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    Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Hike

    This reflects the 10Adventures difficulty rating for each route. We aim to keep ratings consistent across regions.
    Very Easy
    This reflects the estimated time the majority of users will take on this trail. If you are slower, add time to the top-end figure. If you are fast, then you may complete this route faster than this time range.
    This reflects the return distance of this route as measured by the GPS file.
    7.4 km
    This reflects the total elevation gained throughout this route as measured by the GPS file. This includes all ascents and descents, and is higher than what is quoted in most route guides, which simply measure the distance between the starting-point and high-point of the route.
    13 m
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    Directions to Trailhead
    Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Hike

    The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, formerly known as the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, is a beautiful estuary that provides a haven to countless bird and animal species. Walkers on the boardwalk trail, which stretches 7.4 km through the refuge and back, can spot herons, harbor seals, salmon, otters, and more. The trail is flat and suitable for strollers and most wheelchairs, making this a wonderful walk for most adventurers. You’ll walk along the Nisqually River Delta to a viewpoint of Puget Sound, counting all the different species you see along the way.

    Since it’s such a premier wildlife viewing and photographing location, expect fairly heavy traffic. Try visiting midweek or early in the morning to enjoy a quieter trail.

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    Route Description for Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Hike

    The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is a protected area covering the Nisqually River Delta, offering protection to birds, otters, seals, fish, and more. The Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk is a lovely path through the estuary, providing a very easy and flat walk to the Puget Sound viewpoint and back. You’ll be able to check out the visitor center and all the unique viewpoints along the way, savoring the peace and quiet of the refuge and watching photographers snap shots of the diverse wildlife all around. Bring binoculars!

    While the refuge is wonderful to visit year-round, the fog of spring and fall mornings makes it especially charming. This walk is suitable for strollers, most wheelchairs, young children, and beginners. There are also benches along the way should anyone wish to rest. The path is paved, boardwalk, and sometimes gravel, but the boardwalk can sometimes become slippery in the rain.

    The refuge was formerly known as the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, but it has since been renamed to honor late activist Billy Frank Jr. Billy was a Nisqually tribe member who advocated for Native American fishing rights and the preservation of the river delta.

    Your walk begins from the visitor center, which rents out binoculars in case you forgot your own. You’ll walk a half of a mile on the Twin Barnes Loop Trail, then another half mile along the boardwalk to the Twin Barns Observation Platform.

    Either on your way out or your way back, you can walk around the other side of the visitor center to check out the Riparian Forest Overlook and the Nisqually River Overlook.

    Heading left after Twin Barns, take the gravel Brown Farm Dike Trail. This mile-long stretch provides access to an observation tower and an enclosed viewing platform in addition to two covered viewing platforms. Check out the educational signage and spend some time spotting birds and mammals in the mudflats.

    Continue further on with McAllister Creek on your left, reaching the Puget Sound Viewing Platform. This viewpoint offers a panoramic view of the creek, the Olympics, Mount Rainier, and the Sound.

    You’ll retrace your steps back to the visitor center.

    Trail Highlights

    Nisqually River Delta

    The Nisqually River Delta is a 4,559-acre protected refuge that boasts an incredibly diverse marine ecosystem. The delta covers the area where the Nisqually River meets Puget Sound. In this estuary, you can spot otters, seals, salmon, herons, owls, birds of prey, and more. The estuary is protected under the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge and has become a top spot for photographers and nature enthusiasts to spot wildlife in their natural habitat.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Is the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge free?

    There is a modest fee to enter the refuge. The price is subject to change, but at the time of publication, it was $3 per vehicle.

    When is the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge open?

    The refuge is open daily from sunrise to sunset

    Are dogs allowed at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge?

    No. Because of the abundant wildlife, dogs and other animals are not allowed in the refuge, even on leashes. This prevents disturbance to the wildlife.

    Insider Hints for Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Hike

    • Visit at different times of day to see different wildlife in their peak activity hours.
    • Bring or rent binoculars!

    Getting to the Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Hike Trailhead

    The trailhead for the Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk is in front of the Norm Dicks Visitor Center.

    Route Information

    • Backcountry Campground


    • When to do


    • Pets allowed


    • Family friendly


    • Route Signage


    • Crowd Levels


    • Route Type

      Out and back

    Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Hike Elevation Graph

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    Nisqually Estuary Boardwalk Hike Reviews

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