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Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge Hike

From Oregon Hikers Field Guide

Late April flower garden on Camas Rock (Steve Hart)
This hike weaves across moss and camas covered lava rocks above wetlands (Steve Hart)
Reconstructed Cathlapotle Lodge (Steve Hart)
An uncharacteristically frozen Boot Lake (Steve Hart)
Map of trails in Carty Unit (Steve Hart)
  • Start point: Ridgefield TrailheadRoad.JPG
  • End point: Ridgefield Camas Rock
  • Trail Log: Trail Log
  • Hike Type: Loop
  • Distance: 2.0 miles
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet
  • High Point: 75 feet
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Seasons: Most of the trail year-round, north end Mar-Sep.
  • 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 trails here are open year-round except for a northern section that is on private land and only open seasonally (March 1st - September 30th). You'll pass under enormous and regal spreading oaks, through thickets rustling with rabbits, and come to scabland lakes whose verges bloom with wildflowers in April and May. Look for signs of beaver, although you're more likely to see nutria, and coyote. Waterfowl winter on these lakes and many species breed here as well. Bald eagles and other raptors are always on the prowl. You can connect this hike with the Carty Lake Hike when that seasonal trail is open (May 1st to September 30th).

The hike starts at the Ridgefield Trailhead, about a mile north of the town of Ridgefield. 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 from several places on this hike, 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 right to begin the "Oaks to Wetlands Wildlife Trail."

In just a few steps, you'll come to a recreated Native American 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 - you can do this diversion on the way back). 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 bows that stretch impossibly long horizontal distances. Small informational signs label many kinds of flora. 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. The two legs of the loop come together in a bit to cross a small bridge. Turn right again when the trails separate once more.

Now the trail heads into more native growth. Signs label Douglas-fir, big-leaf maple and western red-cedar. There's another small bridge over a creek filled with skunk-cabbage. The trail meanders over rock hills covered with wildflowers in the spring and around swampy areas, eventually coming to Boot Lake which is really a backwater of the Columbia River. During most of the winter, you can see various ducks, Canadian Geese and sometimes swans wintering in the area. Often a break here to quietly eat lunch will be rewarded with an incoming flight of birds. There's a side path that heads eastward along the shore of the lake.

Soon, you'll come to a trail junction that carries a decision based on the calendar. A trail here ventures north on to private property. This northern portion of the trail is less maintained. Be on the lookout for poison oak mixed with and sometimes hidden by other undergrowth. There are some beautiful spots on this trail, and the landowners have graciously opened their land to the public in March-September. If you're visiting in those months, be sure to take the north trail. It leads a bit farther on Boot Lake and then curves around to a beautiful viewpoint I've labeled Ridgefield Camas Rock. This is a large moss covered lava viewpoint that blooms with camas and wild onion in late April. The view here from the purple flowered knoll across the water to other similar flowered rocks is truly a site to behold. From here the north trail loops around to rejoin the main trail. If you're visiting October-February, you'll have to skip the northern, private area, but you can come straight across on a trail that stays on public land.

In either event, the Oaks to Wetlands Trail heads back south ducking into forests and opening on grassy fields next to the wetland grasses. There's a short side trail that leads to a viewpoint of Duck Lake. Look here for Great Blue Herons and all kinds of migratory waterfowl. After the big trail junction and you cross the little bridge, take the right fork and walk the service road next to Duck Lake. From here, it's a quick trip back to the plankhouse and your car.


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 ($15)
    • Interagency Annual Pass ($80)
    • Interagency Senior Pass/Golden Age Passport ($10)
    • Interagency Access Pass/Golden Access Passport (free)
    • Interagency Volunteer Pass (free)
    • Interagency Military Pass (free)
  • The north end of this hike is closed Oct-Feb.
  • Dogs are not permitted anywhere in the refuge

Trip Reports

Related Discussions / Q&A

Guidebooks that cover this hike

  • 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington by William L. Sullivan
  • Best Hikes With Kids: Western Washington by Susan Elderkin
  • 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.

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