Trails for everyone, forever

Home Go Outside Hiking by Season Fall Destinations Bird Watching Hikes in Washington: Where to See Birds, Birbs and Borbs

Bird Watching Hikes in Washington: Where to See Birds, Birbs and Borbs

Bird watching can be another great layer to add to any hike. Washington’s diverse ecological landscape offers a wide variety of bird watching opportunities year-round.

We love birds here at WTA. Look no further than our staff slack channel dedicated to #birdsbirbsandborbs. (If a few of those words confuse you, we highly recommend checking out Audubon’s explainer article on the language of birding.)

Bird watching can be a wonderful new layer to any hiking experience. Looking for specific birds can also be a great excuse to explore new trails in different corners of the state. Washington’s diverse ecological landscape offers a wide variety of bird watching opportunities year-round. 

We’ve collected some of our favorite hikes for birding in this feature to help get you started. We also connected with Ed Dominguez, the Lead Naturalist at the Seward Park Audubon Center, to get his professional tips and tricks for birding.

Three birds, one with a berry in its mouth, one with a worm in its mouth and one protecting its nest.
Left to right: Bohemian Waxwing, Janet Bauer; Horned Lark, Mary Campbell; Osprey, Robcat Keller. 

TOP TIPS FOR BURGEONING BIRD WATCHERS

  • Look up, down and all around: Often when we think of birds, we look to the skies. But birds of all shapes and sizes can be spotted at all eye levels—from Common Terns and Osprey soaring overhead, to Brown Creepers sneaking up a nearby tree trunk, to Spotted Towhees bopping around in the latest pile of leaves in your yard. Try walking a familiar local trail more than once over the next few weeks and pay attention to different levels of the landscape on each walk. You might be surprised who you discover in unexpected places!
  • Start small: “Everybody knows three or four birds at least already: perhaps the American crow, the American robin, the bald eagle, and the pigeon,” Ed shares. He advises new birders to pick a few additional birds to start learning about at a time. “[Learn to] recognize them visually and practice listening for their bird song and then just add one or two at a time. You don’t need to be overwhelmed! It can be a lifelong area of interest and it grows cumulatively.”
  • Keep it simple: There are infinite birding resources out there - try picking one to start that align with your interests or habits to help you get started. For example, do you like phone apps or solid book in your hands? Merlin Bird ID is a great free app that can help with bird identification. If bird song has your interest piqued, check out the BirdNet app which records birdsong in real time and offers identification suggestions. If you prefer flipping through the pages of a book, you can check out a field guide from your local library. Ed notes, “You don’t need a lot of equipment [to start birding]... As you get interested in it, a pair of binoculars will be helpful, but you don’t have to break the bank to get a pair that works for birding.” 
  • Enjoy the change in seasons: Washington’s wide ecological landscapes means there are different birds to see year-round. Spring migration starts in April and peaks in May through the first couple weeks of June while fall migration starts right after Labor Day and continues through September. That’s when many songbirds head back south, but Ed notes, “we also get birds that come in from the north, arctic visitors that breed up in Yukon/NW Territories and Alaska. Our winters are like Palm Springs to them.” There are also elevational migrants depending on where you live in Washington. These birds follow melting snowlines in the spring and return to lower elevations each fall.

DO YOUR PART TO PROTECT OUR WINGED FRIENDS

  • Respect bird habitats: Following basic trail smart guidelines will help protect birds. Ed shares, "The main thing is to acknowledge that you’re in other creatures living rooms, kitchens and dining rooms, so take good care of your trash and waste. These are other creatures' homes!”
  • Don't feed the birds: Many Washington hikers may have come across wildlife seemingly "begging" for snacks when they take a break on trail. Don't give in! You can learn more about the ethics of feeding birds in this piece by Audubon.

Central Cascades

BEAN CREEK BASIN

Location: Snoqualmie Region -- Salmon La Sac/Teanaway
Mileage: 4.8 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1,800 feet

Bean Creek Basin in Summer. Photo by Thatcher Imboden.
Bean Creek Basin in Summer. Photo by Thatcher Imboden. 

When the bird expert says "the bird watching here is phenomenal!" -- of course this hike made it to the top of our list. Bean Creek Basin features a sub-alpine meadow teeming with wildflowers (and apparently lots of birds). 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

CHELAN RIDGE

Location: Central Cascades - Entiat Mountains/Lake Chelan
Mileage: 1.2 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 250 feet

Heading down the Chelan Ridge Trail. Photo by Kyle Pomraning.
Heading down the Chelan Ridge Trail. Photo by Kyle Pomraning. 

