Friday, July 8, 2016

Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge (Blog Hike #583)

Trail: Wetlands Walk
Hike Location: Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge
Geographic Location: south of Willows, CA
Length: 1.6 miles
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: June 2016
Overview: A flat loop with good wildlife viewing opportunities.

Directions to the trailhead: North of Sacramento, take I-5 to Road 68 (exit 595).  Exit and go east on Road 68 a very short distance to Highway 99W.  Turn left on Highway 99W.  Drive Highway 99W north 1.6 miles to the refuge entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the refuge, cross the railroad tracks, pay the entrance fee, and park in the blacktop parking lot near the Visitor Center.

The hike: Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge is the headquarters site for a group of five national wildlife refuges collectively known as the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex.  The refuges are all located in the northern part of California’s Central Valley, and they occupy a strategic location on the Pacific flyway, the western-most of the four major north-south bird migration routes across the United States.  Birds from as far away as Alaska and Russia travel down the flyway every fall in search of warmer weather in California only to fly back north in the spring.
            As with most wildlife refuges, wildlife viewing takes precedence over hiking in the Sacramento refuge complex, and most of its refuges feature only short hiking trails.  This refuge in particular sports two 1 mile hiking trails but a 6 mile gravel auto tour road.  Combining the two short hiking trails forms the slightly longer 1.6 mile loop described here.
Start of Wetlands Walk
            A gateway with brochures and information boards at the east end of the parking lot spans the concrete sidewalk to the Visitor Center.  As the Visitor Center comes in sight, you reach the signed start of the Wetlands Walk, which exits left.  You may want to stop in the Visitor Center first to view the exhibits and pick up a Wetlands Walk Trail Guide, but eventually you will want to turn left on the wide dirt trail to start hiking the loop counterclockwise.
            The trail heads north to cross the end of the gravel tour road and reach a T-intersection with trails going left and right.  To pass the trail guide’s numbered posts in increasing order, you want to turn right here and continue your counterclockwise course.  A seasonally wet area appears on the left, while the more permanent Logan Creek appears on the right.
Hiking along Logan Creek
            After crossing a gravel maintenance road, the trail splits with the wide gravel trail staying left and a narrower trail staying right.  To increase your wildlife viewing opportunities, choose the narrower trail on the right, which stays closer to the creek.  The willow trees and grassy understory provide food and shelter for many birds, reptiles and mammals.  At 0.4 miles, you pass a wooden wood duck nesting box.
            The trail continues around the seasonally wet area as vehicle noise from nearby Interstate 5 filters in from the right.  At 0.8 miles, you reach another trail intersection, this one near a stand of eucalyptus trees.  If you wanted a shorter hike, you could continue straight and turn right at the next intersection to return directly to the Visitor Center.  To continue following the posts for the trail guide, turn right and cross the refuge entrance road near the fee station at which you paid your entrance fee.
            The southwestern corner of the refuge stays wetter longer than the area north of the refuge entrance road, so your chances of seeing wildlife increase.  The best months for bird viewing are November and December, the height of the Pacific bird migration.  I came here in the middle of June and still saw large numbers of birds including sandpipers, geese, robins, and mourning doves.  I also saw a lot of insects such as dragonflies and gypsy moths.  The refuge has a garden designed to attract monarch butterflies, but I did not see any of those winged creatures on my visit.
Hiking along a marsh
            At 1.1 miles, the trail curves sharply left as it reaches its southernmost point.  The ponds again become seasonal as you head east on the hot sunny trail.  At 1.4 miles, you cross the gravel tour road for a second and final time.  As Logan Creek comes near again, a left curve and final northward leg returns you to the parking lot/Visitor Center area, thus completing the hike.  While you are here, consider driving the 6-mile gravel tour road, a loop that passes additional seasonal wetlands and hence offers more wildlife viewing opportunities.


  1. I saw this area while on a wildland fire detail many years ago... Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

    1. You're welcome, and good work with the fires! I wanted an easy day after driving cross country, so I did a couple of short wildlife refuge hikes: this one and Colusa (the next one).

    2. Didn't make it to Colusa, looking forward to reading about it. And if it's as hot and dry as when we visited, short hikes are perfect!