A birder’s paradise can be found in Ridgefield

River S Unit’s auto tour allows birding to be accessible for everyone


Spring has sprung and the birds are landing in droves at the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge with the variety of species peaking over 60 daily this time of year at the River S Unit.

Ducks, songbirds, shorebirds and more flock to the refuge in the springtime, and in early to late summer through fall, different bird species utilize the habitat for all wildlife lovers to enjoy.

The refuge, 1071 S. Hillhurst Road, isn’t just for birds. Dozens of mammal, reptile, fish and amphibian species call the wetlands home as well.

The refuge’s River S Unit is accessible to everyone. It has a driving loop that features an average of 40 bird species a person can see as they make their way through. To date, a total of 240 bird species have been recorded to eBird. With the large species diversity, the River S Unit ranks 15th for species diversity in Washington out of 5,945 birding hot spots in the state.

The River S auto tour provides 4 miles of road access, a short trail and bathrooms midway that are open year round. It also features the Kiwa Trail — open from May 1 to Sept. 30. From May through September, visitors are allowed to exit their vehicles and walk the auto loop if they desire.

During the other months of the year, people are required to remain in their vehicle while on the auto loop, with the exception of the midway point restrooms and the trail. Wildlife can be spooked by the presence of a person, but a slow-moving vehicle often won’t have the same effect, which provides the viewer with good photo opportunities or allows them to simply enjoy the sights and sounds of nature from the comfort of their vehicle.

The habitat diversity of the refuge allows people to feel like they have escaped the city life. They can explore forests of ash, Douglas fir, red cedar and Oregon white oak trees. Wetlands, open fields, sloughs, ponds and shallow lakes fill the land outside of the forests for a natural habitat experience not that far from Clark County cities.

The refuge does require a fee to access both the River S and the Carty units. The daily fee is $3 and is submitted in an envelope at an unmanned kiosk.

Daily fees can be paid by cash or check. Exact change is needed at the unmanned kiosk.

Since the refuge is a federal site, park passes can be used to enter. They include the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge annual pass, the America the Beautiful annual pass, the annual or lifetime senior pass, an access pass for those with a permanent disability, active duty military and dependent passes, veterans and Gold Star families passes, the Every Kid Outdoors fourth grade pass, and the volunteer pass, which is earned through 250 hours of service.

Those with a pass are still required to stop at the kiosk to fill out a pass-holder form and submit it into the drop box.

An annual pass to the refuge can be purchased by submitting $15 in a provided envelope with the name a person wants on the pass and the mailing address clearly printed.

People can also obtain a pass by mailing a check to P.O. Box 457, Ridgefield, WA, 98642.

For more information about the wildlife refuge, visit fws.gov/refuge/ridgefield, or call the main office at 360-887-4106. To see Ebird information about the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge’s River S Unit, search for the Ridgefield NWR-River ‘S’ Unit on ebird.org.