Ed recommends this trail as a great place to see raptor migration in the Fall. The trail accesses the Chelan Ridge HawkWatch site and is best visited from late August to late October.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

GOLD CREEK POND 

Location: Snoqualmie Region -- Snoqualmie Pass
Mileage: 1.0 mile, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 10 feet 

Gold Creek Pond is ADA-accessible as well as stroller-friendly. Photo by Mytho-man.
Gold Creek Pond is ADA-accessible as well as stroller-friendly. Photo by Mytho-man.

This ADA-accessible paved loop is a picturesque hike around a mountain pond atop Snoqualmie Pass. In summer it's a spectacular place to see birds, including Yellow Warblers along with Song and White-crowned Sparrows.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

UMTANUM CREEK CANYON

Location: Central Washington -- Yakima
Mileage: 6.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 500 feet

A small blue bird standing on the ground.
Don't forget to look on the ground for birds--they're not always in the sky. Umtanum Creek Canyon. Photo by Lucy. 

This is a great hike for vibrant colors (and birds!) in both fall and spring. Audubon's Great Washington State Birding Trail recommends in spring and summer "looking to cottonwood trees for Bullock's Orioles and Red-naped Sapsuckers." 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


North Cascades 


RASAR STATE PARK

Location: North Cascades -- North Cascades Highway
Mileage: 3.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 20 feet

Several birds in the water.
Waterfowl at Rasar State Park. Photo by dgran. 

Pop your tent and stay awhile to enjoy the trails and birdwatching opportunities at Rasar State Park. A variety of woodpeckers can be spotted year-round, and in winter eagles nest along the river. 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

SPOKANE GULCH

Location: North Cascades -- Methow/Sawtooth
Mileage: 5.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1,100 feet

Wide open views of the Valley. Photo by marmotlover93.
Wide open views of the Methow Valley. Photo by marmotlover93. 

Ed recommends hikes in the Methow Valley, particularly in May, to see redstarts and vireos. This trail is open year-round so it's a great one to observe seasonal changes in bird visitors. 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


 Puget Sound Area

Union Bay NATURAL AREA

Location: Puget Sound and Islands - Seattle-Tacoma Area
Mileage: 1.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 10 feet

WTA Staff observing ducks at Union Bay Natural Area. Photo by trippal.
WTA Staff observing ducks at Union Bay Natural Area. Photo by trippal.

Union Bay Natural Area is just 0.7 mile away from the University of Washington light rail station (and a number of bus routes), making it an incredibly accessible spot for urban birders. More than 200 species of birds have been spotted here. 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

MARYMOOR PARK - BIRD LOOP

Location: Puget Sound and Islands -- Seattle-Tacoma Area
Mileage:
 4.0 miles of trails
Elevation Gain:10 feet

A small brown bird. An immature golden-crowned sparrow on the Bird Loop. Photo by wafflesnfalafel. 

Trails at Marymoor Park include a wetland marsh boardwalk that runs along the Sammamish River. Trip reporter Maddy caught some great photos of Osprey in the park in July 2021.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

FOOTHILLS TRAIL 

Location: Puget Sound and Islands -- Seattle-Tacoma Area
Mileage:
 21.0 miles, one-way
Elevation Gain: N/A 

The Carbon River along the Foothills Trail. Photo by Al.
River views along the trail. Photo by Al & Scout.  

This paved trail stretches for 21 miles between eastern Puyallup and the White River in the town of Buckley. Audubon notes "a sweet suite of migrants nest here in spring" and you can catch Red-breasted Sapsuckers year-round.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

FORT EBEY STATE PARK 

Location: Puget Sound and Islands -- Whidbey Island
Mileage:
 25 miles of trails in park
Elevation Gain: varies 

Birds on rocks on the edge of the ocean.
Oystercatchers at Fort Ebey State Park. Photo by mediancat.

With 25 miles of mixed-use trails passing through forested, marsh and coastal environments -- there are plenty of different birds to see at Fort Ebey. Look out for owls nesting along the Old Gun Battery Trail. 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


Olympics


DOSEWALLIPS STATE PARK - STEAM DONKEY TRAIL

Location: Olympic Peninsula -- Hood Canal
Mileage: 3.5 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 400 feet

A bald eagle flying low to the ground.
A bald eagle flying low at Dosewallips State Park. Photo by Kayde.

Dosewallips State Park provides an interesting convergence of forest groves with saltwater delta. This forested loop makes a nice addition to some time down by the water, which is particularly active for fall migration of birds and salmon. 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

DUNGENESS NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

Location: Olympic Peninsula -- Northern Coast
Mileage: 11 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 130 feet

Dungeness Spit. Photo by hikingwithlittledogs.
Dungeness Spit. Photo by hikingwithlittledogs.

