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The Tri-Cities and hiking the Rimrock Lake Trail in the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge

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We tend to get cabin fever sometime around mid-winter here in the Pacific Northwest. For us, trips somewhere warm like Puerto Vallarta is much needed for mental health this time of year, but for a less expensive weekend trip we like to find spots east of the mountains to relax and enjoy nature in a much different environment. The scablands of Eastern Washington are a very unique part of the world, an arid shrub-steppe ecosystem filled with potholes created by glaciers producing a beautiful area for wildlife. Due to the rain shadow created by the Cascade Mountains it is also generally more sunny in Eastern Washington, hence the weekend getaway to see the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge! Not to mention there are good places to stay and nice restaurants in the Tri-Cities.

While there is many places to find birds and animals over here our target this weekend was the Rimrock Lake trail (formerly known as Frog Lake trail, and the signage still says Frog Lake!). We came from the south entry (Highway 26 side) since we were coming from the Tri-Cities. It is a fairly easy trail with excellent views of the area. It starts in a marshy area and then crosses into the dry shrub-steppe as you climb up to the plateau where the trail circles the rim. Being it was still winter there was less bird activity than we hoped, we did see (and hear) a Canyon Wren but did not get close enough for a picture, we also saw an American Kestrel above the plateau when we were still down below. Canadian Geese visited the marshy areas below. Despite not seeing many birds it was a sunny day with blue sky’s and a fun hike with the kids – if you’re out that way we recommend it! For more info on the hike and other hikes check out the Washington Trails Association website and hiking guide for Rimrock Lake.

We did find some birds in the farmlands outside of the Tri-Cities as well as some nice parks in the area. Just across the Snake River from Pasco is the McNary National Wildlife Refuge. This area extends from where the Snake River meets the Columbia down to where the Walla Walla River meets the Columbia. Hundreds of Snow Geese and Red-winged Blackbirds were at the water on the north end of the Refuge, there is a nice paved trail there that circles the slough. We also saw some Marsh Wren here on the north end. On the way to the Walla Walla river side of the refuge we saw a Western Meadowlark and a Northern Harrier. Northern Harrier remind me a lot of the Short-eared Owls, they fly low over open grassy areas hunting small mammals, from a distance being similar sized it’s hard to tell them apart as they move in a similar fashion.

We enjoyed our winter visit to the Tri-Cities area and hope to come back in Spring or fall when the weather and foliage change. There is so much to see along the Columbia River including the Dunes near the Hanford Reach National Monument and the area State Parks.

Things to Note:

  • Getting to the Rimrock Lake trailhead does require a short drive on a gravel road, the road is very smooth though no need for a large vehicle.
  • Bring sunscreen – even in winter there is a good chance for sunshine and sunburn! We like to use high SPF spray sunscreen as it’s easier to put on.
  • Please check out our resources page to learn more about the equipment we used to take these shots!

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