visiting the nisqually wildlife refuge

Nisqually Wildlife Refuge near JBLM

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times; JBLM might not be my favorite duty station, but there is definitely no shortage of things to do, see, and explore around here. This past weekend, we were treated to absolutely beautiful weather, and when the sun comes out in the PNW, you get outside. You enjoy every bit of fresh air and vitamin D that you possibly can. That’s how we found ourselves visiting the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge near Olympia.

Almost every fall when the seasons change and the temperatures drop, Spencer’s asthma acts up, and on Saturday, he was struggling hard to breathe. Part of it was likely because of the cold, misty air. Part was likely because preschool germs are the worst. Whatever the reason, after a rough Saturday trying to get him to breathe properly again, he woke feeling a lot better on Sunday. So, we knew we had to get outside and let him enjoy every bit of fresh air that he possibly could.


Nisqually Wildlife Visitors' Center

Nisqually Wildlife walking paths

exploring Nisqually wildlife

birdwatching near jblm

The Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is a protected habitat that plays host to some of the most diverse fish and wildlife in the region, as well as your normal beavers, weasels, minks, deer, frogs, and more. With a flat trail and walking path, an extended boardwalk that sits just above the wetlands, and plenty of observation platforms, it’s the perfect way to explore this natural habitat and environment.

Our kids are getting more and more bold with each adventure we take, and visiting the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge was no exception. Spencer loved peeping through the bird blind, and Porter loved climbing all around the viewing platform, watching the shorebirds flying, and calling for the ducks. We didn’t make it to the very end of the boardwalk, but at the far end lies the Puget Sound Viewing Platform where you have 360-degree views of McAllister Creek, the Olympics, Mt. Rainier, and several of the Puget Sound’s many islands.

boardwalk nisqually wildlife refuge

Nisqually boardwalk

nisqually boardwalk closures

nisqually wildlife refuge birdwatching

family hike near jblm

The best part for us is that the grounds are kind of like a “pick your own adventure” place. With trails through the forest, as well as along the wetlands, you can choose which way you want to go. We went through the forest on the way out, and we walked on the gravel path on the way back to check out the twin barns, which were huge – and mostly inaccessible. Honestly, the best part about visiting the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge was simply the proximity to JBLM though. After a slow start to our morning making sure Spencer’s breathing was okay, letting Mieke nap, and taking Danny out for a walk, we knew we weren’t going to get too far. This little slice of heaven is just 15-20 minutes away though, so we had plenty time to enjoy while the sun was out. Think you might want to go for yourself? Here’s what you need to know:

Trail Length: 5 miles total roundtrip

Level of Difficulty: Super easy; the boardwalk is wheelchair accessible

Cost: $3 per car; you pay at the visitor’s center

Parking: Free beyond the $3 entry fee

Dog-Friendly: Sadly, no, because this is a protected wildlife area

Tips: Wear comfortable shoes and, if you like bird-watching, bring binoculars; also note there are restrooms at the visitor’s center, as well as portable restrooms by the barns