsigned junction with the graveled Carty Lake Trail, which is open seasonally (see the Carty Lake Hike). To your left, you'll see Duck Lake. Then, in a short distance there's a trail junction where the ends of this loop trail meet. For this hike follow the arrow, and take the right hand, higher fork. The trail weaves through native oaks with boughs that stretch impossibly long horizontal distances. Small signs label various species of native plants. In many places, the trail is cut through invasive blackberries. Look for rabbits and small birds making a life under the tangles of berry vines. Where the two legs of the loop come together, there's a stone-walled viewpoint to the left at a massive 400-year-old oak. An interpretive signs explains that in the 1880s the area was used to quarry basalt to pave Portland's streets. On the main trail, cross a small wooden vehicle bridge, and bear right again when the trails separate once more.

Cross a weedy, grassy expanse where you can see the stumps of recently logged Douglas-firs. The cedars and oaks were left standing, but there are large open areas now. The trail crosses a small creek and winds around into an oak wood. After the path dips a little, you'll loop left on a higher contour than the old route, which often flooded in the wet season. Pass across an open savanna with plantings of young oaks to the right. Cross another wooden vehicle bridge near an apple tree. Close the loop and pass the stone-walled viewpoint before bearing right on a paved universal access trail. There are more oak plantings before you pass Duck Lake and then the trail to Carty Lake below the Cathlapotle Plankhouse.


Fees, Regulations, etc.

  • There is a $3 fee per person at the entrance station kiosk as you drive in to the River 'S' Unit. Envelopes are available at the kiosk and the stub must be carried with you. All of the fees collected remain on-site. A host of passes are accepted including:
    • Ridgefield Annual Refuge Pass ($15)
    • Federal Duck Stamp ($25)
    • Interagency Annual Pass ($80)
    • Interagency Senior Pass/Golden Age Passport ($20)
    • Interagency Access Pass/Golden Access Passport (free)
    • Interagency Volunteer Pass (free)
    • Interagency Military Pass (free)
  • Dogs are not permitted anywhere in the refuge
  • Refuge open sunrise to sunset
  • Universal access trail as far as the Oak Viewpoint

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 100 Hikes: Northwest Oregon by William L. Sullivan
  • Best Hikes With Kids: Western Washington by Susan Elderkin
  • Urban Trails: Vancouver by Craig Romano
  • Day Hiking: Columbia River Gorge by Craig Romano
  • Afoot & Afield: Portland/Vancouver by Douglas Lorain
  • Take a Walk: Portland by Brian Barker
  • 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.