Crab Creek: Columbia National Wildlife Refuge–Come join the sandhill cranes for their festival!

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The Columbia NWR is a great place in March and April for observing sandhill cranes.

Quick Facts:

Location: Columbia National Wildlife Refuge near Othello

Land Agency: US Fish and Wildlife Service

Roundtrip: 2.6 miles

Elevation gain: 40 feet

Contact: Columbia National Wildlife Refuge

Notes: Dogs permitted on leash.

Access: From Ellensburg take I-90 east to Exit 137. Then follow SR 26 for 25 miles east turning left onto SR 262. Proceed for 17.7 miles to refuge road. Follow this gravel road south to a junction at 2.2 miles. Turn right and bear left in .2 mile reaching the trailhead on your left in another .4 mile.

Good to Know: Dog-friendly, kid-friendly, exceptional bird watching, interpretive trail, beware of rattlesnakes, Practice Leave No Trace Principles 

One of three interconnecting nature trails within the 30,000-acre Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, the Crab Creek Trail offers an awful lot of biological bang for its short distance. Paralleling Crab Creek through a lush riparian environment within a shrub-steppe coulee enjoy the contrasts—and the birds. This is one of the best bird watching hikes on the Columbia Plateau—and during April you are sure to see one of the refuge’s most famous residents, lesser sandhill cranes.

Despite receiving less than 8 inches of rain a year, the refuge is littered with lakes and marshes thanks to seepage from surrounding reclamation and irrigation projects. Its canyons, lakes, wetlands and shrub-steppe environment provides important habitat for a wide array of species. And located along the Pacific Flyway, the refuge is a stop-over and wintering ground for many migratory birds including thousands of lesser sandhill cranes.

Head south on the wide and well-groomed trail soon coming to a kiosk. Then cross Crab Creek on a bridge and scan the shorelines cloaked in reeds and cattails for songbirds and waterfowl. Take time to read the interpretive sign along the way. At .4 miles the trail splits. Go left—you’ll be returning right. Follow the rose-lined path along the creek coming to another junction. Right leads back to the trailhead—head straight first through thick riparian vegetation lining the bottom of the shrub-step coulee.

At .9 mile the trail climbs a set of steps to travel along a sage shrouded bench above the creek bottom. Enjoy good views of the coulee and Marsh Lake to the south. At 1.3 miles reach the trailhead for the Frog and Marsh Lake Trails. Continue farther on those great trails or return to your trailhead and save these trails for another visit.

For detailed information on this hike including maps; and information on other great Columbia Plateau hikes, consult  Day Hiking Eastern Washington book (co-written with Spokane’s Rich Landers).


Come celebrate the cranes return at the annual Othello Sandhill Crane Festival! This year’s event is scheduled for March 22, 23, 24, 2019

For more information on the Othello Sandhill Crane Festival, click here!

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