The Nisqually Wildlife Refuge (full name-Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge) is a great hike to do with kids near Olympia and Tacoma. It’s even stroller friendly in parts, making it a fun and easy nature walk for the whole family, especially your bird lovers.
My family and I head here often. There is a small, natural playground where kids are encouraged to build with logs, fill buckets with mud, and generally muck around. It’s on the dreary side in the winter but fun in the warmer months. We do recommend doing it after your walk.
The visitor’s center has some nice educational exhibits explaining the unique habitat here as well as a gift shop. You can also check here about activities, and if you have time (Hidden Gem alert) the kids can become junior wildlife refuge managers (similar to earning a junior ranger badge).
There are several trails to choose from at the refuge. All are flat and easy enough for even young hikers. The one note is that the boardwalk trails do get slick during wet or frosty months.
We typically take the boardwalk trail out to the picnic table by the barns, and then cut over and walk out on the boardwalk over the water. This is really neat to do-just keep in mind that if you go all the way, you’ll be doing some real distance, and somehow the way back is always a little longer than the way there! The part of this trail that extends over the water is also closed during several months in the fall for hunting season. It’s open now.
You’ll have the most fun if you bring along a camera or binoculars the kids can use, though there are many viewing areas along the way if you forgot yours. There is a nice bathroom at the center, and a not-at-all nice set of porta potties near the barns.
You will want to dress for the weather. It’s an open spot, and during the winter there can be a chilling wind off the water. During the summer, a sun hat is a good idea.
It costs just 3.00 to park at the refuge. There is no other admission charge. Do keep in mind that this is a refuge, not a park-no one expects your kids to be quiet; just don’t plan on flying a kite or playing catch, and leave the dog at home! It’s a popular place, and you’ll see lots of grandparents introducing kids to nature, and avid birdwatchers year round. The visitor information page has hours and directions.