Nestucca Bay Wildlife Refuge
Take a deep breath and savor a place meant for the quiet times along the Little Nestucca River in Tillamook County.
The waterway cuts a beeline thru the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge and the trip is so easy anyone can try on a river paddle with local guides called “Kayak Tillamook” who cater to beginners.
“The paddle trip flows right next to the forest and through the wildlife refuge,” said guide Marcus Hinz. “As you paddle out toward the bay you quickly forget there’s anything else around you except the wildlife.”
You may see bald eagles, red tail hawks, osprey, deer, elk, beavers, river otters and more – in fact, the bird life is remarkable.
Be sure to dress warm – and in layers to accommodate your level of activity. Avoid cotton – don’t forget a rain jacket cap and gloves.
A PFD is provided and it is mandatory on a trip where safety comes first!
Nestucca Bay Wildlife Refuge is also a place where you can leave the paddles behind and take a stroll along the refuge trail, just off Cannery Hill Road, that meanders across heart of the refuge.
US Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Roy Lowe, said that NBWR was established in 1991 to protect Canada geese that migrate to coastal Oregon from Alaska.
“You are missing something special if you don’t come up and take a look,” noted Lowe. “While you drive may drive by the site on Coastal Hwy 101 and see this ridge, folks should really take a drive up here. The refuge is spectacular!”
Back on the river, our paddling party easily glided through the refuge property on the rising tide.
Hinz added, that the Little Nestucca River is a timeless and easygoing adventure.
“It really the best of both worlds because you’re seeing the land from the water as opposed to seeing the water from the land, so it is a much more intimate experience and you really feel like you’re in nature.”
In addition to the NBWR trip, you’ll also be pleased to know that there are more than 800 miles of water trails in Tillamook County that reach across rivers, estuaries and sloughs. There’s even a map to guide your way: “Tillamook County Water Trails.”
Drift Creek Trail
Drift Creek will carry you away --- perhaps where imagination travels---on a wonderful trail alongside a classic “pool and drop” Oregon stream.
Flanked by ferns, alder trees and vine maple, Drift Creek Trail winds through the rain-drenched Siuslaw National Forest.
“You can come out and hike this trail pretty much all year as it’s a pretty gentle downhill with a lot of switchbacks,” noted USFS Manager, George Buckingham. “It’s only 3 miles round trip and a fairly easy grade so you can bring small children and they do just fine.”
Buckingham and USFS Recreation Specialist, JW Cleveland, were our trail guides for an amazing adventure into a unique area of the forest – one characterized by a marvelous payoff for our time and efforts.
But JW cautioned, “Rain gear is a necessity this time of year!Be sure to have it in your vehicle and then make the call about taking it when you get to the trailhead. It can get really wet in here so you could need the gear. You want to make sure you’ve got a camera too because you’re going to see some pretty amazing things.”
The Drift Creek Trail is amazing until you arrive at something even better and bigger that will take your breath away: a 240-foot long cable suspension bridge!
Anchored by cables and ties that are cemented into opposing bluffs, the bridge holds over a hundred fifty thousand pounds, so it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
While the bridge does offer a bit of a bounce, the thirty-inch wide tread is perfectly safe and the bird’s-eye view will leave you spellbound.
As does Drift Creek Falls, a 75-foot freefall, whopper of a waterfall that’s located immediately below you.
It is a thrill to see from ay up high and it’s the sort of hiking experience best enjoyed this time of year.
“Now is the time to get out and view the falls,” added Cleveland. “That’s especially true after a large rain event. If you come here in the summertime when the water flow is lighter, it just isn’t the same.”
From Portland, travel U.S. 99W south, then Oregon 18 west. At Rose Lodge look for signs and turn left onto Bear Creek County Road. Travel approximately 3.5 miles to the junction with Forest Service Road 17. Follow the sign and continue seven miles to the Drift Creek trailhead and parking area.
From Lincoln City, travel south approximately one mile on U.S. 101. Turn left onto Drift Creek Road, then right onto South Drift Creek Road for a quarter mile. Turn left on Forest Service Road 17 for approximately ten miles to the Drift Creek trailhead and parking area.
