Four Reasons You Should Visit Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

It’s hard to feel anything but peaceful at the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge.

Just a half-hour northeast of Chiloquin, the refuge invites visitors to slow down, unplug, and enjoy the stunning scenery within (and around) its boundaries. To the west, snow-capped Cascade peaks dominate the horizon. To the east, a sea of grasslands and pine forests run right into the Klamath Basin foothills. And within the 40,000-acre refuge itself, visitors can spy the upper reaches of the trickling Williamson River, paddle myriad marshlands, and watch waterfowl frolic in numerous wetlands.

Whatever your adventure, there’s plenty to love about the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1958 as a sanctuary for migrating birds. More than six decades later, the northernmost of the Klamath Basin’s six refuges is home to a thriving bird population, a rich variety of wildlife, canoe and kayak opportunities, and more. Here are four great reasons to make the refuge your next stop in Klamath.

Birdwatching Aficionados Flock to Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

The Northern Harrier is a common dweller in the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. – By Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife

Klamath County sits along the Pacific Flyway, a major migratory bird route that stretches from Alaska to Argentina—a feat that brings roughly a million migrating birds to the Klamath Basin every winter.

More than 350 species have been spotted within the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge itself, largely thanks to the wide variety of habitats within its boundaries; marshes, wetlands, the Williamson River, and even scattered forestland provide the ideal habitat for waterfowl and migrating birds to nest, rest, and feed. In winter, visitors may spy mallard ducks patrolling the refuge’s wetlands while sandhill cranes and the reclusive yellow rail feed in its grassy meadows.

Not just that, but the refuge’s remote location means you’ll experience more solitude and a quieter setting while watching for the American white pelican, great blue heron, bald eagle, osprey, ruddy duck, and other species.

A Variety of Wildlife Calls the Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge Home

Snow-capped peaks and a diverse lineup of wildlife are just a couple of world-class reasons to visit this world-class Wildlife Refuge. – By Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife

Sure, birds get top billing at the refuge. But with few roads, limited trails, and scarce visitor services, your chances of seeing different species of wildlife at Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge are higher than you might expect.

Whether patrolling the waters of the refuge from a canoe or kayak in summer or traveling the refuge by car or foot in winter, you may encounter mule deer, muskrats, river otters, western pond turtles, and even Rocky Mountain elk.

Consider yourself lucky if you spy an Oregon spotted frog, considered a species of special concern and an increasingly rare presence around the refuge. The Oregon spotted frog has traditionally resided in marshlands throughout Oregon, but a variety of factors—such as invasive plant and frog species, as well as a loss of habitat—have threatened the species’ once thriving numbers. The frog, which counts the refuge as one of its final remaining habitats today, is brown, tan, olive green, or reddish in color, with irregular black spots throughout its body.

Canoeing and Kayaking Opportunities Abound at Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

Paddling among the grasses and cattails of Klamath Marsh National Wildlife Refuge is an experience to remember. – By US Forest Service

One of the best ways to see waterfowl, raptors, and other wildlife at the refuge is from the seat of a canoe or kayak. The refuge allows canoeing and kayaking throughout July, August, and September in Wocus Bay and across roughly 700 acres of open water and marshland dotted with tule and cattail.

Paddling the refuge’s canoe trail offers some of the best opportunities to view wildlife drinking from the water or moving around the refuge’s meadows near the shoreline. Most species are especially active in morning and evening hours.

Just keep in mind the refuge does not host any canoe or kayak rentals, so those wanting to paddle the canoe trail must do so with their own equipment. Paddlers should also wear a properly fitted personal flotation device (required for children 12 and younger), apply insect repellent and sunscreen, and wear sunglasses and a hat to protect against the elements. And keep in mind that the canoe trail is only open during daylight hours, that motorized craft and fishing are not permitted, and that low water levels may make the canoe trail impassable; if interested in paddling the refuge, call refuge headquarters at (541) 783-3380 for current conditions.

Stretch Your Legs (or Hop in the Saddle) Along 10 Miles of Hiking Trails

At the southern edge of the refuge is a 10-mile trail that affords a fine introduction to the region’s many highlights. At various points, the trail heads through marshlands, cuts through ponderosa forests, and affords views of the quiet Wocus Bay. The trail is open to cross-country skiers in winter—and to mountain bikers and hikers the rest of the year.


Written by Matt Wastradowski for Matcha in partnership with Discover Klamath Visitor and Convention Bureau.