There is tons of birdwatching to be done in the Dungeness Bay Area, including on the Dungeness Spit. Audubon reports a "Year-round avian extravaganza!" They also recommend checking out Crab's & Helen's Ponds as well as nearby (and ADA-accessible) Dungeness County Park. 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


Southwest Washington


FRIENDS LANDING

Location: Southwest Washington -- Long Beach Area
Mileage: 1.7 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 15 feet 

Alders arching over the paved trail at Friends Landing put you up close and personal with nature. Photo by Anna Roth.
Alders arching over the paved trail at Friends Landing put you up close and personal with nature. Photo by Anna Roth.

Formerly a gravel pit, the acreage here was donated by the Friend family in 1988 to David Hamilton of Trout Unlimited, who proposed an accessible area for all users. This ADA trail will offer lots of seasonal variety for bird watching. Trip reporter Banjoyist reports "a symphony of song" from birds in July 2021.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

WILLAPA NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

Location: Southwest Washington -- Long Beach Area
Mileage:
 0.75 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain:
 200 feet

Willipa National Wildife Refuge.
Willapa National Wildife Refuge. Photo by nwroth. 

Enjoy this boardwalk through a marsh area and second-growth forest. This short hike is packed with interpretive signage and lovely art installations that will keep hikers of all ages entertained while you look for the variety of shorebirds feeding on invertebrates and mollusks. 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

RidgeFIELD NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

Location: Southwest Washington -- Vancouver Area
Mileage: 2 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 100 feet 

A birder getting a close up look at a Great Blue Heron at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by trippal.
A birder getting a close up look at a Great Blue Heron at Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by trippal.

WTA volunteers have been hard at work over the last few years, improving the sustainability of this trail system and building a new access point from downtown Ridgefield. In spring and fall, enjoy the sound (and hopefully sights) of migrating sandhill cranes. 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

ST. Cloud

Location: Southwest Washington -- Columbia River Gorge - WA
Mileage: 1.0 mile, roundtrip
Elevation Gain:
 N/A

Apple trees shed their leaves, but apples linger into fall. R. Ojerio
Apple trees shed their leaves, but apples linger into fall. Photo by R. Ojerio. 

A WTA staff-favorite for bird watching, this short loop meanders through an old apple orchard and open meadow with views across the river to Multnomah Falls and the Oneonta Bluffs. This park is also 1 mile downstream from the Franz Lake National Wildlife Refuge overlook that is important habitat for waterfowl, migratory birds and raptors including bald eagles.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


Eastern Washington

SWANSON LAKES WILDLIFE AREA

Location: Eastern Washington -- Spokane Area/Coeur d'Alene
Mileage: varies
Elevation Gain:
 varies

See waterfowl and wildflowers a the Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area. Photo by Holly Weiler.
See waterfowl and wildflowers at the Swanson Lakes Wildlife Area. Photo by Holly Weiler. 

From the Headquarters Access Road, Swanson Lakes are the most easily accessible of the named lakes within the vast area. The small trailhead along the Access Road has a CXT toilet and a short ADA-accessible trail leading to the one of the lakes, an excellent viewpoint for watching waterfowl.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

SLAVIN POND LOOP

Location: Eastern Washington -- Spokane Area/Coeur d'Alene
Mileage: 3.3 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 246 feet 

Several birds in the sky.
Birds in the sky at Slavin Pond Loop. Photo by TrailKat. 

Purchased by Spokane County as part of its Conservation Futures program, Slavin Conservation Area is a link in the winter migratory flyway for many birds, where hikers, bikers and dog-walkers are likely to spot ducks, geese and owls on their winter forays. WTA crews will be in the area in fall 2021 helping to restore the trails.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

ROSE CREEK NATURE PRESERVE

Location: Eastern WA - Palouse and Blue Mountains
Mileage:1.0 miles, roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 60 feet

Rose Creek Nature Preserve. Photo by Cagey.
Rose Creek Nature Preserve. Photo by Cagey.

The area was designated a Natural National Landmark by The Park Service in recognition of its uniqueness and ecological value. The wetland section is an excellent place to spot wildlife and many types of birds that inhabit the area, including Eastern Kingbirds and Great Horned Owls in fall and Wilson's Warblers and Western Bluebirds in spring.

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide

FIELD SPRINGS STATE PARK - PUFFER BUTTE

Location: Eastern Washington -- Palouse and Blue Mountains
Mileage: 4.4 miles, roundtrip 
Elevation Gain: 500 feet

View from Puffer Butte. Photo by RLudcido.
View from Puffer Butte. Photo by RLudcido.

Puffer Butte is the high point in Fields Spring State park, where you can see incredible vistas of the Wallowa Mountains. Enjoy looking for mountain species like Great Gray Owls and White-headed Woodpeckers. 

> Plan your trip using WTA's Hiking Guide


MORE RESOURCES FOR BIRDERS

California Quail and Robin. Phogo by Jan Pinamonti.California Quail and Robin. Photo by Jan Pinamonti.