Klamath Bald Eagles
Stillness at daybreak accompanies the arctic air that plummets the early-morning to sub-freezing.
It’s a lonely time as the only headlamps for miles--ours--pierce the darkness on a back road in Oregon’s Klamath Basin.
Despite the bone-chilling cold, wildlife expert, Dave Hewitt says there is no better time to tally the dawn fly-out of the largest gathering of bald eagles in America.
We have come to Bear Valley Wildlife Refuge (part of the Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuges Complex), a large forest of old-growth timber that provides the eagles with protection from the wind and cold.
It is the staging area for the eagles’ daily fly-out as the birds take wing and search for food.
“There’s one,” said Hewitt. “Right over your head Grant! It’s coming right over the road.”
Hewitt said there is no better time to tally the dawn fly out of bald eagles.
“Yeah, it’s fantastic!” Hewitt enthusiastically answered. “As the sun is coming up, just starting to get light, you can see 40, 50, 60 eagles get up, swoop and soar and glide right over the top of you. It’s pretty impressive to watch when you have several hundred eagles and you just can’t count fast enough.”
Over a thousand eagles arrive at Klamath Basin each winter from Canada and Alaska, following their food supply of ducks, geese, and other birds.
Despite the frigid conditions during much of the winter, large bodies of water such as Upper Klamath Lake often remain unfrozen, and large flocks of ducks help prevent some of the smaller ponds from freezing over as they paddle about.
While each season offers some new species to see, Dave added that winter is the best time to see the most raptors, including the largest concentrations of eagles.
“We may get a period when it freezes in December and then we might get open water in January and February and the eagles – respond accordingly:They’ll stand on the ice and feed on waterfowl. Eagles on telephone poles, eagles on irrigation equipment, eagles on farm fields – mostly they just stand around a lot, so there’s endless opportunities to observe wildlife.”
Visitors to Klamath Wildlife Refuge or wish to explore the Klamath Birding Trail have a wonderful educational opportunity just around the corner at the annual “Winter Wings Festival.”
Elkhorn Wildlife Area
Winter rules the distant Elkhorn Mountains where the ice floes stack streamside and snow drifts line roadways and a sea of white spans the horizon.
It is bone-chilling cold that shows little sign of thawing!
But at Anthony Creek in Baker County, a Saturday morning warming fire chases the 20-degree chill away before you step aboard “T&T Wildlife Tours.”
Alice Trindle shares the reins of the operation with partner Susan Triplett while local horseman Mike Moore lends a hand.
“For 20 years,” noted Moore, “They’ve been taking people up and down this hill and get you up close to Rocky Mountain Elk as you will ever get in your life – a unique experience.”
It is the only horse drawn wildlife tour in Oregon…and Jed and Waylen, a pair of Percheron draft horses, are the heavy pullers.
“This is their third winter they’ve been here helping us out,” said Trindle.“Part of it is their temperament; they are probably the most petted horses in the county. They are our equal partners.”
Each weekend, all of the partners pitch in to feed the elk that make Anthony Creek a winter home from mid-December thru February; they will spread up to a dozen alfalfa bales to feed 150 elk.
Most of the Elkhorn Wildlife Area is closed to the public in winter – except Anthony Creek, so it’s a rare and wonderful learning opportunity.
An open viewing area allows you a chance to see the herd anytime or bring the family and spend a few bucks to see Oregon’s largest game animal – up close.
“The younger bulls start some play fighting,” said Trindle. “Some sparring – but really isn’t too serious…pushing and pulling on each other really hard. They’ll also make that noise you just heard – that “mewing” sort of sound. That’s kind of his signal that ‘I’ll give up and you’ve won this round this time, but just wait until next time and another round.”
Triplet added that after twenty years, they continue to learn as much as the visitors. “I think it’s being able to do something you really enjoy! Alice and I joke that we’re going to call it quits when it’s not fun, but here it is 20 years later – we’re still having fun.”
“There’s always something to be observed with these elk,” added Trindle. “To be this close to these magnificent animals and to learn more about them is a real treat for everyone. That’s a real special thing that we can offer folks who visit.”