The Turnball National Wildlife Refuge covers an expansive 18,000 acres in the Channeled Scablands, and contains an uncommon ecosystem, including “basalt outcrops, flood eroded channels, and ponderosa pine forests.” With over 130 marshes, wetlands and lakes, a visit to the Turnball Refuge is one you will never forget.

The History

Photo credit

Around 15,000 years ago, the Glacial Lake Missoula broke open and within two days over 500 cubic miles of water created an incredible and unusual landscape. This is how the refuge was formed and created. So away with the prairie land and in with basalt, a type of rock that forms from rapidly cooling lava.


The Animals


                                                                                                     ©Robert M. Griffith

Waterfowl are slowly losing quality breeding places across the state, but here at Turnball, they are calling it home for a reason. 17 different species of nesting waterfowl can nest, breed, eat and migrate in peace. According to their website, the “management of waterfowl habitat has been the primary focus of refuge staff.”


©Tom Munson
©Robert M. Griffith

Through the use of “tree canopies, tree and snag cavities, shrubs, ground cover, and burrows,” the refuge has truly given back to these beautiful birds. If you’re interested in watching swans, bluebirds and various sorts of ducks, then from mid-March through mid-May, make sure to visit in the early mornings, or evenings. To catch the fall migration, a visit between September and November will hopefully grant you a view as well. Don’t forget your binoculars!


400 Rocky Mountain Elk also call Turnball their home. It is home to eleven species of Bats, such as the ‘big brown bat,’ ‘small-footed myotis,’ and the Yuma myotis. Lastly the elusive moose is the most unlikely sighting of all the mammals here. With the first sighting dating back to 1994, this animal tends to stay out of the public eye; in 2008 only 15 average sightings were reported.

Amphibians & Reptiles:

While there isn’t a large presence of these on the refuge, there are five species of snake, one variety of turtle, two frog species, two salamanders and one lizard.




©John C. Kerkering

The spotted frog can be found in the water, but make sure not to touch them! They are listed as a candidate for endangered species list in Washington, and also under the federal Endangered Species Act.

The Tiger Salamander is one of the two varieties on the property, and are restricted to an almost permanent habitat- the best time to view them are in breeding season from February through March. And keep your eyes peeled for our friend the Rubber Boa, the second of two types of native constrictor species in the States! If you’re looking for him, keep your eyes open around rotten logs and in wet forest areas.


Only three types of fish are found here. The Speckled Dace, which is a rarity in the Refuge – so don’t get your hopes up! More likely to be viewed is the Redside Shiner and the Brook Stickleback.

Fun Fact– “The stickleback is a prolific breeder and is expanding its range. Its impacts are a significant concern for our native aquatic ecosystems.”


©Sandy Rancourt

So, remember, when visiting, don’t forget to bring you binoculars, camera, and a field guide. Cars are allowed on paths here, and can be used as an advantage for viewing and photography without disturbing the animals. And make sure to remember there are four sections of this huge refuge. The Aspen area, Wetlands, Prairies, and the Pine Woodlands.

And a gentle reminder to never disturb the animals in their natural habitats.

For a more complete list of rules, and regulations- click here. This is also where you’ll find opening times, seasons, and other FAQ. Such as- is hunting allowed? Yes and no! Can I bring my dog? Yes! (but only on a short leash.)